Jun 30, 2017

5 Tips for Working From Home

Five weeks ago, part of my office building – including where my desk lived – closed for six months of renovations. I have a temporary spot onsite on Tuesdays and I go in once or twice a week otherwise for meetings, but I’ve mostly been working from home since then.

I don’t know many people with 9-5 jobs who don’t regularly go into an office, though from what I read this is becoming less unusual as telecommuting gains popularity; most of the women I know (or follow online) who work from home are self-employed in one way or another. To be honest, many of the challenges these entrepreneurs talk about facing aren’t major issues for me because I’m not my own boss and I can’t really set my own schedule. Nonetheless, despite having worked from home occasionally before, this is a big change!

I’m fortunate, though, in that I feel I found a new rhythm pretty quickly. Now that I have a month under my belt, I thought I’d share some tips on working from home with you. I’m confident they’re applicable even if you do work for yourself, but let me know what you think. And definitely leave a comment if you have more suggestions!

1. Have a set morning routine to start the day.
This one is pretty easy for me because I’m a morning person, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's important no matter when you decide you want your day to start. Consistency is key! I’m responsible for Charlie in the morning, which during the summer means going out for a half-hour walk sometime between 6 and 6:30 am, so I’m properly up once I’m out of bed. If I follow my normal go-into-work routine after that - showering, dressing, breakfast, etc - I can sit down to my laptop at 8:30, the time I'd otherwise head to the office.

2. Create a (mental) designated workspace for yourself.
Again, I'm lucky in this regard: our one-bedroom apartment has a den, which was Jon's mancave for the first two and a half years we lived here. I made the den my study back in May, and that's the only place I work in our apartment. I know that I'd have trouble focusing if I tried to work from bed, the couch, or even the dining room table, because I don't associate those areas with working. Going into a room that's only used for work means that I enter an office mentality as soon as I sit down at my desk. The key thing here, though, is that the separate workspace is more of a conceptual than a physical thing. You can absolutely use your dining table or even your coffee table if you don't have a study or a den or a second bedroom, but then only use that space for work during working hours. Don't watch TV while you're drafting emails or fold laundry while you're reading reports; only do what you'd do if you were in an office.

3. Allow yourself to take breaks.
In fact, encourage yourself to take breaks! Bonus points if they involve stretching your legs. I've found walking Charlie at regular intervals to be super helpful in giving me time to clear my head, and I would definitely recommend taking yourself on a stroll around the block at some point during the day even if you don't have a dog. Other ideas: set a timer to go off every 90 minutes to remind yourself to get up and refill your water glass, schedule a proper (but finite!) mid-morning coffee-and-social-media break, or take 15 minutes to do some dinner prep mid-afternoon.

4. Plan out your meals as if your kitchen weren't just steps away.
A danger in working from home is that it's all too easy to graze throughout the day. After all, your fridge and pantry are right around the corner from your desk! But that's not healthy and it's super distracting. Work out a weekly meal plan on Sundays as if you weren't working from home; you don't have to pack a lunch every day, of course, but have an idea of what you're going to eat and try to stick to a regular lunchtime so you can maintain your workday routine. This doesn't mean that you can't snack, but work those snacks into your breaks and enjoy them away from your desk.

5. Maintain colleague and/or client relationships - offline!
You can go stir-crazy working from home without talking to anyone all day, so schedule at least one phone call or face-to-face meeting every day. A benefit of working from home is that you avoid the diversions of little constant side conversations while you're trying to power through a project, but we're social creatures and we need to interact with people. Don't think you have any concrete reason to reach out to a colleague or client? Find one anyway - you can brainstorm a strategy by phone rather than over email, for instance. You have to make an effort to keep the lines of communication open when you're not working in close proximity, and you don't want to lose collegiality! No co-workers? Call a friend who's also working from home, ask your significant other to check in with you, or give your mom a ring just to say hello. Even going out for coffee on your own (or taking the dog to the dog park) gives you an excuse to talk to other people!

There we have it: five tips for working from home. I'm sure I'll have other thoughts by the time these six months are over and we head back to our renovated office, but this is what I've learned so far. Anything to add? Please do!