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Working From Home: 5 Ways To Make It Work For You by Leslie Juvin-Acker

May 7, 2015

The image of working from home sounds intriguing because we can get away from the glare of fluorescent lights while working all day in our jammies and can fart and nose pick without anybody around. However, working from home either full time or on flex time can be more complicated than originally imagined, so I’ve put together five ways to succeed and enjoy working from home.

I’ve worked from home since 2009. It was simple and much more flexible before I had my babies (ages 2 years and 7 months), but now that I watch them full time and work around their schedule and during the evenings, it’s quite the challenge in self-discipline and motivation. Needless to say, I know the struggles of the work at home warriors, but I know that it’s possible to manage.

1.    Create A Reasonable Work-Life Separation

Creating a reasonable work-life separation is easier said than done, believe me. I have two young children and their care and upbringing are my biggest priority in life right now, so it’s easier for me to put off projects and put things down when I feel they need me. Whether we’re working at home with kids or just tempted by cruising the internet or going out to the beach, it’s essential to create some reasonable boundaries between our work and our personal life. Creating separation can include a physical or mental space for working that allows us to shut the door between the two.

Creating a sense of detachment from one “world” to another is essential. This goes both ways - if we focus too much on the home-life around us, our work suffers and vice versa. If the dishes or laundry is piled up, leave them until a work project has been finished. If the kids are whining and the babysitter seems flummoxed, resign yourself to let them handle it. If it’s time to be with the family, let e-mails hang until after dinner or when the kids are asleep.

Of course, I say reasonable work-life separation because life and work can get complicated. We usually come from a place of wanting to do our best for everyone, so we’re constantly making choices and compromises based on what is for the highest good and that’s where the lines sometimes blur. And that’s ok. Go with what intuitively feels right and give yourself a break when lines are sometimes crossed. Tomorrow is always another day and opportunity to try again at making this work at home thing work for you.

2. Have A Routine

Routines are not just for babies, they’re for professionals, too. This doesn’t mean strictly sticking to a schedule where all freedom and flexibility are gone - it just means having a flow that keeps you going in a forward motion instead of melting onto the couch watch random Youtube videos until 11am and suddenly wondering where all of the time went.

If there are regular daily tasks to do, then set a time that makes sense during your natural work and energy flow. For example, work on projects that require clear concentration before reading e-mails to avoid getting sucked into mental ping pong with clients or colleagues. Eat lunch early or late and take a quick nap if the need arises. A routine is simply identifying your natural rhythms that allow for creativity, administration, and communications and building your day around what allows you to work at your most optimum activity levels.

3. Prioritize Projects and Tasks

Prioritization is major because it keeps our day, and our choices, focused. Having a few core tasks to work on keeps the momentum going and it reminds us as to what is important before getting sucked into other distractions and procrastination. It’s easy to get caught up in conversations or meetings, or help another colleague remotely, or even get distracted by the kids or loved ones.

And, for the perfectionists who try to get everything done in a day: having two or three goals for the day can give us the pat on the back we need when realizing that maybe we didn’t get the 100 things on our list done like we wanted to do.

4. Set Intentions with Proactive Communication

Proactive communication and follow up is a big part of working at home. Because people can’t see us or walk right into our space at work, they are wondering if we’re actually doing our work instead of binge watching a series on Netflix.

A helpful tip for proactive communication is to learn how to clearly and proactively outline the day’s tasks and issues for your manager or subordinates. It sets the day with intentions, clarifies any confusion, and gives a sense of direction and concreteness to what can seem fluid and unclear to ourselves and to others. If problems arise, be sure to make your distant presence known and let others know that you’re either aware of the situation or actively working on it.

5. Employ A Motivational Technique

Some people listen to music or go for a walk, some call on a mentor before working on a project, others play a quick game of sudoku, others pour a cup of joe. Some might even reward themselves with a small treat when the work is done. Whatever your motivational technique, allow them to give you a sense of fun, a small, refreshing change, and inspiration to whatever task you’re dealing with at the moment.

I recommend the Pomodoro Technique a lot. Named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, it’s where one sets a timer for a certain period - say 10 or 20 minutes - and does much as possible to beat the clock. When the clock finishes, either the work is finished as is or you can step back and take a break for 5 or 10 minutes and then start the timer challenge over again. This simple motivational technique can help give us the impulse we need to take on a challenge and break it into a small, measurable steps.

Questions To Ask:

1.    When do I answer emails or handle tough conversations best during the day? After my morning coffee or an hour after I eat lunch? What does my natural rhythm tell me about my work flow?

2.    What are my go-to motivational techniques to help me get focused and stoked for a task?

3.    What are my top 3 tasks or goals for today? How will I have known that I have had a successful day?

4.    What intentions can I set for myself and/or my colleagues for the day? How can I clarify any misunderstandings about my intentions?

5.    What simple ways can I detach from my home life while I am working at home? Vice versa?

Simply saying that one is working from home doesn’t mean that the balance has been figured out. It’s a bit tougher to create a separation, but it is possible and requires a lot of self-discipline and personal insight on developing a rhythm and mindset that works for you.  Whether or not you’re a flex timer or a full time home-based professional like myself working at home can be a wonderful way to have a career and balance a personal life.