How to Work From Home & Not Go Crazy
Last week, after nearly 6 months of working from home, it finally happened: I got lonely. Not just any kind of lonely, though, this was "it's Tuesday and I haven't left the house or talked to the outside world since Sunday" kind of lonely. I started to feel anxious, crazy, and totally disconnected from the outside world.
As someone who has worked in an office for the majority of their adult life, working from home has taken some getting used to. Don't get me wrong, the perks are endless: I can wake up when I want, I can go for lunch or coffee with a colleague and not worry about being back "in time", and I can plan my workdays around when I'm my most productive and not when a boss expects me to be.
However, it does get super lonely. Hanging around the house all day with these two weirdos is awesome, but it's weird how much you begin to miss that water cooler chit-chat, and how much effort actually has to go into making sure you don't drive yourself stir-crazy.
Getting dressed is the difference between a "lazy Saturday in front of my laptop" and "I'm getting actual work done" mode. it might sound crazy, but stick with me here, there's some important reasons why this is actually a helpful and totally legitimate practice:
Clothes are symbolic, and affect how we feel about ourselves. When you put in the time to make yourself look nice you're more motivated to "get out there" and hustle, whether that means meeting a client, going somewhere, or even talking on the phone. In addition to that, getting dressed helps subconsciously compartmentalize areas of your life that can begin to blend together when you work from home.
Besides the mental difference between hanging out in your PJs and getting dressed, being fully dressed and ready to head out the door means that you can do exactly that - I can pop out to the store, to grab a coffee, or to go sit somewhere and work if I feel like it.
Personal aside: I have "power lipstick" that I put on before an important client call. I know it's silly, but wearing it makes me feel like a bombshell badass à la Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and definitely makes me feel more powerful and assertive.
Keep Your Work Area Separate
Disengaging from work mode into relaxing mode is way harder when you do both in the same space.
Currently I do all of my "office" work at my iMac, at a desk, in a computer chair, and try to relegate "downtime" (aka hanging out on social networks, reading for leisure, and writing) to sitting on the couch with my Macbook. Sometimes these lines blur - I'll work on my eBook from the couch, or write a blog post at my desk (like I'm doing now) by and large my 9-5 type work takes place at a separate area than my leisure time.
My guess is that it's a mental thing, but sitting on my super-comfortable couch with my feet up makes me feel less like I'm working... so I work less. I spend way more time slacking off if I try to work from the couch than if I'm art my desk. Additionally, I can "leave work" for the day by putting my iMac to sleep and shutting off my desk lamp - those are symbolic gestures that, for me, signal the end of my workday and a transition to hanging out and relaxing.
Figure Out When You're Most Productive
One of the biggest changes from going to working in an office to working at home is that you don't have to worry about being "on" all the time. What I mean by that is, you don't have to worry about looking busy 24/7 just in case your boss happens to walk by and see your screen. According to a salary.com article from 2014, 89% of employees say they "waste time" at work - whether that's checking their email, hanging out on Facebook, or loitering around the coffee machine; they're not sitting at their desks and being productive.
But what does "productivity" mean? For most employers, it means that you're plugging away at a task and that you're operating at the highest efficiency levels from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave the office. Realtalk: this just isn't the reality, and sitting at your desk and forcing yourself to try and operate at maximum efficiency all day is a surefire way to get next to nothing done.
One of the great things about working from home is that you can set your own schedule according to when you're most productive, rather than trying to be productive all day (which rarely happens with any real level of consistency - we all need breaks, after all).
I know that I'm most productive early in the morning (8-11ish) and late in the afternoon (3-6ish), with a lull in-between most days, so I tackle my most pressing and important tasks during those two times - usually I try to handle client stuff in the AM, and do business development stuff (blogging, writing my ebook, etc) in the afternoon. That way I know I can get the most out of my day, and by having a little downtime I can make sure when I'm productive I'm as focused as possible.
Declutter Your Desk
Clutter is the enemy of productivity, and if you have to spend a ton of time searching through papers, looking for a pen that works, or rooting through old notes and files you're distracting yourself from what you should actually be focusing on: being productive.
I'm a bit of a cleanliness nut, so here's how I keep my desk organized and in a state of zen during the week:
- I only use one pen at a time. Actually, I rely pretty heavily on mechanical pencils, but I have a little box that I got from Magic Pony several years ago where all my pens and pencils live.
- Do a paper purge. I try to keep my desk as paper-free as possible, which means rounding up notes, papers, and receipts and putting them away. Additionally, if you want to claim something on a receipt as a business expense take a photo before you put it away. I do this weekly and it saves me so much hassle.
- Purge your desktop. Put unused files or photos in the trash bin and try to keep your computer desktop as clutter-free as possible. I generally only have my notebook, a pencil, and my phone on my desk when I'm working.
Find Reasons to Leave the House
This is a huge one, kids. It's way too easy to wake up, work, hang out, go to sleep, wake up, work, hang out, go to sleep, wake up... you get my drift. Especially during the winter months when sitting outside on the deck isn't an option it can be all too easy to wind up staying inside for days at a time, ordering all your meals in from SkiptheDishes and being glued to the computer screen.
Personally, I combat this by hitting the gym on a regular basis, which gets me out of the house, on the bus, and interacting with other human beings 3-4 times a week. Usually I'll stop by the grocery store on the way home for a little more face time with people aren't my boyfriend or my roommate or his girlfriend.
Don't Work in Bed
This should be self-explanatory, but just in case: don't bring your work into the same place where you sleep and snuggle up with your lover.
Do you have any tips for staying sane while working from home? I'd love to hear them!