Ten tips for working from home

Today marks the beginning of my fourth month of running my business full-time from the comfort of my own home. That’s a whole fiscal quarter, you guys! Wahoo!

While I realize that four months isn’t a terribly long time to be working from home, it’s certainly taken some getting used to. Luckily, from everything that I’ve read on the topic and the people I’ve spoken to on this topic, I started off doing the right stuff.

So, to celebrate my first quarter of small business-ownership, here are 10 tips for working from the comfort of your own home:

workfromhome

1. Get dressed every day

Every morning I get up with John, shower, do my makeup as though I’m about to leave the house, and get dressed. There’s something about going through my regular hair/makeup/clothes routine that puts me in a better mindset to start working.

I’ve tested this theory a few times on purpose and find that I slack off, dilly-dally, and otherwise procrastinate way harder when I’m wearing my yoga pants and a tank top than when I’ve got on an outfit that I’d wear in an office. I don’t dress business casual (never really have, to be honest) but even jeans and a t-shirt make a huge difference.

2. Have a designated work area

Though my “work area” is technically in a shared living space – namely, the living room – I have a desk setup with my iMac, notebooks, etc. where I sit when I’m working. I make a point to only use my iMac for work-related stuff whenever possible; I find that having a mental divide between being on my laptop and sitting at my desk helps tremendously with my productivity.

I’ve also tested this theory quite a bit, and discovered that when I was sitting on the couch with my laptop I was way less productive – maybe it’s because my couch is so comfortable, or because Toulouse (my cat) likes to sit on my keyboard, but whatever it is, having a designated workspace puts me in “work” mode.

3. Set “work hours” and stick to them

This point plays into my earlier point about having a “space” for work. While the nature of what I do requires me to be available 24/7 to manage my client’s communities, respond to questions, etc., I have “office” hours between approximately 8am – 5pm each day where I handle the bulk of my content creation, scheduling, copywriting, responding to and on-boarding clients, and working on prospective accounts.

I’m lucky that John leaves for the Campfire office each morning, which I think helps add a pronounced “start” and “finish” to my days (I generally stop working when he gets home) but this is something that I think everyone who works from home should implement for themselves as well. It’s that much easier to put work down and not get sucked into working 24/7 when you have a definite start and end time during the week.

4. Get outside

I didn’t fully appreciate how much stimulus I got during my commute to and from my 9-5 back when I was working in an office, and adjusting to being home alone five days a week has taken some serious getting used to.

I’ve coped in a few ways: when it’s warm I sit outside with my laptop on the deck, I go to the gym in the mornings which means I can either walk or take the bus with John, and I frequently step out during the day to run errands like grab coffee and get groceries so I don’t feel so cooped-up. Even just walking to Thom Bargen, grabbing a coffee and having a short chat with a barrista is enough to help me feel social.

5. See your friends

Friends, and being social, matter so much more when you spend most of your time by yourself. This is a pretty obvious statement, but when you spend the majority of your time alone it’s easy to feel like you’re disconnected from the world, and simply having the opportunity to talk to people face-to-face who aren’t clients starts to become so much more valuable.

Obviously I hang out with John every day, but I also see at a handful of my friends a week, whether it’s for coffee dates, gym workout sessions, or just grabbing a pint together after we’re both finished work. Having the opportunity to unwind and talk about my work, challenges, and successes with others matters so much more when you’re workin’ it alone most of the time.

6. Take advantage of your flexibility

One of the best parts about being your own boss is being able to set your own schedule, and adapt it to what best suits you. Understanding when you’re most productive and building your schedule to best suit your workflow, instead of being expected to be “on” consistently between specific set hours, is an important part of this process.

For example, nowadays I’m able to go to the gym in the mornings. Back when I worked in an office, even though I started at 9am it was still too tough to get to the gym, work out, shower and make it to the office in time. Nowadays when I hit the gym I’m usually back home around 10am, which is totally fine because I’m much more productive in the afternoons than I am in the mornings, anyway, and I work with added energy and focus because I just came in from working out.

I don’t do this every day, and I’d say that my days are pretty 50/50 where I’m out doing errands or going to the gym before/after work, and ones where I’m parked at my desk all day long, but having the option for variety really helps. It means that I can optimize my time to get things done at my own pace and schedule without worrying about a boss who is going to judge me from being away from my desk.

7. Be smart with your money

When I was working at my 9-5 I barely checked my bank balance, but now that I work from home I look at my bank account every day. I also have to track stuff like General Sales Tax (GST), my RRSP contributions, my business expenses, and my taxes.**

I’ve found that not having a steady paycheque coming every two weeks like clockwork has changed the way that I think about money, and I actually like that it’s made me more aware of how much money I have at all times. I also think about the value of my money differently – I’m more prone to spend it on experiences, rather than stuff. I’m also lucky that my idea of “going out” usually is limited to going to a pub somewhere, having a pint with a friend, and hanging out, rather than going for an extravagant meal.

Either way, it’s important to realize the ways that working from home, and the feeling of wanting to “get out” affect how you think about the money you’ve got in the bank. Be as frugal as possible without neglecting yourself and your social life.

**For the love of god people, always keep your taxes in a separate account so that you can pay your taxes when you get your assessment. Don’t screw yourself over!

8. Eat healthy

I’ve never really been one of those people who kept snacks at the office, but now that I work at home and my refrigerator stocked with tasty food is literally in the next room, it’s often really hard to resist the temptation to wander over and start munching away. This is especially true when I’m procrastinating, or working through a problem or idea.

As a result, I try to have tasty snacks like pickled veggies, olives, bananas with peanut butter, and cheese and crackers around. I can “graze,” procrastinate or think, and not feel guilty about inhaling a loaf of bread by accident.

9. Keep your workspace clean

I’m a neat freak anyway so this goes without saying for me, but it’s easy to let the rest of your life clutter into your workspace and feel overwhelming. Especially when you work from home, saying “oh, I’ll tidy my desk” can quickly snowball into tidying up multiple rooms (trust me, this has happened.)

I always remove my coffee thermos, plates, and any unnecessary papers from my desk at the end of the day so that the next morning I can return to it and not feel overwhelmed with having to clean up my mess in addition to getting my work done.

10. Use a to-do list

I’ve blogged about my checklist before, but I wanted to mention it again because when you work from home you’re only accountable to yourself. In an office we try to keep our Reddit browsing or tweeting to a minimum, lest we get caught and subsequently reprimanded by our overseer, but it can be that much easier to get distracted, or feel overwhelmed without a looming presence directing you with what to do next.

Sure, I have a multitude of bosses in the form of clients, but day-to-day they don’t really care how I spend my time, as long as I’m doing what I need to do (which is so liberating, you guys). I could write a blog post at 2am and go shopping the next day and nobody would blink an eye.

While that kind of freedom is really incredible, it also means that I have to make a point to stay accountable to myself each day since I don’t have a single boss breathing down my neck. Having a checklist, which I refer back to both daily and weekly, helps a lot.

— ALYSON SHANE, AlysonShane.com

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