Iâ€™m writing a series of posts about working from home, because I get asked all the time what itâ€™s like. Hereâ€™s Part 1: The Backgrounder, Part 2: The Reasons, and Part 3: The Reality. While I am by no means an expert, today I’m sharing some tips to be better at juggling work from home.
Get yourself a functional calendar and worship it. I use an iPhone and I use the Google Apps Calendar. While it works similar to Outlook’s scheduling features and you can send appointment and meeting requests to others as well as share your calendar with others, Google Calendar is online based (read: accessible anywhere) and doesn’t make you use Outlook! But you don’t need handheld electronics: if you’re a traditionalist, get a large kitchen calendar with spaces to write or a day planner you carry around and use pencil. Trust me.
Make sure your family is totally on board. With everything. There are times when I’m working and I need to concentrate and focus. Ross has to be able to take Kale away from me and keep him away. It took a bit of adjustment for Ross to understand that when I say I am working, it means “I am being paid to do this thing in front of the computer, and it is my focus right now so you are just going to have to make decisions by yourself even though I’m home”. Also, Ross and I have developed a system for him to know what’s going into my calendar that might require some action on his part – I send him meeting requests prefaced with “FYI”. Depending upon what it is, Ross might need to ensure the car is available for me, he can’t make any plans as he’s parent-in-charge, he needs to come home early, or possibly no action. But at least it’s in his calendar so he’s aware.
Create a work environment that actually works. I wrote about standing offices a few weeks ago as an example of what works for me. But perhaps you’re a person that needs thrash metal or stone silence? Figure it out and make it happen. If you can’t make it happen, you won’t be productive. Perhaps you need a cork board, or a new chair, or maybe you just need a good lock on your door. Take the time to evaluate what you have right now, and what you think you need. Once you find the things you need, put them in place and don’t make excuses.
Find routines. Part of the reason why I can function day in and day out is because I follow the same patterns. Habits help whether it’s getting into the habit of brewing that cup of tea before you settle in, or whether it’s wearing a special hat. You need things to tell your brain “it’s time to work”. If you don’t have a routine, write one down and follow it until it becomes a habit.
Say no, politely. People are understanding when you politely decline, even if they are disappointed. Learn how to graciously turn things down without rattling off a laundry list of all the things you have to do that prevent you from saying yes. If it feels like an excuse when it’s coming out of your mouth, it probably sounds like it, too. If you’d like to make time in the future for whatever you’re being invited to do, try and use a phrase that is a “not right now” rather than a “no thanks”. Try: “Thanks for the invite, it sounds terribly fun. I’m a bit over extended right now with some work, though, so how about we plan for next time?”
Follow through with deadlines and appointments. If you’re going to do something, do it. If you have a deadline, make it. Set realistic goals for yourself and then make sure you are not the reason things go off kilter. In the early stages of working from home, I found myself saying “I just need an hour to get this done” and then 4 hours would go by and I was still working. Learn how long it takes you to do your work, and build in a little wiggle room. Create deadlines that are reasonable. And, if something derails you – because it happens – tell those who are involved or will be affected as soon as possible and give them the opportunity to rethink how they want to proceed.
Set appointments for fun, creativity, exercise, and downtime. Whatever outlet you need to shut your brain off and enjoy life – set time aside for it. Make appointments for date night. Join a book club. Set aside at least one night a week where we are not working or volunteering, and are just enjoying life. Creative pursuits are essential for a well balanced life, and balance is essential for quality work. Remind yourself it’s okay to take a vacation – just don’t surprise anyone at the last minute and make sure your deadlines are arranged so that you aren’t putting unnecessary pressure on yourself right before you go or right after you return.
Finally, be honest with yourself about your happiness. If you find that working from home is sapping all of your energy, then don’t do it. It’s not a failure to say that you prefer the structure of a regular job. Failing is being dishonest with yourself and trying to fit your round peg into a square hole over and over and over. Change is frightening and good and keeps your soul alive. But are you happy with the changes? If you’re not happy, no one wins. Be honest with yourself and be realistic.