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How to work from home & still get things done

How to work from home & actually get things done. www.pencilshavingsstudio.com

I thought it might be helpful to have a few tips on how to work at home and actually get stuff done. In the ten years(!) since I graduated from college, all I have ever known is home-based business.  Can I be honest? It wasn’t my intention at all in the beginning. I just knew I’d go work in a super-cool studio for some graphic design firm where I’d design packaging for up-and-coming brands.

Aaaaand end scene, Unrealistic Baby Rachel of 2003.

The reality has been that my office has always been about 15 feet more or less from my bedroom. Which can be terribly dangerous – what starts out as “Oh, I’ll just watch the Today show for a little bit” turns into 4pm and you’re still in your pajamas. That becomes a slippery slope all too fast, my friends. And I have so been there.

In the beginning – and by this I mean pre-Jude circa 2006, I really struggled with being self disciplined in my work from home. I’ll even go as far to say that I very easily slid into depression, for a number of reasons:

  • I didn’t have enough structure to my days to feel on top of my (albeit small) workload.
  • I wasn’t attracting the kind of customers I really wanted (read: crappy freelance jobs).
  • I was a newlywed which was a major life change in itself.
  • I was battling ulcerative colitis.
  • I had zero community and felt extremely isolated at home alone all day.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that my career in 2006 was nowhere where I expected it to be, nor what I wanted it to be. It was nothing short of trial by fire, and feeling like flying by the seat of my pants. (To be fair, that part hasn’t changed maybe?)

So what was the change? In many ways, it was a no one thing. In fact, it was probably the result of a lot of things, including going to counseling after having Jude (the real gamechanger) and getting real with how responsible I really am for my own life. I realized I had to stop letting circumstances sway me and take responsibility for any change I wanted to see in my life.  Once Jude was born, I still had the drive in me to keep working, but on my own terms.

1. Cultivate community. 
Working from home is majorly isolating. So you have to build the office culture in other ways. While the internet has provided marvelous opportunity to build community (like through this blog or other topic-specific message boards), I’ve particularly enjoyed taking those relationships offline and into the real world. You can’t beat meeting up with a friend over coffee to hash out work problems. Community – relationships – are everything. You’re not meant to do this freelance thing totally alone. Reach out – get out of your comfort zone and create community where you are.

2. Have a routine.
Having a baby forced me into routine. I knew that every day I would be able to work  during naptime and after bedtime. So I knew how to really maximize my time the best. As he’s gotten older, I’m now able to work a solid 5 days a week, but it’s been baby steps (erm, no pun intended) since Jude arrived.  I’m far more disciplined since I had him simply because I’ve had to be. And now that he’s in school, that hasn’t changed too much.

Also find your golden hours when you’re most productive. Maybe you’re best in the early hours of the day. Or maybe you don’t really wake up and function beyond reading People.com at 8am. Whatever it is, maximize those hours when you are truly most productive.

3. Get dressed – and I mean out of pajamas.
Part of my routine is mentally prepping by showering and getting dressed (and yes, I mean real clothes – most of the time). I am able to shift into work mode even if no one other than my family is going to see me.

4. Get out of that rut – and go out in public.
Finally, the first year I went to Alt Summit I heard something that stuck with me. As bloggers, most of us are sitting around with our computers at home and so it’s important to get out of the house and have a change of scenery. I love to hang out at one of my favorite coffee shops in downtown OKC. It provides a change of scenery, and I’ve been enough that I’ve cultivated new friendships with other regulars, many of whom are creatives in some way. It’s another way to build community – and also offer a spurt of creativity when it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Do you work from home? I’d love to hear your tips too!

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  • Kelsey @ Pinegate Road

    Love these tips Rachel! You made me giggle with the Today show thing 🙂 In grad school I always caught myself saying “I accidentally watched Dr. Phil today” because I’d just leave NBC on all. day. long. Hah. I had no real routine balancing school, work, and freelance — glad I’m kind of getting it together 😉 Loved hearing about your journey and how it correlated to your productivity and schedule!

  • Caroline Hull

    Love this! My biggest thing right now with the baby and work is to get dressed. It’s amazing how much better and productive you feel when you aren’t wearing your husband’s t-shirt and maternity leggings . . . oops.

  • Carolyn

    Great advice, Rachel. All so true. I’m still trying to figure out the balance of being a stay at home mom to my 17-month old and get blog designs done. I guess there is a season for everything, but some days I mourn the freedom I used to have. Of course, I wouldn’t trade it. It’s all about routine and trying to find that sweet spot of semi-balance.

    • Balance is so tricky, isn’t it? In some ways it gets easier, and in other ways it’s gotten harder with Jude getting older. School full time definitely has helped, though. It’s all a season, isn’t it?

  • Mandy Pellegrin

    These are such great tips, Rachel. This is the first time that I’ve ever worked from home full-time in the 9 years since I graduated college. ….aaaand I’m in my pajamas as we speak. I certainly need to take these tips to heart.

  • Whitney Murray Brown

    This is awesome, Rachel! I constantly find myself saying things like “oh, I have to drink my coffee and watch Kathy Lee and Hoda before I get busy.” Thanks for the kick in the pants! Guess who is off to the shower before KLG and Hoda and not turning on the tv today? This girl!

    • HAHA I know about watching Kathie Lee and Hoda. And then all of a sudden, it’s noon and I’m still in bed with the laptop.

