Managing a home life and work life is challenging. The pull between the two feels constant. At least when you’re commuting into an office, there is a physical space created that can help ease that tension, but when you start working from home, suddenly having a home life and work-life feels more like a competition rather than a balancing act.
Shortly after graduating from college in 2015, I landed a killer job, complete with an office, a professional dress code, and a real water cooler. I was at that job for three years before changing things up. I found an equally great job, but the company environment and structure are the complete opposite of what I had grown accustomed to. I began working from home, trading my office for a kitchen table, my pencil skirt for joggers, and water cooler for a pantry of snacks that look like a child shopped unsupervised. That change of pace kicked off almost a year and a half ago and let me tell you: I am bought in wholesale on the remote work thing!
I would be lying if I didn’t say that the first month, if not a little longer, of remote work, was tough to navigate, but as time went on, I learned a lot about myself. Now I’m 18 months in and I’ve (thankfully) got it figured out. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 best-practices for working from home.
1. Create a to-do list and live by it.
The first and last thing that I do every single day is creating a to-do list. Before I pull up my first email, I pull out my notebook, open my calendar, and list out everything that needs to get done. I do contract work, so I split mine up into categories by contract and misc./other. This helps guide my day. As I work through tasks, I mark them off of my list. Having a narrow scope of what to do with my time avoids the disarray of figuring out where to start and answering, “what do I do?”.
As an added bonus, seeing to-dos get scratched off the list is not only satisfying but motivating. No matter how funky the day might feel, having something tangible that reminds me I was productive brings some peace to my mind so I can shut down from work and enjoy my home life.
2. Focus on your high energy times, and don’t overwork your low energy times.
This is really hard to do. You have to ask yourself “when am I most energized and enthusiastic?” and you can’t lie to yourself. Once you figure that you, you can carve out time during that sweet spot for nothing but productivity. Conversely, when you know you start to feel the weight of a day on your shoulders, take it slower. That time you start to crave an afternoon coffee or nap is a great time to avoid external-facing work (phone calls, meetings, etc.) and work on something less urgent, like reading emails that you’ve let for a day or two.
A quick google search and you’ll find research has shown that working from home increases overall productivity than when one works in a conventional office environment. So, for those peak-times, chances are you’ll be productive enough to offset a slower time in the day. At least, that’s been my experience.
3. Set your scene.
I’m a creature of habit. I figured out pretty quickly that setting up camp in the same space every day was better for me than hopping around my house as I saw fit. This may not be your jam, but Pavlov would tell you that your mind will associate that space with work. It’s not a bad thing to work in the same spot in your house every day. In fact, if you remain disciplined about where you work, you’ll feel less stuck in work mode as you wander about your domicile.
One thing that is for sure, you do not want to break the bedroom barrier. Your pillows may feel like the office mates you’ve only dreamed of, but when it comes time to shut down, chances are, your brain won’t switch from work to rest.
4. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!
Maybe don’t volunteer for everything but step out of your routine and take on tasks that you normally wouldn’t. If your company is offering ways to engage your colleagues, don’t passively participate, take on an active role. Maybe you can be the person that sends out the calendar invitation or drafts up the company-wide email to promote something coming up soon.
Collaborating on projects outside of your normal work responsibilities has so many benefits too. To name a few: you will be able to meet people you ordinarily wouldn’t work with, your name will be on something, bringing positive attention to your work, and you’ll spice up your average workweek.
5. Your calendar reminders are your best friend.
Similar to the to-do lists that I already mentioned, your digital calendar (google, outlook, etc.) is the wingman you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. I’m a mover. Thought-out my day, I like to make sure I’m engaging my dogs, getting a break with some fresh air, hitting the gym, and whatever else my brain comes up with that day, but no matter what, there is still an expectation that I get my work done. I rely on my calendar to pre-plan times that I can break to hit the gym or run the dogs to the park.
Possibly the best feature on a digital calendar, the reminder setting. My laptop and phone will both remind me of upcoming meetings. This is super helpful when I step away from something for a few minutes and I lose track of time. Generally having an idea of what’s happening and when is great but having a back-up plan just in case the distractions that live with you in your home/office space is a safety net no one can afford to forgo.
Bonus tip: When you’re on calls that don’t require you to be directly in front of your computer, take this as a chance to get in some steps. I love walking around my apartment while I’m on conference calls. Racking up a few extra steps while you’re doing something else is an easy way to sprinkle in just enough exercise to get the blood pumping because sitting stagnant in a chair all day isn’t good for the mind or heart.
If you take nothing else away from these tips, I hope that, at the very least, you’re reminded to be honest with yourself and take care of your needs. If you give yourself the best you can, the best you are will always show through in all that you do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maggie identifies as a life-long learner, a political-hobbyist, and a self-proclaimed socialite (read: non-stop-talker). She’s happily– and recently– married and the most enthusiast dog-mom. She works a full-time job in PR for a few federal agencies. In her spare time, she can be found making dad jokes, quoting FRIENDS, and cheering on her alma-mater: The Ohio State Buckeyes.
Maggie loves regaling my life experiences with others and taking in all of theirs, so she started her blog to host those beloved conversations, ones that are empowering, laced with life-lessons, and deserve to be heard. Maggie’s hope is to create a community that encourages people to talk about their life and listen to others. Don’t be surprised if one week there is a focus on work and the next, reminisces about travels to France, and the next week gushes about her recent wedding day. It may seem scattered and unfocused, but that’s how life is too, and the best ideas and lessons are from experiencing and sharing life.
You can find her on Instagram too, at @maggsonlife.