In our current state of quarantines and stay-at-home orders, a larger percentage of the workforce is confronting the difficulties of working from home. The balance between home and work life has never been this strained. Keeping on task is more challenging than ever with a global pandemic thrown into the mix. The good news is that for many of us work-at-home is our normal normal, not our new normal.
When I left my role as the Marketing Director of a prominent regional law firm more than five years ago to start my own business, I quickly learned what it takes to successfully run a home business. Now I’m sharing these 4 practical daily tips to hopefully make your work-at-home experience a little less taxing.
1. Build a Dedicated and Permanent Work Space in Your Home
Setting the right mindset is key when it comes to working at home. As difficult as it may seem, you need to adopt an office mentality even though you’re in the comfort of your own home. One way to foster that new mind-set is to dedicate a permanent work space in your home. This could be a spare bedroom, a desk in your den or a cozy setup in your finished basement. Commit to working in your dedicated office space every day, so you begin to associate work with this space. Your office space should be comfortable, but shouldn’t be so comfy that it makes you think of Netflix binging on the couch.
Consider the basics of a typical office. You need space for the basics like your computer, office supplies and possibly a printer. If you have the luxury of room, you may want to allow for double monitors, a filing cabinet or an organizer. And don’t forget lighting! Make sure that your office works for all different times of the day – good shades or blackout curtains if you’re dealing with sun glare, and good overheard lighting or lamps – especially if you’re in a windowless room or basement office.
2. Research and Invest in the Right Technology for Your Home Office
Once you’ve established the right work space in your home, you need to spend time taking your technology needs into consideration. This is one area where you don’t want to skimp. Trying to get by on that ten-year-old laptop that you borrowed from your cousin will not cut it. As with anything in business, you want to set yourself up for success and that may take an initial investment in the right technology for your specific needs.
If you’re a creative, you may need a multi-monitor set up utilizing high-resolution and high-performance monitors that can handle your graphics work. If, on the other hand, you deal with a lot of paperwork and forms, you’ll want a good quality printer and scanner that can handle large output. While searching for a quality machine, don’t overlook ink. No one wants to constantly buy and change out ink cartridges, especially if you’re the one footing the bill.
Other technology considerations include computer storage, network routers, speakers and possibly a headset depending on how many conference or video calls you’ll be on. With more and more events being conducted virtually, make sure your web camera is making you look your best.
3. Create A Routine, Establish Work Hours and Take Breaks
Setting up your home office is the easy part. The hard part is creating a routine for yourself and establishing specific work hours. When you don’t have the physical distance between you and your work, your job tends to creep into your home life. It’s always there and always top of mind, and not in a good way. By establishing work hours and sticking to them, you can create the boundaries you need between you and your work.
Of course, everyone’s situations will differ. Your job may require you to log on at specific times during the day. If that is the case, remember to take your breaks and a lunch hour if that is your office norm. Be sure to take your breaks in a different area, other than your office. Go out for a walk around the neighborhood, or simply eat lunch in your kitchen, not at your computer. When you log out, and as long as you are emergency free, stay logged out. Just because you can send that email out on Sunday night, doesn’t mean you should. If it can wait till Monday morning, let it wait. Curbing other people’s demands and expectations on your time will be a constant battle. Prioritizing your home life is essential to avoiding burnout. And in case you were wondering, you can get burned out and stressed out at home.
If you’re self-employed and/or have a more flexible schedule, your established work hours don’t have to be set within the typical 8 to 6 time-frame. If mornings with kids make it impossible to get work done in the a.m., then consider shifting your hours to take more advantage of the evening hours. Get a sense of when you are the most productive during the day. If you’re a night owl, capitalize on that. You can always draft your e-mails at night and schedule them for 9 a.m. arrival the next day. Maybe working a straight eight or nine hours doesn’t work for you. Consider breaking it up into a morning and evening time block that’s more conducive to your parental or caregiver obligations.
4. Make the Most of Calendars, To-Do Lists, Planners and Time Keepers
Distractions are a constant reality for the work-at-homer. Taking the dog for a walk, throwing in an extra load of laundry or even checking social media can easily take you away from work. Knowing how to combat and, honestly, recover from these distractions is essential. Don’t worry, there are some great tools in the work-at-home toolbox that can help. Calendars, to-do lists and planners are your best friends. You just need to figure out which tools work best for you, and it may take time to know for sure – you learn by doing.
Maybe you’re old school and need to get those to-dos down on paper so you have the satisfaction of crossing them out. Or, maybe you work best utilizing one of the great project management apps now available on the market like BaseCamp. These apps are especially helpful if you have tasks that you are overseeing, but are being delegated to others. Tracking deadlines can get a lot easier when everything is automated.
Speaking of apps, there are some really great time management and productivity apps now available that can really level up your work-at-home game. One specific benefit to business owners and self-employed workers is determining your relative productivity – how much time is spent on actual billable work as compared to non-billables such as marketing, promotion, networking, and administrative functions like accounting and invoicing. While those social media posts are important, maybe they are sucking up more of your time than you realize. Remember, knowledge is power. The more knowledge and data you have, the more empowered you will be.
We all know by now that working from home is a challenge. But (and this is a BIG but), it is absolutely doable. You just need the right amount of preparation and investment in both yourself and your home office. As the dust settles from the current coronavirus crisis, we may see more and more people permanently working from home. Your new normal might just become my normal normal. Who knows, you may even find that you prefer your home office to the real thing.