There I was, standing at the bus stop at 3:00 in the afternoon, waving to the bus driver and smiling at my son as he crossed the street. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except I was wearing pajama bottoms. And my hair was tucked under a hat because I had yet to take a shower. And my sunglasses were hiding eyes that hadn’t seen makeup in days. And my stomach was grumbling because I never ate lunch.
No, I wasn’t home with the flu or enjoying a mental health day. I was home working. And that’s pretty much what every day looks like.
I did the full-time stay-at-home mom gig for several years before heading back to work as a teacher. On those crazy mornings when my kids wouldn’t get dressed and I spilled coffee on my only clean skirt and I had nothing but a soggy sandwich to pack in my lunchbox, I dreamed of working from home, of setting my own hours, of trading in my heals for slippers.
And then my dream came true.
However, a couple of weeks into my new job, I realized that working from home is way harder than I imagined. I had no idea how many times a day my phone rang! I had no idea how much attention my dog needed! I had no idea how hard it was to switch gears and revert to mommy mode when the kids came home from school! I had no idea so many means of procrastination existed!
Many of my milspouse friends love working from home, especially because of the added bonus of portability. Having the option to bring our jobs with us when we move is even more incentive to make this employment option doable. But it can be challenging to find the balance between flexibility and productivity.
Sometimes I miss the structure of working outside the home. I got dressed and wore makeup. I left the house at the same time every day. I had face-to-face interaction with other adults. I didn’t have 24/7 access to my refrigerator. But I would never go back to my old job. So how can I find the best of both worlds?
To figure that out, I sought the advice of my work-from-home friends who seem to have a good system. Here are my top 5 work from home tips for keeping your sanity AND getting your work done.
1. Set hours of operation. Establish a work schedule and stick to it. “Definitely a schedule and set office hours!” advises Janet McIntosh, former Blue Star Families Books on Bases Program Manager. “You still have to treat it as you would a job outside the home, just with perks, like a lax dress code.”
Angela Caban, founder of Homefront United Network echoes the importance of business hours. “I actually made a sign with my office hours, and it hangs in my office. This not only helps me, but also anyone who walks into my office.”
Breaks are also important, so make sure you include them in your schedule. I’ve learned that I’m far more productive when I take breaks to go to the gym and eat lunch away from my desk.
2. Create a workspace. A designated work area is a must. Keep it stocked with items that will keep you motivated.
“When I did my internship from home I treated myself with a nice work space,” said Crystal Bubulka, a full-time graduate student. “An orchid at my desk, some fragrant oils burning, and I kept my-to do list far away from my desk.”
3. Check-in with co-workers. When you don’t see the people you work with on a regular basis, it’s important to keep everyone else informed about what you’re doing.
“I have to communicate what I do fairly often to managers who don’t have a huge stake in my projects,” says Marcus Penn, an Online Marketer. “They won’t see my work unless I specifically point it out to them.”
Sarah Blansett, Director of Operations for Military.com, agrees that staying connected is essential. “Communicate, communicate, communicate with your office so they know you are working and not sitting with your feet up watching The View.”
4. Hold yourself accountable. It’s easy to slack off when you’re the only employee in the office. So find ways to keep yourself on task.
“When setting your dedicated 'work time' figure up how much you generally are getting paid, and divide in your hours,” suggests Laura, a freelance writer and e-commerce manager. “This helps me stay focused. If I see one night I goofed around and that caused my 'hourly wage' to go way down, then I'll kick it into gear the next night and really concentrate.”
This also means eliminating distractions. Can’t resist answering text messages? Turn off your notifications. Can’t resist re-tweeting? Log off of all social media sites (and work a social media break into your schedule). Can’t resist Live with Kelly and Michael? Set your DVR and watch it later as a reward for finishing your work.
5. Leave work at the office. When I was teaching, it was easy to walk out the door and let the change of scenery help me forget about work. But it’s much harder to make that transition when the scenery doesn’t change.
“At the end of the day, leave the work and focus on family,” advises Blansett. “Always remember working from home is a privilege and appreciate the flexibility you have earned."
For me, I think it’s about time I start getting dressed. It’s hard to be my most productive when I’m wearing pants designed to induce sleep. Plus, my son will no longer be embarrassed at the bus stop.
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