There are plenty of things I could work on in my personal and professional life. However, I pride myself on having finally mastered the surprisingly difficult task of working from home (I might regret saying that as soon as Baby joins us in a few months here..). For the most part, I’m organized, efficient, and pretty great with a routine.
As much as I thrive with structure, it still took me a full year of working from home to feel like I had actually nailed it.
Here’s how I learned to create a routine, a work space that actually works, and learned to establish some mental, work, and social boundaries (as someone who could easily be tempted to work or play 24/7, but has learned not to):
- Working from home doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re better off working from a coffee shop, do it. If you get more accomplished working from a home office or your kitchen table, do it. Since I’ve been pregnant and queasy on a daily basis, my 8-10 hour ‘work from Panera’ days started making me nervous, so I had to retrain myself to work from home. I wish I could say I sit in my beautiful home office, close those lovely French doors, and get my work done gracefully, but as hard as I tried, it didn’t work. In reality, I sit at my new, trendy kitchen table and bury it under schedules, folders, textbooks, and other odds and ends (it easily seats 8 people, but I’ve managed to leave only one clear spot for someone who needs to eat- it’s not great, but it works perfectly for grading and checking emails!).
- Know what type of schedule is required of you, and don’t overextend yourself. Maybe your boss has told you to work your 40 hours a week whenever it’s best for you, or maybe you’re given a pile of work (like me) and when you’re done you’re done. Know what you have to do, and do no more. Most weeks, if I work diligently, I work all day (8-10 hours) Monday and Wednesday, and just 1-2 hours on the other days (which I don’t count as work days, since it’s mostly checking email, taking care of loose ends, and dealing with the usual student crisis and/or paperwork- but no grading). I try not to drag things out throughout the week (like I’ve done in the past), since it makes me feel like I never get an actual break.
- Check your email once a day, that’s it. If your company has a different email policy, by all means, follow it. However, as an online instructor I’m required to check email every 48 hours (which initially meant that I nervously checked my email 3 times a day and had a hard time getting anything else done). These days I feel most comfortable if I check my email once every 24 hours (usually first thing when I wake up in the morning, otherwise it hangs over my head until I finally do it). It typically takes 1-2 hours to deal with my emails, but once I’m done, I’m done until tomorrow and I can move on to other things.
- Don’t make yourself socially available every day of the week, block off solid working days. When I first started working from home, I felt like I could make plans with family and friends every day of the week, but it kept me from getting into the right mindset to get things done, and it set a bad precedent that I was always around and willing to do anything on any day of the week (which was tempting, but I still had work to do!). These days Mondays are definitely off the table for socializing, and normally Wednesdays are, too. I didn’t set out to do things this way, but after a year of working from home and learning what days are best for me and my students, Mondays and Wednesdays organically became my work days (give yourself some time and you’ll likely fall into your natural work-from-home rhythm, as well). Before I knew it, my plans with family and friends started shifting, and they would only ask to hang out on my other available days of the week.
My tricks aren’t revolutionary, but it took a full year to step back and see what I had done. At this point, working from home feels effortless, and if you give yourself some time, you might also find yourself falling into a natural routine that reduces the mental burden of working from home.
Give it some time and patience :). Happy living!