Work from Home? 10 Tips for Staying Happy, Sane, Productive

image: Getty

image: Getty

If you've worked at an office five days (or more) per week for longer than a couple of years, it's likely you fantasize about working from home. Maybe you already do work from home occasionally, but are finding it hard to stay focused. I'm here to break it down into the most important basics for getting started successfully. As a full-time freelance writer who just passed her two-year anniversary, I've certainly had my ups and downs when it comes to forgoing office (but not always weekend) warrior status. Learn from my mishaps, go forth and prosper!

Who, Who, Who Are You?

Working from home isn't for everyone. I don't say this to sound superior or exclusive, daiquiri ice flavored ice cream isn't for everyone either. Whether or not it's going to really work for you is all about how you prefer to spend your day, and your ability to independently manage your time. You should ask yourself if you think you can work from home on your own. Can you do it at a coffee shop? Or a library? Do you live in a place where a commute to a coffee shop or library is short and easy? (In New York, commutes between spots can be excessively long.) Can you go without having a face-to-face conversation during the day? If not, you might want to stick to your office routine.

Trial Run

If you're thinking of going full-time, one useful way to spend saved vacation days is a work-from-home trial run. I did that for a couple of weeks before I made the leap; it was more psychological prep than anything since a week or two of practice isn't going to prepare you for the real deal. Having said that, it's still worth it (in my opinion) because you may find you hate it within a couple of days, in which case you'll know it's not the right move for you. 

Office Space

This cannot be overstated. You've got to find a place to work (at home) that's productive. And there's a reason most offices don't give their employees couches or beds to work from. Sitting upright keeps you alert, and a desk makes it official. It doesn't have to be fancy, but having a place in your pad to get work done is going to cut down on commutes to other locations. If all you can manage at first is a simple desk or lap desk, it's better than nothing. But there needs to be a physical signal to your brain that it's time to get down to business. If you can make a space that's not facing a TV, or the fridge, so much the better. 

Get Up, Get Dressed, Get Out

Don't let working at home fool you into thinking you can sleep until 11:00. I'm a sleepaholic, but over time have given myself a strict up-by-9:00 policy that I'm trying to whittle back to 7:30, so I can finish work earlier. To keep yourself motivated for work, step out regularly. Many famous writers swear by long daily walks or runs. When I'm in my home state, far from any Starbucks, walking the dog daily is a way to clear my head, get fresh air, and get some necessary Vitamin D. Many advise that if you're working from home full-time, you should make sure you get dressed every day, out of your PJs. I'd be lying if I said there haven't been many leggings and T-shirt days for myself that worked out just fine. But I do make a point to remove what I slept in and put something different on. It helps get you in the mood for a new day.

808s And Coffee Breaks

As you start to navigate this brave new world, it'll be easy to work through lunches, take no breaks and burn yourself out during a full day of work. Set a stopwatch and let yourself have at least 15 minutes, twice per day, away from your work. (For me, this usually becomes a 30-minute power nap after lunch.) Structured breaks also have the added benefit of creating structured work time. 

Door Jam

Many of us have roommates, husbands or children lurking about when we're trying to work from home, especially if our work stretches into evenings and weekends. This is a good time to take that lap desk and computer into another room and close the door. This sends a signal you're not to be disturbed. If you're able to set up a home office in another room from the get-go, I highly recommend it. No doors to shut? Putting on headphones (and cranking up your Beethoven or Bach Pandora station) can also signal to others at home that you're in work mode.

Nurture and Expect New Relationships

Working from home can feel lonely, no bones about it. A pet can offer companionship, but you should absolutely spread your social net to meet other work-from-homers. How, you ask? is a very effective way to meet new people with similar interests or lifestyles. If you can't find a group that fits, start your own. If your different schedule alienates you from current friends, be prepared to make new ones by joining a local class or attending an event on your own. Many cities are starting freelance collectives that offer office space for freelancers to come and work. The only catch, some of them have a hefty monthly membership fee.

Become a Savvy Long Distance Operator

Skype, Gchat, Facebook chat, Twitter, AIM and email are going to become your main ways to stay connected to colleagues and friends when you're at home working. If you haven't gotten on to them yet, do so. 

Organization Saves Time, Which Is Money

For full-time freelancers, no doubt about it, your time is now your money instead of your boss'. That means that it pays (literally) to cut down on unnecessary repetition and disorganization. I'm an email folder queen. I keep my inbox lean and mean, and drop emails into folders designated by client. I have a folder for tax documents, and one for PR contacts. Got a slew of emails about bubble gum? Make a folder, drop 'em in there (or delete them). When it comes to resumes, cover letters and invoices, those have their own folder on my desktop, so I always know right where to find them when needed. I even have folders dedicated to emails I signed up for about becoming a better, more productive freelancer. It might sound like a lot, but once you get into the folder habit, it becomes automatic, which saves anxiety and headaches. 

Plan For a Rainy Day

When I started freelancing full-time, I was working for a publishing company I assumed was going to keep giving me steady work indefinitely, but things changed in their business plan and so did the work they had for me. Unfortunately, I can be impulsive and had virtually no money saved. Don't be that girl. Save up at least six months of bare-bones necessary income (one year is best). If you just can't wait, talk to parents, friends or a bank about taking out a small business loan as a cushion in case things go awry and you need grocery money or rent. Which brings me to my most valuable piece of advice: when you work from home, you're running your own business. Take it seriously, remember self-discipline is key and be responsible.