After 10 years of full-time self-employment, I can safely say I’m someone who knows about working from home. And it’s not easy!
Just over 10 years ago I took voluntary redundancy from my managerial office job and, with much trepidation, started my freelance career as a full-time blogger. The professional blogging part was easy (I say “easy” – it was bloody hard work… I mean it came naturally to me), but it was the working from home bit that took A LOT of trial and error to get right.
Now that it’s well over three years since the pandemic first hit and many, many more people are WFH, I thought I’d share my tips for how to be productive surrounded by all your creature comforts.
Doesn’t mean I always get it right, but here’s to doing your best…!
Reading time: 5 mins
This post was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated.
This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click through and buy I may receive a small commission at no cost to you (full disclosure).
In order to work successfully – and productively – from home, you need to be REALLY disciplined and REALLY organised. And if you’re self-employed as well, REALLY determined to succeed (even if that determination takes years). I’ve been blogging for 12 years, and self-employed for all but two of those. I only started to earn what I’d call “a decent wage” about four years into self-employment.
I have, of course, just recently written about how the pandemic almost killed my career, but things are looking up and work is (thankfully) starting to come in regularly again.
Much of that is down to the fact that I’ve organised myself enough to be able to work as productively as possible whilst avoiding sleeping in, wearing my pyjamas all day and constant online window shopping.
A lot of people ask me whether I get distracted being at home but personally, I found working in an office much more distracting. I’m someone who likes to chat, so being with other people meant I stopped to chat – a lot. But on the other hand, I also like to knuckle down and get work done (when it suited me of course!), so being in an office with people who wanted to chat to me was incredibly frustrating at times.
So yes, I’m aware of the hypocrisy of that statement, but I didn’t say I was perfect!
I’m actually much happier when I’m on my own and can organise my time as I wish. I can do things when I want to do them and not have to chat because I can turn off my phone and close my email Inbox until I’m ready. I’m less distracted at home because chatting with people is my big distraction.
Luckily Suki* tends to sleep pretty much all day in between her walks and her food, so she’s somewhat lacking in conversation. (Doesn’t mean she’s not distracting just by lying there looking gorgeous and wanting cuddles, though.)
*This originally had Riley written where Suki’s name is… all I had to do was change the name. Sighthounds will be sighthounds…
But whatever your situation – whether you’re blogging full or part-time, freelancing and setting up an office in your own home, or able to work at home a few days a week away from the office – here are some tips that I hope will make your working from home a lot easier and more organised.
Great tips for working from home
1. Get a proper workspace
This is probably the most important thing you should do: create a dedicated working space. Apart from the fact that you’ll feel more “at work” when you have somewhere to call “your desk”, you’ll do long-term damage to your back and shoulders if you’re hunched over a laptop on the sofa or your bed. (I used the sofa for a month before we set up my new desk when we moved house – my shoulders and neck were killing me during that time.)
Make it as clutter-free as possible and decorate with real plants if possible (keeps the air clean too), good lighting and a proper ergonomic chair with lumbar support and adjustable back, height, etc. The more you can afford to spend on a chair, the better it’ll be for you – I worked for an office supplies company for 11 years and know all about cheap vs expensive office chairs. Sitting in a chair that looks pretty on Instagram but gives you serious spinal problems is a terrible idea: pretty pictures on the Gram aren’t worth chronic back pain.
If you HAVE to have a pretty chair or are strapped for cash, get yourself a lumbar support pillow to help your back with whatever chair you’re using. It’ll thank you for it.
2. Replace your commute with a walk to work
Go for a walk to replace your daily commute – you can then start work when you “arrive at the office” (i.e. get home). When I worked in an actual office I always used to go for a 20-minute walk at lunchtime, and before work too if I got there early enough. Getting out of the house before you start work not only wakes you up, but it gives you time to think before the day ahead. Then when you get home, that’s your “commute” done – you’ve arrived at work. Make a cup of tea and get started.
The great thing is it also means YOU HAVE TO GET DRESSED. Staying in your PJs all day is the joke that those who work from home can never seem to shake off – it’s easily done! But if your routine involves getting out of the house for half an hour first thing every morning, then you’re already up and dressed.
