Working from home – the holy grail in many peoples eyes. Sounds great in theory, but in practise it can be really REALLY hard to get the work-life balance right (if there IS such a thing!). Let’s look at some tips for how to make working from home work for you – and the working from home rules you need to live by to stay sane. Ready?
Years ago (over 13 to be exact), I was sitting at a desk in an office that had no windows. It was summer, a hot summer, and the air conditioning had broken. Added to all that, the lighting was that horrible flickering strip lighting that’s as old as me (I’m ageing myself now!).
This was my last job in IT before I finally took the plunge to work for myself, and the office was an old computer storage area that the company had been forced to use as they expanded.
It was horrible.
We had no clue what was going on outside – everyone felt low, and we spent as much time as possible in meetings in other places.
During that time was when it solidified in my mind that I didn’t want to work in an office any longer.
I wanted to work for myself, from home, in a job that was flexible.
That day when I walked out of that window-less office was one I’ll never forget!
I was free, free to work for myself and set up something that excited me…
I truly loved my business – and since 2005 I’ve been working for myself, from home – in a variety of different roles as my business has developed.
I’ve learned how to make it work, and how to get the balance right, and wanted to explore today what I’ve learned over the years, in the hope that it helps you find balance that bit quicker…
WORKING FROM HOME RULES TO LIVE BY
#1 – PLAN YOUR DAY THE DAY BEFORE
When you wake up and work at home, it’s FAR to easy to get distracted by the day to day callings of family and home.
If you plan your day out the day before, then your head is already ready to get started on those things when you wake up. You don’t have to think about it, and there’s less chance to get sidetracked by life.
I used to get caught out by this all the time….
#2 – SCHEDULE WORK TIME
It’s too easy to let work and non-work time blend together when you work from home. You will have everything you need to get work done to hand, and so it’s easy to get into the habit of just doing something for a few minutes when the kids are back from school…
But it’s a slippery slope.
You then find (as I have) that work becomes ingrained into every part of home life, and you can’t switch off.
I struggle with setting myself times for work, but over the years have come to realise that these times do NOT have to be set in stone.
Far from it in fact.
You could schedule work time each day, week, month etc… depending on what season of your life you’re in.
For example – when my daughter was very small I would work when she napped, when she was at nursery, and in the evenings when she was asleep. I still got my hours in (I work 35-40 a week on average), but they weren’t your normal 9-5 by any means.
When she grew up a little more, I would work when she was at school AND when she was asleep again (I’d fit exercise in during the day as well). Again – 35-40 hours but at times where I could be there 100% for her as well.
Now, she’s just turned 10 and I change my hours all the time. When she’s on holidays from school I schedule less work and just do that in the evenings when she’s in bed, and I mix up day time and evening work the rest of the time. I actually work a few less hours now if I can because my work allows me to do so.
Basically – set a schedule that works for you, that allows you the time you need to do your work, that uses hours that you can work well in, and that fit with your home life. That’s the beauty of working from home – you get to choose!
#3 – LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Alongside setting your work schedule, you really really really need to look after yourself as well.
I am awful at this, but getting better!
You see – when I have time to work, I sit and get it done.
Great, you say – but I forget to drink, eat and get up and stretch my legs during this time – so by the end of the time I have, I feel rotten.
Get the balance right, (make sure you eat well, drink loads of water, and take regular breaks to walk around) and you have all the ingredients to have a great work at home life.
#4 – PLAN SOCIAL TIME
Work can take over when you work from home.
Somehow you sort of feel like you need to be working MORE than those in an office job because you need to feel like people see you working hard.
It’s a guilt thing.
And it really makes no sense at all!
I now make sure that each week I have booked in 1 or 2 friends for a catch-up when my daughters at school. We can’t catch up easily in the evenings, so during the day works best.
Yes, it’s work-time that I’m losing – but if I continue to look at the week as a whole, it will all get done, and I’m making the most of the flexibility.
I actually find I’m more productive when I take a break because I work that bit quicker before I have to stop, and I feel refreshed when I get back…
#5 – CREATE A WORK SPACE
Whether it be a shelf to keep your laptop, printer and folders on – or a whole home office – create a space that is your work area.
This means that your work can be packed away into one area, and (hopefully) forgotten about when you’re not at work.
I’ve used a spare bedroom, an outside converted garage, and a simple bookcase over the years, depending on what I needed for the work I was doing, and they all worked in their own way.
#6 – WEAR CLOTHES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GREAT
Oh the joy of being able to work in your Pyjamas!
Everyone thinks that’s how I work most days – especially now I’m blogging full time. After all – if you get a chance not to get dressed up each day, you take it, right?
Well – no – actually…
I found that when I started to get dressed for work each day (making an effort to feel comfortable but still stylish in my own way) then I felt more like working, and I was more productive.
I’m not talking getting suited and booted. I wear dresses, or jeans and a nice top most of the time. But I always put on some mascara, some jewellery, and nice shoes – and I feel ready to take on the world.
#7 – 3 TASKS A DAY
Working from home usually means you are responsible for getting things done, and for when they get done.
I found that I wanted to do all.the.things every day – and very quickly got overwhelmed and ended up doing nothing because I couldn’t work out what was the most important.
As such, now I plan my days so that I have 3 main tasks to complete.
