The Dos & Don’ts of Working From Home

I’ve been working from home since December 2016.

And in that time, I’ve actually worked in four different homes (Colin’s old house in Surrey, my old place in Kits, our first apartment in New West, and our current home in Surrey). During that time, I’ve definitely found some things that work and some that don’t. Even though I’ve been at this for 14 months, I absolutely still struggle with working from home. So some of the do’s on this list are more aspirational and some of the don’ts are things I still do. But maybe this list will inspire me to get better!

DO: Carve out a space for work

This do took me a bit of time to figure out. At my place in Kits, I first started out working at the kitchen table. I then purchased a desk and had a designated work space. In New West, I had purchased a thin little desk (I think it was 15 inches wide) that just fit into our bedroom. But it wasn’t realistic to work at. That desk ended up becoming a shelf for shoes and my work moved out to the kitchen table once again. While the table was spacious, it wasn’t the most condusive for work since it was out in the middle of the apartment. Plus, it made it hard for Colin to do anything in the living room because he felt he was disturbing me.

Now, in our Surrey apartment, I’ve finally got this one figured out. I have my desk and office space set up in our second bedroom. We also have a bed in there for guests but when we’re not hosting, it’s my office. It’s really nice to have a space that’s all my own that I can close off from the rest of the apartment. It makes it feel more like I am actually going to work. And I’ve been slowly getting it set up with everything I want and need – I’ve got back and butt support on my chair, a stand up desk, an extra monitor, a to-do list whiteboard, and lots of pictures on the walls.

DON’T: Stay inside all day long

It’s hard to be cooped up in the same space all day long. And when you work from home, it’s literally all day and all night in the same spot. Luckily, with Ellie I’m leaving the house 2-3 times a day to give her a walk. As much as I hate going out when the weather is awful, it’s really nice to break up my day and not have an excuse to skip the walks. But I know I need to do more than just go out on walks with her. It was a bit easier when we lived in New West or when I lived in Kits to just walk around the neighbourhood and run errands nearby. It’s not quite the same here in Surrey but I know that just means I need to go farther to make sure I’m still getting out. Once the sun comes back, I hope this one gets easier!

DO: Get out of your pajamas

Okay, confession time: I’m currently wearing my pajama top. The nice thing about having to walk Ellie means that I do have to put on pants and I can’t go out in my pj shorts. But because I just throw on a jacket, I often end up spending all day (and then all night) in my pajama top. So this is a do that I need to work on.

I think it’s important to change out of your pajamas to signal to your body that sleep time is over and it’s time to start working. Of course, working from home means you don’t have to put on a nice dress shirt and heels. I’m all for changing into sweatpants and a tank top. But as long as the work outfit is slightly different than the pajamas, I think that helps. Even just the act of getting changed can put you into work mode.

DON’T: Turn on the TV

It’s confession time again: I’m absolutely sitting in front of an episode of Mexico Life on HGTV. I totally turn on the TV when I’m working from time to time. I acknowledge that this is not a productive way to get stuff done. But I also have days where I’m in my office for hours, working through meals and working into the night. So, I think it’s a balancing act. When I’m doing a task that doesn’t require my full attention, I like to have a bit of white noise (read: HGTV) on in the background. But when it comes time to actually get shit done? The TV goes off.

DO: Create a work routine

This is another do that I’m still fine tuning. Because when you work from home you don’t have that commuting time, I find it really important to create a routine that gets me into my full work mode. When I enter my office, I first sit down and write in my journal and update my planner. I then ease into the work day by entering some contests (it’s my fun hobby, and it has paid off a few times). Then it’s checking emails (which I’ve already seen come in on my phone) and getting to my work for the day. I like having a few things that I do every morning to ease me into my work day. And because they’re fun tasks, like entering contests, it makes me more excited to sit down and get working.

DON’T: Totally isolate yourself

Here’s another one I kind of struggle with. When you work from home, it can be a bit lonely. For 8-10 hours a day, it’s just me and Ellie pup. I’m lucky that I live with my partner, so I don’t go without human contact for days at a time, but I also know I can’t rely on Colin to fulfill all of my social needs. He spends eight hours a day talking to patients and co-workers, so it can be a bit much for him when he gets home and all I want to do is chat and hang out together. He needs his alone time too – and I totally get that. So that means it’s up to me to find my own social outlets. I’ve never been a huge extrovert. I don’t love hanging out with big groups, joining clubs, etc. But I know I need something. So I make plans to go out with friends for dinner a few times a month. With some of my local clients, we have meetings in person. And I have Skype dates with friends and family back east. I’m still working on this one, because I think there’s more I can be doing, so it’s a work in progress.

DO: Organize your day and your work

I’m a huge believer in having a to-do list and using a planner. Working from home means working on your own without a boss or much instruction. I prefer that, but I know that means the organization comes down to me. There’s no one telling me when I need to get this thing done or when I should work on that other thing. So I have a big white board where I write down what I’m doing for each of my clients. And then I have a daily planner where I write out what specifically I want to accomplish that day. I like visually being able to see what needs to get done and I love being able to cross things off the list.

DON’T: Get trapped in a 9-5 routine

The whole point of working from home is that you have a flexible schedule. I struggled with this a lot when I first started working as a freelancer. I was convinced that I needed to have a proper work day with the same working hours as usual. But that’s not true. These days, I usually just mimic Colin’s schedule. So when he works early, I work early. When he works late, I start my work day a bit later. It’s nice having a partner who works outside of the home because it gives me lots of time to focus on my work and put in the hours I need to be putting in. I know some freelancers who exclusively work in the mornings or exclusively work at night because that’s when they’re most productive. I haven’t really found a time when I’m at my most productive. I think I’m actually pretty adaptable, which is a plus.

DO: Remember why you’re working from home

Whenever I get trapped committing some of the don’ts or failing on the do’s of working from home, I have to take a step back and remember why I’m doing this. Working from home means that I get to work as a freelancer and pursue my passions of writing, social media and content. It means that we get to have a dog, because it would be really hard to be dog owners if we both worked 9-5s really far away. It means that we were able to move to Surrey and buy our own home, because I don’t have to travel to UBC or somewhere else for work. It means that I have a flexible schedule and am able to run errands throughout the day or be there for family and friends when they need me. It means I can say yes to travel adventures and flight deals because I can work from anywhere.

Every now and then I’ll see a job listing for a full time job, with regular hours, in an office building somewhere in Vancouver. Sometimes, I’m tempted. And for the right job, I might even say yes. But I have so much freedom and flexibility working from home. It’s allowed me to create a life that I really love. So it would take quite a bit for me to give this up, even on the days when it sucks.

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