“Work from home!” they said. “It’ll be amazing!” they said.
It’s the dream: braless, ugly bun, no makeup, pajama uniformed bliss. Wake up like Cinderella. Get your coffee. Sit down at your computer and create something brilliant. Every day.
Except it’s literally nothing like that.
More accurate: Wake up and shuffle into the kitchen for coffee. Sit down at your computer and chat with your friends, scroll through facebook, then BuzzFeed, and maybe answer emails. Maybe. All of a sudden, it’s noon, and you’ve not yet done a single productive thing.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that I’ve been working from home for twelve years — a luxury afforded to me by being a freelance designer. A few years into my career, with a couple of kids in the mix, I was feeling burned out, but I couldn’t figure out why.
See, the thing that no one tells you about working from home is that there are no boundaries. You’re always at work, and you’re always at home. So the trick to maintaining your sanity and productivity is to create those boundaries. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years.
The secret to successfully working from home: Set up a schedule.
I know. How anal, right? But hear me out.
When you work a ‘regular’ job, you have times to be in and times to be out. There’s a process to leaving for work and coming home, and a big part of that is the time. So here’s what you do.
1) Choose five days per week to work.
Don’t look at me like that. “But I’m a writer!” I hear you abscond. “There’s no such thing as time off!” Except you need that time off to recharge. You legit cannot go 24/7 forever. You just can’t. It’s not sustainable. If you work a ‘regular’ job and are also writing, you still should only work five days per week. Trust me — you’ll find that the times that you sit down to write are far more simple, easy, productive and enjoyable than if you’re pressuring yourself to write every single day.
2) Give yourself permission not to work.
It seems silly to say, but here’s the thing: When you tell yourself that you’re taking a day off, an evening, whatever, your brain lets it go for that period of time. There is a difference between actively taking a day off and procrastinating. That difference is intention. When you procrastinate, it’s laced with guilt and self-flagellation. When you choose to take time off to dick around on Facebook or binge Supernatural on Netflix, your brain recharges while you relax rather than constantly barking at you to stop being lazy. Trust me. This trick works.
3) Set up work hours.
Wake up at a normal time, 9AM at the latest. Stop working at 4 or 5. (Or if you’re working at night, start after dinner and work until whatever time you choose). While you’re drinking your coffee in the morning, troll facebook and answer your emails, but only give yourself an hour. Then, close your browser and your email. Just close it. It’s not going anywhere. Open your manuscript and go. Stop when it’s time to stop. Eat ice cream, because you earned it.
4) Use a Trigger Event.
One key to this is to set up a trigger event. What I mean by that is, have a time in the morning when your coffee is finished, Facebook scrolled, that you get up and do something, the same thing, every day. For me, it’s putting in my contacts and washing my face. Sometimes I shower. You know, when I have to.
Mentally, this is a trigger for me. It’s like a bedtime routine for your kiddos, for those of you who have kiddos. We’re all told that to get your kid to sleep, having a routine helps trigger the event that’s coming. It’s familiar. It’s a gear change. So, find a trigger. Maybe it’s getting dressed (gasp). Maybe you put in a load of laundry or do dishes. But get up from your computer, do something, and come back with the intention of working.
5) Use a word processing program with blinders.
This is obviously optional, but another thing I’ve found to be extraordinarily helpful is the COMPOSE mode of Scrivener, my preferred processor. I love it for a variety of reasons, enough that it could be its own blog post, but I’ll limit my gushing to just Compose Mode today. What it does is blacks out the rest of your screen so you can only see your manuscript and other tools for Scrivener. No alerts. No distractions. Just you and your manuscript, getting all up in each other’s business.
6) Disable your social media phone alerts.
Alerts include the little red circle with the number of things that happened when you weren’t looking, the ding when an event happens, like someone liking or commenting something, and the pop up alert when it happens. You don’t have to delete your apps to stop the alerts from rolling in — you can control what alerts you receive in your settings. I’ve found that since I’ve disabled my email, Facebook, Instagram, and Pages app alerts, I’ve been far more productive.
7) Hide your dock.
On Mac, there’s a setting to hide your dock that, once discovered, changed my productivity in a pretty serious way. The doc is still there, but I have to hover to show it. I don’t know if PC has an option like that, but if it does, USE IT.
8) Time yourself.
One trick I love is to time myself in hour intervals. It’s the same concept as ‘sprinting’ with a buddy, but someone’s not always around to write with me. It’s more about the accountability and making a conscious effort to do nothing but write for a solid hour, no distractions. Trying to hit your average as a minimum for every hour. Race your previous hour.
9) Set goals, and make sure they’re realistic.
WRITE ALL THE WORDS is a great, optimistic thought, but you can’t put the pressure on yourself to write 8K words per day. Sure, maybe that one time you did it hopped up on 5-hour Energy and ended up a drooling mess (BUT YOU DID IT, BRO). Realistically, that’s not going to happen consistently. Think about how many words per hour you can generally write. When I’m ‘on’, I can clear about a thousand an hour. So my goal is usually 500/hr for four hours, so minimum 2K/day. Most days, I write much more than that, but when I don’t, I don’t beat myself up. Things like research and plotting sometimes need to happen, and that will eat up time.
Set weekly goals too. For me, I’m looking for a minimum of 10K words/week when I’m in the writing phase. When I’m editing, I set a larger goal, usually when I want the edit to be completed (2/3 weeks for the BIG shred, 1 week for beta comments, 2/3 days for proofreading).
10) Set up a legitimate workspace for yourself.
Okay, look. I realize this isn’t always realistic. Let me commiserate by telling you that for the last two years, I’ve written in bed. I have three kids, one of which was home with me all day. My bedroom was my quiet space, my sanctuary. There was a door I could close when my husband was home to help with the kids. It was comfortable. There was nice lighting and pretty things on the walls. I loved my bedspread.
My point is, that space made me happy, and it’s where I felt the most relaxed. You should have a spot like this in your house that you use to write.
I’m fortunate now to have the luxury of a real live office. It used to be a horribly unused ‘craft room,’ meaning a dumping ground for my kids’ papers and coloring books, uncapped markers, stickers and glue. No one entered this room because it looked like a paper bomb went off. So, I reclaimed it. I moved the kids’ craft table and computer into the playroom and got furniture and artwork. It’s now the most beautiful room in my house, and 100% my happy place.
Set up a happy place. It could be as simple as dressing up a part of your living room with new throw pillows, or getting a new bedspread that makes you happy. Or a pretty throw blanket. Something that makes the space yours, something that makes you happy.
Hopefully some of this helps some of you. The best advice I can give is to find a routine that works for you, and give yourself a break. You’re a single human being. Do your best and let that be enough. Writing is hard. It takes so much brain power and imagination and sheer will, and taking care of yourself will make your job so much easier.
So keep it up. Write on. <3