As most (all?) of you know, I started working from home full time a little over a year ago. It’s pretty great! I’m saving a metric fuckton of money on commuting costs. Plus, I have more time in my day to devote to things other than sitting in traffic shaking my fist and cursing the futility of existence.
I’m an acquiring editor at a book publishing house. This is a fancy way of saying I babysit writers and occasionally correct their constipated prose for a living. Most of my job consists of reading book proposals and telling authors why they suck. I need little more than a laptop and a cell phone to do my job.
I regularly join meetings at my corporate headquarters via phone or video conference. During these meetings, my wardrobe is generally business formal above the waist, slumber party below.
And you guys, I rock. I’m real fucking good at my job and I have the employee reviews to prove it!
While transitioning from an office to working from home was a bit of an adjustment, I’ve since developed good habits for getting quality work done efficiently and quickly.
And yet there are some stubborn bastions of luddites who absolutely insist that a white collar worker needs to come into an office every day in order to be successful. I don’t cotton to that kind of backward thinking. For one thing, it makes it harder for caregivers and disabled people to find employment. For another, it fosters a culture that negatively impacts the environment and public health.
If a worker proves herself capable of getting the job done without commuting to an office, then by Grabthar’s Hammer, she should be allowed to do so!
But the only way we’re going to spread the work from home revolution is if we all work circles around our be-cubicled counterparts. Through trial, error, and interviewing people who have been working from home much longer than I have, here’s what I’ve found to be the best work-from-home practices in the biz.
There’s something to be said for routine
I am but one humble Bitch. And I’ll be honest: I kind of struggled to be productive when I first started working from home! As I’ve already admitted, I procrastinated and wasted time. I was not the most effective work-from-homer for a while.
DON’T JUDGE ME.
So I turned to some fellow personal finance bloggers to compare notes on best WFH practices. And across the board, everyone recommended what it took me a few months to figure out: you need to set up a routine.
And part of that routine means starting your day off just as you would if you were leaving the house to go to an office. That means:
Keep normal business hours
Arise before the crack of noon, o laborer! Be productive during the hours in which everyone else is being productive.
My company is based on the East Coast and I am not. This means that I work East Coast hours, despite living a few time zones away. I’m available to everyone in my office and all the literary agents in New York for the same hours they’re available.
And while waking up early isn’t everyone’s cup of Bailey’s-spiked coffee, it does mean that I get to stop working in the mid-afternoon when there’s still time and daylight enough to go have adventures of my own. Which my dog certainly appreciates. (Note: most of my work routine—nay, my life—is designed around what makes my dog happy.)
If you’re tempted to let your work hours bleed into the dinner hour and beyond, set an alarm at both the start and the end of the work day. Once the bell rings, school’s out!
Set up an “office”
Even if it’s just a folding table in the corner of your bedroom, use a dedicated space for work and nothing else.
Don’t recline on the couch every day like Cleopatra in her palanquin. Don’t roll over in bed to turn off the alarm clock and pick up your laptop with the same hand. Get up and go to your “office.”
Our girl A Purple Life explains that having a dedicated office creates a physical separation between your “work life” and your “fun life” and never the twain shall meet. Letting your work life and your fun life bleed together can be just as disastrous for your personal relationships and health as it can be for your career.
And Kitty takes the whole home office thing one step further: she recommends you decorate.
It might be frugal, but sitting on a folding metal chair in your unfinished basement is about as conducive to creativity and comfort as the interrogation chamber it evokes.
Paint! Buy a fucking fern! Hang an inspirational poster! And for the love of Bob find some decent lighting that doesn’t buzz and flicker with all the charm of a horror movie set. Your work environment doesn’t necessarily need to feel like Genie’s Bottle, but it shouldn’t scream “WORK IS TORTURE” either.
I’m fortunate in that I have a whole room in my house that doubles as my guest room and office. And in that room I have shelves for my books, a cork board for reminders and shit, and a desk—a whole desk!—dedicated to my job. This desk serves no other purpose, and when I wake up in the morning, I go straight to it.
Sitting in my rolling desk chair and turning on my fancy desk lamp and looking at my dormant desk orchid is my way of clocking in. It just puts me in the mood to get shit done.
Put some fucking clothes on
Look, you don’t need to put on a tie to work from home. But you should wear something other than pajamas. It just tricks you into feeling more professional, more accountable for the time you’re spending on the clock.
I have CONCRETE ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE to prove this one’s true.
Some nights I lay out my outfit for the next day before I go to bed, just like I did when I was working in an office. And sometimes I roll out of my bed and start working without changing out of my pajamas. I am… definitely more productive on the days when I’m not negotiating contracts in dragon slippers and my pajama pants.
Don’t set non-work appointments during work hours if you can help it
For many months I was giddy with the power to go shopping when the stores were empty. I could take a leisurely bike ride to the dentist instead of fighting rush hour traffic to get here during the coveted after-5 p.m. appointment. Oh brave new work-from-home world, that has no other people in it!
But then I realized things had gotten out of control. The appointments and errands were simply interrupting my productivity with the unpredictability of a Black Mirror plot.
I had let the power, the freedom of being able to move through the world without bumping into others at busy times go to my head. And it totally threw off my work routine.
The same goes for social calls. At first I agreed to babysit for friends during the work day, or have friends just “stop by.” Before I knew it, my working hours were filled with happy friend times and grocery shopping and dentist appointments.
As a result, I was missing out on the kind of planned and predictable deep-thinking and prolonged productivity essential to my work performance. In short: I needed that routine to stay focused and productive.
Protect your work hours. You’re being paid for them. Act like it.
I don’t have kids, but I hear they’re a lot like dogs. So if you’re a parent trying to work from home, consider locking the little rugrats up in a crate for a few hours while you make some phone calls.
