Are you working from home for the first time?
Back when I was working in the corporate world in my late 20s, I (like many Americans) occasionally dreamed of working from home. I had this romanticized image of slowly getting up in the morning, heading to my home office in my PJs, and taking some time off in the middle of the day to run errands or read a book. Then I started my own small business in my home and, BOY, was I in for a rude shock!
It turns out that working from home requires a specific kind of discipline, focus, and the ability to tune out all distractions. Just ask Jayson, my husband. He tried to work from home a decade or so ago and it wasn’t for him! He would find himself getting pulled outside to do a little gardening or the next thing I knew, he would be working on the evening’s dinner! Needless to say, he didn’t work at home long. Ha! Like most people, learning to work productively and successfully at home is a skill!
Today, many Americans have found themselves in the same boat as, due to current circumstances, their workplaces have temporarily closed. This requires them to work from home, and making that transition can be a struggle. On top of that, the reality of COVID-19 is terrifying for a lot of people, distracting them from work.
As someone who has worked from home for almost two decades, I feel that I’m in a unique place where I might be able to help. Here are some of the strategies that keep me being super productive while I’m working in my home office:
Create an Office Space
As human beings, we love to label everything, especially rooms in our home. There is the living room, for watching TV and relaxing. The kitchen, for making food and gathering. The bathroom, for, well, you know.
When we start working from home, our brains can rebel when we try to work in one of these locations. The living room isn’t where you do work, right? The kitchen is for cooking, not for writing reports. As silly as it sounds, you need to create a place in your home that is for work and nothing else. In other words, you need a dedicated home office space.
If you don’t have any rooms to spare or convert into a home office, that’s ok. You just need to set up a dedicated desk and computer somewhere in your home. That area is for working, and nothing else. It’s not for watching YouTube; it’s not for answering personal emails. When you sit at that desk, you’re at work. And when you get up from it, you’re at home. Creating a home office can be your first big step towards increased home productivity.
Create a Routine
Productivity rarely happens when things are chaotic. If a dozen things are up in the air or you feel out of control, you won’t have the opportunity to get into a mental state where you can get things done.
Working from home for the first time will absolutely disrupt your routine, resulting in you feeling a little “lost at sea” for a while. That’s entirely normal. The way to combat this is to create a daily routine that will provide some structure for your day.
An excellent place to start is with your typical work hours. You should start your day at the same time you would if you were going into the office. Take your lunch at the same time. Breaks, ditto. And when it’s “quitting time,” be sure to quit.
Set Ground Rules for the Family
I love my family more than anything in the entire world. So, you can trust me when I say that, OMGoodness, they can drive me nuts when I’m trying to work!
Right now, Eben, my son is home from college and is in his room debating with someone online about the Theory of Relativity! Ha. My office is beside his room, filling my workspace with muffled sounds of excited conjecture and him talking with his friends. You can imagine that isn’t an ideal work environment!
If you have small children, they might not understand why Mommy or Daddy can’t play with them immediately. You’re home, right? You should be available to them. Don’t forget, having you working from home can be a shift for them too.
The best way to handle this situation is to set some ground rules. For example, when you’re working, you are WORKING. You aren’t available for anything short of an emergency. If they need a visual reminder of this, get one of those “Do Not Disturb” door handles that they use in hotels. If you are available to talk, you can switch it around to the “Please Clean Room” side. My office has large sliding doors. My family knows if the doors are closed, they should be quiet and definitely not come in unless it’s an emergency. If the doors are open, it means I am still working but doing something like creating images for Instagram or another task that doesn’t require me to be in the zone.
Get the Right Equipment
If you are working from home, you might need some equipment that you don’t when you are at the office.
As your brick-and-mortar location might be closed for a little while, it could be a good idea to update your website and social media channels. More and more people are going to be online for the next few weeks, so you want your digital marketing strategy to be put into place when they visit your website. If you aren’t quite sure what to tweak, I would highly suggest doing a website audit and a social media audit. I can do that for you, wink wink!
If you need to do remote calls on Skype or Zoom, my advice would be to invest in a decent wireless headset. This will improve both the call quality and how you can move around your home office.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to handle noisy kids in the house while you’re trying to work is to buy a decent pair of wireless, noise-canceling earphones. While they can’t eliminate all noise, they will at least muffle it.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a way to block out all external noise, I highly recommend this relaxing “study” music. They are piano versions of songs from Studio Ghibli films (which are mine and Eben’s favorites!) Not only are they beautiful, but also incredibly relaxing. It’s the perfect music to have on when you’re trying to work. Give it a try!
Leave the House Regularly
When you both live and work at home, it can be challenging to get out of the house. This reality is especially true at the moment when many of us feel trapped indoors by health circumstances.
That said, we can’t stay inside all the time! It can take a significant toll on our mental health. So, my recommendation is to schedule one or two short walks every day. You don’t need to go for miles and miles, even a 5-10 minute walk around the block will do the trick. The point is to get some fresh air and see some sun! Even if all you do is head to your backyard and soak in some sun, it will make a huge difference. Believe me, it can do wonders.
Be Kind to Yourself
Here is my final tip for working at home: be kind to yourself.
With so many things changing daily, focusing can be difficult. You might not be nearly as productive as you usually are, and that’s ok. It’s a massive change for everyone, and you are doing the best you can. Working from home isn’t easy!
On top of that, you might not be feeling your best, either due to stress or illness. This scenario is one of the reasons why I believe in the importance of having an Entrepreneur Emergency Survival Kit on hand.
If you feel that you aren’t productive at the moment, it’s important to remember that you are NOT being lazy. After a week or so, you’re going to hit your stride. Everything until that point is you just figuring out how to navigate this new temporary reality. You CAN do this, it’s just going to take some time.
I’ve worked from home for years now, and it still challenges me daily. There are some days I wish I could just leave my house in the morning and head to the office, then leave my work behind at the end of the day. That said, I’ve learned how to become incredibly productive in my home. And a significant part of that is hiring a virtual assistant. For some more ideas on how a virtual assistant can help, check out my free How to Use a Virtual Team to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back: Workbook.
If you want to talk about your new work situation and how I can help you make this transition, please contact me today. I would be delighted to share my experiences and advice, possibly taking some of your work off your plate so you can focus on making the transition into your new home office.