I’ve been working for myself and mostly from my home for nearly seven years. In that time I’ve read everything that I’ve come across about how to make that work well and figured out a lot of dos and don’ts from my own experience. Some things work for me that aren’t on other peoples’ tip lists and of course, some of their tips don’t work for me. While I want to give you six top tips to rock working from home, it’s important to remember that women who work from home are just as different from each other as those who go out to work. Some of us are working full time in our businesses, others are building a business and still doing a paid job; some of us have children at home and fit our businesses around school hours and others might have no-one else around to take into account.
However you work, we’re all female dynamos using our talents and energies to run our businesses from home and hopefully, some of these tips will be useful to you, or give you some inspiration. None of it is rocket science but there might be something here that surprises you!
Important exemption: if you are a sleep-deprived business mum trying to work around a small person who needs your attention 24/7 ignore this – whatever you’re doing is more than good enough and I’m in awe.
Six top tips for working from home.
Designate a work area and make it work for you.
Whether you have a desk in an office at home, work from the dining room table or from an alcove in your bedroom, decide on a space, make sure everyone else in the house knows that’s YOUR workspace, and make it work for you. Make sure you can work comfortably and reach everything you need. Try to make sure you can see something that cheers and inspires you when you’re working.
If you can, operate a clear desk policy. Yes really! Especially if you’re working from a table somewhere in the house. Let me say straight away I’m not a tidy person. I don’t do minimalist or putting everything in its neatly designated place. BUT, if your work is in a place which you need to use for something else at other times of the day, as mine has many times over the years, it is going to get moved, and probably not by you or in a way you’re happy with! Do like the office hot deskers do and have a plastic box which will take papers, files, tools, and your laptop. Label it and when you finish work for the day put the work contents of your tabletop in it. If you’ve got a lid for it, so much the better. Your work is now exactly where you put it and you can find what you need when you start again later in the day or tomorrow. For more on this, check out Jade’s blog – Top 10 Tips for a Tidy Office.
Structure your working hours and set a start and finish time.
There is good evidence to show that if you commit yourself to specific hours, as you would in an external workplace you will probably get more done during those hours. It also makes it easier to schedule tasks and allocate specific dates and times to them. If you’re anything like me things need to be planned in, otherwise a lot of them won’t get done!
Now, I am not saying don’t be flexible. One of the things I love about running my business from home is the flexibility to not work 9 to 5 and I know that’s a big incentive for many other women to set up their businesses from home. That flexibility to do other things that are important to you when you need to is essential, and the flip side is that we can often respond quickly to an opportunity for business or to meet an urgent need for a customer or client.
However, getting into a work rhythm or flow does make us more productive and better organised. It makes us more accountable to ourselves and makes it easier for other people who struggle with the idea of us working from home, to understand we are working and can’t just drop what we’re doing because we’re “at home”. You might choose working hours from 5:30 to 7:00 and then 9:30 to 12:30 because being able to have that early morning time before the family get up is golden. You might be a night owl who works better on your business planning and correspondence from 21:00 to 23:00 at night. The point is for it to be clear to you and everyone else when you’re working and for you to know how much you’re working so you can keep your life in balance.
If you have a website or social media page for your business put your working hours on there and at the end of your working hours for a day switch off your email and other work alerts.
Get up, get washed and get dressed!
Seriously! I’m passionate about this one. If you wouldn’t work in your pyjamas in a workplace or go into a meeting in your dressing gown then don’t do it at home! Your mind and body need cues to function effectively in any area of life and it’s crucial to set your intentions for work, especially when you’ve no external framework to make you do it.
Get up, move away from your computer, desk or workbench. Stretch, go outside for a few minutes if you can. Hang some washing out, go and post a letter or take a small person for a walk or a buggy ride if it helps.
Make the most of being able to have a lunch break to make yourself something tasty and nutritious and move out of your workspace to eat it. That’s a real bonus of being at home, make the most of it.
Plan in time to be active. When you structure your working hours, (see what I did there!) plan your personal wellbeing in. I schedule three morning visits to the gym in a working week because it makes me fitter and improves my mood and my productivity. I know I’ll happily work later into the evening if I need to but the chances of me making it to the gym rapidly get slimmer the later in the afternoon it gets!
Avoid unproductive distractions and make time for real life contact that energises you.
You don’t really need me to tell you to turn off the alerts for Facebook, Instagram etc while you’re working, do you? Oh, you do? OK, TURN THEM OFF! And maybe put your phone on silent, face down. If it rings you’ll know, so you won’t miss anything important that can’t be dealt with later.
When we are constantly distracted by unplanned interruptions it becomes almost impossible to focus properly on a piece of work and get into the flow with it. The growth of the electronic instant contact culture has created a difficult environment to work in. Every ping says, “I’m important, read me now!” In my experience, this is more intrusive and harder to work with than it used to be sitting in a busy office with lots of other people and phones ringing.
And go out and meet people who energise you. Working from home can be lonely and isolating. We are social beings and we thrive on interaction most of the time. So make time (back to planning again), to spend time during the week with someone positive. If it’s a discussion directly about your business so much the better, but a chat with a business network colleague or friend who makes you think and makes you feel good, or doing something helpful for someone as a volunteer will all help keep you connected and feeling good about yourself and what you’re doing.
Plan what you will be working on ahead of time and prepare.
Make sure you’ve got what you need and you can get on with the job without spending half an hour before you make that crucial call trying to find your client’s last email. If you’re going out, schedule the travel time in your diary and make sure you’ve got what you need to take with you, whether that’s train tickets, destination details for the satnav or your laptop. Also, don’t take your laptop if you don’t need it! I have to make sure I’ve agreed with my other half, who also works from home, that the car I need is available and won’t need filling up before I get to where I’m going. If you’re going to be out for a while make sure you’ve eaten or plan when you will eat. You need to take care of your own well-being, and eating and drinking on the run is not good for any of us.
I know I said 6 but …
Do things your way.
Just know you are the authority on you, you are brilliant just as you are and do things your own way. If you find advice and ideas that help that’s great as no-one wants to reinvent the wheel, but you know yourself and your business best. If it feels right for you, do it; if it doesn’t, then just don’t, no matter what anyone else says. Including me!
Sue is a professional, independent work, life and well-being coach. She is passionate about working primarily with women to improve the balance of their lives, fulfil their potential and find plenty of joy and contentment.