I’ve been working from home for the past eight years. For the most part, I love it, but now and then, the distracting allure of YouTube or non-stop screeching from my kids leaves me pining for a stuffy cubicle in an office building.
My best days working from home always start with a plan. A plan moves me from “kind of working on some stuff all day” to “intentionally working on specific tasks during scheduled times of the day.”
Adding a structured plan to my work hours has been the biggest contributor to success in my personal evolution of working from home. If you’ve recently found yourself working from home, here are a few things I’ve learned that might help in your own evolution.
1: Accept that work will be different
I’ve finally come to realize that my home environment is less a problem than my unrealistic expectations.
Working from home means by definition that my work life exists in the middle of my young, vibrant family doing what they’re supposed to be doing in a home, living. It’s up to me to be flexible and adapt my work expectations. It took me about seven years to accept this reality. I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.
2: Get Organized, really well
The two most important tools for bringing organization and structure to my work life have been the concepts outlined in the book Getting Things Done, alongside an airtight task management system.
The better organized I am, the greater freedom I have to create boundaries between my work and family. I’ve learned that without definite limits, work can quickly consume everything else I do at home. In a practical sense, this makes my work less effective, while robbing my family of the attention they deserve.
3: Schedule your work
After getting organized, the next step for me was to utilize a calendar not only for appointments, but to schedule and block specific times of the day for particular work tasks. I now schedule my work time like I would a meeting. Example: “respond to email from 9-9:30 AM”.
This granular approach to scheduling my time has offered a huge advantage over “winging it” with whatever pops into my head once I sit down at the computer.
4: Match specific types of work to particular periods of the day
The energy and distractibility in my home changes throughout the day, primarily driven by what my kids are doing. The solution to this distraction variability is to schedule creative, more cognitively demanding tasks during periods of the day when my kids are sleeping or out of the house.
Other more “distraction resilient” tasks are placed around the margins of my day when I’m more likely to have to put out fires around home.
5: Communicate your exact work hours to your family
For the longest time I expected my wife to assume that whenever I was on the computer, I was working on something important. The problem, of course, is that for much of the day, I was swapping between work and some other time waster.
This mishmash of work and leisure time was a productivity killer, but also placed an unnecessary burden on her to continually gauge whether or not I was in a good place to be interrupted.
The solution has been to share a work calendar containing my specific work intentions for the week. Establishing clear boundaries around my work time has helped me be more accountable, as well as made it easier for my wife to know when she can expect me to “come home from work” and join the family.
6: Create the best isolation possible
At one point in my work-from-home career, as my mind was about to explode from screaming children, my wife said to me, “you need to get some noise-canceling headphones.” I got up from my desk, drove straight to the store, and made it happen.
Noise-canceling headphones weren’t perfect, but they did buy me a bit of mental privacy while providing a clear signal to my family when I was working. I’ve been fortunate enough to transition to a home office now, but for the few years I was stuck in an open space, good headphones were an absolute necessity.
7: Create an uncluttered environment
As the rest of our home became more chaotic with bigger kid messes, I found it more and more valuable to focus on keeping my work area tidy. The general evolution of my workspace has gone from cluttered, to organized, to immaculate. My overall goal is to sit down at my desk and immediately flip the work switch. Keeping things tidy makes this possible.
8: Develop a wind-down routine
Without a wind-down routine at the end of the day, I find it difficult to respect the boundaries between work and home. My routine isn’t elaborate, just something simple that signals a hard stop between “work brain” and “home brain.”
I’ve found it helpful to journal for a few minutes, recording what went down for the day, while quickly taking a look at the plan for the next day. This routine signals a hard stop to the workday. No email, no texting, work is finished.
9: Make your work area attractive
When I first started working from home, an attractive workspace wasn’t much of an option. As my workspace has moved from a corner of the house, to a former bedroom, I’ve been able to take asthletics more seriously.
Here are a few things I’ve found that make the most significant difference in an attractive workspace.
- I managed the cord clutter around my desk. For whatever reason, having cords perfectly tuned around my office brings a sense of calm and control. I need this contrast in my office to counteract the legos strewn throughout the rest of the house.
- I bought better lighting. Investing in a few dimmable LED lights has enabled me to create an ambiance that feels comfortable and inviting. My office is no doubt the most relaxed place in the house to hang out.
- I invested in professional tools/furniture. Having excellent tools to work with (computer, keyboard, desk, chair) has been another work-from-home evolution that has made my home office a fun and comfortable place to work. Overall, my office has evolved into a place that signals efficiency and creativity every time I step through the door.
10: Defend your turf
I love my kids, but by now, they know I’m tyrannical about keeping my work territory clean and orderly. No toys, no clutter. My wife is smart enough to use my obsessive compulsiveness to her advantage. If she wants something put away, she games the system by placing it on my desk, then looks at me with a devilish smile. Within minutes, I’m defending my turf, and cleaning off my desk.
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Data Driven Athlete