Working from the comforts of a home office may sounds like a dream come true to most commute-weary professionals – virtual conference calls snuggled up to your pup, no more office-sponsored political coups, and enjoying all that extra time that doesn’t get eaten up by burning rubber back and forth, back, and forth, back and forth.
Transitioning to the ever-growing status of a work from home (WFH) professional can be incredibly liberating; however, like most work transitions, it can require a unique strategy to maximize productivity and keep you from feeling like you live in the office.
Here are three tips to help turn your WFH situation into am empowering career move:
Take Scheduled Breaks
As we discussed in The Illusion of the (Self-Employed) 40 Hour Week, it’s not uncommon for location-independent professionals to feel exhausted trying to clock the traditional forty. Why? Because the average full-time employee is only actually working 15 of the compensated 40 hours a week (yes, you read that right). The rest of the full-time work week is filled with unproductive office activities and time sucks, such as water cooler banter, corporate politicking, and circuitous conference meetings.
When working from a home office, today’s virtual employee may not encounter many time sucks typically associated with the modern workplace (yay!); however, if you’re transitioning from an office setting that involved a lot of schedule fillers vs. actual work, you may find the transition quite taxing. Additionally, home offices offer very little in the way of well-timed interruptions and rejuvenating office “pop-ins”. Instead, the home office can begin to feel a little too much like another chorus of “Me, Myself, & I”.
A great way to combat the exhaustion and loneliness virtual working environments can present is scheduling regular breaks. Your neighboring office pals aren’t going to drop by every hour with the latest meme or gossip – it’s just going to be work, work, work, and work, unless you commit to much-needed breaks.
When working from home, I set my phone alarm for 50-minute segments. Every time the alarm goes off, I turn away from my computer, catch a quick nap, go for a walk around the block, or even clean the kitchen. Scheduling these type of recharge breaks has been a great way for me to build up my work from home endurance, while maximizing both my productivity and creativity.
Be Your Own Project Manager
There’s an old business adage (thank-you, Father Drucker), that goes something like “what’s measured gets managed”.
Applied translation: WFH professionals need to monitor their time so they can maximize their output through strategic self-management.
Work from Homers don’t have a boss breathing down their neck (another big yay!); but they still have deadlines and milestones to maintain that left to their own devices (let’s get real for a New York minute) just won’t happen without some form of self-management.
Good news for those of us struggling with structure (I’m taking a hard look in the mirror here, just ask my editors) – there are a TON of super cool and easy to use apps designed to help the WFH professional to stay on top of workloads while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Here’s a few of my entrepreneurial tribe’s favorite time and productivity tracking software:
- Due Time Tracking – Great for professionals that bill by the hour as you can generate invoices in-app
- Harvest – Good for collaborating teams, feature access ranges from $12-99 per month
- TopTracker – Awesome for freelancers plus it’s totally free (need I say more?)
- RescueTime – Excellent resource to help you maximize your workday
Bonus Bit: If you’re an app-junkie like myself, be sure to check out 10 Apps Every Freelancer Needs to get your Freelancing Frenzy on!
Optimize Your Autonomy
If you’re like me, the decision to move from a traditional office setting into the WFH state was largely influenced by the need for more time or autonomy. Maybe you need to be available to care for chronically ill or disabled family members, or maybe the ever-lengthening commute time just isn’t cutting it anymore. Working from home is (supposed to) provide virtual professionals with the ability to improve their quality of life without forgoing their career; however (again, if you’re like me), the ability to optimize your newfound autonomy may take some strategy.
I left an hour-long commute (one-way) at a public relations firm to launch my own consulting company. As an in-office employee, I was spending 10 hours a week in the car (that’s if traffic kept moving) plus 60+ hours a week in the office, not counting required travel for conferences, client meetings, etc. I was used to getting up at 4 AM, squeezing in an early morning run pre-commute, logging long hours in the office, working through lunch and sometimes supper, then not getting out of my suit until after 8 PM. Pretty sucky work week, huh?
Striking out on my own meant I didn’t have to commute (I’ll take those 10 extra hours per week, thank-you #ReclaimingMyTime), but I did have a lot (and I mean A LOT) of work to do as a bootstrapped entrepreneur (check out my latest dish on the dreaded startup growing pains). There was company branding and marketing to rollout, legal structure to file, oh yeah, and clients to land. I was used to working all the time as an employee, so I fell into the trap of working nearly 24/7 on my business from our spare bedroom (spoiler alert: not smart).
After a rookie move crash and burn, I drafted a work schedule, reserving my former commute time for three things: networking, volunteer work, and new hobbies. All three of these non-work activities actually grew my business (you wouldn’t believe how many clients I’ve landed from the dressage arena or holiday gala), plus gave the mental clarity I needed to get out of the startup trenches and really strategize about how to take my company to the next level.
Working from Home is What You Make It
Some professionals love working from home, others hate it.
Working from home totally saved my career, and (now) I absolutely love it. The autonomy, balance, and clarity working from home provides has really been rejuvenating (plus, super healthy). Sometimes I wonder how many more years I’d make it, slogging through agency life and 5 o’clock traffic jams…and am thankful I won’t have to find out.
If you’re new to working from home, or still waiting on the perks of flexible work environments to kick in, consider how implementing workday breaks, productivity tracking software, and a strategic approach to autonomy can help turn your day job into a dream career.