I woke up in my office this morning. I wake up in my office every morning because my favorite place to work at the moment is my bedroom. I also like the couch – but only if no one else is home and the TV is off.
I’ve been working from home, (and for myself), for nearly two years now. A year after Cora was born, I just found myself to be constantly unhappy. I felt like my life was passing by as I was stuck in a corporate office building. I was dying to feel like I was alive again. So I quit my job and started a marketing company.
Since then we have lived in three different homes. I’ve had a second baby. My business has gone through more ups and downs than I care to relay here, but I can tell you one thing very honestly – I’m happy. Honestly, deeply, satisfyingly happy.
But if you’re reading this post, chances are you also work from home or you’re at least INTERESTED in working from home. Between being in law school for three years, constantly studying, and starting my own business, I’ve gotten pretty good at working from home. Even if that means I’m not literally in my home when I work. Stay with me here…
There are TONS of conflicting research on this topic. Years ago, the CEO of Yahoo ordered all the work-from-home employees to transition back to the traditional office environment, noting that it was necessary for collaboration. More recently, IBM made a similar announcement for their remote employees.
But a Stanford professor undertook a 2-Year study that showed astonishingly positive results tied to employees who were allowed to work from home. And my husband’s firm lets nearly any employee work from wherever they’d like. Recently, they even did away with vacation time – instead, moving to a checklist type of arrangement. To over-simplify, basically they tell their employees: ‘here are your duties and your goals each month, if you can hit each of them and still take a week-long vacation every month, then good for you.’
I LOVE being able to work from anywhere, not that it doesn’t have its drawbacks, but it still wins over having to commute to an office and submit to the 9-5 schedule.
I’ve put together some rules for how to work from home. Some are macro, general rules, and others are more specific recommendations. These are the things that have worked for me over the years that I’ve been working from home.
ONE. Know Yourself and Make Rules.
This is honestly the most difficult rule in the whole list. Nobody knows you better than yourself. You know your strengths and your weaknesses. You need to spend some time defining what they are and then making rules for yourself so that your weaknesses don’t overpower your strengths during your workday (or night).
When you’re thinking about working from home, (which also includes working outside or at a coffee shop or whatever place that isn’t an office building), first think about what your strengths are. Are you a morning person? What time of day do you feel most focused? Do you do your best work alone or around other people? Do you work best indoors or outside? On a computer or on paper? With music playing or in complete quiet?
Now think about your weaknesses. Are you easily distracted by piles of laundry. If not forced into a schedule by an employer, are you less likely to work a full 8 hour (or more) day? Are you likely to end up spending the day on social media or binging Netflix if you’re at home alone and then scrambling to finish a project before a deadline?
I have quite a few rules for myself. One is: I don’t turn on the TV or music if I’m writing. But if I’m working on editing photos or website design or graphic design, I’ll listen to music on having The Office on as ambient noise. But I know myself. I don’t work well if the TV is on and I need to write coherently.
TWO. Find Your Backup Work Locations.
I default to working from home, in our bedroom. But I also like to work from coffee shops sometimes, depending on my mood or the type of project I’m working on. If I start getting distracted at home with kids or cleaning, I leave and find a new place to work. I have a few coffee places that I rotate between.
Working from home can be lonely. If I start feeling like I’m craving human interaction, then I’ll go work at one of my coffee shops just to be around other people. Or I’ll force myself to stop and take a break to go to the gym or grab a coffee with a friend to get some social time in. If I don’t address this concern, I end up sitting on Instagram for an hour scrolling through images of other people doing cool things and just wishing that I was doing something cool as well. Not constructive.
THREE. Break Up With Your Phone.
Hear me out. I know people have to be able to take calls while they’re working from home. We have to be accessible. Some people even like working ON THEIR PHONES instead of their computers or tablets or paper. (Jeni Britton Bauer famously writes books on the Notes app on her phone).
But every single human is distracted by phones. Even my 7 month old son gets distracted by my phone. Even my 92 year old grandmother who had a flip phone was constantly looking at it.
