Over the last 8 years I worked at home a minimum of two days a week, all the way up to the full work week. You could say I have a love-hate relationship with working from home. I love the flexibility, the freedom to care for my children, and the lack of commuting. The down side comes with lack of boundaries – I feel like I am ALWAYS working and people forget I am working because I am home. Over the years, I’ve come up with tips, tricks, and routines that help with productivity and keep my sanity in check. Remember sanity is important. Here are some things to think about.
Define Your Space
Let’s start by saying this does not mean remodel and entire room of your house and designate it solely to work. You can do that if you want and are able, but it is not 100% necessary. Define an area of your home as your work space between the hours of 9-5, or whatever hours you plan to be working. This can be the dining room table, the kitchen table, or the guest room. Let everyone you live with know that this is your area during these hours. Set up your computer, make your piles, lay out all your favorite pens; this is your space.
Now that your space is defined, once the work begins and productivity starts moving, remember to take breaks. Yes to be truly productive, one needs to take breaks. Make sure you are leaving your work space to get a drink of water, have something to eat, or simply walk around for a minute. I know in a quiet space with no interruptions I can go and go and go with no sense of time or space. While that may “feel” productive, it is better for your overall health to take some breaks.
Accept It’s Different
Working from home (WFH) will be different than the office. You may love it. You may hate it. Or your feelings may be neutral. But whatever your personal beliefs around the WFH life, it will be different than office life. The equipment is different. You may be working on a VPN, which can be glitchy and slow. There will be video conference and phone calls instead of meetings and people dropping in your office. E-mail can feel like your best friend or your worst enemy. By accepting that things are different from the start, it will be easier to keep things in perspective.
Working from home provides the opportunity to gain flexibility. Look at your day and find the hours that you 100% need to be available to people for questions via e-mail and phone. In some cases that may be your regular 9-5 hours. In other cases, it may be possible to segment your day. Do you work better first thing in the morning? Schedule time for solo projects first thing before anyone else is out of their pajamas. Are you a night owl? Save the solo work for prime time. Work when you are most productive to maximize the time you are working.
For Parents with Kids at Home
Parents, this rolls right along with the case for flexibility. There is a tremendous need for flexibility if you are working in a home full of children. When I started my work from home journey I had a 5 year old and a newborn. I will admit to processing payroll for 100 employees from five different locations while nursing an infant. I may have super power multi-tasking skills. If you are working with kids at home there will be more breaks; breaks for snacks, for helping with doll clothes, and help with turning on the TV. I found it is better to stop for 5-10 minutes and help the child in need, rather than spend the next 20 minutes asking them to be patient and working unproductively. When my children were super young, I found the best way to work was to be available for phone calls and answer e-mails during the day and spend 2-3 very productive hours working after dinner or bedtime. I joked with my boss to never look at the time stamp on my e-mails.
Another Thing on Kids and WFH
Be honest with your kids. Explain to them that you are “working” even though you are at home, so you do not have time to play like it is a Saturday morning. Talk to your kids about what to do when your phone rings. Come up with a signal, so that they know you acknowledge they have a need and will fulfill it when you are off the phone. They may not remember every time, but if you talk about the plan ahead of time it will take less prompting to quiet things down.
Eight years in and every day is not a walk in the park. Some days are more productive than others. Some days boundaries go out the window and I am working 24/7 or barely keeping the train on the rails while I tend to my children. At the end of the work week, work is done, goals and objectives are met, and I am able to say I am alive with my sanity in check. Find your space, come up with a routine, be flexible, and enjoy the work from home life.