Nearly one in four Americans do all or some of their work from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For entrepreneurs, home sweet home is the most common workplace.
If you’re making the leap from a traditional office to working from home, it’s quite a change. You have the flexibility to work whenever, wherever you want, but you’ll be under constant assault from potential distractions—perhaps ever more so than you imagine!
I’ve worked from home for more than two years, and these are my best pieces of advice for combining your living space and your working space without completely compromising your sanity in the process.
Establish a Clear Workspace
When you’re just starting to work from home, it can be tempting to post up with your laptop and work from the couch, the back porch or wherever the heck you want. And at first, this is part of the appeal!
However, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of setting a clear and defined space to serve as your “office.” If it’s the kitchen table, fine, but make it your space during the hours you’ll be working.
This is especially important if you have kids. It’ll help set a boundary between when you’re “at work” and when you’re accessible for your little ones.
When you have no clearly defined workspace, it’s really tricky to get into work mode, especially after the novelty of working from anywhere wears off. With a traditional office, walking in the door signals to your brain ok, we’re at work now. Time to get down to business.
When you work from home, though, you don’t have this clean-cut line. The transition from life to work becomes blurry. I find having a defined workspace, which for me is a desk in our guest bedroom, helps me shift into concentration mode and get stuff done.
It’s also extremely important to be able to walk away from that space at the end of the day. Closing your office door or clearing all your papers from the table signals that the workday is over, and it’s time to focus on the other parts of your life that are important to you.
Dress the Part
This topic always gets work-at-home entrepreneurs talking! Here’s a snippet of a conversation from a Facebook group for female entrepreneurs I’m part of:
The concept of “getting dressed for work” changes a lot once you work from home. Keeping it casual is perfectly acceptable, but I strongly advise resisting the urge to work in your PJs.
It’s important to give your brain cues that it’s work time, just as you do when you having a designated work space. Why do I stress this so much? Well, because if you don’t do it from the beginning, life and work will become one in the same, and you’ll quickly get burnt out.
Working on your passion is fun! But being in work mode every waking moment of the day isn’t sustainable in the long haul. Your brain needs time to recharge and let your subconscious mind go to work on creative solutions.
Having a designated work space and clothes you wear to work help keep this healthy balance.
Stick to Business Hours—at Least Publicly
I’ve definitely pulled my share of late nights and weekends hunkered down over a project. And hey, when you’re working on something you love, it hardly feels like work!
Publicly, though, you’ll want to set and stick to normal business hours. What I mean by “publicly” is that even if you’re working at one in the morning, your clientele doesn’t need access to you.
In some fields, like e-commerce, this isn’t much of an issue. If you’re doing client work, though, answering calls and emails around the clock sets a dangerous precedent.
You’re a business, and businesses have set hours when they’re open and closed to the public. Set yours and stick to them. You can even use an email extension like Boomerang that allows you to write emails whenever you like, then schedule them to send when your normal business hours resume.
Communicate With Your Co-Habitants
This is something that might not be so obvious when you first start working from home: you have to consider how it will affect the other people who share the space, and how you’ll interact with one another while you’re “at work.”
Whether it’s your spouse, your kids or other family members, this will be a change in their lives, too. Talking about it up front will save stress and hurt feelings later on.
This was one of the biggest things that surprised me about working from home. I had a hard time telling my fiancé, please don’t come in here while I’m working. After all, it’s his house, too! How can you tell your loved one who just wants to chat with you not to “bother” you? It’s not a good feeling.
To avoid this, have an open conversation about expectations on both sides. What times will you start and stop work for the day? Are there any times that are completely off-limits to distractions? What about household responsibilities—will anything change now that you’re home all day?
I strongly recommend having some sort of “closed door” signal—whether it’s an actual closed door or a sign on the back of your chair—that means you can’t be interrupted unless the house is burning down. I bet this dad wishes he’d had one in place before this interview:
Prioritize “People Time”
Finally, let’s talk about your state of mind.
Some entrepreneurs don’t mind being at home alone all day, while others find it challenging. If you’re an extrovert, or if you naturally work better on a team, you might feel isolated or even depressed without the camaraderie of having coworkers.
No matter which camp you fall in, it’s important to prioritize “people time” where you get out and about and talk with other humans. Online interactions are great, but there’s no substitute for actual face time.
I’m an introvert, but I’m always left feeling more energized and creative after spending a few hours having coffee or lunch with a colleague. Even if someone isn’t in my field, I’m amazed at the stuff they come back with when I bounce ideas off them. They’re ideas I might never would have considered on my own, and I wouldn’t have discovered them at all without scheduling “people time” into my calendar.
Getting out of your house and talking with other people is key to gaining new perspective and sparking new ideas.
Working from home is a big change, but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If you set a routine, communicate openly with your loved ones and prioritize time for non-work activities, it might just be one of the best things you’ll decide to do, too.
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