I used to imagine that being self-employed and working from home was a luxurious lifestyle, free of rules or scheduling and filled with afternoons spent in hip coffee shops. When my dream of being my own boss came true, I quickly realized that it is much harder than it looks.
Over time I've developed a way of working that helps me be my most productive and enjoy the benefits of the lifestyle. Here are my rules for how to work from home and not go crazy:
1. Get dressed.
While the idea of spending all day in your pajamas might sound appealing on paper, it's an incredibly bad practice for people who work from home. Sure, in theory you could get the same amount of work done in a business suit or a flannel onesie, but getting dressed for the day helps delineate work time from sleep/relax time.
When you look and feel put-together, you tend to be more productive. That doesn't mean you have to wear khakis and a button down everyday. Wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident and you'll be off to a great start.
2. Establish a morning routine.
When I first started working from home, I was so excited about my new business that I would get out of bed at 7 am and immediately go to my computer to start working. The result was that by lunchtime I felt exhausted and my afternoons were way less productive.
Your morning routine sets the tone for your day. It gives you time to clear your head, get focused and enjoy the extra time you have because you don't to have to commute to work.
I always start my day with hot lemon water, then my partner and I eat breakfast together before he leaves for work. After that, I meditate, practice a bit of yoga or read a book. Taking an hour to do this everyday helps me feel centered, focused and energized before starting my work day.
3. Schedule your time.
If you are self-employed, your calendar can be your best friend. Having a clear picture of what you need to accomplish each day, week and month will save you so much time in the long run. I like to create a weekly schedule with each day broken down by project, appointment and activity.
If I'm feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I'll schedule in self-care activities like yoga class or afternoon tea with a friend. Scheduling nonwork activities reminds me how important they are and helps me maintain balance Having a clear picture of my day helps me feel grounded and ultimately makes me more productive.
4. Take a lunch break.
This one is simple: eating lunch at your desk is the worst. Whether you take 15 minutes or an hour and half, it's so important to take a complete break from your work. When you eat lunch and do work at the same time, neither activity gets your full attention, nor do you get any sort of break.
When I worked in a traditional office setting, there was an unwritten rule that we would all eat lunch at our desks. Our work wasn't especially time-sensitive but there was absolutely no emphasis on the importance of taking breaks.
When I started working from home, I had to make a conscious effort to stop working and eat my lunch in a different room from my computer. It sounds small but it's made a world of difference for my productivity and overall mood.
5. Love your workspace.
Whether you work from a home office or your laptop on the kitchen table, it's important that your workspace helps you feel energized, happy and focused. You have the luxury of not working from a cubicle so take advantage of it! Surround yourself with things that make you happy like family photos or fresh flowers. Taking 10-15 minutes to clear up the clutter in your space can do wonders for your productivity.
6. Take advantage of your most creative hour.
Does your mind fill with new business ideas when you first wake up in the morning? Or do plans come to you right before you go to sleep? Most of us have certain times of the day when we feel most creative and our ideas flow freely. Instead of forcing yourself to brainstorm when things aren't flowing, pay attention to what time in the day you feel the most inspired and make a point to set it aside to develop new ideas.
For me, I find that I'm most creative in the morning and I like to use that time for writing and brainstorming. Working from home allows me the flexibility to budget my work time in whatever way suits me best. Pay attention to what jump-starts your creativity so you can use it when things aren't flowing. It's different for everyone but sometimes music, aromatherapy or some physical activity can help get things going.
7. Be OK with free time.
Why did you choose to work from home? Chances are you wanted freedom in your schedule so you can spend more time doing the things you love. Personally, I often to struggle to end my work day. Running my own business means that there's always more work around the corner and with endless things that I could do, sometimes it's difficult to stop working when there is no one to tell me the work day is over. I deal with this by setting a specific time to stop working, then making a point to appreciate how much I've done during the day.
Conversely, sometimes it's 2 pm and I actually have finished all my work for the day, yet I still find myself lingering around my computer. Not having work to do during the hours of 9-5 used to give me anxiety but now I make a point to pat myself on the back for finishing all my work and go out and enjoy the day. That's why I chose to be my own boss in the first place!