For a lot of people, working from home is the dream.
They imagine working around their kids’ schedules, cooking a healthy lunch midday, working with their doggie snuggled up with them on the couch and doing work that they love all day every day.
While I love working from home with my three lab mixes snoring at my feet, there are some downsides.
You have to become an anti-procrastination queen or you’ll just end up spending the day doing laundry, mopping the floors and having Netflix marathons. You have to learn how to be a great boss or you’ll burnout when your health plummets from sitting at your desk for hours and hours without breaks or exercise.
Since May of 2009, I’ve worked from home. I quit my day job and became my own boss. And, let me tell you, I was in for a shock.
It wasn’t as easy as I had envisioned. I actually missed chatting with coworkers throughout the day (even though I’m an introvert), getting dressed in outfits that made me feel good about myself (cause what’s the point when it’s just you?), and working based on deadlines that someone else set for me.
I realized that I was going to have to create my own rules for working at home if I wanted to avoid having to return to my day job.
I’ve learned a lot over the past seven years and I’d love to share my top tips for working from home successfully.
1. Develop trigger habits.
When you do the same thing day after day when you sit down to write or to paint or to market your business, your brain gets triggered that it’s time to do that specific task.
Before I sit down to write, I brew a cup of tea and light a few candles. That tells my brain that it’s time to write a blog post or sales copy or young adult fiction. It makes transitioning from doing my hair and makeup or eating lunch to writing much easier.
What are the tasks you need to do every day to run a successful business? Do you have triggers already? If not, create some now. It’s fun and it works!
2. Keep set work hours.
This one is particularly hard at first. Either you get distracted and end up doing things like laundry and decluttering your closet when you’re supposed to be working or you overwork yourself until your body fights back and you get sick.
I’ve fallen into both of these camps before. When I first started my business, I didn’t take one day off (including weekends or holidays) for six months. Eventually, my husband told me that he missed his wife and I realized that I couldn’t keep that pace if I wanted to be healthy and in a happy marriage.
And, there have definitely been days where I’ve spent my work time doing things besides work.
Because I have serious autoimmune issues, this is still tough for me. But, I’m much more productive when I set specific work hours and spend that time working on my business.
If you find yourself procrastinating or working way too much, you should decide on your work hours and keep to them.
3. Don’t let friends or family stop by or call.
Another reason you should have set work hours is to be able to tell your friends and family when you won’t be available.
Sometimes friends and family members think ‘working at home’ means that you can talk on the phone for an hour when they want to complain about a coworker or that you can run to the grocery store with them.
When you take your business seriously, your friends and family will, too.
4. Get dressed.
In the beginning, I thought one of the biggest pluses to working from home was the ability to do it in my pajamas or yoga pants with a messy bun and no makeup.
I mean…why would I spend time picking out an outfit and doing my hair and makeup if the only people who saw me during the day were my husband and the mailman?
But there’s something about spending the day in yoga pants that gives you more permission to clean, watch television, and take a nap. When I get ready for the day, I feel a lot guiltier about doing non-work things. Even though it takes me 30-45 minutes to shower and get ready, I get more done on those days.
I also think it’s important to look your best for your spouse. I want to wear an outfit I feel great in and do my hair and makeup even if the only person who sees me that day is my husband. He’s the most important person in my world so he deserves my best.
If you’re currently a ‘work all day in yoga pants’ kinda girl boss, try getting ready each day over the next month. You don’t have to go all out. A nice outfit, brushed hair and lip gloss and mascara can do wonders for your mood and confidence.
5. Turn off notifications.
Unless you want to get pulled out of work every other minute (which means it’ll take you waaaaaaay longer to accomplish anything), turn off all notifications.
I know this is hard and you’ll probably even get a bit bored at first without that constant stream of interruptions, but you’ll realize how much more you get done. Totally worth it.
6. Move your body.
Most creative entrepreneurs sit or stay in the same position all day. In the beginning, you’ll probably just suffer from sore shoulders and a cramped neck at the end of each day.
