I wrote a lengthy post on working from home nearly six years ago, and when I read through it again I was very surprised to still find it relevant. You’re welcome to read (or re-read) it here. I’ve learnt a few things along the way, so as I return to working from home – fully self-employed this time round – there are a few things I’d like to add and reinforce.
1. Have a morning ritual
The only one of my previous points that I’ve completely changed is that there’s no way in this or any other galaxy I can work from my bed anymore. I have to have a shower and get dressed to be in the right headspace. The more lethargic, demotivated or overwhelmed I feel, the more important that step is. Getting up, making my bed and getting into the shower is the most difficult step – from there on muscle memory fortunately takes over for the most part.
On most days I don’t dress up if I’m not leaving the house – leggings and a t-shirt is my standard office attire. It feels like a bit of a uniform, and I like it that way. If I don’t have any appointments, I make sure to style my hair, put on some makeup and wear real pants a couple of times a week for a little morale boost. Some days I look like a million bucks when I take the wheelie bin to the gate.
Your morning routine doesn’t have to be a cookie cutter one – as long as you have a ritual that lets your brain know it’s time to get cracking. I know people that go through a full morning routine – a man that shaves, gets dressed in office attire and packs up and unpacks his briefcase every day, and a few women that like to do full hair and makeup and get dressed – and one that puts on ‘outside shoes’ to send the right cues to her brain.
If you haven’t figured out your ritual, put in some effort and do it. Sit down and plan out your work environment, workspace and office hours if necessary. Do what you need to do to make working from home a ritual and a pleasure. Set up what you need to and commit to it for 2-3 weeks so it can stick.
2. Have a primary work space
My desk is my primary work space, and it’s where I sit when I need to bunker down and get things done. I still like having some options for secondary, more chilled spaces – outside or on the couch in my case.
It seems to send a message to my brain that I can relax one or two notches while getting some more work done. I usually move to a different spot when I get antsy or just plain frustrated.
3. Eat the frog
The French have a way with words, and a former CEO once passionately exclaimed that we should eat the frog. After we responded with blank stares, he explained that you should tackle your biggest, most difficult task of the day/week/month first. After that, everything else will seem breezy.
I still struggle with this as I procrastinate when I’m overwhelmed. When I do manage it, it’s a phenomenal feeling and it eases a lot of mental strain. After you’ve tackled the big one (even if you just start taking steps – Rome wasn’t built in a day etc), the relief will make your smaller tasks seem like a holiday.
4. Embrace your rhythm
Some people work best at 5am. Others are more productive at 9pm. If you’re not in a corporate environment that requires you to be online or available at specific hours, it may be time to stop fighting your preferred rhythm and just go with it.
As for me? I have a bit of an unconventional rhythm. I’m most productive if I get up between 7 – 8am, which means I’ll be ready to settle in at my desk around 9am, usually after I’ve done a few things around the house first.
I’ll then go for it until 3pm – 4pm with only small breaks in between – but then I’m drained BECAUSE I didn’t take breaks. If I’ve completely lost focus I’ll take a proper break – go do grocery shopping, veg on the couch for an hour, take a nap in extreme circumstances, phone a friend, trawl the internet for trash, get dinner going. When I was office based I often drove home at this point.
Once I’ve had enough of a break I would be able to put in another couple of hours of work. If I don’t have a particularly heavy load, I’ll call it a day or do some planning for the following day. I don’t believe in forcing myself to work a certain number of hours if I don’t have that much work to do. I’ve never been a clock watcher – some days you have a half day, other days you don’t really get to break for lunch or dinner.
5. The black hole that is a work-from-home break
There are breaks and there are breaks, and working from home means breaks can take a turn before you even realise it.
Making myself a cappuccino and having it in the garden relaxes me if I’m feeling wired. Getting in my car and doing a quick grocery shop gives me a change of scenery and ticks a chore off the to-do list. Prepping or cooking a meal is mindless and therapeutic. Plonking down in front of the TV to watch an episode of something? That’s dangerous territory.
Put a bit of thought into your breaks. Figure out what length of break works for you, and at what time of day. If I take too big of a break earlier in the day, my brain thinks it’s a half day – hence my preference to power through when required.
6. The always-on culture
I have really strong feelings about this. Within reason I will answer calls, emails and messages after hours – when it’s called for and if I’m able to. But you can’t always be available as your life has many other facets as well. In order to be a functioning human, these other facets need to receive attention as well.
Going the extra mile is great and noble, and your employers/clients will certainly recognise and appreciate that. But make sure you’re being treated with respect – and that you have enough respect for yourself to know where to draw the line. Somehow if you work from home the demand seems even greater to always be available, and if there is no company policy to guide you, you’ll have to implement one for yourself.
Some days I simply just don’t check any communication after a certain time if I (gasp) have something else to do or somewhere to be, or if I just need some time out. You know what? Everything has always been perfectly fine the following day. Other days I’ll glance it over and quickly ask myself if anything will have changed if I respond the following day.
If this makes you nervous or if you’ve set an always-on precedent, set automatic email responders and voicemail messages so there’s no uncertainty for any parties involved – even if it’s just an afternoon. This will put your mind at ease, and colleagues/clients will know when to expect you online again.
7. Silver linings
In my career I’ve been in a few different work environments – full on customer facing, sales on B2C and B2B levels, working from home and full on corporate. I can’t single out one as clearly being 100% better as the other. Every one of these has its perks and drawbacks, and I highly recommend identifying the positives of YOUR situation.
If you work from home and you have flexibility, use it. You may not have it forever. I recently went back to yoga after three years of just not being able to manage classes and I’m so grateful to be able to fit it in again. Negotiate terms, plan – make the most of it.
There’s no one-size fits all but I hope this helps a little. If you have good tips, please let us know!