Envisioned work-from-home scenario: While soft music plays, the employee types on her ergonomic keyboard, glancing up at the full-size monitor in her designer-decorated office. As aromatic soup simmers in the crockpot on the kitchen counter, she enjoys several productive, uninterrupted hours.
Real-life work-from-home scenario: The employee sits at her mini laptop at the kitchen table, getting more and more frustrated at the dog barking incessantly next door. A child (or two) appears every few minutes to ask for a snack, drink or her attention. The employee has no idea what she’ll fix for lunch, let alone dinner.
Whether you work from home all the time, part-time or only when necessary (COVID-19, anyone?), you’ve no doubt experienced the challenges of such an arrangement. As a freelance writer for many years, I’ve learned several ways to navigate at-home work dilemmas. Through my own experience and by asking friends their best advice, I’ve compiled a list of helpful tips.
- Set a Daily Schedule.
Jill McSheehy, a podcaster and online educator, says, “A daily schedule is a must for me. I block out time for working, housework, gardening, breaks, and time to get the kids started on their responsibilities. Every hour in my day is accounted for, with a bit of flexibility in the afternoons.”
Several friends said they set a timer to remind them to stand and stretch. That’s always a good idea when you mostly work at a computer, unless you have a standing desk. Others put “outside time” or “walk the dog” on their schedule so they get fresh air and sunshine.
2. Know yourself.
I’m not a morning person, so when I work from home, I schedule light tasks—answering emails, compiling documents, listening to podcasts and taking notes—for the earlier part of my day. After lunch, I write and research, take meetings and interview people for articles.
Similarly, Tracy Ruckman, a book publisher and writer, advises: “Figure out what your most productive times are, and let those be your work hours.”
3. Plan your work—and work your plan.
Kay Crownover, a Sales Director with Mary Kay, started her home-based business 26 years ago. She says, “When I began working from home, I planned out my workweek on Sunday evenings and then I worked my plan during the week.”
I plan on achieving one big goal a day (i.e. create and schedule social media posts on Monday, write articles on Tuesday, send queries on Wednesday, research book proposal chapters on Thursday), which keeps me focused and helps me get more accomplished than if I spread my tasks out. I also use Fridays for errands and doctor/dentist appointments, so those time-consuming tasks don’t encroach on my work.
4. Have a dedicated workspace.
Whether or not you have an office/study, designate one part of your home as your workspace. Crownover says that keeping her papers, files and supplies in one area instead of allowing them to spread out over her home kept her family happy, which then helped them be more supportive of her work.
5. Set appropriate boundaries.
Be firm when dealing with neighbors or friends who might see your “at-home-ness” as their chance to interrupt at every opportunity. Decide ahead of time to say no to requests you wouldn’t be able to fulfill if you were working away from the house (making exceptions for certain situations or emergencies). After all, people will only take your work seriously if YOU take your work seriously.
Speaking of family, those of us who are parents or caregivers of children have extra issues to deal with when we work at home, especially during the summer or school holidays. I’ve done a bit of everything, from trading off childcare with other moms to utilizing church summer programs—God bless VBS!
As the kids got older, I paid them to clean the house, prepare meals and do other things while I worked, so we could have time together after hours. (And to be honest, I’ve used family-friendly movies and computer games to keep them entertained when I needed to work for a sustained stretch. They are now grown, with no apparent lasting damage from being in front of screens at those times.)
Also remember to set healthy boundaries for yourself, such as no T.V. except at lunch or after work hours; only answer texts/phone calls about work if possible (others will eventually learn to call you when you’re not working); the fridge and cabinets are closed between meals; no social media until evening. Don’t trust yourself? Download an app which will keep your computer from accessing social media during certain hours, or ask a friend to keep you accountable and check in at the end of each workday.
You’ll also need to set personal boundaries. When you work where you live, it’s easy to keep going long after 5 o’clock comes and goes. Decide ahead of time that—barring important deadlines—you will quit before dinner and not pick up your laptop again until the next morning. Take weekends off as well, and schedule days off and vacations. Your mind, heart and soul will thank you!
6. Invest in yourself.
One of the best things I did as a freelancer was join several affinity groups online. I also joined an online writer’s group. And I regularly budgeted for books, conferences and classes to hone my skills. Not only did these outings and resources build my career and confidence, they gave me a social outlet with like-minded people.
One final piece of advice, from Charlsie Webb, a photographer and online teacher: “Be the boss you wish you had, and be the employee you wish you could hire.”
Thanks for reading, friends. Please comment with your own tips and tricks about working from home–I might use them in a future post (with your permission, of course).