Today, since my life was relatively calm yesterday, I thought we would talk about some work at home tips. I’ve been self-employed for nearly ten years, but I’ve worked at home for almost thirty years.
My first work at home job was when my father retired the first time. He’d been a VP at Owens Corning and they “asked” him to retire, which, as we all know is code for we can get someone else in here who’s half your age and pay them less.
So, he retired and started his own consulting business. Forty years of work left him with plenty of contacts and he didn’t lack for work. He hired me to do a variety of things for him, and let’s be clear, this was in the early 1990’s when you had to pay just to sign onto the Internet and it made that warbling noise. Dial up connections and many resources that you now pay for were free.
People weren’t working at home back then very much, so there weren’t really any guidelines to go by. I simply had an infant child and a three-year old. Working at home made the most sense. I was still married back then too.
But I set myself up for success. Well, Mom did. We went shopping for a desk armoire that I set up in our bedroom. That became my workspace for several years, until I was divorced and we moved. I don’t recall if it moved with me or not.
Anyway, that’s my first tip for success.
Have a Dedicated Workspace
Even though my workspace was a simple piece of furniture, it was my workspace nonetheless. When I sat down there, I was working. I kept all of my paperwork and my computer, which, of course back then was substantial in size.
When you have that type of space, your mental frame of mind can easily adjust to work-mode. Before I had that desk armoire, I either went to my parents’ house, which was thirty minutes away, or I worked at the dining room table. Neither was conducive to a great work experience.
I actually have two dedicated work spaces here. I share an office with my mom, as well as this office space. The difference between the two is daylight. Where I am now, I have three windows. The other space is entirely an interior space with no windows. I feel like I’m in a cave when I’m in there. I use it when I’m working on this space, painting, etc.
Set Your Work Schedule Around Your Life Schedule
More than once, I’ve been frustrated because I can’t get the work hours into my schedule. Usually it’s because my life schedule gets in the way, but now, more than ever, my life schedule is important.
This month, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have something on my calendar every. single. day. And that’s okay. It’s what I signed up for when I said yes to helping my parents, and it’s what I said yes to when I decided to have children.
I try to plan my work schedule around my life schedule, but sometimes unexpected things happen. What I’m talking about here is planning your work around your life.
For example, when I first worked at home, my two older kids were in elementary school. They went to a private Catholic school and had to do a bus transfer to get there, which caused some problems, so I dropped them off and picked them up. My work schedule was organized around knowing that I had that event every day.
Now, it’s more day-to-day for me. It depends on who has what appointment when. That’s why doing a weekly spread in my planner is so vital, and even the monthly layout I do. I can wrap my head around what I can expect.
Dress for Success
I know it’s tempting to roll out of bed in your flannel pajama pants and your warm sweatshirt and crawl into your desk chair for work, but again, it’s not a mental trigger that it’s time to work. In those clothes, your mind is thinking either Netflix binge or snuggle up with some hot cocoa time. Not work time.
During the week, I dress differently than I do on the weekends, and I work on the weekends too, but I’ve found that dressing in a slightly more business-like way helps me mentally prepare for a work day.
I like skorts, and it’s summer, so I usually wear a skort and a t-shirt. On the weekends, I may wear the same thing, or I might default to capri yoga pants and a comfy shirt. Now that we’re sliding into autumn, I’ll probably switch to jeans and a nicer top during the week and comfy sweats and tees on the weekends.
This seems like a subtle change, but much like your workspace, it sends a signal to your mind that it’s now work time.
Plan Your Week
I’m obviously a HUGE advocate for having a plan. I firmly believe that when I sit down and make a schedule for myself, I am more productive and efficient. I make a daily spread every evening as well, and this helps me mentally prepare for the next day.
The plan identifies all goals and appointments for the week. From there, I detail things out, day by day, and I can then transfer that to my daily plans each evening.
Doing a daily plan in the evening before you go to bed has also been said to help you fall asleep easier. You can rest knowing what the next day has in store. If I were really on top of my game, and if it had worked in the past, I’d do a meal plan in my weekly schedule too, but I’ve found that those go kaflooey so I don’t do them anymore. That doesn’t mean you can’t try it though!
When I lived alone, I had a one-bedroom apartment that I LOVED. I used the dining room space, which wasn’t really very big anyway. It was off of my living room, which had a fireplace, so I could light the fireplace in the winter and enjoy it while I worked.
I also had a balcony off of that same space, so I could open the door and enjoy the fresh air. It was truly a great space. The problem was that I either ate at my desk, which was an antique drop-leaf table, or I ate sitting on my sofa, or I stood up in the kitchen. I ate a lot of the time at my desk.
That meant I didn’t take many breaks, and that’s not a great plan really.
Of course, the flip side of that was that I didn’t have the parental obligations I have now, and I was better able to set my work schedule to more of a 9-5 thing without interruption.
But breaks are important. I would get tired and feel burned out more often when I was working like that. Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly prickly, I would go for a walk. The complex has a nice walking path around a large lake. I think it’s .33 mile.
