In 2008 I walked away from my cubicle job and started working from home. What I thought would be a dream come true turned out to be a lot harder than expected. I struggled to find my rhythm. It was difficult to stay focused on my work. I craved human interaction (I talked to the dog a lot during that first year.) And I found myself working more than usual because it wasn’t easy to walk away from my desk when there was still work to be done.
I still struggle with some of these things, but I’ve put some strategies in place that make it easier to find that elusive work/life balance that we all crave. Here are five:
If You Aren’t Required to Work Nine to Five, Work Your Hours
Everyone in my home leaves the house before 7am. This is my favorite time to work because I can get so much done. With no distracting meetings, IMs or phone calls, I can be creative and accomplish some of my best work before my peers roll into the home office at 9am.
This early start also allows me to work a few extra hours when I’m behind on a project, take long lunches and/or squeeze in a workout during the day. This way, when the fam comes home around 5pm, I know that I’ve put in a full day’s work and that it’s okay to unplug and hang with them.
I also find myself returning to my desk late at night. When Mrs. McBee falls asleep and I’m still awake, I must choose between Star Trek or working on next month’s webinar. If the creative juices are flowing or I’m behind on my project, it’s easy to slip into my office and do my thing.
Set Work Limits
There will always be more work to do. It’ll be tempting to keep working all kinds of crazy hours, especially if you’re single or if your family has evening obligations. Personally, I get a lot of work done when Mrs. McBee takes our daughter to softball practice.
I tend to choose work over Star Trek when I have a big project due and sometimes end up working until 1am. I usually regret this decision the next morning, so I’ve had to learn to set limits. No matter when you do your work, be sure to step away from your desk and pay attention to your life. Spend time with your friends and family and realize that all the work you have to do will still be there tomorrow.
When we’re surrounded by coworkers in an office, we tend to take breaks together. It’s easy to step away for a cup of coffee or a snack with a friend. We chat for ten minutes and then naturally find our way back to our desks and resume our productivity.
At home, we don’t have that distraction. I’ve been known to work from 7am to noon, never looking up from my computer screen. That’s not healthy! I have to force myself to get up every hour or so and move a little. I take my dog for brief walks, or throw a load of laundry in. I even invested in a desk that can be adjusted for standing or sitting and I use that feature to change things up a couple of times a day. If you don’t have that luxury, just stand up every hour and walk around the house.
Note: Fitness trackers are great for reminding you to move. It may be time to invest in one.
Utilize IM and Video Chat
Being alone all day may be the hardest part of working from home. Even introverts need some human interaction to keep from going stir crazy. And let’s be honest, no matter how much you to talk to her, the dog won’t talk back. We need to communicate with our fellow humans.
Instant messenger can be a life saver that provides some much-needed social interaction. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that while I was writing this article, I was also chatting with peers on Slack in our Bachelor Channel. (Who else is excited to see Hannah Ann on Bachelor in Paradise?)
I also schedule ten-minute “Zoom coffee” meetings with friends that aren’t nearby. It gives us that same opportunity to grab a quick cup of coffee and stay connected, as if we were together at Starbucks. (Thanks, Stephen Heiner for this one.)
I am a big fan of using video instead of the phone, but that’s a much longer conversation. Read Seven Reasons to Use Video Conferencing.
Don’t Allow Your Distractions to Hinder Your Work
So far, I’ve talked about my struggle to work less and find that ideal work/life balance. But what about those days when the family is in the other room, watching Ellen? My wife is a teacher, so she and Zoey are home for several weeks during the summer and I’m not afraid to admit how challenging it is to sequester myself in my office and stay focused on work when I’d rather be playing with them.
This is where you have to implement some discipline. You have to discipline yourself to keep working and you have to discipline your family too. My family knows that if my office door is shut, then I’m at work. They are not allowed to interrupt me unless it’s something important. It doesn’t mean we can’t talk all day. Remember those breaks I suggested earlier? Take a few minutes every hour or so to chill on the sofa with your gang. But don’t get pulled in. If you’re struggling to go back to work, set a timer to remind you to get back to business.
I also mentioned laundry earlier in this article. I don’t think it’s a big deal to do a load now and then, but don’t get carried away. Just because you’re home, that doesn’t mean you’re off. Even though you can do chores during the week, that doesn’t mean you should. If you can’t find the balance and it impacts your work in a negative way, save your laundry for the evenings or weekend.
Finally, if you really can’t focus at home then go somewhere else to work. Coffee shops are the obvious go-to, but there are also WeWork locations that you can rent. Personally, I’m a fan of hotel lobbies. They’re usually pretty quiet, comfortable, and almost always have free Wi-Fi. Sometimes they even have free coffee!
Of course, you’ll want to skip the public places if you’re trying to avoid the corona virus. Maybe just get in your car and drive to the park if you’re desperate to get out of the house.
I hope these work from home tips help you stay more productive while also maintaining your work/life balance.
Thanks for reading,