I often TURN OFF my phone. Yes, they turn off. Yes, it used to make me feel panicked. (Sad). Now I love it. If you feel like you can’t power down your phone, then just put it in a different room from where you’re working with the ringer on loud. You can’t absent-mindedly scroll through your phone if it isn’t laying right next to you. Staring at you. Begging you to swipe up.
During the times that you have blocked out to work – to actually work – break up with your phone during the duration of that project. Get the work done. Pretty soon you’ll be crossing more things off your to-do list and realizing that you don’t really need to scroll through Instagram for an hour and a half looking at people throwing slices of American cheese onto other people.
FOUR. Become a Morning Person or a Night-Owl
Life happens between the hours of 8:00 and 8:00, generally. Your family’s timeline might be off slightly, but the bulk of the things that can distract you from your work occur during those times. So if you work from home, you need to find times outside of that where you can focus without being interrupted.
And hear me out – you don’t have to WORK during those times. You can, but find time outside of the busy life hours where you can focus either on work OR the things that distract you from work during the day. Wake up early and get all your house chores done. Or your workout done. Or whatever it is that keeps you from 100% focusing on work during the day.
My body would prefer that I stay up late and then sleep in. But I know that the caliber of work I can output at 7 AM is VASTLY better than the garbage I end up throwing together at 11 PM. My body is a night owl, but my brain likes to work best in the mornings. I know this about myself, so I make rules. (See, that’s why it’s Rule #1). I’ve started forcing myself to be a Morning Person.
But you know you. Not everyone works best in the mornings. Find your time and build your life around that. Schedule the other things in your life around your work time and I promise it will feel like you have a better work-life balance.
FIVE. Make Your To-Do List The Night Before, For the Next Day Only.
Every single night, I make my to do list for the following day. And I only focus on the things that I want to accomplish THAT DAY. I keep a separate list for other things I’d like to not forget but that don’t necessarily need to be completed that next day.
Whether you need to physically write out lists on paper, or see things chronologically and assigned in time slots in a planner, or just on a numbered list on your phone or your computer – just make a to-do list. It will help me feel organized before I go to bed at night and I honestly believe it helps me sleep.
Here’s my process. I like to use the Stickies app on my MacBook. This is where I make my To-Do lists for the next day. I number each item, usually in the order that I’d like to complete them, (which means that I move them around during the day if things change). Then, I delete the item once I’ve completed it.
I also use Reminders list on my phone I use for things that don’t have a deadline but I’d like to complete when I find some time – picture ideas for Instagram, blog post ideas, social media posts for clients, things I want to order on Amazon for the kids…literally whatever random stuff comes up that I don’t want to forget. The important part is that you keep these two lists separate. Focus on what your needs are for the next day only. Otherwise you’d built this weight on you of a massive to-do list that you’ll never complete.
SIX. Punish Yourself and Reward Yourself.
This sounds so weird. I understand. But you have to hold yourself accountable. I don’t always follow my own rules. Sometimes I don’t get myself out of bed early. Or I let myself get distracted by my phone. So I have to do something to discourage me from doing it again the next day.
For example on days when I just can’t handle getting out of bed early and I miss out on that solid 2 or 3 hour window before the kids wake up, I make sure that I do one extra thing that I wouldn’t normally do that day. 100 sit-ups. Clean the toilets. Pay more on a student loan or credit card bill, which you can get help with using the student loan calculator from SoFi so you know roughly what you’ll be paying back each month. Stay up after everyone in my house has gone to bed to knock two more things off my to-do list…even though I’m exhausted. Something constructive.
And there’s a fun part to this too – Reward yourself. On days when I have particularly daunting tasks and I complete them, I’ll reward myself. Perhaps with a longer-than-usually lunch. Or a sweet tea from Chick-fil-A. Or a manicure.
In summary: Know yourself. Make rules. If (WHEN) you break them, hold yourself accountable. What is your punishment for breaking your work rules? What are your rewards for doing a good job?
Through inevitable distractions and various life events, use these tips to help you work more effectively and more efficiently from home.
XOXO – Em