Aside from a retail job in college and a post-graduation internship that I lasted at for about 2 months, I’ve worked from home my entire career. I’ve made my own schedule, created my own work and kept myself accountable to actually getting work done while at home. I happen to be the kind of person that thrives in a working-from-home setting, so it works out well that my job allows me to do just that. I love it. It’s taken me quite a few years to really “master” the whole thing (although I could definitely still improve), but I thought it would be fun to share some of the ways that I’ve been able to make it work.
When I first moved to Chicago and took the leap to go full-time with Elisabeth Ashlie, my “office” was a small IKEA table in the corner of my equally as small room. I lived in a cute little apartment with a dear friend of mine and we didn’t have any other space to spare, so my bedroom and workspace were one in the same. Truly, I cannot even remember what that time was like. Fast forward 5 years to my now full-basement office and I can’t imagine working from just one little corner. Admittedly, the business has grown and expanded incredibly since those first days of being full-time, which means that the amount of product, shipping supplies, and general workspace needed to do my job has expanded, too. The following year, we moved into a much larger apartment with another friend and I was able to take over the “master” bedroom, which allowed more room for me to work from. But, I was still working from my bedroom, which brings me to my first tip:
CREATE A DESIGNATED WORKSPACE
For me, sleeping next to my desk was not the healthiest setup. Always being able to see my work meant that I had a really hard time shutting down “work brain”. I was often tempted to work at all hours of the day and would usually feel guilty if I didn’t at least do some work on the weekends. Part of that mentality came from the fact that, generally, the more work I put in, the more money I made, but the other part was being constantly reminded of the work that sits before me. When I moved into my third apartment in the city, I was able to take over half of our dining room and turn it into my office. It was incredible to have my bedroom be just a bedroom. A place where I could go to relax and unwind from the day. To be able to close the doors on my office on Friday evening and not be tempted to work until Monday morning was a huge thing for me. I found myself more productive in my office and more relaxed everywhere else in the apartment.
In our home now, I was able to set up my office in our finished basement (it’s really just a lower-level, but we call it a basement). I have plenty of space to spread out and even have room for things I never have before, like a photography setup for shooting new products. I love that I can’t even see my office unless I go down there to grab something from the storage closet or do laundry on the weekends. It’s been very helpful for me to separate work life and home life!
If you don’t have the benefit of being able to set something up that is outside of your bedroom or common living area, the next point will be particularly important for you!
DEVELOP A SCHEDULE THAT WORKS FOR YOU
There are a lot of things that I love about running my own business, but being in charge of my own schedule has to be one of the best. Both of my jobs, EA and blogging, require a lot of creativity. Yes, there are mundane tasks that need to be done, too. But, in general, I’m using the creative side of my brain a lot. I’ve come to learn that I’m most creative right when I wake up in the morning. I’m inspired and feel fresh coming off of sleep, so I love to wake up and get right to work. In my dream world, I would wake at 5am everyday. I love the quietness of the mornings. Realistically, I’m almost always out of bed by 7am and at my desk with coffee by 7:15. I like to get blog posts, emails, and other computer work done in the morning, so I typically will do that for an hour or however long it takes me. Some days I’ll shower and do the full getting-ready routine, others I’ll work in my robe until lunchtime. By about 3pm, I’m usually getting tired and feeling like I’m running low on motivation, so I’ll go to the gym or run errands or do some chores around the house to give myself a break. If I have more work that needs to be done in my office, like shipping EA orders, I’ll get those done before dinner. If not, I’ll either do some things on my laptop or call it a day. I’m not strict on how many hours I put in a day because that just doesn’t work for me. I don’t have a 9-5 schedule that I need to clock in and out for. I allow myself the flexibility to do the work that I need to do for the day. Some days that means I’m working 11 hours, others it’s more like 5. If I start working and, a couple hours in, realize that I’m just not in a creative space or that I’m getting very little accomplished, I’ll give myself the space to take the day and do other things. (and usually make that time up on the weekend or with an extra-long work day the following day!)
