Working from home isn’t easy, and it takes time to get used to it. I’ve been working from home for sixteen years. During that time, I’ve had various types of jobs, but most of them have been jobs where I need to be at a computer.
I have found that there are both pros and cons of working from home.
- You can work hours that suit you
- You can often work anywhere in the world
- You can work in your pyjamas if you want
- There is no travel time
These seem like great advantages of working from home, but there are the cons too.
- It can be difficult to separate home and work-life
- You can be lonely
- You need to good at self-motivation
- It can be hard to establish a routine
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Let’s look at how you can overcome the challenges, with my top tips for working from home success.
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Separate home and work-life
If you have a family that you live with, you must keep the two separate.
Even if you live on your own, the life you have out of work should be very separate to your working life.
I have always found it challenging to stay present with my family all of the time. It has always been a struggle not to let my mind wander to the last call I had with a co-worker, or the email I read earlier that bugged me.
TheMuse suggests that you only ever ‘work’ at your desk. Don’t eat in your workspace. Would you eat breakfast at your desk if you worked in an office?
TheMuse also makes an excellent point that you should not make logging into your computer the first thing you do in the morning.
Enjoy breakfast with your family, or get your kids ready for school before you think about working.
Keep to a routine
When you begin working from home, it can feel very liberating. Knowing that you can take your dog out for a walk whenever you feel like it, do a bit of housework, or start the dinner off is a wonderful feeling.
However, as lovely as it is to do what you want when you want, I recommend you make and keep to a schedule.
Get up at the same time every day, and get dressed. It can be tempting to spend the day in your pyjamas. In my experience, productivity shot up when I made an effort to put on some clothes. It means you can answer the door without embarrassment!
If you don’t have a set time for starting work, it can mess you up for the rest of the day.
Decide at what time you will take breaks. If you have a set time for starting and finishing work, it is much easier to switch off from work. Your family will thank you for it, and they will feel important in your life when you put them first.
Nail the housework
Whether you work from home or away from home, one thing is certain, you have less time for household chores. I have a very effective strategy that I tell you about in this post – 10 Minute Clean Up Strategy That Will Change Your Life. All you need is a small mindset tweak and you can put cleaning on autopilot.
Find a good accountant
Having a good accountant is vital if you are self-employed or freelance.
You must be able to concentrate on running your business. Let someone else help you with the tax returns.
An accountant will help you to save money by advising you what tax to pay and what you can claim against tax, for example, heating and lighting.
Even though you have an accountant, you will need to keep records. Make a spreadsheet and use it to record your expenses and income. Keep your records updated regularly. Don’t leave all your number-crunching until the end of the quarter because a) it takes up a bigger block of time, and b) it is difficult to remember details.
If you have clients that you bill time for you will need to write down the time you spend. There are apps that can help you, such as Harvest, and Everhour or you could use a Google Spreadsheet. If you need some software for invoicing try Zoho Invoice.
Find a good chair
If you are going to be working mainly on a computer, a good chair is a must. You should have a desk and a good chair.
The worst thing you can do is to sit your sofa with your head cowered over a laptop. I speak from experience as I still have a neck problem from spending too much time doing just that.
Experts agree that the sofa is the worst place to work. “A sofa might feel like the most comfortable place at the beginning,” says Ameet Bhakta, a postural alignment specialist. “But after a while it won’t, because when you sit on a sofa what it does is it encourages you to slump. Nearly every sofa I’ve ever been on encourages you to slump to round your shoulders, put your head forward, and that’s going to put more strain on your body.”
So what is the best chair for working at home?
Spinehealth advises that your desk chair should have an adjustable height and should have enough width and depth to accommodate your body comfortably. A good chair should also give suitable lumber and backrest support.
Get yourself a desktop computer
I caused myself injury by working full-time on a laptop. The solution was to buy a desktop computer paired with a good screen placed at the right height. I positioned the screen so I could sit comfortably and look ahead to work instead of down as I would on a laptop.
If you don’t have the budget for a desktop computer, you could dock your laptop instead. Connect your screen, keyboard, internet cable etc. to the back of the dock, and then there is a single connection to the laptop. That is what I did at the beginning. You can’t buy just any dock though. You will need to research which one works with your laptop. The alternative is to connect everything directly to the laptop, but it gets a bit complicated when you need to disconnect.
I found that having a dedicated desktop computer that I couldn’t move from room to room was better for keeping me focused on work time and helped a great deal with work/life separation.
Create a dedicated workspace
If you are going to be working from home full-time, you should set yourself up with a dedicated workspace. A dedicated workspace helps you to keep the separation between home and work life.
