Thursday, October 12, 2017

Working at Home Like the Professional You Are

Sandy Tritt and Roxanne Sutton

After almost 20 years of owning a small business with an office in my home, I’m starting to get it figured out. When I first started, I felt like I worked constantly, yet I didn’t get much accomplished. Of course, at that time I had three school-aged kids hanging around, which made life a bit more interesting, but even with the kids, I discovered some secrets that make working at home easier. To gain a younger and different perspective, I also asked my daughter, Roxanne Sutton, a communications manager who works at home on occasion, to weigh in. She has a toddler and one on the way, so her routine is a bit different from mine.

1.      Decide how many hours a week you want to work. Be realistic. If you have kids at home or other obligations, take that into consideration.

2.      Set office hours. Decide what hours you want to work and what days of the week you’re available. Then, create a schedule with your office hours clearly marked. This means that if your sister wants to go shopping during your office hours, you need to reschedule for a time you’re off duty. This also means that you’re not trying to work at 8 p.m. when the kids are going to bed.

3.      Find an office area in your home. It can be a desk in a corner, a spare room with all the trimmings, or a comfortable chair with a handy laptop. Have everything available you’re likely to need so you don’t have to get up and hunt for a pen.

4.      Treat your office area like a real office. If possible, get a separate phone line for your business so you’re not interrupted with personal calls during the day—and so you can walk away from the business phone when your day is over. If you can close a door, do so. The more you can sequester yourself, the better.

5.      Treat your office hours like a “real” job. Get out of bed, get dressed, go to your office, and “clock in” at the same time each day. Roxanne adds: Yes! Do your routine! It will set your mind for the day. Don’t just roll out of bed and go to work.

6.      If you have kids at home, hire a sitter at least a few hours a week to get the kids out of the house. Do NOT, however, allow TV or video games take the place of a person for your children. They deserve more than that. Roxanne adds: If your kids are young, definitely set up daycare or some other care. They need constant attention, and you won’t be good at parenting or working if you’re trying to do both.

7.      Protect your office hours. When you’re scheduled to work, work. Don’t take a long lunch with a friend or chat on the phone with your bestie for 45 minutes. And absolutely DO NOT check Facebook, the sales at your favorite store, or the latest popup ad proclaiming what the child movie star looks like ten years later. If you’re overly tempted to check such things, make a note with the link and check it during your off hours.

8.      Protect your non-office hours. When you’re scheduled off, don’t work. Resist the temptation to do “just a little” right now. This is one of the things that makes you feel like you’re constantly working. If you’re in the mood to work and have the time to do so, then time your working hours and deduct them from the next day’s (or Friday’s) schedule.

9.      Let your family and friends know your working schedule. Ask them to please plan all emergencies for when you’re not working. This will take a while for them to get used to, so when they call during working hours, say, “I’m working right now. Can I call you back when I get off at five?” After a while, they will get accustomed to your work schedule as well.

10.  Structure your work day. I begin each day by reviewing email and dealing with any that need dealt with. I then work on whatever is on my schedule to work on that day. I try to set goals for each project, whether it’s to finish a small project before lunch or to knock off 15 pages by end of day. I end each day by planning my activities for the next day so I’m ready to get started right away. Roxanne weighs in with a 30-year-younger perspective: To-do lists are key. My new favorite app for this is Todoist. It has a mobile app that syncs with your web app, and you can sort tasks by project, assign due dates, etc. I also see the value in a written list, but it’s nice to have an app handy so I can write a crazy to-do while in the grocery store and then get it off my mind until the next work day. When I’m really busy or coming down on a deadline, I supplement the online list with a more detailed written list for a project. Sandy adds: I sometimes wake up at three a.m. in a panic because I’ve forgotten to do something that must be done. I grab my smart phone and send myself an email. Sandy also adds: I set alarms on my smart phone if I have an appointment or meeting. That way, I don’t have to continually check the time—I can concentrate fully until the buzzer rings. I started doing this with an old windup alarm clock when my kids were in school—after I was so involved in a project one day I forgot to pick them up.

11.  Keep a note pad next to the computer. When I start working on a project, I write down the time and the page number. When I stop working for any reason (the phone rings, I have to go to the bathroom, etc.), I jot down the end time. If you are writing, track the number of words you write during each segment. This helps me to clearly see how many hours I’m actually working. It also helps me to stay focused, because I play games with myself, constantly trying to work for longer times without interruption or to complete more working minutes in a day.

12.  Know you can’t plan everything. No matter how hard you try, there will always be work emergencies that require extra effort or family emergencies that require taking time off. Don’t let this stress you out. Just know that you can’t plan everything, and get back on your schedule as soon as you can.

13.  Take care of your body. Eat regular meals. Schedule breaks—and take them. I take a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon break of 10-15 minutes. I either go for a quick walk or do some stretching exercises. This helps clear the head and keep the body from cramping. Also, if you’re sitting in the same position for hours every day, you’re asking for your muscles to complain (and mine are whinier than a roomful of two-year-olds). Find alternate ways/places to sit. Yoga is a great stress-buster and helps stretch out those problem areas. 

Bottom line: working from home is a great option in today’s busy world. For those of us who make a living writing and editing, it’s pretty much the standard. For those who work in traditional offices, it’s becoming more common and can be a win-win for both the employee and the employer. But understand that working from home still means working. Put in your time, get your work done without distractions, and then enjoy your free time.