Unless you’re the type of person who’s happy to be seen in public and/or can be productive in your unicorn onesie and a pair of trainers. In which case you go for it ; )
3. Routine is key (boring but true)
Working from home isn’t about eating cereal on the sofa and watching Homes Under the Hammer, doing whatever you want whenever you feel like it. I’ve been there, done that… you soon find time runs away with you and you get used to being unproductive. Endless bowls of muesli and daytime TV do not an empire make!
In the last six months or so I’ve taken on other jobs, one of which is being a carer for my elderly parents. The times I need to be there are ad hoc, so on one day I might be doing some shopping for them followed by taking (one of) them to a doctor’s appointments followed by kitchen clear-up, then a few hours’ housework on another day and then their washing another day.
The following week might be completely different as I’m often working around their appointments. However, I do try and stick to a routine within my week for the rest of my work IF at all possible.
If your work allows, do particular tasks on particular days. As a blogger I’m trying to stick to specific days for publishing posts (now Wednesdays and Saturdays I’ve decided). I’ll do accounts and admin catch-up on plus planning posts on my first day of the week at home, the next day is shooting photos and writing posts, etc.
It’s easy to lose track of what day of the week it is and it’ll have a knock-on effect in other areas of your life if you don’t have some sort of structure.
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
KEEP YOURSELF HYDRATED. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important it is to drink water: you’ll avoid headaches, improve alertness and concentration, get clearer skin, flush out toxins, keep weight off more easily, improve your mood, need I go on…?!
I have a large water bottle with time marker that I carry everywhere with me. And I mean everywhere. I never, ever leave the house without it. Popping to Tesco? Take my water bottle. Off to my parents’ place? Take my water bottle. Going for a walk? Take my water bottle. It sits on my desk next to me at all times.
It’s very, very easy to sit at a desk for hours without moving or drinking. Stay hydrated, stay hydrated, stay hydrated.
5. Move, move, move
So following on from no.4: you HAVE to get up and move regularly. It’s been proven that sitting all day and not moving will have detrimental effects on your health (I read a health report somewhere that said “Sitting is the new smoking”, yikes), so set hourly alarms to make sure you move regularly. My Fitbit is brilliant – it buzzes and tells me when I haven’t done enough steps that hour and I have 10 minutes to get up and move my lazy arse.
Staring at a screen too long will also affect your sight, giving you dry eyes (we blink less when staring at a screen) and “digital eye strain” which is known to cause headaches, blurred vision and even shoulder pain (this is turning out to be a happy post, isn’t it?).
If you’re working at a screen, look at things in the distance regularly. Your eyes need to work at looking at things near and far, not just at a fixed, close distance like your phone or laptop.
So get up and move, don’t look at your phone, and look at something long distance. Or go for that lunchtime walk I mentioned.
6. Set particular times for reading and replying to emails
If you don’t set times for emails, you’ll find yourself getting distracted when you’re meant to be doing other tasks (or trying to meet deadlines), especially if you have notifications come up on your phone and/or desktop.
Close your email tab and only open it at your allotted times. If you think it will help, set up an auto-reply that explains that you only look at your emails at X time of day so people know when you might be getting back to them. I find that if I don’t attend to my Inbox in “chunks” of time, my tasks get chopped up all over the place because I keep looking at emails that pop up when I’m meant to be working on something else.
7. Stop for lunch
Taking a lunch break doesn’t just mean grabbing something to eat whilst barely leaving your laptop – it means STOP working, and EAT.
It’s important to eat as well as rest during the day, so step away from your screen (your phone too) and grab something healthy to eat. I sometimes watch one episode of a box set during my lunch hour – it forces you to relax and take your mind off work and deadlines.