I have one task that HAS to be done, no matter what. This is the task that I would be happy to have done at the end of the day and feel like I’d achieved something.
The other two are smaller tasks that need to get done, but aren’t as important.
For example – the first task may be to write the blog post for that week. The second task may be to plan the following months post titles, and the third task to update a sales page with a testimonial. The blog post HAS to get done because there’s a schedule I have to follow, but the other two could slip if required.
I find that focusing on 3 things works well because it’s do-able. There isn’t loads to focus on, and when I plan the months ahead I know I can fit in all the things I want to fit in, and that they will all get their turn eventually.
(Of course – it feels GREAT if you do the 3 things and have time for others as well, so you can get ahead!)
#8 – STAY FOCUSED
When you work at home, it can be really hard to focus on work.
Everything seems a little more interesting than what you need to get done – so you’ll always find that quickly sorting out the washing from the machine, or watering the plants, or putting the bins out etc… can start to take over your day. Yes, it’s fantastic to have the flexibility to do these things and keep your chores jogging along so they don’t build up – but this does take your focus away from work if you’re not careful.
Not only that, but when you live with others then you’ll no doubt get pulled away from working at times because they are doing something interesting, or they need your help with something etc…
You’ll also get people who think that because you work from home you’re always available -and they’ll pop in for a coffee etc…. – which is lovely of course, but still distracts you from what you’re meant to be doing.
It’s probably the hardest but the most important skill to learn – but focusing on your work when you need to will pay dividends…
Tips to help?
- Put a note on your office door that you can’t be interrupted until a certain time – and get the family on board
- Turn off all notifications on you phone and computer for social media and email alerts
- Turn your phone onto silent (if you can – I leave it on in case school call) – always let it go to voice mail and then you can get back to them asap
- Don’t answer the front door as a rule – difficult I know – but needs must!
#9 – VARY WHERE YOU WORK
Who says you HAVE to work from home to, well, work from home?
I go through phases of where I work best – and so I go with it now…
At home, I’ve worked at my kitchen table, on the sofa in the lounge, and in the designated office space.
But equally – I work REALLY well in the local coffee shop, at my gym in their business area and their cafe area, outside in the park under a tree, and many other places.
The key is to know what you need in terms of kit for the tasks you have to do that day, and as long as you have those accessible, you can be flexible!
#10 – HAVE THE RIGHT KIT
Having the right kit to hand makes working from home a LOT more productive.
There’s nothing more frustrating than starting to do your end of month books to find the printer is out of ink…. (Oh yes, on more than one occasion – I should learn!).
So – always have a good supply of things to hand, and make sure that if you go out and work somewhere else, you have what you need there as well (and you have a backup plan of what to do if not i.e. our gym very occasionally doesn’t have working WI-FI, so I always know there’s a chance I can’t work online there – I therefore always have a notebook so I can plan posts if I’m stuck).
Some items you may want to hand are: –
- Printer / Scanner / Copier**
- Camera / Phone
- Paper** & Ink for printer
- Pens & paper for note taking
- Computer / Laptop**
- Good WI-FI
- All your passwords and access details for your work and other sites you need to use
- Headphones (if you like listening to music or have conference calls etc… then these are a must when you’re working in public places)
#11 – EVALUATE REGULARLY
I always look over how I’m feeling about working from home at least once a month – both by myself and with my hubby.
If you work from home, make sure that everyone you live with is happy with the arrangement – you can otherwise have tension from working into the evening or being there but not really being there etc…
Look at where you’re working, what hours you’re working, what work you’re doing etc… and see what’s working and what isn’t. This is crucial to enjoying it as much as you can. And talking about enjoying…..
#12 – ENJOY IT!
For so many years I felt guilty that I had a job that I loved.
I worked harder and harder to feel like I was REALLY working, and everyone could see I was working hard.
Because I loved my job and at times it felt like a hobby, I felt like it wasn’t fair because I had friends who had jobs they didn’t like and commutes that they hated.
But then I began to realise something.
I’ve made this happen.
My hubby and I planned and worked towards this for years before it became a reality – and we have sacrificed things along the way. He loves office work but works away a lot of the time as that’s the nature of his job, we’ve both worked opposite shift patterns for years – and we have missed out on lots of time together (and as a family) as a result. But I kind of also have no choice but to be flexible in what I do – and I want to work so the fact that I have created a job that fits with us is fantastic. But it wasn’t luck, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it at all.
I love working from home and I get immense satisfaction and joy from what I do – so why feel bad? AND why make it harder than it has to be?
I intend to make more of this flexibility over the coming years – nothing grand, but taking the odd day off as I’ve worked crazy hours the previous week, not working at all some weekends each month etc…. – will be a massive change to how I have been working – and I’m looking forward to it.
When you’ve started to work for yourself you’ll see that working from home has LOTS of positives, but some negatives to overcome as well – and over time you’ll create your own set of working from home rules so that you can find a happy place that works for you and your unique circumstances.
I hope this list has helped you consider things in a different way, and have given you food for thought….
I truly think working from home is amazing – it’s the best of all worlds – but you have to be able to motivate yourself, focus, and get the work done. If you can do those things, you’ll wonder why you ever thought about working in an office again!
I can’t wait to see how you go!