6 Big Tips for Working from Home

It's Tuesday so this is an #IBOT post

My home is where I work and I work everywhere. Alfred Nobel.

I have worked from home for thirteen years.  That's almost 70 percent of my working life.  I've worked at a desk in the living room and an expansive sunny dedicated space in my single girl home.  I've worked alone, shared the home office with my partner and now juggle working from home with two kids.  

I've had views of Sydney harbour, views of the neighbour's fence, views of my vegetable garden and no view at all.  I've worked upstairs, downstairs and in the clouds in an 18th floor apartment building. Over thirteen years I have moved house and therefore home office seven times.  

After thirteen years and seven home offices I think I know a thing or two about working from home.   Today I'm sharing my six big tips.

Tip One. 'Home' isn't necessarily at home.  I say that I work from home because I don't have an office or desk or dedicated working space anywhere else, and I am at home a fair chunk of the time.  But for the sake of variety and flexibility and sanity I often find myself working anywhere but home.  As long as I have my phone or iPad and a notebook and pen I'm ready for work.  Some of my preferred work venues include:

  • Public libraries.  They're quiet, warm, have dedicated desks and wifi and they are public so you're less likely to wander aimlessly about or leave your desk in search of food like you might at home.  Libraries are where I go if I really need to knuckle down and get some thinking, writing or learning work done.  
  • Cafes. My absolute favourite because they bring you coffee while you work.  My preferred work cafe is quiet enough to allow concentration but busy enough to feel like you can just blend into the background.  The coffee is good, the seats are comfortable and they never hurry you. I find that I go to cafes for brainstorming and planning work. Tasks that don't require the laptop but do require some inspiration.
  • Planes, trains and automobiles.  Okay not so much the automobiles because I'm often driving and when I'm not I get motion sick but I will do a lot of work 'thinking' while I'm on the road.  Planes and trains, however, are brilliant for creative work for me.  There's something about the change in environment and maybe the set amount of available time that gets me thinking more expansively, and there's some research evidence to back this up, suggesting that when we change our environment we unshackle our thinking from the everyday to think bigger and more creatively. It's also excellent use of travel time.  

If you work from home, or you're thinking about it, and you tire of being in the same place all of the time, try the library, a cafe or some other venue to keep things interesting.  Like me, you might find it helps to tailor the type of work you do in different locations.  Don't need your computer to brainstorm? Get out and about with a notebook.  Need inspiration? Find a work space with a beautiful view.

tips for working from home potential psychology blog

Tip Two. Have a basic schedule and stick to it.  Working from home is still work and it still requires dedication and a schedule if you're going to (a) get things done and (b) not let your work bleed into your other life and vice versa.  I learnt this early on when, revelling in being at home and able to get non-work things done on traditional work days, I would wander the supermarket at my leisure, do a bit of gardening on a sunny day, chat to friends on the phone and generally do things at a pretty lax pace (this was pre-kids). There was no-one around to know or care if I was working or not so why not enjoy the freedom?

Then a deadline would loom and I'd find myself rushing to my desk late in the afternoon and working well into the evening every day in an attempt to meet my commitments.  I'd castigate myself for my slackness and bemoan my long work nights. 

It only took a few months of this for me to reshape my work days.  I'd be up, dressed, fed and be at my desk by 9.30am. I'd work through the day with a few short breaks, allowing myself to clock off around 6pm and rewarding myself with a wine while I cooked dinner.  I then got to relax and watch TV in the evenings (pre-kid days, remember). 

I continue with this basic approach to this day.  There is some flexibility and variety depending on the type of work I'm doing and whether there are kids at home or not but on designated work days I work and on non-work days such as weekends I don't. I start work once I've dropped the kids at school or day care and give or take a yoga class, I work until it's time to collect them again.   

If you find that you work endlessly at home or you're not working enough, create a weekly schedule for yourself ensuring adequate work and non-work time and stick to it the majority of the time. You'll get more done and enjoy your down time and the routine makes it easier to plan and manage your time. 

Tip Three. You can't work at home with kids. Well I can't.  The combination of guilt at sitting at my computer for long stretches while they're left to their own devices and the frustration associated with constant interruptions means a very unsatisfactory arrangement for everyone. They get cranky because Mum is always working and I get stressed because I'm not getting anything done.

The answer for me has been day care now that my little mister is bigger and babysitters prior to that, even if only for a few hours a week.  Sticking with the schedule of designated work time, I plan work around the days and times that I've got available child-free (currently two and a half days a week) and schedule the non-work parenting activities on the other days. 

I find that paying someone else to look after my children for set periods ensures a brutal efficiency and I can enjoy the non-work Mum days without feeling like I'm skipping out on work.  

Tip Four. Be tough with your time.  This was another one I learnt the hard way. When I first started working from home my beautiful friends and family ignored the 'working' part of that statement.  They just registered 'Ellen at home.'  As a consequence I had a lot of visitors drop by and invitations to go shopping, or out for lunch.  This was lovely but not very productive.  

I had to be firm and make a point that I was working from home, not just hanging around looking for something or someone to fill my time.  It took a little while for the message to get through but it did.  I found that relocating to the Library with my phone switched off helped as I was tricky to find. 

Tip Five. Find others to play with. I am an unashamed introvert so I don't need a whole lot of interaction with others to keep energised and sane but I have found that I go through periods in which I crave work colleagues and collaborative work projects.

If you struggle to spend long periods at home on your own make sure you intersperse your periods of work with some socialising or even better some collaborative work time.  Some solopreneurs like to get together and just work side-by-side with a friend or colleague on occasion.  Others reward themselves for knuckling down and getting work done with a catch up for coffee or a lunch with a friend.  If you view these as opportunities to recharge your batteries and invest in your later productivity rather than 'slacking off' you have yourself a win-win. 

Don't underestimate the benefits of face to face networking either.  Attend a seminar, workshop or conference, a local meet up of other solo workers (you might find one in your area on Flying Solo).  You never know what connections you might make and where they might lead you.  If you can, mix up your projects too. I write but I also consult and from time to time I take on projects that involve working as part of a larger team.  Look for those opportunities or better yet, create them to get a better balance of alone time and interaction. 

Tip Six. Have your own  space. My fantasy home has a large, uncluttered home office just for me with endless bookshelves, a lounge and a long recycled timber desk along the length of a picture window looking out to the garden.  My current workspace is a 1.2 metre by 1.9 metre cupboard style dog box with no door, two desks, an overly large filing cabinet and not enough room to nagivate myself easily from the doorway to my chair without tripping over something.  It's a long way from the fantasy but it's still my designated 'office'.

There's been a lot of research into the perfect office space and Pinterest is chock full of photos of beautiful inspired home offices with a place for everything and everything in its place.  If you're a long way from the Pinterest-perfect office it is still important to have your own designated work space at home.  Having everything to hand in one spot improves your productivity and sitting down in your 'office' to work not only triggers a 'working' mindset for you but it sends a message to anyone else in your household that you are working not just lounging around looking for someone to interrupt you.

It's also great to be able to close the door on your work (metaphorically in my case) and leave work behind so that you can engage more fully in the rest of your loves and life.

Do you work from home? What do you love or hate about it? What could you do to improve your work at home life? What would make it perfect? Tell me!

P.S. If you want to keep in touch with more Positive Work posts, tips and resources you might like to 'Like' my Potential Psychology's Positive Work Facebook page.  You can also sign up to my newsletter to keep up with the latest as I prepare to launch 'Positive Work', my online consulting and education biz.