Before getting our current separate studio space, I worked from home for almost four years, so to say that I'm an expert at this might be an understatement. Well, maybe I'm not an expert, but I do have some advice for those of you who are thinking about doing it or are struggling at it right now. Here are my seven tips to be a pro at working from home.
Working without intention sets you up for failure. Setting specific, actionable goals helps you visualize and plan for success. Goals can help you actualize your desires & ideas. In the nebulous world of working from home, where days blend together and time seems to speed up and slow down depending on how exciting your week is, goals keep you on track, no matter what type of goal it is.
Start with a few of your biggest dreams, then get specific. Get uncomfortably specific. Drill down to the most inconsequential task. Create a giant pile of things for you to do. (Don't worry, we'll organize them in the next tip.)These can be personal or professional wishes, and ideally you'll have a little bit of both.
Having small rewards can help you reach your small goals a little faster. I hate, hate, hate cleaning. But if I reach my weekly cleaning goal, I reward myself by lighting some candles, making something sweet, and watching movies all night on the couch. I look forward to that vegetative state each week after a lot of stressful weekdays, and it makes the cleaning a little easier.
Craft a Schedule
Now that you've set your goals and intentions, you've got a heap of things to do. It doesn't matter really how you set this up, but have a way to organize your goals into actionable tasks. Without planning, the stay-at-home worker can become lethargic and end up playing with their cats all day. (Can you tell I've learned this from experience?)
Set a yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily workflow for yourself. At the stage I'm at, I have the next year generally drafted out, and more specifics added in for the coming three months. I have weekly and daily tasks for all of my goals set, and daily habits I like to keep track of as well.
I have time-oriented tasks, and listed tasks. I have a section in my planner for each of my goals (I've got about five big ones) where there are lists of things I want to do in the future, and then there's a calendar section where I have things I want to do right now.
Basically, just organize your list by working from the most general to the most specific and it'll help you out in some way. :)
If you are working all day, take this advice very seriously: you need to take breaks. Whenever I work straight from waking to sleeping, my mind gets foggier every day and my body cries out that it wants to be moved.
After each work task, or after a certain amount of time (say, an hour), I'll go put on a podcast and do the dishes, or take a walk around the block, or do a 10 minute yoga session, or lay down and just shut my eyes for a few minutes. These are essential to both my mental and physical sanity.
Get out of the house
Cabin fever is probably one of the biggest problems of working from home. here are a few things i do to combat it:
- sit outside on our porch for one of my breaks
- take a walk
- walk & take the bus to the grocery store or post office
- spend the day at a coffee shop
- do an errand day (groceries, post office, thrift stores, pay bills, etc.)
- meet up with friends, family, or clients
Something that helps cabin fever, in my experience, is cleaning up and re-arranging furniture. A shining countertop and clear sink gives me new life. Switching a bed to a different wall can give you a fresh perspective.
A big issue i've had with working from home is the dynamic between myself and the other people (and animals) living with me. You have to set limits and be communicative about your needs and feelings with the people in your household. you're there all day, every day, so you'll want things to run as smoothly as possible.
For example, I was feeling like I was forced to do more housework than I should have, just because I happened to be at home all of the time, even though I worked just as many hours. Or, I would want to work on things at night, and I wasn't being given any space to do so - it was very distracting. These limits needed to be made clear, and once they were, emotions were less tense and we were all much happier.
Not only should you set limits with others, set limits with yourself as well. It's very tempting to work ALL the time when your work space is so close to your living space. If you find yourself working until you're so tired you can't think straight, try setting a "no work after midnight" rule. Or if you work with a partner, set a "no talking about work after 10PM" rule. (That one has been on the books in our house for years now!) Or if you've got the opposite problem, try a "no TV/movies/video games until you've finished your tasks for the day" rule. Unplug and hide the cords if necessary ;)
Bring Your Best
Whenever I'm feeling blah or down on myself in the morning, it's usually because I just woke up thinking about work and got right to it. Instead, if you're feeling unmotivated, act like you're going into a high-powered office job that you're the best at. Put on a cute outfit, tie your hair up, swipe on some lipstick, put all your materials in a bag and set up shop. At the very least, put some pants on. This trick has gotten me through some rough days and totally changed my mood.
Carve a Space
Similar to the last point, creating a work space for yourself can totally alter your point of view. It doesn't have to be much, depending on your chosen field, but it can do wonders.
Currently I just have a small empty desk with drawers where I bring my laptop, sketchbook, planner, and drawing utensils. It has plenty of charging ports, a couple of candles, twinkly lights, and most importantly, a closeable door.
Not everyone has this option, but giving yourself a separate space from the rest of your house can be a game changer. A closed door or a quiet corner is mostly all you'd need. My space is just in a corner of our guest bedroom, but my own bedroom would work just as well. We have four cats and it can be incredibly distracting to have them wandering in, fighting, or making lots of noise while I'm trying to work.
If you can't find a completely separate space, try instead to work for just a few hours when the house is quietest. Sometimes a clean dining room with a pot of hot tea is enough to call my own for the day. Working for a short amount of time productively is way more satisfying than trying to work all day in chaos.
I hope these tips have helped you figure out your stay at home situation, at least a little bit. Do you have any additional advice to give? Questions? Let me know in the comments! :)