Breaks give your brain time to rest. Brains get tired, which I’ve really learned more about since a former friend experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury. When your brain is tired, it doesn’t work properly. You make more mistakes and run the risk of getting hurt if you’re doing something physical.
Train Your Family
Working at home can seem like a real dream life when your kids are young. You don’t need a babysitter because you’re there.
The problem with this theory is that your family sees that you’re always home and available. You need to train them to understand that when you’re working, you’re to be left alone. Unless someone is bleeding or dying, you’re at work.
With small children, you might need to schedule work time around their sleep time. I worked a lot of afternoons and after bedtimes when my kids were small because that’s when I had time to myself.
Their mindset is, hey, Mom/Dad’s home so I can ask to go to the mall, get a ride home from school instead of riding the bus, have my spouse pick up my laundry, and so on.
Get it into their heads from day one that when your’e in your work space, you aren’t to be interrupted unless it’s a legit emergency (which isn’t I can’t find my favorite blouse).
Train Everyone Else
“Oh, you work from home? Can you possibly be chairperson for this year’s Christmas event?”
“Gee, since you’re home anyway, would you mind if little Johnny came to play three times a week in the mornings? It would just be for a couple of hours while I run errands.”
“Now that you’re working from home, we should hit that local coffee shop in the mornings, and maybe lunch once a week down at the pub?”
No. No. And No.
People think that if you’re working from home, you’re not doing real work. You’re just there prattling around. You have time to do things for and with them, you know, now that you’re home.
Set those boundaries right away. Sure, you can meet your friend for coffee once in a while, but make it fit your work schedule. Yes, lunch out is not only something you can do, but it’s a nice way to get out of the office for a while. Just don’t make it a three-hour lunch. Treat it the same as if you were reporting into a physical workspace.
Set up a “Typical” Day Plan
Of course there will be days that are atypical. In fact, my life is full of them right now, but I have a general plan of what my ideal or typical day should look like. It goes something like this:
- 6:15-6:30 Wake, prepare for morning walk
- 6:30 or later (depending on when sunrise is) – walk or bike ride
- 8:00 shower and breakfast
- 9:00 work
- Noon – lunch with parents
- 12:30 back to work
- 4:30 walk the dog and prepare dinner
- 5:30 (always) dinner
- 6:00 either clean kitchen or back up for finishing work projects
- 7:00 last dog walk/bike ride with Mom
- 8:00 schedule tomorrow, journal, read
- 10:00 ish bed
I can usually adhere to at least part of this, depending on when appointments are. The importance of this is multifold. First, you become accustomed to the routine, which helps you mentally get into that work headspace.
Second, you train friends and family to know when to expect you to be unavailable.
Third, you plan for breaks and other important things, which, as you already read, is also important.
I can’t stress this enough. Allow yourself to be flexible. That schedule above is my ideal, but it’s not my typical day. My typical day usually has interruptions in either the morning or afternoon part, sometimes both.
If I spent a lot of time being all worked up over that, I’d never get anything done. Instead, I take it as it comes and plan around it.
When I get called away for an emergency or unexpected event, I roll with it. I pack up my laptop and/or ipad and head off to whatever it is. If I get a chance to work, great. If not, that’s okay too.
Flexibility also allows you to say yes to those lunch invitations or last-minute meetings that might crop up.
Learn to Say No
This kind of goes with training your friends and family, but it’s a little different. People will see that you work at home and they’ll ask you to sign up for things and volunteer to do stuff.
I’m not telling you to say no every time. That’s your business. What I am saying is don’t say yes to everything either. It’s fine to say yes from time to time. It’s a nice break from the day-to-day work, but don’t fill your calendar with non-work events, then complain that you aren’t getting anything done.
I love volunteering and when my kids were young, I did a lot of it, but it always fit into my schedule. Often, what I was volunteering for was weekend stuff, like swim team concessions, so it didn’t negatively impact my work week too much.
But you’ll have to say no from time to time, and people won’t like it. They will soon learn, however, that your time is valuable, and you can say yes, just not all of the time.
It’s a Great Way to Work!
Obviously, I’m a firm advocate for working from home since I’ve been doing it for so long, but it takes some adjustments in how you live your life too and what people expect of you.
Setting those boundaries will feel uncomfortable for a while, but if you hold to it, it’ll get better. If your kids or spouse are asking you for things, a hard no might not be as acceptable as negotiating something that fits better.
For example, “No, I can’t take you to the mall at 2:30 tomorrow, but I’d be happy to take you on Saturday.” Suggest an alternate time that works for you both. This makes the no a little easier to digest.
“No, I can’t pick up your laundry at lunchtime, but I’d be happy to grab it this weekend if you can wait.”
You can also negotiate with tasks. “I’d love to help you with the yard work later tonight if you can help me do some filing/paperwork/whatever this afternoon so I can get done with my work sooner.”
You can make working at home a pleasant experience, but it might take a little time and a few adjustments. Be patient and ask your friends and family to be patient too!
Do you work from home? Do have any tips to add?