9 Realistic Tips for Working from Home (Part 1 of 3)

Lauren Bonk

You’ve heard of urban legends, right? It all starts with an instance of truth: some kid eats a packet of Pop-Rocks, chases it with soda and (surprise!) throws up. A couple of kids tell a couple more kids and, suddenly, the nation is swept with the horrifying news that the combination of this feisty candy and a carbonated beverage equals certain death by stomach explosion.

Now, freelancing doesn’t have much to do with Pop-Rocks, but I believe it suffers from a similar “urban legend syndrome.”

Someone, somewhere, sometime (I’m guessing we can blame the 90’s) managed to create a cushy work-from-home deal, was probably successful, and told somebody that he could make a bunch of money without ever having to put on a pair of pants.

Why does it always come down to the pants?

Let’s get one thing straight here, right off the bat: Working from home is, indeed, awesome. You do find yourself with more control over your schedule and creative decisions… and, if you really wanted, you could work all day long in your Star Wars pajamas and Chewbacca fluffy slippers without getting any guff.

But is it really that simple? No. Of course it’s not. If you ask me (and you kind of are, since you’re here at this blog), working from home is complex enough to bring up a three-part blog series full of categories and a whole bunch of bulleted points and descriptions… which is what we’re going to do.

By the time we’re done with this series, we’ll have discussed the actual work itself, your physical workspace, and the issue of fitting the rest of your life in with your business.

So, let’s fill up your favorite Simpson’s coffee mug, turn on some music that you’d never be caught dead listening to in public, and celebrate this gift by going through 9 (totally doable) tips for working from home.

The Actual Work

1.) Create a routine that gives your day some structure.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sweet, heady freedom of working from home. No boss breathing down your neck, no soul-sucking commute, and no quarterly performance evaluations to stress about… it all sounds like a dream come true, right?

Here’s the deal: your dream’s going to take a turn in the Freddy Krueger direction if you don’t carve out some structure for your days. Approach your workday at home with the same mindset as a workday at the office: you’re there to get stuff done so that you can enjoy the rest of your day. By waking up at the same time every day and setting specific hours to dedicate to work, you’ll be less tempted to hit the snooze button 46 times, and more focused once you finally sit down at your desk.

2.) Speaking of desks… get one.

One of the cons to working from home is that there are a lot more distractions within your line of vision. If it’s at all possible, try to designate a work space for yourself. Brainstorming logo ideas when there’s a sink full of dirty dishes within five feet of you can be overwhelming. Even a desk in the corner of your bedroom is better than temporarily camping out at the kitchen table each day, especially if you’ve got a family. The last thing you want is orange juice spilled on your keyboard or a Batman flip-book made out of your brand new business cards.

3.) Reward thyself.

No one can work for six hours with zero breaks and still expect their work to be top-notch; your brain needs a rest.
Remember, you may still need to keep a schedule, but you get to set it. Throw a few breaks in that timeline! I, personally, can go full-speed on a project for about two hours before I need a break. Sometimes that break means a snack, sometimes it means exercise, and sometimes it’s 15 minutes of Doctor Who podcasts or videos of babies laughing hysterically at shoes.

What helps you relax and recharge your brain? Whatever it is, make sure you allow some time for it. Your finished products will thank you.

4.) Dress for work. (Yeah, I said it.)

Let’s start this one off by noting that everyone’s different, and that some people truly do get better work done in a bathrobe. I haven’t run into one of those people yet, but I know they’re out there. This is me, acknowledging them.

For the rest of us, however, it’s a good idea to include getting ready and dressed into your morning routine. I’m not saying you’ve got to slap on a power suit and find your good tie/shoulder pads… I’m just saying that a shower and a fresh pair of pants can put you in a work mind-set and (according to real, live scientists) improve your cognitive abilities.

5.) Time your work.

Especially as a freelancer, your time is your money, and you need to know if you’re getting paid appropriately for the work you’re putting in. You can try an app or one of the many available time-management sites for freelancers, or you can just use a notebook and the stopwatch feature on your phone.

Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of money you’re making and how well you’re using your time.

6.) Plan for administrative and collaborative time.

Whether you’re freelancing, or with a company, remote work requires time for communication. Since you can’t pop over to a neighboring cubicle to ask a question, you’re going to have to carve out time for emails and phone calls with clients and co-workers. Working on a project with another freelancer can create a lot of unpredictable communication needs that crop up each day.

If you own your business, you’ll have to set aside some hours each week for financial tasks such as invoicing, bill-pay, and any other duties that your business needs in order to function properly.

7.) Don’t rely on your brain; use a calendar.

As each day goes by, we accumulate a few more tasks and obligations. Keeping track of estimate requests while try to remember which day you’re supposed to bring your pet in for shots is just asking for a missed client opportunity (or a rabid chinchilla).

There are countless options for planners out there. You can use things like Google or iCloud Calendar, one of the myriad to-do list apps, or even a good old daily planner from your favorite office supply store. I prefer to purchase and print off planner templates from small-scale designers or sites like Etsy, so that I can browse specific styles and find the one that is right for me (while also supporting small business).

8.) Fine-tune your communication skills.

The fact that you’ve physically separated yourself from the workforce doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from talking to people. You’ve still got to work with clients, other freelancers in your field, sources, and plenty of others.

By removing yourself physically, you lose the luxury of facial expression, gesture, and posture. This means that your tone (both vocally and in writing) becomes infinitely more important when communicating via email or phone. Using Skype or FaceTime is a great way around this… but not everyone has the technology to facilitate this.

Read over your emails (even out loud) before you send them. A phrase as simple as “I have no idea,” can actually sound rude if it’s not properly fit into context, and offending a client accidentally is probably not something you’re aiming for.

9.) Set goals and create deadlines for them.

It can be tempting to get lost in immediate deadlines, phone calls, and emails, but you’ve got to give yourself some long-term business goals if you want your work-at-home situation to thrive. Do you need to update your contracts? Do you even have contracts? What about setting up a business banking account?

These are all important goals that need to be taken care of, but aren’t always as easy to knock out in one fell swoop. Give yourself deadlines for these things. Write them down in your planner or enter them into whichever calendar app you use. You’ll be amazed at how relieved and motivated you’ll feel when these tasks are crossed off.

I won’t lie to you; there are a few urban legends I still can’t quite shake. I can’t wait in a car for someone at night without anticipating the scraping of a hook on the roof of the vehicle… and I pre-open every piece of Halloween candy my kids eat.

But working from home? That is something that’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to stay alert and you can’t get too comfortable, or your business will slowly become a myth… much like that poor kid with the Pop-Rocks.

(I mentioned a whole bunch of bulleted points, right? Don’t worry; this is just the tip of the iceberg. Our next installment focuses on your workspace, more links to helpful sites for freelancers, and will be chock-full of tips for working from home.)

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