I like to get up in the morning, take a shower, and go to work. I like to work a full day and have my evening free to go out or, more likely, watch Netflix in bed until it’s time to go to sleep. I like structure. So when I was laid off, I freaked out a little.
After a couple of months of applying for jobs and hyperventilating into a paper bag, I made the choice to go freelance. Since then I’ve worked a mixture of one-off jobs, steady freelance gigs, and full-time remote jobs that have made it possible for me to say I haven’t had to sing “Happy Birthday” to a coworker in over three years.
I’m not going to lie, working from home is hard. There are still times I feel like I need a hug machine and yearn for the comforting embrace of a cubicle. But, for the most part, I’ve been able to thrive in the officeless life I now live.
There are a few things I wish I knew earlier that would have made the transition to working from home easier. Here are some of the rules (and exceptions to the rules) I’ve learned to follow to be productive and anxiety-free when working from home.
If you’ve ready any article about working from home every one of them will say not to work from bed. So, when I first started out freelancing I made sure to get out of bed even if I only had one project. Then I realized one of the greatest perks of working from home is that you can work from bed if you want to.
On most days I work at the dining room table, but on those days I’m feeling especially cozy, I work from bed, because I can. As long as you can be productive, who cares where you work?
Additionally, if working from home just isn’t for you—maybe you can’t concentrate because you keep realizing how much cleaning your home needs or you keep getting distracted by your cat—working from home can mean working from a coffee shop, a public library, or any number of places with wifi every so often. Hell, it can even mean working from a co-working space every day.
When you work in an office, you get up, get ready for work, commute there, and then start working. When working from home you can wake up and immediately grab your computer or phone and start working. But, in my experience, that’s a mistake.
Even though I work from home, I still go through the getting ready process I did when I worked from an office. I get up, take a shower, get dressed, and… commute to my computer in another room of my home. The attire I put on is more casual than business casual, but at least I’ve given myself a chance to transition from sleep to work mode.
Working remotely or freelance allows you to have more control over what your work hours are, but setting hours is important nonetheless.
You’ll burn out if you’re working all of the time, so, if you find you get the best work done late at night, be sure to leave your mornings open for personal time. If you want to take a nap in the middle of the day, feel free. Just be sure to adjust your work hours.
Personally, it took me a while to figure out my schedule. Over the course of a few weeks I tried a few different schedules—ie. 9am – 6pm, 9am – 6pm with a nap in the middle, 12pm -8pm, 10am – 2pm and then 8pm – 11pm— and used Toggl to track my productivity. I then could see when I was doing my best work and schedule around those times.
But just as important as figuring out when to work is making sure you disconnect.
When I first started, if an email came in asking for changes at 9pm and I was near my computer, I’d do them right that moment. It took me a while to realize that just because I’m in the same general area I was when I was working didn’t mean I was still on the clock.
For a while I was working full-time from my home in Los Angeles for a company in New York. Slack and Google Hangouts made all the difference. Those services allowed me to keep up with the office gossip, hear the announcements, and sit in on meetings when necessary. They allowed me to feel connected to the office without having to physically be there.
Now that I’m working freelance, I still use Google Hangouts but now I use it to connect with other freelancers. Watercooler chat and office buddy conversations are important no matter where you’re working. Having someone to ask, “What’s another word for…” and commiserate with over trying clients has been key in feeling less of a sense of isolation.
If there’s one big takeaway I’ve learned in my personal journey towards being a person who can productively work from home, it’s that there is no set way to do it. You have to figure out what works for you.