These days, employees are as likely to work from their living room as they are from a cubicle. Census figures tell us that about one in 10 workers use their home as an office at least part-time (a 69 percent jump from 2010), and a Reuters poll finds that 34 percent of traditionally employed people would prefer to work from home part- or full-time.
I’ve been a full-time, self-employed writer for more than a decade, and I get why it seems like a dream. A home-based business allows not only maximum control over my time but also maximum profits, maximum work-life balance and a minimum commute. But working remotely can also mean traipsing through the house in your pajamas at 4 p.m., without having brushed your teeth, eaten a real meal or spoken out loud to another human being all day. In other words, it’s not perfect. Luckily I’m here to share my carefully established routine and mindset, so that you too won’t lose it while cooped up in your home-office cocoon.
1. Give yourself office hours. All good businesses thrive on systems. You need structure too, even if you are self-employed and answer to no one. This means getting up at a certain hour, closing shop at another hour and designating times for email, prospecting, production, meals and socializing.
2. You heard me: Socialize. It is not healthy to be isolated all day, every day. Build in social systems. For me, this means casual Gchats with friends, regular video conversations with colleagues and scheduling at least one in-person lunch or cocktail outing per week. At first it was hard for me to justify these unbillable hours. But if I feel socially connected, I am happier and more productive. Plus, socializing equals networking.
3. Trick out your home office for health’s sake. Companies are legally obligated to make sure you don’t get injured on the job. For most workplaces, that means avoiding carpal tunnel and other repetitive-stress injuries. An ergonomic office is important to your health.In all of my past staff jobs, the human resources department was quick to fulfill my requests for a comfortable desk chair and ergonomic workstation.
In my home office, I have a Herman Miller Mirra adjustable chair ($639 at Office Designs), an amazing Microsoft ergonomic keyboard ($34.99 at Best Buy), a stand for my MacBook Pro so it’s eye level (it also raises the laptop up to prevent overheating), a good lamp and a Bamboo-brand stylus that prevents nerve damage from using a computer mouse. Also: lots of coffee and sugar.
4. Keep your butt in shape. If you work outside of your home, walk places: to the car, office, cafeteria, client meetings. If you’re at home, and the longest hike you take is back and forth from your bedroom office to the kitchen to make over-sweetened coffees as a procrastination tool … oh, wait—that’s my story.
I try to get out of the house and in the company of other humans. I typically work out five or six days a week, alternating between jogging on the street, taking yoga classes and riding my bike. Try to build regular physical activity into your schedule. Check out the local gym, Zumba class, hiking group, running team or competitive sport. Bonus: These can be great places to network for business, too.
5. Build in buffer times. When you commute to an office, you have at least a few minutes to transition out of the morning routine with your family to your life at work. Same in reverse. When you work at home, you don’t have those minutes or hours to shift personas. So make sure there is a chunk of time in the morning after your shower to catch up on your favorite blogs or news sites. And take 15 minutes before you’re scheduled to pick up the kids to read a magazine.
6. Don’t look gross. Lots of people say they dream of working in their pajamas. Don’t. When you look like a professional, you act like a professional. Every single morning, I take a shower, dry my hair and put on makeup and good earrings. I also dress in an outfit I wouldn’t be embarrassed by if I ran into my ex-boyfriend on the street.
7. Keep your crib clean. Your home is your place of business. Whether or not you host clients there is irrelevant. Just as your physical appearance reflects your state of mind and demeanor, so too does your physical environment. Either schedule time to tidy up every day (and do a deep clean twice weekly), or outsource this task to a housekeeping service. I recommend outsourcing. After all, at least a portion of the fee is tax-deductible. Try Maid Brigade or Maid Pro for home cleaning services nationwide.
8. Put the kids on lockdown. I know, I know. You want to work from home so you can spend more time with your family. But you cannot be a productive, professional worker if you are simultaneously trying to manage the constant needs of a young kid. Hire a sitter so you can focus on your work.A successful career requires designated times when work is a priority. Respect your work. Hire a sitter. SitterCity is a great resource.
My ability to juggle work and family has taken on many guises over the years. I’ve had a nanny who watched my kids in my home while I worked; a mix of nanny and day care (for two different kids); and the occasional sitter, neighbor or friend who babysat so I could take a meeting or go on a work trip. It won’t always be pretty, but it’s possible.
9. Mix it up. You live in your home, and you work in your home. The mind and body thrive on diversity. So change it up every once in a while. Even a small shift like moving my laptop from the bedroom to the dining table invigorates me. Try the Wi-Fi at your local cafe, library or one of your city’s hot spots, or ask a friend if you can camp in her office one day per week.
Every month or two, my self-employed digital-marketing friend and I visit each other’s homes and work quietly next to one another, just for our mental health. Consider renting a desk in a co-working space or even in an office with a completely different business. Again, the point is to be inspired.
10. Make your own work-life balance rules (with caution). One of the beautiful things about making my own schedule is that I can go to the hair salon in the middle of a Tuesday morning when the staff is available to dote on me, or I can head to the line-free UPS store on a Thursday afternoon. Domestic duties are often squeezed between phone meetings and proposal deadlines. Just yesterday, I made a batch of chili for a family party during a writing break.
That said, be careful. It can be easy to let your personal life take over your workweek if you don’t establish boundaries and stick to that schedule. It can also be easy to let work conquer you entirely. Set a firm quitting time, and schedule in leisure activities in the evenings and weekends, so you’re not tempted to log on indefinitely. The goal, after all, is to create a life that you enjoy living.
Office Designs: Buy the dark graphite Henry Miller Mirra chair for $639 and get free shipping and no tax.
Maid Brigade: Get $25 off your first cleaning.
Sitter City: Get 25% off all memberships for a limited time.
Best Buy: Through January 3, get 20% off one small appliance in-store and online.