Is it even possible to work happily at home? Because working at home is the very WORST.
And working at home is the absolute BEST.
Which is it? Well, the answer to that is….yes.
When you work at home, you may find that it’s the BEST of times…or the WORST of times. And sometimes both at once.
We’ve been getting personal here on the blog the last couple weeks, talking about the ways that life is hard and how to move through situations that are challenging. You know me, I love talking about all the big, messy, gorgeous parts of life, but I also know the value in mastering the nitty gritty, practical parts of our worlds as well.
So today let’s get super practical about something that many people DREAM of doing– working from home– until they try it.
Then they look up at 2pm one day and realize that they haven’t gotten any work done in several weeks, and they have a huge deadline looming and they’re exhausted from carrying the mental load of their families and remembering everything for everyone.
The Truth About Working At Home
I myself LOVE working at home. I’ve done it for many years now, and as a hermit-y introvert, it’s one of the best things about my life. But there are a few key practices that make it…forgive me…WORK.
Many of us want to work at home because we want freedom and flexibility. We want to work when we please! We will be bound to NO one’s schedule! We can spend time with our kids AND have a meaningful career!
We will toss a load of laundry in while we happily type away, in sweaty yoga pants from the long languid yoga/meditation/Zumba workout we just did, thereby accomplishing triple productivity and a healthy glow!
The problem is that freedom, flexibility, laundry, and sweat pants– without a few key structures in place– can make working at home a kind of waking nightmare, where you run in slow motion through messy rooms full of post-its and giant to-do lists, watching your inbox fill up at a terrifying rate, and frantically cycling through ENTIRE DAYS where you are sort of working but also somehow accomplishing ALMOST NOTHING.
So then you keep working even though it’s now 9pm, and you kind of wish for an asshole boss who would at least tell you to stop working before the late shows come on, and that thought is so frightening that you head to the fridge and find a nice delicious pie that some kindly person left there for you and then you flick on the T.V. because isn’t that whole POINT of working for home, dammit??
That you are your own damn boss and you will EAT pie at 11pm if you want to??? Which feels like triumph in the moment, but the next morning you wake up and the dread is back, but even sicker now and with more urgency, and three days later you finally collapse in a heap at 4am on top of a pile of unfolded laundry, weeping because you now have exactly 3 hours in which to finish the project you had 2 months to complete.
Sometimes structure is freedom, y’all.
Tip #1 To Happily Working At Home: Have Regular Work Hours
I know. I know. The whole point is to not be tied to a schedule! To whip out brilliant blog posts when the muse strikes!! To follow your bliss and your brilliance as the whim takes you!!!
I get it. Except the muse usually only strikes once you are actually ass in chair, fingers moving. And whims are lovely as they regard impromptu picnics, but they are terrible bosses. So set a few hours a day in which you commit to sitting down and REALLY WORKING. They can be from 2 – 5am, if that lights up your rebellious, night owl heart. But stick to them.
Your brain and body will thank you, and they will reward you with more focus, more creativity, and more shit actually getting done.
Tip #2 To Happily Working At Home: Set Ruthlessly Clear Priorities
You probably have 84,000 things on your To-Do list, from the specific and time-sensitive, like “send new client contract” to the amorphous and ongoing, like “market with elegance and class and no yellow highlighter.” You also probably have all sorts of random tasks and errands associated with running a life and career or business, from planning a 9-year-old’s circus birthday party to buying more printer ink.
That’s fine! That’s all well and good! I think of a To-Do list as a sort of repository where your brain can deposit things safely so that you won’t forget about them. (Unless your To-Do list is actually broken.)
BUT. Many people miss this next crucial step, which is to comb through that list at least once a day and PULL OUT the truly crucial, key, most-bang-for-your-buck, actually important actions– and make sure that they get done first. Or at least by the end of the day.
In my program The Queen Sweep, I teach a system for managing this tricky nexus between all the things you need to remember and the things you should actually be focusing on, but you can change your life just by asking yourself this one key question every single day:
What is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for me to accomplish today? What would move me toward a sense of completion? What would make me feel proud and satisfied? Then write that thing on a post-it note, stick it to your phone or laptop screen, and GET IT DONE.
Tip #3 To Happily Working At Home: A Warm-Up Ritual
One of the places I can lose hours if I’m not careful is in GETTING READY to work. There’s the kitchen chaos from getting five kids out of the house…best to tidy that up. I’ll just throw in a load of laundry so that can go WHILE I’m pouring brilliance into my laptop…yep, now I’m feeling smug.
