Whether you work from home as an entrepreneur, consultant or maker, or are able to telecommute for a major company, working from home has its perks and its pitfalls. Below are my 8 tips to staying sane (and healthy) when you work from home.
I’ll start by saying I’m probably a bit biased towards working from home as it’s been my norm for almost three years now. I absolutely LOVE it and wouldn’t want to trade it. There are some drawbacks, though, and things you absolutely must plan for or your experience will be awful.
1. Even though you’re “home,” you’re not actually home.
This one is important and I think eventually gets worked out on its own: everyone who knows you work at home (including yourself) needs to be aware that there are hours you are absolutely off limits to every personal requirement related to your household. For example, it shouldn’t be assumed that you can attend to every household issue (like something needs to be repaired, the dog needs to go to the vet, the dishes need to be done, etc.) just because you work from home. You might physically be working inside your home, but you’re not “home.” That means that you need to schedule work hours and have very strong boundaries around those just like if you were in an office. You can’t answer every text or call, you can’t drop what you’re doing to tend to household things, etc. This is helped tremendously by your employer requiring you to log into some type of communal software or be available for drop-in discussions (like on Slack, etc.). If you’re left to your own devices, you’ll need to create boundaries around your work time. This means you schedule lunch like you would if you worked in an office, etc. And if anyone asks, it’s not the default position that you handle household tasks simply because you work at home.
2. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
Research shows that telecommuters actually work longer hours and are more productive than those who work in an office. So, curb the initial response to be hyperproductive: set your work hours, do your work, and shut it down at closing time. This means you have to physically enforce boundaries around when you work (no email after a certain time, etc.) and where you work (create an office space that you can walk away from at the end of the day). The natural tendency will be to go back to work if you have a lull in the evening. You have to fight this tendency otherwise your self-care will suffer tremendously. Related to this: you MUST take a lunch break and breaks throughout the day. Again, you’re going to have to fight the urge to go 200%, and you do this by creating a schedule and boundaries around it.
Which leads to another point: schedule times to answer email, listen to and return calls, etc. and then stick to it. You probably do this already, but you have to be extra vigilant when you work from home.
Something that might be specific to my businesses but might be worth noting is that you’ll have to train people on when you respond to things like calls, texts, emails, etc. Fight the urge to be available all the time just because your office is at home. Unless there’s a serious emergency, you shouldn’t re-enter your office after work hours are over.
3. Create a morning routine.
There are mornings where all I do is make tea and put on a bathrobe and work well into the afternoon. Other days I get up and full on get dressed like I’m going out — depends on the day, the tasks, the season, etc. Figure out what works for you and then do it. You’ll figure out after a month what your natural tendencies are — maybe you like to ease into the morning (I certainly do) or maybe you like to start early and wrap up early. Whatever your natural tendency is, once you figure it out, refine it to where it becomes routine.
4. Create a physical workspace.
I work off my dining room table, mostly because it’s large enough for all my crap but also because I don’t want my office in my sewing room (*priorities*). I tried having my office in my sewing space, but I preferred the light, the open space, the access to the kitchen, and frankly the aesthetic of the dining room, and soon found I naturally gravitated towards the dining room. I also liked that I could sit in 6 different locations based on task types (so I can physically break up the routine if I wanted or needed to brainstorm and be creative). I also liked the space on the table to spread out materials and organizational items. Figure out where you naturally tend to work and invest in that space.
5. Invest in the right tools.
This goes without saying, and you’re probably doing this one already too: use the technology (probably provided by your employer) and supplies you prefer. I’ll be the first to enable a planner/supply/pen obsession and I don’t apologize for it. I have nice pens, nice planners, nice everything so that I physically enjoy the workspace I use everyday. If your brain is aesthetically pleased, you’ll have an easier time fighting the tendency to be lazy on days when it’s easy to be lazy (think snow days, rainy days, etc.). This helps with the obvious issue of occasionally disliking the work tasks too.
This also extends to apps, programs, etc. that make your life easier. My set-up is incredibly mobile: iPad, iPencil, keyboard, a ton of apps that do things I need (PDF, printing, etc.) plus my paper tools, pens, etc. and everything has a function. The function is to make my life and work easier.
I don’t really mind this one as I’m fairly introverted and enjoy the quiet (I also spend a good deal of time in meetings with clients or others), but if you find that you’re lonely and need social interaction, schedule in lunch with friends, work from a co-working space, or spend a day in a coffee shop. If you’re not required to be tethered to your home office, branch out to be around others. Even an hour or so of social contact will help ease this. Alternately, you could join some social groups (yoga, book club, whatever) that occur regularly so you know you’ll be getting social contact every Tuesday at 6:00 for example.
I haven’t experienced this, but I’ve had close friends who have worked remotely for major companies and have seen this firsthand. Going to a physical office breeds all sorts of synergy (my favorite word) with colleagues. Utilize your remote tools (Slack, email, whatever) to be social with co-workers even if they’re far away. You really have to double up your efforts here to feel involved in a team (if one exists) and build rapport. Become FB friends, share dog photos, whatver it may be, but work hard to build rapport. This may not come up, but keep this in mind if you’re expected to be part of a team despite working from home.
8. Adjust your food budget if you don’t currently take your lunch to work. (This is also a great opportunity to eat healthier!)
The good news is you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t, and that will happen naturally the more you settle into the job and your physical space so go with your natural tendencies. Otherwise, create a schedule and then hold yourself to it. And remind friends and family that you might be physically home, but you’re not free.
What are YOUR tips for staying sane when you work from home?