In 2006, after more than a decade working in traditional office environments, I chose to start working from home, primarily so I could spend more time with my husband before we started planning a family. We were still years away from having children, but I wanted to have a steady income and my feet firmly planted on the ground before any little bundles of joy arrived.
I thought working from home would be easy, but it wasn't. It took me six months to adjust to my new working conditions and another year to double my productivity. Then, when our son arrived, it took me yet another year to figure out how to be a mom as well as a full-time employee, all in the same location. It was extremely simple to enjoy the benefits of working from home, but overcoming the challenges took more work than expected.
If you're currently working from home or are thinking about it, here are some tips and tricks I've collected over the years that will help keep you happy, productive and sane.
Know Yourself and Be Honest with Yourself
If you really want to work from home, you need to be a self-starter who has a proven record of actually working when you're at the desk. You should be someone who consistently asks, "What can I do next?" and then does it. You also need to be okay with being alone for 40 or more hours a week. It's best to have friends and family who like to get out of the house on weeknights, as well as the weekends, to help stave off potential loneliness.
Rely on a Mentor, Mastermind Group or Professional Organization
In a traditional office environment, you're surrounded by professionals who serve as your business support network. When working from home, you need to find others who can act as sounding boards and help you solve problems and share their experiences.
Brush Your Teeth
Even though your cat may be the only one to see you, get ready for the workday, at least minimally. I'm not saying you need to put on a suit, but do enough to feel like a professional. Research has found that for most people, the more casual they dress, the more casual their work product.
Set a Routine
Bad routines involving repetitive, dull tasks can make you want to poke out your eyes, but good routines benefit your day. I have the most energy and am my most creative early in the morning, which means this is when I'm at my desk writing. For an hour after lunch, I'm about as mentally capable as a pile of goo, so this is when I file and process the mail and take care of mindless tasks. I even have a morning coffee routine, and if I miss it, my entire day feels off-kilter.
Have Prepared, Healthful Snacks
Another work-from-home friend shared this tip with me: Gather your snacks for the day before you first sit down to work. This way, you won't be strolling to the kitchen and grazing all day on whatever looks good at the time.
Be Able to Put Your Work Away
You don't need a dedicated room for your workspace. Even a closet office, roll-top desk or desk built into an armoire will make you feel more like you're working from home and less like you're living in your office. It took me a long time to realize this, but separation is very important to keep you from feeling like you're always at work.
Honor Your Work Hours
When people learn that you work from home, they often mistakenly believe that it is okay for them to contact you whenever they want. You can certainly work outside of the work hours you establish with other people, but unless you're in emergency services, that doesn't mean you're on call 24 hours a day. Don't answer your work phone during non-work hours, and watch when you send emails. If you regularly send emails outside of your set work hours, your clients will start to expect responses from you during these times.
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up
When you're on your own, you have to take extra steps to protect your work. Keep an external hard drive attached to your computer that automatically backs up your work every 15 minutes. Even if your hard drive fails, or if your home is burgled, you don't want your entire work product to vanish. That's why I like to also back up my computer to the Cloud once a day with Backblaze, but there are numerous other trusted online storage services available to protect your work.
Take Advantage of the Benefits of Working from Home
Work from your patio on a beautiful day, head to a coffee shop when you need to be around people, run the dishwasher if it needs to be run and pick your child up from school each day. Working from home provides flexibility, and it would be a shame if you never took advantage of the benefits of your situation.
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