Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Working from Home: 15 tips from 4 friends

By Mary C. Tillotson

our backyard neighbor!
My husband spent four days in Vermont this summer, and during that time I called some girls at the nearby college to see if we could hang out in the evening -- till then, I'd had more face time with bears than human beings that day and it was disconcerting.

Working from home is awesome but, like anything, it presents its own set of challenges. I emailed three friends (including Joy from this blog and Laura who's written for us a couple times) for their work-from-home tips, and included mine as well. Feel free to add yours in the comments below!

Keeping focused

1. Don't stay in your pajamas all morning and half the afternoon on a regular basis. It might be comfortable, but it will make you feel lazy and unproductive. And not like the functioning, mature professional that you're trying to be. Anna Sutherland

2. Set work hours. I work from 9 (or whenever I wake up, really) until 5, with a lunch break. If I just worked whenever, I would never get done what I need. But if I didn't have an end time, I would hate my job because I would work constantly. Joy Pullmann
via Wikimedia Commons

3. If you have trouble staying focused, as I do, pray specifically for diligence.  I find this helps. Also, I have a picture of St. Thomas More (patron saint of lawyers) hanging right above my desk. His stern gaze can help me stop dilly dallying and get back to work. Laura Christine

4. Make an effort to be friendly with your co-workers, over phone or email. Talking shop with others in your profession helps you stay focused and develop yourself professionally. Build relationships that you can easily share ideas over. Mary C. Tillotson

Not Going Crazy

5. Don't let inertia keep you from leaving the house. If you work from home all day, going places suddenly seems like a significant undertaking (even if it's just the grocery store). And if the only people you regularly see are your family members, going somewhere to (gasp) socialize feels even more daunting.... so you might as well just stay home, you tell yourself. In reality, you do need a change of surroundings and some new company every now and then, so don't hesitate to go to the library, the coffeeshop, the gym, that church event you meant to attend, whatever. Anna Sutherland

6. Don't work an hour before bed. Staring at a computer messes up your sleep patterns. Joy Pullmann

7. Take a walk. If you need a break, get up and go outside for a while.  It helps clear your mind much better than checking Facebook or browsing the web.  In the same vein, consider taking an actual lunch break instead of eating at your desk. Laura Christine

8. Know yourself and your social needs. I'm sure your husband is awesome, but if he's the only human being you see all day (especially if you're extroverted), join a club or take a class or do something outside your home on a regular basis. This will take time away from work and family, but it'll make you happier and more emotionally equipped to be good at all the things you're doing. Mary C. Tillotson

9. Consider a standing desk, or some other way of working while standing. Sitting all day is all kinds of unhealthy.  My husband has set up his computer monitors so that they slide up and down, and he can work part of the day standing up.  He finds he actually has more energy and concentration that way.  I'm working on a way to prop up my laptop so that I can do the same. Laura Christine

Parenting and Family

10. If your kids are older than 1 year old, you need childcare for them, unless you're only working part-time. Under 1 can stay with mommy and is not much trouble, but after they start walking and stop nursing you're hosed. Joy Pullmann

11. In that vein, schedule phone calls. I love having my kids around me, but I can't make calls knowing someone might randomly start screaming while I'm on the phone. Joy Pullmann

12. Make a deliberate decision about the lines between work and family, don't just let it fall where it falls. I don't mind taking some breaks during the day (either I'm distracted by the internet, or I need to go outside, or I wash dishes or update our family budget) and doing some work in the evening, but I might do it differently if I had kids. There isn't a blanket right or wrong way to do it; the best way for you to manage those lines is going to be whatever will make your family top priority and allow you to be professional and hardworking at your job. Mary C. Tillotson

Helpful apps and tools

Waste No Time
13. Get a smartphone. I can work in airports, while the kids are at the library, in the car on the way places, etc. You can get cheap ones and plans at VirginMobile or similar services. Joy Pullmann

14. Waste No Time App: I love this free browser extension!  It allows you to set limits on how much time you spend on a certain website at various times of the day.  For instance, you can set it so that you can only spend 15 minutes on Facebook or Pinterest between the hours of 8 and 5.  You also can block certain sites altogether.  Of course you can cheat and disable the settings, but I find that the screen that pops up when I've gone over my time limit is enough motivation to get back to work. Laura Christine

15. Workflowy is great. I don't even use it that much, because I have to write everything down with a pen, but I can't get over how cool this program is. It's free, just sign in with your email address and a password. (If you want some fun features, you can get them for $5/month.) Workflowy is literally a bunch of bullet points and sub-sub-points and you can zoom in and out and collapse and expand as much as you like. (There's a short video here that gives you a better visual.) For a while I used it to keep track of all my phone calls, so I could know at a glance whether I'd been obnoxious, assertive, or passive about getting ahold of someone. Mary C. Tillotson

If your to-do list is overwhelming and it's hard to get motivated, remember this tidbit from Ray Bradbury: "By doing things, things get done."

What tips do you have for work-from-homers?


  1. Great tips Mary! :)

    To anyone who read, working from home is possible if you decide to start.

    Learning how to manage your activities is critical like Mary said.

    Thank you Mary


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