AKA How to Not Be Your Own Worst Boss
Working from home and for yourself comes with a lot of benefits, and also a lot of distractions, and frustrations that are very different from what you find in a “regular” workplace.
Yes, you CAN work in pajamas/with no shoes on, etc. Yes, you CAN take breaks when you want and listen to whatever music you like. However, you ALSO need to not lose valuable work time to home distractions or marathoning Netflix, or alternatively you need to remember that you CAN stop working and aren’t required to stay chained to your workspace.
I know that when I first started working from home, I realized I was a harsher boss to myself than any of the corporate bosses I had been eager to stop working for.
So here are some tips, tricks, and insights into making working from home and for yourself the BEST job you’ve ever had.
Do you have dedicated work space in your home? Although it doesn’t have to be a whole room, you need at least a desk and a couple of drawers designated for your work and supplies, something big enough for whatever you do. This will vary – if your work is all digital, you just need a space for whatever tablet or computer you use. If you sew or paint on large canvases or work in ceramic, obviously you’ll need more space. The point is, however big or small, this needs to be space that is designated WORK. It can’t become a catch-all for other things, and it shouldn’t be a shared space like the dining room table. That’s not to say you CAN’T occasionally work from different places in the house (or OUT of the house even), but your tools of the trade need a designated space and you need a designated place to work with them.
If your work involves sitting, invest in a GOOD chair. If you’re uncomfortable, you’ll find reasons to get up and not work. Keep your space organized so you can find what you need when you need it. Make sure you have good lighting that makes the space feel good and lets you see what you’re doing. Decorate with art or images that inspire you. When you look up from your work, you don’t want to be staring at blank walls (after all, we DON’T want this to feel like a cubicle in an office).
When you’re focused, and get distracted, it takes 23 minutes to get back into that focus! Yikes!!
Are there others in your home that might cause distractions? It’s really important to talk to your loved ones and roommates about your work times. Get a commitment from them to support you in your endeavor to help reduce interruptions while you’re working. Set up systems so they know when it’s okay to talk to you/interrupt you vs “come back later”. I know people who use wearing headphones as a sign for not right now. I also have seen people use closed doors (if your workspace is fully separate), a special lamp on their desk that gets turned on to indicate “I’m busy”, a magnet or sign…come up with fun ideas!
Some distractions you can’t negotiate with – pets vying for attention (this is where a closable door does come in handy), neighborhood kids playing outdoors, noisy cars passing by…these could all serve to sabotage your work time. Just breathe, try to accept the distraction, and then move on and get back to it. If you’re someone who enjoys working to music, have a good playlist to overpower the outside sounds (and some good headphones too!).
A word about one other main distraction – notifications! This can be on your computer, tablet, or phone. I am a STRONG advocate for breaking the habit of checking every notification. Turn off your computer notifications completely. You don’t need those pop-ups. Set your phone on silent while in a work time block. Give yourself designated time at the end of a work block to check your phone and get caught up (but maybe set a timer for that too, so you don’t end up falling into an hour of endless scrolling!). This ties in to the next piece – your work ethic and focus.
Your Work Ethic and Your Focus
Can you stay focused and on task while working at home? You can lose valuable work time through repeated checking of email, social networking sites, and text messages during the day. For better concentration and greater productivity, refrain from these activities while working (unless you need to check emails for your work). If you need to check things for work, again, set times to do so instead of impulsively checking email constantly. Once an hour is fine. The emails will still be there, and you DON’T need to respond instantaneously.
When you work from home, no one is watching over you. This means no one is breathing down your neck, but also means you have no one to remind you to finish something or get back to work, or even someone to ask questions if you get stuck. So you have to really build a strong work ethic and personal responsibility. You are your own boss. The best things to do are set actual work hours for yourself. This doesn’t have to be 9-5, the same time each day, or even consecutive hours in a day. It just means you set daily work time that is designated as such, and view it as if you ARE punching a clock. If that means that you work from 10-1 every day, then have a flexible afternoon with another work block from 6-9, that’s fine! Figure out what times of day you are most productive and schedule your work around that. There’s more time management advice here.
Practice prioritizing – don’t just give yourself massive, unrealistic to-do lists. Break projects down into smaller chunks, arrange by deadlines and due dates. Don’t unnecessarily stress yourself out on a project that could have waited while dropping the ball on something due sooner! The Sticky Focus Game is one of my favorite ways to keep track of small pieces and prioritizing.
Speaking of work ethic, one word about that whole “pajamas and no shoes” thing. I fully encourage feeling comfortable, and there is no reason you should suit-and-tie to paint at home (unless you really want to). However, I will say, your clothing does make a difference on your mood. If you wear baggy sweats every day, it affects you. So my advice is to get fully dressed in clothes you like (jeans and t-shirt is fine!) at least a few days a week. And ABSOLUTELY have at least one day a week that’s full pajama/sweats day. Otherwise, what’s the point of working from home?
Give Yourself Breaks & Grace
If you sit a lot while working, build time for daily scheduled stretching and/or exercise. Get up from your seat at LEAST once every 2 hours and stretch and move around. Roll your shoulders, touch your toes, reach for the sky, rotate your wrists, etc. Take a walk once a day just to get away from staring at your work (and, you know, get some vitamin D from the sun – gasp!).
Change your scenery once in a while. Take your sketchbook, notebook, tablet, or laptop and go sit at a coffee shop or local park or library. People watch. Get some new inspiration. Again, your home work space is a base of operations, not an assigned cubicle.
Back to the scheduling piece – don’t over schedule! Don’t work 10, 12, 14 hour days as a normal thing (I understand that sometimes deadlines sneak up and you have to pull some gross work shifts). Ideally, aim for a max of 6 actual working hours a day. The 8 hour workday is a construct and you can’t actually do productive work for 8 straight hours. Work 3 hours. Give yourself a long lunch break. Work another 3. Go have dinner. And PLEASE, get some SLEEP! You’re NOT punching a clock, you’re not being paid hourly, so don’t feel chained to your workspace. Don’t give yourself more hours and less breaks than the worst boss out there in the “regular” world. If you do, you’re guaranteed to burn out on your creativity and you’ll stop finding any joy in what you do.
Also, take days off! DAYS, plural. Not a day. Normal shift workers usually get two days off a week, and yet I know so many creatives who MAYBE give themselves 1 full day off each week. More often it’s a partial day here and there instead of any full days. So PLEASE, for the sake of your health and sanity, schedule yourself at LEAST one full day of no work a week (really, try to make it 2).
Lastly, have grace for yourself. If you set up a schedule, and then just wake up feeling extra shitty whether from illness or otherwise, take a day. Stay in bed longer. Catch up on that tv show. Let your brain rest and recover. Listen to your body. You are in charge of your own sick days, mental health days, and vacation days. Don’t skimp on yourself.
There’s no denying that working from home can be challenging in it’s own ways, but with the right planning and personal responsibility, you’ll get more done and feel great about your freedom and accomplishments.