How work (not "work") from home

I had a vision in my mind of what it would be like to be a full time author back when I was starting out, juggling my Change Management career in the banking industry and trying to have some semblance of a life (ha!) on top of that.

Once I had achieved my goal of writing full time, I was going to wake up early and start the day with some yoga or a nice walk. I'd be one of those health-conscious types who drink herbal teas with Instagram-worthy slices of lemon (as I'm typing this I realise I left my coffee sitting on the coffee machine because I decided to take out the recycling and totally forgot about it. This, friends, is what we call foreshadowing!)

I would write eleventy-billion words a day (insert other unrealistic goals here) and I would end the day at five on the dot so I could have some reading time before J came home from work. I would be gloriously happy all the time and my output would go through the roof.

 Just LOOK at that perfect Instagram lemon!

Just LOOK at that perfect Instagram lemon!

But then I discovered that the washing basket was kind of overflowing...so I should put that on first, right?

And I really wanted a coffee. Writers go to cafes all the time, right? So that's a legit thing to do.

Oh, The Sims4 has a new expansion? Well, it would be rude not to at least buy it and get the download going...and maaaaybe take a quick look around. You know, to make sure all the files are working.

My first six months of writing full time...

Yeah, I wasn't any more productive than when I'd been fitting my writing sessions around work. I quickly came to the realisation that there's an "adjustment period" when it comes to working from home on a regular basis. This isn't only an issue for writers. There are an increasing number of people working remotely in all kinds of careers.

So, how can we work from home, not "work" from home?

You've probably heard the usual suspects:

  • Dress like you're going to work in your regular environment i.e. don't work in your pjs
  • Start work at the time you would start work if you were going into an office
  • Schedule your day
  • Don't go on the internet

For the most part, this is pretty sound advice. But it's a little like trying to make your home environment feel like you're going into the office...and you're not. Why pretend you're in a cube farm when you're in your comfy home? So, here are my tips for productivity while working from home, an update on the usual suspects and a few random bits and bobs that have worked for me.

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1. Dress like you're having a friend over for coffee. I love a good pencil skirt and stiletto combo as the next Mad Men extra-wannabe but it's not necessary when you're working from home. And, pencil skirts aren't that comfy when you're sitting down all day. I like to dress as if I'm having a friend pop over for a cuppa. Jeans and a slouchy T, leggings and a cute sweater in winter, cotton dresses in summer work for me. Wear what makes you feel good and comfy! This helps you to feel ready for the day, and means you won't be distracted thinking about your clothes once they're on.

2. Work at your most productive times. I always thought I was a morning person because I could easily get up for work every day. I even went through a patch of having personal training twice a week at 6am. However, it turns out I actually wake up naturally around 8am. I'm also NOT creative at all, until at least 11am. So, I work around that. Non-creative tasks happen in the morning (emails, website updates, admin, editing etc.) and then I start writing around lunchtime. If you're not a morning person, don't force yourself to get up early because some social media guru told you it would change your life. Work when you'll get the most down - if you're a night owl, stay up late. If you're an early bird...you get the drift. If you're working from home, you don't have to stick to the boundaries of the 9-5 unless your job specifically calls for it.

3. Track your productivity. It's easy to feel like everything you do falls into a big black hole. Writing a book often feels like that - you type word after word after word and then there's endless cycle of revision, editing, proofing, promotion, newsletters, social media blah blah blah. The biggest thing I have done to feel productive (which in turn makes me productive. Motivation for the win!) is to track my work. For me, that's word count. I keep a spreadsheet and every day I log my words. For you, it might be checking things off a list, working through a project plans or something else. But seeing in detail what you've achieved will help you to feel like you're making progress.

4. Manage distractions. We've all got that one group message that goes off like your phone is possessed, right? But many jobs require use of the internet and social media, so it doesn't work to simply say "don't use the internet." But I manage distractions via the following:

  • I have a 'no group messages' policy during the work day.
  • All social media push notifications are turned off. 
  • I use a program to block access to certain sites for periods of time, say if I want to use the internet for research but want to stay off Facebook.
  • I keep my phone on silent
  • Whatsapp message are set to only flash up on the screen, but with no sound or vibrations.

My concentration is a fragile thing, so I need to help it as much as possible.

5. Work in sprints. I will always be distracted by an overflowing washing basket. But one measly load of washing can easily turn into my not working for a whole day while I distract myself with household tasks. So, I write in sprints and then break up the day with other activities. Write for an hour, go and get a coffee, write for another hour, put the washing on, write for another hour, have a snack and watch a Youtube video for fifteen minutes. This actually works to make me more productive, because I set a timer. During my sprint I know not to slack because time will be up soon. It also means frequently getting out of my chair, which is necessary for your back and shoulders.

There's so many more things I could say on this topic, but I'm going to leave it there. I'm planning a post on productivity tools that will expand on some of these points in the future! Do you work from home? How do you manage to stay on track during the day (or night)?