Working from home can be both a blessing and a curse—a blessing in the sense that, well, you’re working from home (and how cool is that?) and a curse in the sense that, well, you’re working from home (and how are you supposed to get anything done with that pile of dirty dishes calling your name?).
Being accountable only to yourself and your clients is such an empowering feeling—but it also can allow for lots of wasted (or at the very least, distracted) time. After all, who’s to stop you from incessantly scrolling through Instagram for an hour if you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck? And what’s to stop you from spending your morning catching up on chores rather than emails without a time-clock to answer to? The answer, in short, is yourself and, in particular, the standards and schedules you set for yourself. Today, then, I’m breaking down my top three tips and tricks for staying on task while working from home.
Create Office “Rules” and Adhere to Them Religiously
If you’re anything like me, you probably do best with organization, schedules and—yes—rules. (I’ve never been the type of dieter who can say I’ll just eat better this week and then actually stick to that. Without laying out some serious ground rules, I find myself knee-deep in a box of milanos at 12 a.m.) Something that has been so helpful to me as a freelancer, then, is taking the time to type up, print out and tape to the wall next to my desk a list of office rules that I live by.
For me, these include things like “No Instagram in the office.” (If I want to scroll through my feed, I literally get up and leave my office to do so. It’s a great way to train your brain that your office space is purely for work. Plus, after years of freelancing, I can safely say that social media is the biggest killer of productivity I’ve ever met). Other rules include, “Take a lunch break every day” and, “Complete projects in the order they are due” (I used to allow myself to tackle things based on how much I wanted to do something, which inevitably meant I’d put less exciting projects on the backburner and find myself racing against their deadline).
To come up with your rules, list 5-10 of the biggest time-wasters or distracters you face every day. Them, write your rules with the sole goal of minimizing these distractions.
Assign Yourself Shifts and Hold Yourself Accountable To Them
My very first job was as a pool attendant for Wynn Resort in Las Vegas making $5.15 an hour. I learned a lot from that job—including the fact that celebrities do not tip as well as one might assume—but perhaps the most important thing I learned was that I was built for four-tens (as in four ten-hour days a week). I was not a five-eights kind-of girl. For me, three-day weekends were an absolute must. And, while I luckily am no longer in a position where I have to walk around spraying aerosol Evian water on filler-filled faces in hope of a casino-chip tip in return, I am still very much in a position where I need my three-day weekends.
So, as a freelancer, I set my schedule as four, ten-hour days. I add these “shifts” to my calendar and treat them as if I’m clocking in (in other words, I hold myself accountable and don’t allow myself to sleep in during a shift). I do my best to start work around 7 a.m. Monday through Thursday and wrap up by 4 or 5 p.m. This allows me to spend my Fridays getting household chores done so that my weekends are actually open for relaxation. Sticking to this schedule is crucial to my productivity levels and sanity.
Figure out how it is you work best and then set daily shifts for yourself based upon this. Some of us may love ten-hour days in order to pick up an extra free day in the week, while others may prefer six-hour shifts and one less free-day. Your schedule may change week by week—especially as a planner who has to work on the weekends often—but the overall goal should be to plan out each week’s shifts ahead of time (I prefer Sunday nights with a glass of wine for this). Then, do your best to stick to that shift.
Breaks (and Fresh Air) Are Your Very Best Friend
This one took me years to learn. As a writer (and someone who’s a bit obsessive-compulsive), I would literally spend eight hours at a time sitting in front of my laptop. I used to have such a hard time pulling myself away from my work, as once I was “on a roll,” I didn’t want to stop writing. I used to think this was the epitome of productivity—long stretches of uninterrupted work.
I’ve since learned, however, that multiple five-minute breaks a day (particularly those that involve going outside) help keep me so much more productive. When I sit at my computer for hours on end writing, my writing tends to get dull and my brain, foggy. So, even though I’m technically working, I’m much less productive (my writing is slower after a few hours, my eyes are tired from staring at a screen, words are taking longer to come to me, etc.). All it takes is a simple two-minute walk to the mailbox, or five-minute coffee break in my backyard to re-energize my brain and, as a result, my work. Leaving your office and changing up the scenery is key for those of us who spent most of our waking hours in the same corner of our house.
Overall, I wouldn’t trade working from home for the world. It’s such an empowering position to be in, but I’ve also learned that it takes a ton of discipline in order to continue to grow your business from inside the four-walls of your (very distracting) home. So, set some ground rules, set a schedule and force yourself to get some fresh air every now and then—those three things can go a long way in helping you keep your sanity (or what’s left of it, at least).