It’s a lifestyle many cubicle warriors and entrepreneurs dream about: Wake up refreshed and practice an energizing meditation followed by a quick yoga flow. Enjoy a nice cup of coffee, then retreat to the office or studio to write the next New York Times bestseller, dream up that big idea or create your next masterpiece.
It’s pretty much how my life has turned out. Minus the meditation, yoga and bestseller. Plus two rambunctious children I need to race to school most mornings.
I’ve been working from home on and off for the better part of 15 years, first as managing editor for five lifestyle magazines and now as a business owner. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The office environment and co-working spaces just don’t work for me. I crave silence and space when I work. As an introvert, I love being alone even though I’m a social person.
Working from home offers me the best of both worlds: the satisfaction of doing what I love and running my own successful small business, plus the alone, toddler-free time I so desperately need to keep my sanity. It has its extreme joys (staying in workout clothes, no makeup, the flexibility to chaperone my kids’ field trips and volunteer in their class) and its distractions (laundry, naps, that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I know is in the pantry taunting me with its sugary goodness).
But over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips to stay productive, sane and social at the same time.
These are my trade secrets.
1. Find your mind’s most creative time.
Everyone has this sweet spot. The trick is uncovering when it is. When I was a managing editor and was in a position to have some control over my own schedule for the first time, I discovered that when I dragged myself out of bed at 5 a.m., magic happened on paper. The story lead I was struggling with the day before just clicked into place. That word I couldn’t put my finger on suddenly flowed out. Between 5 and 11 a.m. (this was pre-children, naturally), I could accomplish what most others accomplished in one entire work day. When I went back to working in an office for a few years, this transition was extremely challenging, and if I had big projects, I found myself working on them from home in the mornings. I’ve always had a hard time focusing on writing when I’m around people.
Once I left corporate and started my own business, I made getting up at 4 a.m. a couple days a week part of my regular routine. However, I now have to account for two certain little humans waking up, eating breakfast, getting ready for school and getting out the door. I typically have around two uninterrupted hours before that whole song and dance begins. But those two hours are golden. No one is emailing or calling. Because I know my mind is at its sharpest then, I save my most challenging work for first thing in the morning.
2. Create a schedule (and stick to it).
My workload is a combination of retainer clients and one-off projects. For the most part, my anchor clients run on a pretty predictable schedule with regular monthly due dates I can anticipate and plan for. I try to keep a pretty similar schedule from week to week to help balance the recurring projects, while still being able to work in any new projects that come my way. My typical day goes something like this:
4-6 a.m.: Coffee + new, particularly challenging or “it’s due today!” project
7-9:30 a.m.: Take kids to school and work out (yep, I get that over with first thing, otherwise it won’t happen)
9:30-10 a.m. reset: (aka breakfast + shower, usually while listening to a podcast or Audible book
10 a.m.-noon: dedicated work on a priority project
Noon-2 p.m.: Retainer/regular client work
2-3 p.m.: Admin (logging mileage, invoicing, following up on proposals, making calls, taking trainings)
From 3 p.m. on, I’m typically done with work and am doing things around the house, whether it’s packing the lunches or making a grocery store trip before picking up the kids between 4 and 5 p.m. And, of course, there are days when I’ll reserve an entire day for one project. For a really big project, I’ll often reserve two to four days and try to get my regular work done ahead of time.
3. Plan the next day.
It’s a well-documented habit of highly successful individuals: Before you go to bed, plan for a productive tomorrow. I keep an up-to-date to-do list in the Notes app in my phone, categorized by client and then by deadline. I also use Asana to keep track of each client’s ongoing projects and assign myself three main tasks for the day. Every night before bed, I review this list and plan my next day accordingly, creating a schedule in Google Calendar and accounting for every hour. It may look something like this:
4-6 a.m.: Biggest to-do of day
6-9:30 a.m.: Get kids ready, take them to school and work out
9:30-11:30 a.m.: Focused client work
11:30 a.m.-noon: Client call
Noon-2 p.m.: Focused client work
During my work hours, I try my very best not to let distractions get to me. I shut down my email and try to limit my social media check-ins unless it’s work-related.
If I’m not meeting a friend for lunch, I eat at my desk. I’ve found that stopping to take a full lunch break completely throws the rest of my day off track.
After around 2 or 3 p.m. I can’t really write anymore. My brain has called it quits, so I shift to admin, making edits or researching. Sometimes I sneak in a nap #sorrynotsorry.
4. Network (aka lunches and happy hours)!
Find fellow work-from-homers, writers, artists, and entrepreneurs and keep in touch by scheduling monthly or bimonthly lunches with each. I regularly lunch or do happy hour with other boss babes and/or old co-workers. Not only is this essential to keeping me sane on days when I need to get out of the house, it’s also led to a good amount of work.
I’m also a member of Babe Crafted, a girl gang of Tampa-area female business owners who get together a few times a month to exchange ideas and learn new marketing tactics (usually while drinking bubbly and having fun).
Pro tip: For tax purposes, invest in an accordion binder for your receipts and a small notebook to log your mileage. I learned the hard way that your mileage log should include starting mileage for the year, plus starting and ending mileage for each trip, and of course, the reason for each outing.
5. Change it up.
This year, for the first time, I’m dedicating one full day a week to just my business, and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s my favorite day of the week, and I treat myself to an early clock-out time too.
It’s easy when you work from home to be “on” all the time and neglect your own “stuff,” but I’m hoping that carving more time to think about my business, market myself more strategically and create more content will pay off in big ways this year.
Along the way, I’ll use this blog and my weekly emails to fill you in on what works and what doesn’t.
I’d love to hear your favorite tips for working from home. Share them in the comments below or tag me on Facebook or Instagram.