But, as time goes by, your health will suffer if you don’t make a concerted effort to move your body every day.
You’ll also gain weight, feel more sluggish and be susceptible to depression and anxiety. So many of us get wrapped up in our work (which is a great thing to love your work that much), that we don’t look up until it’s dinnertime or too late to workout.
This doesn’t mean that you have to go to the gym for an hour every day. If that’s not your thing, try a few of these:
- Start your day with 10 minutes of exercise. I start most days with 10 minutes of yoga.
- Always take the stairs when that’s an option.
- Take short walks (10-20 minutes) a few times a day. If you have a doggie, he or she will thank you for it.
- Try to hit a certain amount of steps each day.
- Replace your desk with a standing desk so you’re on the feet when you’re working at your computer.
- Go for an evening walk with your spouse to share your highest and lowest moment of the day with each other.
- Whenever you’re on the phone (for business or personal reasons), stand up and walk around during the phone call.
It’s not important what you’re doing for exercise. It’s just important that you exercise. You’ll be more likely to come up with creative ideas and feel happier when working.
7. Take breaks.
This one correlates with moving your body, because some of your breaks could be for 10 minutes of yoga or a walk around the block.
But, even if you’re not breaking for exercise, you should take a break every 60-90 minutes. Research has shown that we need breaks every 60-90 minutes. You know you need a break when you start to itch to check email or social media, you start to procrastinate or you feel like you need a snack or water.
These are signals that you should stop working and take 10-30 minutes to do something that will refuel you. That might mean eating a healthy snack of carrots and hummus or taking a quick 20-minute nap or drinking a cup of herbal tea while reading a good book for 30 minutes.
Lots of entrepreneurs don’t take breaks because they think that they’ll get more done if they skip them. The truth is that you’ll get more done if you take breaks because your mind will be sharper, your body will be refueled and you’ll be less likely to fall into a Pinterest or Instagram hole while you try to write your next blog post.
8. Have set email hours.
Don’t let email rule your day. If you keep your email open all day, constantly checking to see if there’s anything new, your day will revolve around other peoples’ priorities and needs.
Instead, set aside anywhere from 15-60 minutes a day to answer your emails. Only open your email during that time. Otherwise, keep it closed. You’ll find that the world doesn’t end if you take a few hours to respond to someone.
9. Make sure you still network.
Working from home is most introverts’ dream scenario. You get lots of alone time (unless you’ve got young children) and don’t have to make benign chitchat with coworkers.
I get it. I’m an introvert and I love working from home all by myself. With that being said, my best days include some form of communication with other creatives. That might be a 30-minute Google Hangout with my best biz friend, Mayi or a live call for Sunday Society or an interview for someone’s podcast.
I also know the power of networking. If you try to build your business by yourself without getting any help from anyone, it’s going to take so much longer. When other people talk about you, your business and your products, it’s much easier to spend time on the stuff you love (like creating) because you don’t have to spend as much time on marketing.
The bottom line is that working from home should not be your hall pass to stop networking.
10. Set a top three each evening.
The thing that’s changed my productivity more than anything else is setting a top three each evening before I stop working.
My top three are the three most important things I need to get done the next day. I don’t allow myself to stop working until those three things are accomplished. It also helps me to jump right into work the next morning, because I know all of my to-dos are going to get done so I don’t need to spend 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do next.
Almost always, I do more than those three things. Getting my top priorities out of the way (usually by early afternoon) gives me motivation to keep going.
And, I always choose my top three tasks based on the goals I’m currently trying to reach—that way, I know that those tasks are high-leverage tasks that will help me move my business forward.
A big mistake many entrepreneurs make when they start a new business is that they jump from updating Twitter to writing a blog post to photographing a new product to updating Instagram without a plan. They’re doing all the things they think they’re supposed to do without an end goal in mind. That leads to lots of frustration and feelings of failure.
You should always know what you’re working towards. That’ll make planning your days so much easier.
There you have it…my top ten tips for working from home.
Have a tip that I left out? Please share in the comments below. (Thanks for reading and commenting! You’re the BEST!)