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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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