I’ve been working from home since 2008. By now, I have some thoughts on what works (for me) and what doesn’t. Whether or not you agree with these 10 rules I live (and work) by, it’s important to figure out what works best for you as soon as you start your work from home adventure. Here are 10 rules I swear by:
Get up early.
The creative side of me always enjoyed staying up late and getting things done in the wee hours of the morning. When I first started working for myself, I had many nights working until the sun came up! Then I’d sleep all day. It was great until I became off schedule with the rest of the world–both professionally (for meetings, calls, social media posts, replying to emails etc) and socially (dating, seeing friends, going to the gym/movies, making appointments etc).
Then for a long while, I got on a consistent schedule of getting up about 8:30-9 am. It was better for me professionally and socially–and it still allowed me to work somewhat late when I felt most creative. Still, the days seemed to go by in a blink. I’d look up from work and feel it should only be noon, and it’d be 4 pm. You know that feeling?!? The creative zone can really suck you into a black hole of time.
It wasn’t until my cross country move last summer that I’ve truly become a morning person. It might sound crazy, but leaving the time zone I spent my entire life in for a time zone that is 3 hours earlier has definitely helped my productivity. I’m now up at 6 am, get dressed while my coffee brews, and take a morning walk with the furbaby. Then I get to work right away–everyday (no matter what). Many people argue you should find the hours your body feels the best working–I used to be on that side of the argument. But I’ve proved myself wrong. Getting up extra early (ouch–often when it’s still dark!) has been the simplest and most effective way for me to boost productivity. I’ve seen major growth in making this shift for one simple reason: the day just seems to have so many more hours in it when I get up at 6 am.
Your mother has probably told you this at some point in your life (as has mine). Guess what? She is right. Set your alarm. (Or move to the west coast.)
Use a planner.
Structure your time to maximize efficiency. Have a plan for the week, the day, the hour. Monitor how you are spending your time. Set your timer on your phone to move onto the next task! Stop winging it. I fell in love with the planning this past year and it’s really changed how I work. I schedule newsletters a month in advance now. A month!! I suggest using my favorite daily planner here.
Get dressed/do your routine/put on makeup.
You gotta get out of your pajamas/underwear/bathrob/Fabletics–immediately. Sorry to break it to you, you also have to wash your face and brush your teeth. You might even want to brush your hair, and put on some makeup. Do whatever primping routine you did when you went into an office/establishment for work.
Psychologically, when I put myself together in the morning, I feel like myself. I don’t feel my sharpest and therefore don’t do my best work when I have no bra on and severe bed-head. You don’t have to sit at your desk in a suit (unless you want to) but try getting dressed in “real” clothes and see how you feel compared to loafing around your apartment like a slug. I’m willing to bet you are more productive when you clean up.
I always, always, always put on sparkly stud earrings. It’s like a subconscious mind signal–once the earrings are in, I switch from sleepy-relaxed-home-mode to get-shit-done-work-mode.
Schedule personal appointments as if you had an office job.
So you’re working from home! Sweet! You can go to yoga at 10 am on Tuesdays and follow it up with a sauna and a shower. Oh and Wednesdays you have a standing appointment with your acupuncturist at 11 am, and afterward, you like to get your nails done. Right? Wrong.
Working from home does not mean not working (as many of my friends do not understand). When scheduling my personal appointments, I act as if I work in an office and will have to explain why I’m missing for hours to a boss.
I know it takes the fun out of working from home, but in my experience, when I break up my day with personal appointments, I break up my productivity flow. I need longer chunks of undisturbed time to get my daily-to-dos accomplished. When I step out in the middle of the day, it always tends to be a less productive day overall. There are of course times that I have to do so, but in general, I try to schedule all appointments in the late afternoon (after 4 pm) or evening so that I can maximize my work day. If 9 out of the 10 personal appointments you make don’t disrupt your work, you will be incredibly productive.
Make social time a priority.
Because I don’t have co-workers while working at home and am an outgoing, social person, I have to be sure I get my social fix each week, otherwise, I get a little stir-crazy. My rules are these:
1) I drive somewhere at least once a day.
2) I make social plans at least three times a week (not including weekends). They don’t have to be expensive dinners out. Most often they are meeting a friend for a beach walk, a coffee chat or attending a local event.
The point is, you have to get out and about–close the door on that home office. You must treat social time with the same respect you treat work time–it’s important to see friends and family, meet new people, feel connected to your community, and have work-life balance. This very well may be the most important rule, if you don’t follow it, working from home may actually make you feel isolated and out of touch.
My sis once asked me, “How do you not read magazines all day while working from home?” I told her that if I read magazines, then I don’t get my work done, and then…I don’t get paid. So magazines, TV, video games, doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning my closet–whatever the distraction–I have an absolute “zero tolerance” rule in effect.
ppssst…I have a strict no television during the day rule. I won’t turn the TV on until it’s dark outside. If you get distracted by temptations around your home, try implementing strict hourly parameters!
Have a designated workspace. (NOT THE COUCH.)
Have a specific place where you do your work, ideally a table or desk with a comfortable chair. Keep it neat and tidy so that each day you sit back down it’s a pleasant experience. If it’s a disorganized mess of papers and piles it will likely effect your productivity. At the end of each day take two minutes to put things away so that you start the next day on an organized note.
Get a dog.
Since co-workers are slim to none while working from home, having a dog around has surprisingly increased my productivity. How?
First, my dog forces me to take frequent breaks/walks outside that help refresh my mental state. If I didn’t have that little paw poking me every 3-4 hours to go outside, my day might be one big black hole of work. And maybe I’d get a lot done, but I’m confident my work is higher quality because I return to my desk with a fresh perspective. Plus, getting outside means getting more sunshine, which in turn means a boost of vitamin D, which helps prevent a lot of health issues, including depression.
Second, my dog brings me pure joy. The laughs, smiles, and love she provides me with all day every day make work more fun. And we all need to have a little fun while working–or what’s the point?
There’s nothing like the freedom of working at home. Make the most of it. When you are productive and cross something off your to do list, reward yourself. Take a break! (Make a delicious lunch! Go for a run!) My daily reward (for example, if I get X, Y and Z done by a certain time) is usually a 20 minute pool/hot tub break. It’s pretty incredible what looking forward to little rewards will do for your productivity!
Hope my work from home rules help boost your productivity and make working from home a great experience. Try writing your own rules. And actually write them down–you’re more apt to stick to them that way.
Let me know what rules work for your best productivity in the comments.
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