As I said in the earlier section, your sofa should not be your workspace, even if it is a sofa you only use for work. Your spine will thank you for creating a healthy place to work.
Set up a desk and chair in the most appropriate area of a room where you will be the least distracted.
If you can set aside a whole room for working where you can shut out any distractions, that is even better.
A room where there is natural daylight is better for mental health. If you choose a screen that doesn’t reflect the light, it doesn’t matter whether the sun is in front or behind you.
Make time for exercise
When you make your workday schedule, you should build in some time for exercise. You might prefer to exercise first thing in the morning, or you could plan it for the evening.
If you have the freedom to gift yourself a long lunch break in your day, you could use that time for something active like a long dog walk or a trip to the gym.
It’s essential to move frequently while you are working. Take some time to stretch. Make sure your shoulders are down, and you don’t feel tense in any part of your body.
Yoga is perfect for relaxing muscles and releasing tension. You don’t need special clothing to do it, just something loose. Heart.co.uk recommends doing some simple stretches, particularly a down dog to up dog flow which is a fantastic move for the whole body.
Have your eyes checked
When you work for a company, there are often perks such as private health care, gym membership, life insurance, etc., and usually, they will pay for you to get your eyes checked.
When you work from home as a freelancer or self-employed person, its easy to forget to look after yourself.
Always have the recommended eye checks. In the UK it is every two years. If you don’t need glasses now, you should have tests as if you did.
Eye health is critical. Eye strain can lead to headaches and could cost you in work time, so don’t take the risk, get checked regularly.
For good eye health, you must take regular breaks from the screen.
You should take a mini-break looking away from the screen at least every 10 minutes and between a half and one hour you should stand up and have a walk.
If you don’t think you will remember to take a break, then there are apps to help you.
I use an app on my computer called Stretchly. It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and it reminds you to take a twenty-second break every 10 minutes and a five-minute break every thirty.
If you have an Apple Watch, use the ‘move’ ring to remind get up throughout the day and try to get the ring closed by the evening.
Regular breaks are critical for eye health and mental wellbeing, and they can help also you solve problems. I always make a point of stepping away from the computer when I have a problem that I just can’t overcome. Somehow removing myself from the situation helps me to think clearly and often I have a solution worked out by the time I get back.
Network with other people in your industry
Working from home can be lonely. There is an abundance of communication methods available to us nowadays, but even so, it is far too easy to become wrapped up in our own world.
Try to make an effort to connect with others in your industry. It is hugely beneficial for everyone to talk out problems. Just the process of explaining a problem to someone can help you come up with a solution it is truly amazing.
What can you do to connect with people in your industry?
TheMuse recommends several things to help you connect with others, including searching for a Slack community to join and starting a Podcast.
“I’ve been able to build an incredible network through my Podcast where I interview active, quota carrying, individual contributor sales professionals who are either #1—or at least in the top 1%—of performers at their companies,” says Scott Ingram, who, in addition to the podcast, works from home in an outside sales role.
TheWorkAtHomeWoman suggests joining LinkedIn groups and attending conferences and events.
Get some childcare
If you have children that need caring for you must get childcare as you would if were going out to work.
If you can’t afford childcare, then design your workday so that you can work when your child is at school, nursery or taking naps.
If your partner is the primary carer, it is all the more important to have an area to work where you won’t get distracted, by your child, or your partner.
It might make sense to rent office space outside of the home if you think that you won’t get the peace and quiet required to be productive in your work.
Don’t work when you are ill
You very probably wouldn’t go out to work if you were ill. It is easy to make allowances when you are working from home. After all, you don’t have to go anywhere, and you aren’t going to spread germs outside the house, so what harm could it do?
Ignoring your health won’t do yourself any favors at all. The illness will very probably stay around for much longer, and may even return. It is always a good idea to practice self-care and give your body the best chance to recover.
Break up your day by working elsewhere
Having somewhere else to work can be great for morale, motivation, and mental health. It has a whole host of benefits.
A great place to work is in a library. Libraries are usually quiet with free WIFI. You could spend the whole day or a few hours to break up your routine a bit. It’s the perfect place to focus on your work if you think you might get too distracted at home.
A cafe is another option, or you could rent a desk in a communal office for a few hours.
Make sure your friends and family know you work from home
When you work from home, friends could be forgiven for assuming that you have time on your hands. Make sure you communicate that you are working and that you are not available for social events, favours, etc. during work time.
Working from home can be hugely liberating, but you need to approach it with some caution. If you are working from home now, or intend to in the future, or you have had it imposed on you due to the COVID 19 pandemic you now have some solid advice to help you stay focused on your work, set a routine, and practice self-care while you work.