Over years of practice, I’ve learned that I thrive on the flexibility to work however long or short I need to on a certain day. My business and myself gain very little from trying to force productivity on a day when I’m dragging or have a poor attitude about it, so I give myself the grace to reset and get back at it tomorrow.
It should go without saying that if there is something time sensitive or important that needs to get done, I will certainly do it, even if I don’t want to or don’t feel like I have the mental capacity for it. But in my normal, day-to-day schedule, there’s a lot of built-in flexibility for how I get my tasks done. That works really well for me. That won’t be the case for everyone. Some people will learn that they need to have set business hours. If you know that about yourself, develop that schedule that works for you and stick to it! It’s a lot of trial and error, especially in the beginning. But once you find that sweet spot, it will transform your experience working from home!
Another important thing for me has been actually taking the weekends off. As mentioned previously, I used to work on the weekends a lot. Whether it was writing blog posts, shipping orders, taking photos for Instagram, or something else, I didn’t allow myself the freedom to take an entire Saturday off because I felt like I was missing out on precious work time. There will be some weekends that I work these days, like if EA is running a sale or I know that I’ll be traveling during the week. In general, though, I “shut the doors” on Friday evening and don’t go back in until Monday morning.
DON’T FORGET TO BE SOCIAL
This one is more a reminder to my four-years-ago self, but I thought it would be helpful to hear for people who are like me. I’m an introvert and a homebody. A potentially-deadly combination when it comes to a social life 😉 Up until a few months ago, I worked by myself, from home, all week long. Save for trips to the gym or the grocery store, I didn’t have much interaction with other people during a work day. These days, I do have an assistant that is in the office with me two days a week. It’s really nice to have someone helping me get things done for my business, with the added benefit of easy conversation and chit chat throughout the day. I don’t have the benefit of having co-workers that I develop friendships with or meeting people that I maybe otherwise wouldn’t (aside from my assistant!). That being true, I have learned that I have to make it a priority to get out of the house and spend time with friends! When I was living in Chicago, I liked to have at least one social thing on my calendar during the workweek – whether it was meeting a friend for a drink, Friday night plans, or something else, it was nice to have something to look forward to that was out of the house and with someone other than myself.
My husband and I are a part of a small group through our church, which meets on Monday evenings. We usually go out on Friday nights, even if it’s just for dinner and then back home to watch a movie. Or we’ll make plans with our friends to do something! On weeks that I feel stuck at home or get a little stir-crazy, it’s really nice to have something to look forward to!
A few other things worth noting:
+ If your corporate job offers you the opportunity to work from home (full or part-time) and you’re not sure if you want to take advantage, I would see if you can do it on a trial-basis. Working from home is not for everyone. Whether it be the social aspect, distractions that can easily come up at home, or something else, it is not the ideal work environment for every personality or individual person, so before committing to it, try it out! See if you can implement some of these things and be productive at home.
+ I work in leggings, cozy sweaters, and no makeup 4/5 days of the week. That’s just what I’m most comfortable in and it the least distracting – no fussy tops that need to be adjusted, jeans that need to be pulled up, etc. Some people need to get dressed and ready for the day in order to be productive working from home. I totally get that! Figure out which one you are and follow accordingly. It can make a difference in your focus and work output.
+ For me, working from home is an incredible opportunity. I truly, truly love it and can’t imagine working in a corporate office. That said, there are struggles that come with it. Finding a balance between home life and work life was difficult for me and took me years, and I still haven’t perfected it! There can also be a misconception that I’m available to do anything at any given moment. Yes, I allow myself a flexible schedule, but I still have daily goals and tasks that need to be completed! It took my husband and I a few months of living together for him to fully understand what it is like for me to work from home and find a balance of household responsibilities. It’s still a work in progress, but his being able to see what I do in a work day has been helpful for him to understand the whole situation!
This isn’t a comprehensive list of tips and tricks for making it work, but it is a short list of universal “truths” that I’ve developed over my years of working from home. Wherever you are in the journey – hoping to find a job that allows you to stay home, just starting out part-time, working from a tiny desk in your bedroom, or five years into the thing – I hope this is helpful and gets you thinking about what will work best for you!
Image is from my previous office, seen in this blog post.