5 Tips for Working from Home
The ability to work from home is the dream for many people. You can wake up late, make some coffee or enjoy your breakfast, read the news, take care of your kids, work when you want, and run some errands whenever you want.
This is the dream but it is also a fantasy.
Working from home is a lot more difficult than people realize. As more and more workers attain the ability to work from home they are beginning to realize that it is not all it’s cracked up to be. I see complaints from many work-from-homers (WFH) saying they have a hard time maintaining a consistent schedule, difficulties focusing, inabilities to get to sleep, or problems with motivation.
When you have a boss looking over your shoulder it’s a lot easier to focus on your work. When you work for yourself, you have to have dedication, focus, and the ability to motivate yourself to get work done.
So how do you do it?
I have been a work-from-homer for a couple of years now. I run a digital marketing agency where I help people advertise online, I run a couple of e-commerce stores that mostly sell t-shirts, I write self-help books I sell on Amazon, and I do freelance writing for various online publications. I also run DoorDash and GrubHub deliveries periodically throughout the week.
When people ask me what I do I typically just tell them that I’m a freelance writer and digital marketer. It’s not terribly accurate but it’s easier than trying to relay my life story to everyone who asks.
I don’t necessarily consider myself an expert on the WFH subject; I haven’t written a book about it or anything. But as someone who has a bit of experience in this realm, I do feel qualified to relay some advice that I believe to be a bit counter-intuitive. Not all of these will work for all people, so feel free to pick and choose the ones that jive for you. Or feel free to try one on for size and drop it later if you find it’s not working.
1. Do something you enjoy
Motivation comes from enjoyment. If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, or get some sort of pride out of it at least, then you aren’t going to be able to motivate yourself to do anything no matter how hard you try.
This is a bit general, but if you’re trying to work from home but finding that you’re having a hard time focusing on your work or having a hard time motivating yourself to work, there could be a deeper problem at stake.
You might find that when you aren’t in an office with a boss looking over your shoulder or have friends and colleagues to commiserate with that you actually don’t enjoy what you do all that much.
So, if you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, you might need to adjust your business interests, or pursue a different type of career that more closely aligns with your interests. If you’re employed, and working from home is your goal, you might need to find a different type of job altogether.
Career changes are hard work and kind of a pain in the butt obviously, but before we can focus on the details we first need to address the elephant in the room. If you don’t like your job, working from home will only exacerbate the problem, not alleviate it.
2. Recognize that you have to work
Working from home can come with many distractions: kids, video games, TV, the refrigerator, the gym. Some people may be on a schedule that requires being reachable via email or Skype, but most people aren’t on a schedule which means you have all day to get your work done. This can also cause the dreaded procrastination.
You may find that you’ve spent the day running errands, going to the gym, spacing out, answering emails, chatting with your friend, surfing the web, playing house, making dinner, and by the time you’re done with it all, you’ve tired yourself out and not gotten any actual work done.
This is what I call the “busy trap.” You feel productive because you’ve kept busy, but you haven’t done any real work.
The best thing to do is set time aside to actually work. Schedule it if you have to.
Since I work from home people often have the misconception that I am always available. I have to be stringent about the fact that just because I’m at home does not mean that I am available. I probably work more than most people because I don’t leave my work at the office.
3. Find your routine
I have spent a good deal of time figuring out my routine. It has not been easy. Traditional advice will say things like wake up early, focus when you have the energy, save email for the end of the day, work 8 hours straight.
I think this is all nonsense. The truth is that you need to figure out what works for you.
I typically wake up around noon. I read emails and news on my phone in bed for about an hour. I then get up, make my coffee and cook up some egg tacos. Then I shower. Afterwards, I sit down at my computer and hammer out all the writing I have to do for the day. When I’m done with that I take a break, usually around 6pm. I go for a walk, go to the grocery store, hit the gym. Then I come home and cook dinner. I hang out with my roommates/friends for a little bit, maybe watch a little TV and then around 9 I hop back on my computer and do more technical stuff like website design things and stuff like that. I can watch YouTube or listen to music at the same time which makes it a little easier to focus. I go out to do DoorDash periodically throughout the week as well, typically on the weekends though. Then I work in to the night and conclude my day by doing some reading. Then it’s Twitter and music before bed. I’m usually asleep around 4–5am.
I don’t always stick with this, but I have found this routine to be a pretty good baseline for how to approach my day. You will notice that it is very atypical. I am generally a night owl though so I like staying up late. Plus, I have found that I have a much easier time focusing late at night, once the world has gone to sleep.
It will take some time to figure out your routine, so you will have to experiment. Most experiments will fail. But that’s the point of experimenting. Keep trying things out until you find something that works.
4. Don’t allow stress to enter your life
I have daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals. Then I also prioritize my goals. I have things I must get done, things that I should get done, and things that would be nice to get done.
I don’t stress about my work too much though. I have days where I am in the zone and get a ton of things done and then I have days where I simply cannot focus and get nothing done.
The things that I must get done; obviously I have to focus and get those done whether I like it or not. But if I am having a day where I am having a hard time concentrating, I just write the day off usually. I hang out with my friends, play video games, read, whatever. I don’t let myself worry about my work though.
I have learned that I have days where my brain just does not want to focus. It happens. My brain just needs a break. I prefer to think big picture. Have I accomplished my “must haves” and several of my “should haves” this week? If the answer is yes, then I feel I am doing pretty good.
Humans are naturally social creatures. As we get older it becomes harder to make friends. This goes doubly for men. As men get older it is natural for them to turn more into themselves. Loneliness is a killer. Many people die every year from loneliness: either in the form of alcohol, heart disease, depression, and all the things in between.
As a work-from-homer, I don’t get the natural social environment of an office, so I have to go out of my way to be social.
I live in a house with three other people; two guys and a girl. We all have different careers so there is little jealousy or competition and we are all very different people. We butt heads when it comes to politics or culture sometimes, but at the end of the day we all recognize that it’s nice to live with other people since the alternative (living alone) is quite unattractive.
We have an open door policy, friends are allowed to stop by and hang out whenever they want. I cook dinner a couple days a week for whoever wants to come. I am always on the lookout for cool events in town or opportunities to organize a social event.
I also feel that I am able to be much more productive once I have my social quota filled. Depression and social isolation are the antithesis to happiness and productivity.
Working from home is the dream for many people, but you must understand that it is no cakewalk. You must figure out how to make it work for you. It will not come naturally. It requires focus, patience, determination, and fortitude.
Moreover, don’t be ashamed to acknowledge that it might not be for you. If working from home is not working for you, don’t think that there is anything wrong with you. It is perfectly natural to crave an office environment. There is a reason why so many people seek that out.
For me, the benefits of working from home outweigh the negatives, but it does take effort to make it work. Don’t lose hope simply because you’re struggling. Understand that the struggle is just part of the process. If you stick with it, and commit to making it work, you’ll figure it out.
Chase is a freelance writer and digital marketer based out of Kansas City. He has an undergrad and MBA from the University of Kansas. His main passion is helping people realize their true potential and strategizing ways to help them reach their goals. Follow him on twitter @ChaseBAnderson.