For the last 6-7 years, I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer, project manager, and editor. A lot of people think that working from home is all about being in your pajamas and binging Netflix in the background, but it’s actually a bit more involved than that (though I do have some friends who still work in their PJs).
Because you never “leave” work it can be easy to fall into habits of working all the time and never truly relaxing…Or you can end up constantly trying to stay on task when you’re “at work.” It can also start to feel socially isolating because you get less face to face time with other people, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t moved forward much.
Do not fret! I’ve got 5 ways you can avoid these things, and I learned them the hard way so you don’t have to!
Keep a Good Routine – Don’t Work All the Time
When I first started working from home, I would basically make myself available to clients 24/7. If I got a request for a job or an email from a client at 9:30 at night, I’d rush to my computer to answer it.
It took me several years of working from home to realize that isn’t feasible in the long term. You will wear yourself out super quickly. It’s pretty rare that any of these questions or tasks are urgent, especially if you’re in an industry like me, where most questions would be fine if you answered them in the morning.
Set work hours for yourself. Just like a real job, you need a routine of when you are on and off work. For me, I’m ‘at work’ at 8 o’clock each morning, whether I’m working on my own projects or projects for clients I work with. I usually work until noon, take a lunch break and then try to get back to it around 1 PM. From there, I’ll work until 2-3 PM. Sometimes it will feel like you’re not working the ‘full’ 8 hours, but I’ve spent the last few years really disciplining myself. If I’m working, that’s most of what I’m doing. I’m not checking social media or other distractions. When you’re in an office, some of those 8 hours are filled will chatting with co-workers or moments of being off task.
You’ll want to be mindful of your time and aware of your distractions, but 4-6 hours of non-distracted work easily matches 8 hours of distracted work for me. I can walk away from 5 hours of non-distracted work and feel pretty accomplished and also pretty drained. Listen to your brain and body and don’t overwork yourself.
One other tool I use to stay on task is called Time Boxing. Planning out your day or week can help you stay on task and remind yourself “Right now, I’m working.” or “It’s time for leisure right now, I shouldn’t be working.” It’s important to make time to work and relax in pretty much equal parts, especially when your home becomes your workplace.
Practice Good Hygiene.
Get up, shower and brush your teeth. I have some friends who do work in their PJs, but they’ve turned that into a productive “work uniform” for themselves. They see PJs as the sort of clothing they create or work in, so being in a suit or something more formal doesn’t work the same way for them anymore.
I personally started wearing a nightshirt to bed and then when I get up in the morning after I do my morning routine, I change into new clothes. I still wear comfy jeans and a t-shirt most days, but it feels good to be in clean clothes as you start your day.
Socialize and Get Out of the House (If you can)
Okay, I totally get that a lot of you are working from home right now as a means of practicing social distancing. I’m proud of you! Thank you for helping us protect ourselves and our loved ones. I’m doing the same! But, this advice still holds, we still need to socialize even if it’s done over the phone or over the internet. Humans crave connection.
When the world is not impacted by a pandemic, I try to leave my house at least once every 3-4 days. Sometimes I just go shopping at TJ Maxx or I go to my Silent Book Club or other activities were my friends will be. If you’re not an extrovert, going for a walk or exercising outside is also a great option.
I’ve also found other ways to socialize thanks to the internet. I’ve played online games via console or my PC with friends and we use discord or party chats to speak to each other as we play. For a long time, I had a group of friends who met up almost every night of the week to game together. It was our version of ‘hanging out after work’ even though we were all doing it from the comfort of our own homes.
I also call family and friends and video chat with some of them regularly. We have a lot of applications and games out there that can help us feel a sense of connection and interaction with people, you can make good use of them.
A dear friend and I both work from home frequently, so we do a thing we call “sprinting” to help each other stay productive. We email each other when we’re working and we check in on the hour mark to see what we did for the hour. This both helps give us a bit of social interaction and it helps us stay productive and on-task during work hours.
I’ve also read stories where artists used Skype or Discord to do video or phone chats with other artists, so they feel like they’re working together, like they might in an office.
It can really help to motivate you if you know you have to tell someone else what you did for the last hour. I have another blog on Accountability Buddies if you want to learn more.
One word of caution with this though: Don’t let the socializing become the thing you’re “doing” for the hour. My friend and I use email because we’re less likely to pull each other off-task with it. I’ve had sprinting buddies in the past who wanted to keep talking while we were supposed to be working. If that happens, just do your best to stay on task and it might be time to find a new buddy.
Reflect on Your Accomplishments. It’s Easy to Miss Them.
I had a “friend” who used to make comments about how working from home wasn’t truly ‘working.’ I don’t think she intended to be mean, but she would often tell me I could take care of tasks she couldn’t because I had “so much free time.” I think this attitude will become less common in the coming weeks, because as more people work from home, more people are going to realize how hard it can be and how you can totally lose all your boundaries with work when it’s a room away, rather than a commute away.
The greatest way I’ve found to combat these negative comments or feelings is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish a bunch of tasks? WOO! Were you supportive of the people you work with or students you work with? That’s awesome! Did you manage to learn something new or build on a skill you already had? YOU ARE DOING GREAT!
Just because you may not have a boss or co-workers to directly acknowledge all the progress you are making, doesn’t mean you’re not still making progress. You are, trust me. Even adjusting to working from home is a huge amount of progress. Like I said, it’s taken me years to make these adjustments and feel happy and comfortable with my work/life balance.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them down below! I’m happy to share anything I’ve learned in the last few years, especially if it helps the people around me.
Also, my friend I virtually co-work a lot with has written a companion piece to this blog about different apps and tools you can use to help you stay productive and on task while working from home.
Go check her blog out here: https://virtuosity1111.wordpress.com/ (I’ll update the link when the post is up)