Also maybe I should do some yoga, and write my morning pages, and post on Instagram, and check my inbox, and print out a new Daily Compass, and meditate, and go for a walk, and pull some tarot cards– AND THEN IT IS 2PM AND I WANT TO DIE.
The thing is, if I don’t do ANY of those basic cleansing and caretaking rituals, and just dive right into work in my PJs while still in bed, I will also want to die.
So here’s what you need around your morning puttering/prep/onramp– a container. This is true whether you start work at 6am or 3pm. You need a fixed time that you are willing to devote to getting ready, and a TIMER to hold yourself to it.
The problem is that the little nagging needs of your home will always mushroom to fit whatever space you give them. So if you give them all day, they will weirdly TAKE all day. But if you give them 20 minutes, you’ll find that you can the truly important things mostly done, especially if you’re ruthless about prioritizing what really matters to you (see above).
My personal warm-up ritual is about an hour. It gives me time to do a brief tidy of my environment, spend 20 minutes doing the journaling that helps clear my head, update and print out my Daily Compass (a more complicated way to declare my priorities for each day), and drink about a gallon of tea.
Maybe your warm-up ritual involves a workout, or chatting with your best friend, or checking your stocks, or feeding your pet llama. But set a start time and an end time. And when it’s time to go in, walk away from all the million things that still need to be done, and give yourself over to your work.
Tip #4 To Happily Working At Home: Childcare
If you don’t have kids at home, congratulations! You have won the work-at-home lottery. Proceed to the next tip.
If you DO have kids, I cannot stress this enough, even though it will probably make people mad at me. You MUST have your mind to yourself when you’re working. I’ve personally considered paying for childcare even though I work from home, so that I can give my tasks the concentration they require. Childcare is expensive but priceless.
If you’re distracted, interrupted every 30 seconds, or half-listening for the sound of things breaking, you’ll be less productive, less focused, and more likely to make mistakes that cost you time and maybe even money.
Brain research tells us that we do our best work in a state of “flow,” where we forget that anything else exists.
Distressingly, many studies find that most mothers NEVER let themselves give themselves over to that state because it feels selfish and negligent and because of the very real possibility that if they do, they’ll end up in the ER with a little one in tow.
But that means that they are robbing themselves and the world of their best work!!!!
Now. There are a few rare individuals who find that they can be in the same room as Paw Patrol or some other form of auditory torture, using the T.V. as a very effective babysitter while still remaining on guard, but if you are reading this right now, odds are high that you are not one of them, and you need an actual DOOR between you and your beloved babies.
STOP WITH THE GUILT. This doesn’t make you a bad parent; it makes you one who provides for your family and models healthy boundaries.
Tip #5 To Happily Working At Home: Get Dressed Like Your Best Self
Yes, it sounds decadent to work in sweatpants. Yes, some people love to stay in PJs all day and run their empires from their rumpled bed. But the truth is, people who never change out of their sweatpants are also people who are likely to get depressed.
The clothes you put on your body send a powerful signal, to others but also TO YOU, about who you are, your value and power in the world, and what you deserve and are capable of. Getting dressed like your savviest, smartest, wittiest, sexiest, most powerful self is probably THE easiest way I know to give yourself an instant boost of confidence. Not to mention excitement, hutzpah, and a certainty of your own credibility. And since working for yourself requires LARGE doses of putting yourself out there repeatedly, it can actually have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Now the beauty of being at home means that you can dress howEVER THE HELL YOU LIKE!!! If you feel powerful and fierce in a Victorian corset, you can wear that! If you feel smart and knowledgeable in natty socks and not much else, you can wear that too!!! If you want to wear a 3-piece suit, or a pair of harem pants, or a goddess robe, or a ball gown???? You can!!!
This Is How We Do It.
I know it might seem like I’m taking all the fun out of working at home. But if you’ve ever felt a whole day slip away in a haze, where the only tangible thing you can point to having accomplished is some witty Twitter exchanges and a basket of clean sheets, try implementing these helpful tips.
You’ll find that you can accomplish way more in a few focused hours than you can in days of online wandering, and the best part is that when you’re done, you’re actually DONE. You get to walk away. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, let the sun kiss your face, fill your mind with beautiful books, or go kiss those sweet beloveds of yours.
Remember, as always, you get to declare dominion over your world, so take what works for you, and leave behind what doesn’t!!!
Carry on you women of valor and glory, and make your life GORGEOUS. Inbox, To-Do list, sweatpants, and all.