How to work from home — even if you really don’t want to

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Some people (like me) love working from home. Others find it frightening or daunting. Here’s how to work from home in a workable way…

Is the threat of coronavirus forcing you to work from home for the next few weeks or months? I started working from home some 24 years ago, when my triplets were rambunctious two-year olds, so I have some tips for you.

Protect your silence

I made the mistake of buying high-priced noise-cancelling headphones as a way to guarantee a little quiet. While they are perfect for airplane rides, they don’t work for the human voice.  My friend Casey had a better idea. She invested in gun muffs. Not only are they cheaper ($14 vs. $300 +) but they’re also way more effective. You can buy them from Amazon or various outdoor stores.

Designate your place

Your home office doesn’t have to have a door, but it should be away from distraction. If you don’t have a spare room, a corner of your dining room, living room, or (very last choice) your bedroom might be suitable. A screen, table, curtains hung from the ceiling or even a tall plant can help mark your territory. If you have school-age children at home, encourage them to work alongside you (although the acceptability of this strategy will depend on your children’s  ages, needs and temperaments.)

Finally, make sure your home office is ergonomic. You don’t want work to give you an injury. Make sure your chair is adjustable and that you’re able to have your computer at eye-level and your arms at right angles to your keyboard. Also, get the same supplies you use at the office and place them in the same spots on your desk. Twenty-four years later, I have an inbox tray at my right hand, the same way I did in my very first job.

Declare your schedule

Many people think of working from home as kind of like a “snow” day. You know, you sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and get around to the work when you feel like it. No, no and no. Instead, figure out when you’re going to start (and stop) and make yourself a schedule. If you have young kids at home — and no one else to look after them — recognize that you’re not going to be able to put in an eight-hour day. But resolve to make whatever time you can devote to work to be as productive as possible.

Before you begin work, spend a few minutes blocking your time. I find time blocking to be way more useful than a gigantic “to do” list. I schedule my day, 6 am to 6 pm, in pomodoros — 25-minute units of working time, divided by five-minute breaks.  (No, I don’t work a 12-hour day. Some of my day is scheduled for meals, exercise and other non-work tasks.)

Plan on regular breaks

I schedule both my exercise and my lunch breaks as assiduously as I would any job or meeting. And I do back stretches during my five-minute breaks. Remember: you may have become accustomed to other people reminding you about food and exercise. Now you’ll need to remind yourself.

Figure out what you’re going to wear

There are two schools of thought here: one says, dress as you would for the office (including a suit and tie or jewelry and nylons if that’s what you’d wear at your regular job.) The other school says this is your chance to wear hoodies and workout gear. I veer to the more informal side (in part because I start work at 6 am in my PJs!) but once I’ve dressed, following my 8 am breakfast, I make sure I won’t be embarrassed if people see me on camera, as they frequently do via video meeting. I also always wear shoes.

Prepare for loneliness

Working from home can make you feel isolated. Fight this problem with conference calls, video conferences, or even phone calls.  If you are not sick or needing to self-isolate a result of travel, get outside for regular walks, making a point to talk with other human beings, such as grocery clerks. Also, try to schedule a daily check-in time with your office mates or team.

Know when to quit

The evening commute home from work, even if you hated it, likely gave you the chance to decompress and process what happened during your workday. When you’re working from home, you’ll need to figure out a way to make the transition — without the traffic.

At your designated day’s end, put away your work materials and shut down your computer. Computer scientist Cal Newport likes to wrap up his day by saying the phrase, “schedule shutdown, complete.” My own ritual is a little bit different. I shut down my email and I don’t check it again until the next morning.

Working from home is not for everyone but if it’s just a temporary blip in your life, the tips I give above will help make it more productive and palatable.

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Need some help developing a writing routine? Consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’ll be holding a no charge intro webinar about it this coming Friday at 1 pm and all you need to do is email me to hold a spot. If you already know you want to apply, go here, scroll to the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.

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Do you have any good tricks for working from home? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by March 31/20 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better.  Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!