[producer whispers in my ear]
What’s that? Sorry folks, I’ve just been told that kids and dogs are not interchangeable and enclosing children in wire crates for any amount of time is apparently frowned upon.
Nevertheless, you should find a way to eliminate distractions—kids, pets, noisy neighbors, household chores, and reruns of Parks and Rec alike—while working from home.
Just as you should identify and slay your financial vampires, you should recognize and eliminate the distractions within your home.
Our buddy Brian from Done by Forty recommends several apps and hacks for getting rid of distractions:
- Put your phone and personal laptop in a different room from the one in which you work.
- The Cold Turkey app will block distracting websites, games, and apps on your phone.
- The StayFocsd extension for Chrome limits the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting sites.
- Literally put your cell phone/PS4 controller/favorite book in a time-lock safe. WE’RE NOT FUCKING AROUND HERE, YOU GUYS.
Currently my two biggest distractions are a) my dog, and b) housework. I’m much more relaxed and focused when my habitat is clean and tidy. So I try to clean a little bit every day after work just so I’m never compelled to marathon-clean my whole house during work hours like Hercules in the Augean Stables.
My dog, on the other hand, is impossible to ignore. I am at his adorable, fuzzy mercy at all times. Which brings me to…
Take strategic breaks
Take strategic breaks! Plan to work out, walk the dog, tend the garden, or run one short errand per day!
The emphasis here is of course on planning and strategy. Build your breaks into your work day, don’t just let them happen to you when you get bored or snacky.
My dog ain’t dumb (he’s really, really dumb). He has come to understand that every day around noon, I take him for a walk. And because he knows this neighborhood reconnaissance mission is coming, he generally leaves me in peace to work before and after the appointed time. Just as I’ve created a work day routine for myself, so has he:
- 7:30-8:00 Inspect yard.
- 8:00-11:00 Mid-morning nap.
- 11:00-11:45 Surveil street through front window.
- 11:45-12:00 Beg for walk.
- 12:00-12:30 Patrol neighborhood with great ferocity and self-importance.
- 12:30-1:30 Exhausted from patrol, take early afternoon nap.
- 1:30-2:00 Surveil street through front window.
- 2:00-3:30 Mid-afternoon nap.
- 3:30 Clock out and congratulate self on hard day’s work.
My dog’s rigid schedule also allows me to get up and move around. Taking a break from work is proven to increase productivity and work quality. It actually helps reduce procrastination, clears your pores, and waters your crops!
If you abhor physical motion (John 8: 7), you can take a break to read a book, listen to a podcast, or rub one out to your favorite Harry/Draco slash fiction. Whatever compounds your interest!
If you’re not winning, change the game
I recently flew across the country for a big meeting. During that flight I had a fully charged laptop… and no wifi. Ladies and gentlemen, I got my email inbox from eighty messages down to thirty during that flight. Freed from the dangerous Boomerang Email Effect and restricted by the limitations of an airplane cabin 30,000 feet above ground, I was more productive than I’d been in weeks.
Something about a little change of scenery gave me the boost of energy and focus I needed to plow through work with ruthless alacrity.
The same is true when I leave the house to work somewhere else. The library is a big favorite, of course (GO TO THE FUCKING LIBRARY, YOU FOOL). But any shift in my environment tends to give me a jolt of productivity. The botanical gardens, the coffee shop around the corner, the patio in my backyard, the best little lesbian-owned-and-operated brewery in the city—all refresh my mind and give me a new perspective on my work.
If you’re feeling cooped up and stir crazy, leave the environment you’re in. Go elsewhere to rediscover your productivity.
That’s nice but how do you even land a job that will allow you to work from home?
Now that we’ve dispensed our highly scientific, crowd-sourced advice, let’s address the obvious: not every job can be done from home. Some jobs require you to work on-site. Hard to be a sous chef from your own kitchen or give tours of Civil War battlefields from your couch, for example. (Though I’d love to be proven wrong! Share stories of your unconventional work-from-home job in a comment!)
But in the Digital Age™, working from home is becoming increasingly more common. If your job can be performed alone while sitting in front of a computer screen, there’s not a whole lot of reason to travel farther than your kitchen table to do it.
If you’re lucky, you already have a job, and your current workplace supports a robust remote work policy. It’s becoming especially common at large, multinational companies. It may be as simple as talking to your manager.
But that’s if you’re lucky! It’s just as likely you’ll be stuck pioneering the perk at a workplace that’s reluctant to try it—or convincing a new workplace to hire a remote employee. Both the Bitches have experience in these miraculous feats, and we’ll be sharing more strategies on this in the future.
Working from home is work. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the benefits to your health and finances can be astronomical. As with any job situation, the key to success and sanity is discipline, dedication, and determination. How you like that alliteration?
At the same time… you’re working from home! Don’t be ashamed to make the most of the situation!
If you’re on a boring conference call that has little to do with you, feel free to mute yourself and empty the dishwasher. Go sit outside and work on your tan. Turn on a podcast or audiobook while you’re filling out paperwork or doing boring data entry. As long as you’re still getting the work done, don’t feel guilty about multi-tasking or making your situation a little more bearable.
By the same token, recognize signs that you’re becoming isolated or lonely. Leaving the house isn’t just to improve your productivity—it could prevent you from entering an unintentional hermitage. Ask a friend to join you on your lunch break or on that strategic workout break you’ve planned. (Maybe don’t get a friend to join you if your strategic break includes the smutty fanfic thing.)
Figure out what you need to remain successful and sane while working from home. Whether it’s a baller playlist, proper video conferencing software, or the fanciest fucking coffee beans this side of Costa Rica, get it. Use it. Kick ass and take names.
How have you hacked your work-from-home game? Tell us all about it in a comment below!