How to work from home and not lose your mind

This week I have Product Panic™ (a condition that sets in when I have too many products that need testing and blogging so I choose to ignore them instead of sorting them out) so I wanted to do a post of a different kind. In a nutshell: how to not lose your shit if you work from home.

I’ve been working from home for two or three years now (the two jobs I had before that required traveling on certain days but no physical office to report to). I have nobody to report to, nobody that checks up on me, no office I occasionally need to visit except for the one I fly to in KZN a couple of times a year. If that’s sounds like your idea of a perfect job; it both is and it isn’t – it’s up to me and me alone to get my work done and it’s also up to me to decide how and when I do it. That’s both great and terrible. Here are some survival tips I figured out along the way.

1. Have breakfast and get dressed

I tend to defy all the conventional rules of working if I don’t consciously think about them. I’ll easily pick up my laptop and get back in bed on a cold day, and stay there until midday. I’ll then have the most horrible feelings of guilt when I realise I haven’t brushed my teeth or gotten dressed; even though I’ve probably done more actual work than many people in an office environment. So when I’m good I get up early enough to be showered, dressed and at my desk by 8am.

2. Work systematically

This is something I’m better at, because my job has more than one component. For my real job I’ll first check our social media pages and respond and update where necessary. Then I’ll move on to my inboxes (I have three for various aspects of work) and check for briefs from magazines and orders from retail clients and reply to any customer queries. Next I’ll move on to anything else I’m busy with (currently I’m attempting to source various bits of packaging and marketing material, we’re working with our formulators to reformulate two existing products and then add some new ones, and the planning has started for a trade show we’re doing in August).

After that I handle freelance work. On Mondays and Wednesdays I hand in the beauty tips I write for All4Women, so whatever I haven’t finished I need to do on those mornings and I may have to phone around or email for some last minute prices and images (although I really should do that earlier). After this (it should be around 2/3PM now) I can move on to blog-related things if I have no big work projects that require more attention, all the while keeping an eye on my work inboxes.

My point is that it’s easier to have a system or a schedule to work according to – I do change it if something important upsets the apple cart, obviously, but my basic routine is ingrained and I do it automatically.

Having said that…

3. Shake things up, take breaks

If you get bored or frustrated, get up and do something else for a couple of minutes. I find myself sometimes literally clenching my jaw and clutching my desk with one hand in an effort to physically stay put, but if you’ve lost concentration, let it go.

I honestly forget that it’s natural to take breaks and make tea and do those things (And then I just get ridiculously tired by 4PM and then I go plonk down on my bed and play games on my ipad. Not ideal). I forget that in an office environment there are other humans to distract you for short periods – to invite you to have lunch with them, shoot the shit for 5 minutes as you wait for the kettle to boil, or convince you to just quickly go to the mall around the corner during lunch time.

4. Have a pleasant workspace

A friend actually suggested that I move my office to the garage to free up the spare room, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in a windowless room amongst our extra furniture (and my car, occasionally) with a harsh neon light overhead.

My office doesn’t look like anything you see on the lifestyle blogs but it’s light, I keep the windows open and I’m actually looking into ways to make it prettier. I’m not great with keeping it organised though, which contributes to Product Panic™.

5. Move around

When I get stuck/bored/frustrated, I pick up my laptop and plonk down on the couch in the living room with the TV on in the background. This is usually also when most of my serious thinky work is finished and I’m answering emails, editing blog pictures and scheduling meetings. The change makes it feel less like working, and as I feel more relaxed I get a little more done again.

This is apparently not ideal as you’re supposed to have a designated work area so your brain can know when to work and when to relax, but I’m hoping as long as I do light work only in my relaxation area I’ll be ok.

6. Stop

The way we work lately (or I work, at least – with a job, a steady freelance gig and a blog) some work is bound to spill over into our ‘free’ time. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but lately I’ve been drawing some lines. Besides, if you’re working until 8PM every night you’re probably doing something wrong. I don’t mind spending the odd evening/Saturday in front of my laptop on my freelance work or blog, but I decided that this month I’m going to try to rediscover my love for cooking and I’ll rather spend an hour or two on that most nights.

