Whether working from home is something you do full time or only in your precious spare minutes and hours away from other responsibilities, finding the right setup for your style and needs can be a serious challenge. As creatives, we need more than just a desk and a laptop to do our best work. Here are the techniques that have worked for me these past few years of working exclusively from my home.
Dress the part
As tempting as it is to roll out of bed, grab my morning coffee, and cozy up to my keyboard in my PJs, I realized pretty early on that this was holding me back psychologically. I didn’t feel professional. I lacked a sense of getting started every day. And I found that my work day had no real rhythm. Ending every day in the same clothes I woke up in wasn’t nearly as comfy and convenient as I’d thought it would be.
Working in my pajamas was holding me back psychologically.
I’ve found that I take myself more seriously when I make a conscious effort to choose clothes (even jewelry and shoes) and go through the ritual of dressing. It’s my mental portal from a state of rest to one of action. I’m also sort of a clothes horse and jewelry fiend, so getting to use more of my closet gives me a nice little endorphin burst to start my day.
Getting dressed is a mental portal from a state of rest to one of action.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you need to get all dressed up in heels and suits and makeup every day. But it is important to find the uniform that best supports your “work mode”, even if what that actually means changes over time.
How much thought have you put into setting up your work space? Is it situated somewhere peaceful and private? Are there visual distractions or noises that could pull you out of your working head space? Does the lighting and color scheme, the space’s mood and tone, complement your style of writing? Are there tempting or overwhelming smells wafting into your area? How long has it been since you decluttered or reorganized your office?
Different people have different needs and tolerances.
Different people have different needs and tolerances. While some writers may be energized and inspired by a scented candle, others might need a scent-neutral environment. Where your friend may prefer some sort of white noise or playlist in the background to work her magic, your comfort zone may be total silence. Being situated close to a kitchen might be a boon for those who run on caffeine but a constant temptation for those trying to cut back on snacking.
Identify what is and isn’t working in your current setup, then make small changes one at a time.
Take some time to identify what is and isn’t working in your current setup, then make small changes one at a time until you find just the right combo. You may not be able to meet all of your needs all at once, and that’s okay. Just do the best you can and keep evolving your space and processes to adapt to what you need right now.
Do your family and friends treat your writing like a hobby? Do they pop in whenever to ask you questions or expect you to drop everything to help them?
It’s your responsibility to express your needs in a way others can understand and respect.
Setting boundaries can be particularly challenging for authors who work from home while also caring for small children. You know how to best interact with the people dearest to you, but keep in mind that they may not understand how important writing is to you. It’s your responsibility to express your needs in a way they can understand and respect. It might take some work, but having that consistent ‘me’ time will ultimately be worth it.
Set small and timely goals
Just like for the characters in the stories we craft, setting goals is essential to our personal journeys. When you work from home, goals can take on a different feel. I tend to get distracted easily—by the view out my windows, the sound of an email pinging on my phone, the smell of a candle I left open—so I’ve learned to set daily time goals in addition to my higher-level weekly and yearly ones.
Staying committed to your goals can take a lot of willpower, but the reward is worth the sacrifices.
For example, to keep myself on track, I schedule breaks into my day. In order to earn a treat break (like coffee or a snack or even just permission to read a little from my Kindle), I set specific tasks and a timeline in which to finish them. Sometimes this takes a lot of willpower—because who’s going to tell me no if I try to cheat on my goal?—but staying strong empowers me and motivates me to push for my goals even more.
Schedule work breaks
My calendar keeps me on track for my business goals—like what I’m editing today, what time frame I have for a phone call tomorrow, what projects are coming up later this year, when I’m traveling, etc—but it also keeps focused on my daily goals. Knowing I can take a break in 30 minutes, or when I finish a certain task or list, keeps me in the right mindset for productivity, and knowing I did everything I could at the end of the day is an addicting sort of satisfaction.
My calendar keeps me on track for my daily goals.
You don’t, however, need to schedule yourself so rigorously that it’s stressful. It’s okay to deviate from your plan now and then and take an extra break, but try to stick to a scheduling style for a while, then tweak it until you find the optimal fit for you. I use Google Calendar, but you might prefer Outlook or a physical list or the visual reward that comes with scrapbooking-style daily journals.
Believe in your capability to succeed
Everything else in this list leads right back around to this one. With visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, we’re bombarded by imagery of perfectly organized, beautifully coordinated and spacious work areas.
Use what you have to get what you need.
Try not to let yourself get discouraged by things you can’t change. Instead, find a way to work around what you have to get what you need.
- Maybe you can’t afford to redecorate your office to get that lovely spacious and clean look that’s all the rage on Pinterest, but you can do a bit of cleaning and declutter in the space you have.
- And perhaps your work space is in a small windowless room with no fancy views, but you can add new lighting and visuals that are inspirational to you. (Fairy strands are amazing for ambiance! I have two of this one, which has a remote, dimmer, lighting patterns, and plugs in.)
- And if you don’t have a large work space to stretch out into, set up something cozy that makes you feel at home.
- Most of all, respect the time that you have available and adapt your processes to fit your scheduling needs.
Everyone has the same 24 hours in the day, and everyone has different resources available to them. Giving yourself the best opportunities to succeed is the secret to working from home, so respect your needs, craft your happy place, double down on your strengths, and accept the things you cannot change or fix. You got this!