When my four adult children were in town for their father’s celebration of life service, they strategized over possibilities for my future as a new widow.
“Mom, we think you should take an early retirement,” my son, Jeremy, and daughter-in-law, Denise, said over dinner. “We think you should keep blogging, get back into speaking, and write more books. And here’s how you can afford to do that.”
Whereupon, they presented three options. And so, it was with astonishment and a slight tug on my heartstrings that I submitted my resignation at the St. Charles Cancer Center.
And now I have one of those jobs where you wake up in the morning and have to think for a moment what day it is. Happy Fridays no longer stand out. Because now there are Happy Mondays through Happy Thursdays. Which makes Friday just another routine, ordinary, joyful day.
I asked a couple of my work-from-home friends for their best advice: “What are your best productivity tips for working out of a home office? What kinds of boundaries do you set for good self-care? How do you balance work activity and keep a healthy environment for marriage and family?
1. Allow time for an unrushed pre-work routine.
One of my girlfriends has a morning routine that takes one-and-a-half hours—exercise, shower, breakfast, personal reading, studying, and journaling. She gets up in plenty of time to allow for a non-rushed pace, which helps set the “productivity mood” for the day.
2. Dress right for the job.
“I get up and ready for the day as if I’m going to the office,” this same friend said. Clothes are important because they affect the way we feel. So if working from home in pajamas makes you too comfortable, too relaxed, wanting to linger over that magazine and cup of coffee, then, girl, get out of your pajamas! (Maybe start with a simple capsule wardrobe!)
3. Establish a work schedule; revise, as needed.
Some working-from-home employees need to punch a clock. But for those with flexible hours, setting a schedule can help with productivity and self-care. I’m a morning girl. I usually work full mornings until 1:00 pm or 2:00 pm to take advantage of my most productive hours. After a late lunch, I take a brisk walk to keep from falling asleep on the couch.
One day, though, I did a fast-paced, three-mile hike first thing in the morning. To my delight, I had the energy and creativity to write until dinnertime. I wondered if this was random, but after a handful of early-morning walks and several late-into-the-afternoon creativity sessions, I’ve learned that my metabolism responds well to that rhythm.
Build breaks into your schedule. “In a regular work environment, you have natural breaks,” a friend pointed out. “People interrupt the flow of your day. You walk to meetings, to other people’s offices. When you work at home, these natural breaks and movements don’t happen.” Another friend says she gets up from her computer frequently.
Honor lunchtime. “I have lunch in a totally different part of the house,” said a friend. Avoid eating at your workstation, and while you’re at it, try turning your brain off from work-related thoughts during lunchtime.
Set a stop time. When your workday is over, close the door and walk away. “I have a hard stop at 3:30 pm,” said a friend. She turns the ringer on her phone down and doesn’t answer it after hours.
4. Be aware of what can distract.
Consider hanging a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign on your home office doorknob when you particularly need to focus or place a call, a friend suggested. “My husband knew when the sign was posted he shouldn’t open the door! There were several occasions while on a call, I would get a head peering around the door and a quick wink.”
Keep supplies in stock. “My home office needed to be well stocked. And well organized,” said this same friend. “There’s nothing worse than trying to find the hole punch or running out of paper and ink.”
5. Incorporate music.
I write best while listening to music without lyrics (because with lyrics, I tend to sing along in my head, which distracts). I pick a Pandora instrumental station—The Piano Guys, Brooklyn Duo, Jim Brickman—for a variety of new-fangled and old-fashioned instrumental music. And the inspiration flows right along with it.
If you start to feel drowsy, try a brisk walk through the neighborhood. Or take a few minutes for some gentle stretching exercises. Follow up all physical activity with a tall glass of water. Researchers have shown that regular exercise really does improve creativity.
When there are no other human voices for hours on end and you’re feeling isolated, try packing up the laptop and heading for the nearest coffee shop or library. For a change of scenery, set up your “office” at a backyard picnic table. Every once in a while, look up and revel in the fresh air, the birdsong, the colors in nature.
7. Don’t ignore your house.
If you tend toward being cluttered, straighten up the house before going to bed so you don’t wake up to a mess. Apparently, there’s science to corroborate that messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
On the other hand, if you tend to be a neat freak, avoid looking around and getting up from your desk every 10 minutes to fluff up a couch pillow or rearrange the books in your bookshelves (I may or may not be guilty of this).
8. Try a power nap.
Between 10 and 30 minutes is a good amount of time to nap, which can help increase alertness, work performance, and learning ability. Set a timer to avoid oversleeping so you don’t wake up with that groggy feeling. “You will be more productive if you take some time to rest, refocus, recharge,” said one of my very wise work-from-home friends.
9. Avoid wasting minutes.
A male friend with a home office was given the following assignment by a coach to determine how he might be wasting time: “Every 15 minutes, write down what you did in the last 15 minutes.” From this day-long assignment, my friend learned he didn’t waste hours, but he was a waster of minutes.
For work-at-home moms with kids in school, it can be tempting to stop for groceries and pick up dry cleaning and drop off library books without kids in tow. But guard those precious few hours—in between the letting go of children and the re-gathering of those same little people—to get as much creative work done as possible.
“I make sure my off-work time is meaningful and that I have something to look forward to each day,” wrote one of my girlfriends. “It can be a walk with a friend after work, a lunch date, or something out of the ordinary.”
What if you have one of those at-home occupations that doesn’t feed your soul? Not all jobs allow us to pursue the things we love. Some of them involve meaningless work to help feed the family.
Don’t Forget These Benefits!
10. Not having to deal daily with that in-your-face gossipy or rude co-worker. (But if you do, read this.)
9. Staying dry and warm on those rainy or snowy days.
8. No broken bones from slipping on ice in the company parking lot.
7. Throwing in the occasional load of laundry instead of letting it pile up for end-of-the-day duty.
6. Hot running water and clean, flushed toilets with plenty of toilet paper just down the hall.
5. The aroma of a pot of soup simmering on the back burner for dinner.
4. Being available for your sick child—and still meeting that project deadline.
3. A delicious hot lunch from your kitchen. Added bonus: enjoying lunch with your soulmate… and maybe it was even your soulmate who prepared it!
2. A prime parking spot (in your garage).
1. The perfect commute time with zero road rage involved.
Here’s the thing, ladies: Whether our at-home job involves creative, energizing, meaningful work… or we’re simply contributing to our families’ finances for now, we can cultivate gratitude—even if we wish our working conditions and responsibilities were different. This will take grit + grace, but then, we’re gritty and gracious women, aren’t we?
Ready to check some more things off your to-do list? These hacks will help: Simple Hacks for You to Get More Done and Feel Less Stressed – 022