April 17, 2009
How to work from home without losing your mind
If you're new to telecommuting or if unemployment has led you to pick up some home-based freelance work for the first time, you may be wondering how to stay balanced, productive and sane when working solo from home. Suggestions follow:
Don't work where you sleep. I realize not everyone has a spare bedroom, basement or garage they can use as a home office. But even curtaining off the small section of the bedroom or living space you're using as an office can help you make a clearer distinction between work and play. No one wants to feel like they're trapped in their office 24 hours a day.
Establish a routine. Rather than race to the computer first thing in the morning, walk your dog, enjoy your coffee or listen to the news before you begin working. Eat lunch in your kitchen or living area, away from your desk. Get up and stretch throughout the day. Do your best to power down for the evening at the same time each day, preferably not right before you hit the hay.
The laundry and dishes can wait. Thinking you'll have time during the workday to throw in a few loads of laundry, pay the bills, or call a couple of plumbers for an estimate on your leaky sink is a trap. Just as one quick visit to Facebook can sap 30 minutes of your workday if you're not careful, one seemingly innocuous household chore also can eat into your prime working hours. Unless you have the morning off, better to leave the housework and errands till after you've clocked out.
Build human contact into each day. While you can't e-mail, IM or Twitter away the day with friends and colleagues (see above), you'll want to make meaningful conversation with something other than your houseplants during the workweek -- especially if you live alone. Visiting your employer's or a client's office periodically is one easy remedy for the isolation. But if meeting with colleagues face to face isn't an option, add more errands, coffee dates and neighborhood strolls to your midweek schedule.
Skip the social lunches. Despite the above tip, I don't recommend loading up your workweek with lunches with other home-based workers -- unless you're meeting about a project you're collaborating on. Once you factor in the travel time and the time you'll invariably spend waiting for your companion to finish the three urgent calls she gets during the meal, you've lost two to three of your precious working hours. Better to get your work done first and socialize afterwards.
Avoid personal calls. Caller ID is a must for those who work from home, as is avoiding any calls from adult friends and family during business hours. Because no matter how many times you remind them that working from home doesn't mean you suddenly have time to entertain them when they're stuck in traffic, they will think you do. Better to let your loved ones' calls go to voicemail, or better yet, get a dedicated work phone and don't give the number to anyone but your professional colleagues.
How about you? If you find yourself working solo from the comforts of your own home for the first time, what have you done to separate your work life from your home life, stave off cabin fever and ensure the solitude doesn't leave you loopy?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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