OK, true confessions time: I’ve been a practitioner (and a fan) of working from home for *AHEM* more years than I’d care to admit. After all, who wouldn’t embrace a work style in which “bad hair days” simply don’t exist?
Even in those hazy, 20th century days of my first real gig spending 40-plus weekly hours in an office, more often than not—as a copywriter—I found that my most productive time tended to be outside the office. (In my case, usually between 5:00 am…and whenever I had to dash for the train to appear at the expected time, bright-eyed, to warm the seat in my cubicle—having often finished my work for the day. Don’t tell my old boss.)
But remember, working from home forces us to ask tough questions: am I ready for the solitude? Do I have adequate internet bandwidth? Am I prepared to be a personal slave to my pets for the majority of my waking hours?
At this point, I’ve spent literally years working from home for my freelance business. I have also learned that gelato is NOT a “power breakfast,” even when served between two slices of whole-grain toast. So I offer these field-tested tips in the spirit of good will and of experienced bathrobe-business-conducting—with the caveat that personal idiosyncrasies are, unsurprisingly, at the heart of the working-from-home-experience. So what’s worked for me may not be your optimum strategy. But what the hey: take what works, and leave the rest.
1. RELAX. JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE AT HOME DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NOT “REALLY” WORKING
If you’re a conscientious employee-type, as I strive to be—someone who’s always thrilled, frankly, to be the first to respond to a late-night email chain, or be seen in the office early by your supervisor’s supervisor (be honest: you dig it, too)—one of the first challenges of working from home (hereafter: WFH) is a mental one: am I really “working,” if I’m wearing sweats, petting my dog, and just a few steps from a nearly limitless supply of string cheese? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
According to a recent study by Airtasker, in fact, remote employees worked on average a full 1.4 more days every month—that’s 16.8 more days every year—than those who worked in an office. (That doesn’t even count the time—and money, and carbon, and hair falling out in clumps—saved avoiding a physical commute.) So stop worrying, and enjoy the dress code.
2. PHONE AND COMPUTER ALARMS ARE YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
Without the physical presence of colleagues to remind you of the passage of time, the fact is: it can get disorienting remembering when, exactly, it’s time to do everything from eating lunch (PRO TIP: do it, every day) to budgeting time across tasks in a balanced way. Luckily, that device-that-seldom-leaves-your-hand (spoiler alert: it’s a phone) can be a HUGE help. Setting alarms and alerts for tasks, from meetings (obvs) to planned breaks (much as she wants to, your dog can’t walk herself) can be a huge help.
Which brings us to the next tip:
3. DISCOVER THE UNIQUE RHYTHM OF YOUR PERSONAL WORKDAY
Are you an early bird? A night owl? A middle-of-the-day, um, sea cucumber? Once again, here’s a way in which WFH is an absolute win: you can focus your most productive hours accordingly, while accounting for the fact that—unless you’re working time-shifted with a faraway place (a subject for another essay, natch)—many, if not all, of your calls and meetings will take place during traditional business hours.
Once again, this means freedom to be more productive on every front: more time spent with family (or, again, your dog/cat/trapped spirit of an ancient pharaoh) when they’re available and alert, and more time for you yourself to tackle your work tasks in an efficient way. On your schedule. That might mean front-loading your day with the bulk of your work, or sleeping until 8:55 am for that 9 am meeting (hey: it happens), knowing you’ll make up the time in productive hours later on in the day.
(Remember, the folks on your teleconference don’t know—or care—that you’re in long johns and a heavy metal concert t-shirt, puffy-eyed, hair plastered sideways like the bride of Frankenstein. You sound good. [Gives thumbs up sign.])
4. DON’T LET WORK EXPAND BEYOND REASONABLE BOUNDARIES
Again, this might be intuitively obvious, but it’s tripped me up sometimes: WFH means that, yes, you’re not “trapped in an office;” on the other hand, when your home is your office, it can easily start to feel like you are never, well, not at work. It’s tempting (especially in my industry) to let work time spread until it engulfs a lot more hours than you can reasonably bill for—or explain to a disgruntled spouse who’s throwing soda cans at your head. This doesn’t help anyone. So (see tip 4, above) set alarms; budget your time; be firm but gentle with yourself.
NB: Having spent years managing myself, I know this is easier said than done; but with practice it gets to be second nature. (SPONTANEOUS PERFORMANCE SELF-REVIEW: That Ben guy…he’s OK. A solid 8 out of 10, I’d say—with plenty of room for improvement. A touch of Dunning-Kruger, but he never blows deadlines…and I know I can count on him in the crunch. Wish I had five more like him: I’d make more money.)
Well, there you are. Hope something in here is helpful. And remember: if all else fails and you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a walk—whether it’s around the room, or around the block. Better still, call a friend or co-worker, and shift your mindset for a little while: I have always found it remarkable how a quick conversation with another human being—or even someone with an MBA—can clear the cobwebs, reset your mood, and unlock new energy.
Even apart, we need each other’s company and comfort. In fact, come to think of it: when we’re apart, we need each other more than ever.
(And if that doesn’t work: there’s always gelato.)