  • What a great topic! With my first baby coming in April I know my schedule is going to change dramatically. And I agree, getting up and putting on real clothes is huge!

  • Bethany

    What perfect timing! This is my first month of working from home full time and I was quick to fall into bad patterns. My first week I was in PJs all day and watching Netflix while I worked and I didn’t get half as much as I planned to done. Now I work out at least 3 times a week in the morning, shower and get dressed before working, and eat much better and it’s making a huge difference in my focus and productivity! I’m starting to get cabin fever tho so I’m definitely going to have to act on tips 3 and 4! Thanks for your words of wisdom!

    • Cabin fever is definitely a huge factor in working from home. Don’t feel guilty about needing to get out of your house and find a change of scenery!

  • Thank you for this post!!! I left my career 5 months ago to run my own
    business and really needed to read this. There are too many days where I
    don’t change out of my pj’s until I run to the post office at the end
    of the day. And last week, when my husband was overseas, I did not
    leave the house or interact with people for the first 6 days.

  • Emily R

    I needed to read this today! (As I’m going “How is it five o’clock already?!?!”) I’ve been working at home since my daughter was born (2 1/2 years… time flies!) and I think the hardest thing for me to come to terms with–but is my biggest tip–is that it’s okay, even crucial, to ask for help. My pre-baby fantasy was that I could work at home with a baby on my hip AND keep the house clean AND have lunch out with my single friends AND go to the gym (when the baby sleeps! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.) Having a real live kid and not an imaginary one has forced me to get real and accept that I can’t do it all. It took longer than I’d like to admit, but I finally accepted help. The best thing I ever did was take a friend up on her offer to babysit for 3 hours a week. I got so much done in those 3 hours! And now she’s in preschool a couple mornings a week and it’s really great for both of us. It was hard because I wanted to believe I could be everything and be with my baby 24 hours a day AND work full time. But a few hours apart gives her a chance to learn from other people, gives me a chance to focus, and allows us to enjoy each other more fully when we come back together!

  • Jeanetta

    I love that you did this post. I am actually giving a roundtable discussion on this at Alt this week! Great tips. I love the get out of your PJ’s one. I instagrammed one terrible outfit I found myself wearing one day because I “could” and had to share because it was so ridiculous. So important to get dressed and make things feel official!

  • I love this post! I just started working from home at the end of October and it’s been harder to adjust than I thought! For the past 4 years I’ve had traditional 9-5 office jobs and I actually miss the structure. These tips are super helpful though because the benefits of working from home are AMAZING!

  • Anny

    Love that post. Really inspiring!
    I’m still a student in Germany and I know the problem as well, because all of my classes are project classes, where I have to do all my work und studying from home. That really can put one into a depression. It is so good to know, other people have or had to deal with the same problems. Always love reading articles like this and getting new inspiration and motivation to just get things done 🙂

    Thanks for that post! Really love your whole Blog! Best wishes from Germany. 🙂

  • Catie

    Four years ago, my husband and I moved to OKC from Tulsa so he could take a job, and my boss in Tulsa said I could try working from home for a year to see if it would work out. The advice he gave me was, “Find a dedicated space in your home for your work.” One of our spare bedrooms became my office/the dogs’ room, and he was so right! When I go into the office, I switch into “work mode” and having a dedicated space also keeps me from bringing work into the living room or bedroom in the evenings.

  • Brianna Soloski

    I can totally relate to this post. As a freelancer, I struggle to find a routine and work/life balance.

  • Megan

    Definitely working on finding this and sticking with it. My baby is now a year and half and I feel like I’m just now getting “back” into the swing of life and work. Always encouraging to hear from other business moms makin it happen. Your tips are super simple, but so true!

  • Traci

    Really interesting post. I’m considering making the transition in the upcoming year(s)… but who knows. I’m not sure I will have the strength to turn off the TV and get to work. I’m really impressed with people who set up a structure like that and actually stick to it… maybe one day I can be one of those people 🙂

  • Great Tips! Working from home is tough and with my daughter I have to be really structured and accountable for my time. I think the best tip would be get some work done instead of watching Judge Judy.. hehe which is my weakness. 🙂

  • pippinpearl

    I just love this post. Setting skype meetings first thing has forced me to shower every day. 😉 Also, having short hair has made that even easier. Yay for the self-employed pixie cut!

  • Deborah

    One thing I do at the end of the day is set up the first 2-3 tasks for the next day. When I sit down at my desk, I know exactly what to do and I’m less likely to get distracted. I’m less likely to obsess about what didn’t get done during my free time. I also try to do my phone calls first thing so it gets me in “work” mode. Ongoing lists of short and long term goals also helps especially if I’m waiting to hear back from someone.

    • Smart ideas — I’m loving The Day Designer from Whitney English mostly because of the Top 3 tasks at hte top of every page. it’s helping me stay focused.

  • Faye

    I’m typing this as I’m in my PJs at 4pm, LOL! I found that setting up mail/packages to go to a mailbox service rather than straight to my house helped me. That way, I HAVE to shower and get dressed to leave the house, plus I can bring the stuff I need to ship out as well. I’m looking into becoming a virtual assistant (first baby coming in April, yay), but I’ll definitely miss the structure that comes with a 9-5 job.

  • Katerina@Lexandliv

    Oh, I can soooooo relate to this!
    (sorry, I don’t know what to do with this disqus thing)
    http://www.lexandliv.com