I’ll often make up a huge salad – several days’ worth – at the beginning of the week and then add protein with each serving, e.g. cooked chicken, boiled eggs or a tin of tuna. Don’t forget nuts for flavour and extra protein. Forget boring lettuce, tomato and cucumber, here’s a list of typical ingredients I’ll use to make a basic salad (chop bigger things up into slices or, as I prefer, cubes):
Mangetout/sugar snap peas
Nectarines or peaches
Giant cous cous (my favourite) or cous cous
Avocado (I add this fresh before serving)
8. Don’t let friends and family drop by or call
Make sure friends and family know what days and times they can call you – and not just drop by. It’s easy to feel like you’re being rude if you want to tell them not to pop in for 10 minutes for a cuppa (especially when 10 minutes turns into an hour or two), but they’ll respect the fact that you’re “at the office” if you explain it to them.
The last thing you want is to be entertaining people when your head’s going crazy wishing they’d go because you have a deadline that’s coming up. It’ll set you up for a very unproductive rest of the day and probably have a knock-on effect on your evening and family time… no one wants that!
9. Ensure you communicate with your colleagues
Despite what I said above, it’s really important not to let yourself get isolated. Social media can be a great way to stay connected to people, but it’s all too easy to get distracted by videos of baby hedgehogs and funny memes. As a blogger, I’d recommend a WhatsApp group for a small group of your closest online friends (content creators). If you have a work question there’s bound to be someone who can answer your question straight away, or give advice if you’re trying to negotiate terms with a brand, for example.
If you think you don’t have a group of close friends – make one. I did exactly this about a year ago (it may well be longer) by contacting about 15-20 like-minded content creators on Instagram who I follow and engaged with and invited them to a WhatsApp group. Some I’d met IRL before, some I hadn’t, but they were all people I felt I had a connection with. They didn’t necessarily all know each other, but for those who came into the group and stuck around (about eight of us) that’s now changed. We regularly message about anything from “Does anyone understand the new Google Analytics 4?” [face palm/eye roll] to “What do you think of this reel before I publish it?”.
This group is invaluable to me, and I’m sure the ladies who chat in the group would also say the same.
Depending on your line of work – and especially if you’re a freelancer rather than an employee working at home away from the office – it may be more tricky to find a group of “colleagues” to connect with. Consider local business networking groups, or even just working from a local coffee shop one afternoon a week. The feeling of being surrounded by people, even if you’re not communicating with them directly, can be enough to stop those feelings of isolation.
So if you find yourself typing All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy over and over again, you might want to get yourself out of the house and talk to people…!
10. Minimise distractions when meeting deadlines
If you’re trying to meet a deadline, switch your phone to Do Not Disturb and/or close all tabs on your desktop except the one you’re working on. THIS is the thing that stops me from being super productive – looking at other tabs and getting distracted by online shopping, TikTok videos, messages from friends, news feeds, etc. is my worst vice. I don’t even realise I’m doing it – I’ll look something up and before I know it, one thread has led to another and I’ll be led down the most enormous internet rabbit hole you’ve ever seen.
Do what I do, and close all the tabs except the one you’re working on. If you HAVE to look something up, look it up on your phone and close it straight away.
If you can’t close the tabs yet – and if you’re like me, I always have a TON of tabs open for anything from blogging articles I’ve yet to read to a shopping basket ready to buy, use the (very useful) Onetab app to convert all of your tabs into a list on one single tab you can access at any time.
11. Organise tomorrow today
Ever heard of the Ivy Lee method? It’s very simple and is almost guaranteed to increase your productivity and help you organise every working day. (In fact it doesn’t only work for working from home days, it also works for days off when you have a ton of jobs to do.)
The Ivy Lee method is this: At the end of each working day, write down your six most important tasks to accomplish the following day in order of importance. The next day, begin working on the tasks one at a time. Any that you don’t finish can be transferred to the following day’s list.
It may be tempting to put more than six – who else has To-Do lists that are always a mile long?! [me] – but more than six means your tasks look overwhelming. If you finish them early you can simply write a new list, and work through those next six. Though I can’t remember a time I’ve ever done all the tasks and needed to write a new list.
Do you have any great tips for working from home that you want to share? Tell me in the comments!
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
Oops, time to get out the house methinks…
Thanks for reading,
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