7. Set boundaries

Just because I happen to work within close vicinity to my kettle unfortunately does not mean I can entertain friends at the drop of a hat. I had to expain to a couple of my friends that while I’ll mostly welcome a visit, sometimes I’m too busy with tasks that have time contraints. Same goes for your spouse/partner – being at home is not the same as being a housewife, and sometimes it’s necessary to be clear with regards to what they can expect of you in terms of chores, housework and meals, for example (OMG you will NOT believe me, The Man just stubbed his toe against the giant jagged rock we used as a doorstop. I’m not saying it means anything but I’m just sayin’). It might sound very anti-feminist, but same goes for men who work from home – it’s not an apron thing.

Having said that, with a little planning it’s surprisingly easy to fit in some dailies. Unpacking the dishwasher and doing the laundry hardly takes more time than making a cup of tea, if I just have a rough draft to work with I do ok on most days. But more often than not I look up and realise it’s 6PM and I haven’t even defrosted anything for supper – it’s all in the planning, guys.

If it sounds like I’m complaining; I’m most certainly not. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to manage my own time, for not having someone breathing down my neck, for not having to spend time in traffic on a daily basis. This morning, for example, I woke up at around 6AM with a vomit-inducing migraine. I took some meds and went back to bed, where I eventually fell asleep at around 07H30 and woke up at 09H30, feeling better (but not great). This probably would have resulted in a sick day if worked in an office, but as soon as I could sit up and keep a glass of Tab down I was at my desk.

If you work from home, do you have anything to add to the list?

C xx

PS – When people see me at daytime events they often ask me how it works with me having a job and all. Because I manage my own time it’s not an issue, and my employers are aware that I go to some events during the day. Part of my job also involves handling our PR/media relations so it’s great for networking. Having said that, I don’t go to the opening of every envelope – if I gallivant too much during the day, I’ll have too much work to do at night! I also tend to fit in a couple of visits to clients in which ever area the event is.

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4 Comments

  1. Apr 3, 2014 / 8:36 AM

    I agree with everything you mentioned. One word comes to mind when I think about working from home and that’s always the first thing I say to people who ask me what it’s like to work from home. That word is ‘Discipline’.

    It’s very easy to switch on the TV because ‘you just quickly want to check something’ and then when you look again, you’ve watched 2 series episodes already (that’s 2 hours gone).

    Also very easy to tell yourself that you NEED to go to the shops quick because the milk is running low and then that trip turns into a full-blown shopping spree for beauty products and clothes.

    And then food… I find myself either NOT eating during the day at all because I get out of bed, go down to my office area and just start working (especially when there’s a little crisis going on) and I continue to work until I look at the clock and it’s 3pm already (no breakfast & no lunch). Or I find myself overindulging with the flavoured coffees from my Dolce Gusto or Nespresso machine or being too lazy to make myself a healthy lunch & I’ll just grab a packet of crisps.

    Fortunately I am quite strict with myself & tend to rather work more (because in my head I feel like I have something to prove because I am working from home) than less. I’ve also made it very clear to family & friends that me working from home does not mean I can go have coffee a couple of times a week. You have to, otherwise you will be screwing around during the day and working until late at night.

    I have often thought that it’s not all that ‘healthy’ (mentally) to work from home every single day because you don’t get to interact with people and you kind of turn into a hermit too (most days I work in sweats / PJs with absolutely no makeup on & a messy bun). For the last 3 months I have told myself that I need to go out, take my laptop to a coffee shop and work from there just so that it’s a change of scenery…but I still have to actually do it. 😐

    • Apr 3, 2014 / 9:55 AM

      So true about the eating, I either eat nothing or ALL THE THINGS I can find. And you’re right, there’s this little troll in the back of my mind reminding me that most people think working from home ‘doesn’t count’, so I tend to rather over achieve than slack. But you sound more disciplined than me 😛

  2. Apr 3, 2014 / 8:54 AM

    Great post! I’m on day 3 of working full-time from home, so these tips have come at the perfect time. I like what you’ve said about having a system in place – I think I need to relook the way I work and plan better, because I’ve found that I multi-task and do 5 things at once (responding to an email, while writing a press release and editing a photo for my blog – not to mention trying to keep Noah busy and making his lunch!), so I end up feeling a bit overwhelmed. Fantastic post – THANK YOU!

    • Apr 3, 2014 / 9:58 AM

      Best of luck, thank you & pleasure! It took long to figure out my system although it seems blindingly obvious now, but if I attempt multi tasking I end up with various inboxes filled with drafts + more half-completed tasks. Play around, you’ll naturally ease into what works best for you. And good luck with doing it with a kiddo at home, I have no wisdom for that aspect of it!

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