I started working from home when I started my position at Insightful Accountant, back in 2017. It was my first full time “office” job, and I was excited that I didn’t have to leave my apartment to do it. But as I started, I quickly realized that if I wanted to be successful in my position, I had to set boundaries for myself. And the most difficult part — holding myself accountable.
With the pandemic forcing a lot of people to work from home, often times having to work around children or roommates/partners, it can be difficult to stay focused and efficient with your time. After being in the game for two+ years now, I’ve found what works for me. While everyone is different, I’m going to share some tips that I’ve found to be really helpful.
Set standard business hours
When I started working from home I found myself getting into two unhealthy habits:
- Working 24/7
When you are working from home, how you spend your time working is really up to you. You can take a three-hour lunch at 2 p.m. if you want to. You can sleep in on Tuesday if you want to. As long as the work gets done, it’s okay to do it on your own time… right?
When you get in this mindset, you (unknowingly) create a 24/7 workday. You’ll find yourself pushing work off, answering emails at midnight or just flat out being irresponsible with your work tasks. This made me feel like work never ended. It was exhausting.
Now, I begin my work day at 9 a.m. and depending on the day, I work until about 5/5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time). Of course some days run a little long, or even finish up a little early. But this standard eight-hour work day keeps me consistent, on task and mindful of how much time I’m spending on projects. Then I have my true “end of the work day” when I shut my laptop and go grab a beer out of the fridge!
Working from home allows you to make a schedule that works for you. But the important word here is SCHEDULE. Schedule your work day. Schedule your meetings. Schedule your projects. Schedule planning periods. Schedule the end of your day. And be consistent.
Have a work space
When I started my job at Insightful Accountant, I was living with two friends in a three bedroom townhouse in Atlanta. Both of my friends were working at restaurants/bars, making their schedule almost completely opposite of mine. They’d be asleep (or going out and doing fun things) most of my work day and I was ready to do fun things when they were having to get ready for work. It was difficult to say the least.
I had a little desk set up in my bedroom, so my morning commute was walking from my bed to my desk, all of about four feet. I felt like a fish in my little bowl. And to be frank, it sucked.
I ended up moving my desk to the dining room. This helped me have a work space. I was getting a change of scenery while also having a space that put me in “work mode.” After our lease was up, I moved into my own two-bedroom apartment. This allowed me to have an office; an office I often kept closed when I wasn’t working. I’d get my coffee, turn the light on, turn my laptop on, and start my day. And when I was done, I’d turn the lights off and shut the door. Meaning work was over! This “start” and “finish” of my day allowed me to break up that 24/7 work day feeling and again, kept me on schedule.
Now, let’s talk about kids for a minute. We love them, we cherish them; but let’s be real, they can be insanely distracting. I don’t have my own kids but with the pandemic forcing schools and daycare to be shut down, I babysit my friend’s three daughters pretty regularly. So, now we’re working from home with three kids under the age of 6 running around? What do we do?
Well, what has worked for me is talking to them. The two older ones know when I have my headphones in, I’m on a call and they need to keep it down. If my office door is open, they know they can come in if they need me. If my office door is cracked, they know to knock before coming it. The two-year-old interrupts calls occasionally, but for the most part we have a pretty good system.
I also actively get them engaged with my “work.” Sometimes I’ll bring my laptop out to the table and they’ll be playing games on the iPad while I answer emails. It’s fun and they feel like they’re “working” too!
Having an office you go to every day helps you stay organized with your time, projects, and tangible office materials. When you’re working from a home office, it’s up to you to be efficient with your organization. Here are a few things that helped me get (and stay) organized:
- A digital calendar – Using a calendar helps you stay organized with your personal and business meetings/calls. I also use it for my projected timelines for different things I’m working on. I’m a visual learner and seeing all of my responsibilities displayed in an organized way helps me not only stay on task, but prioritize my time. And most importantly, evaluate very easily if I’m being efficient with my time and energy.
- Segment your day – I answer emails in the morning, work on daily tasks next, then move on to more long term projects. I try to schedule most of my meetings in the afternoon; except Monday afternoons, because that’s my planning period. It may seem like overkill, but it keeps me on task. Once I started implementing this segmented day, I almost instantly found myself with more time in the day to work on other things and was just more productive because I was focused on one task/project at a time.
- Collaboration tools – Find central locations for information, files or tools that are easily accessible to everyone at any time. AND KEEP IT ORGANIZED! I cannot stress this enough. Having a ShareFile does no good if all the files being shared are labeled, “Document 1” or “IMG863932.” Be specific in your file names and date your documents. (There are also dozens of collaborations/document management tools out there. I have implemented several best practices and tools that I learned about while helping prepare IA webinars. If you want to see what we have going on now, just click here.)
I had time to adjust to working from home. I also had superiors who were used to remote working and were very supportive and overly communicative to make sure I was on task, working efficiently and comfortable with everything.
Two+ years and a pandemic later, I love working from home. I have a lot of freedom to make my schedule work for me and this job allows me to have the lifestyle I want.
But like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. So be responsible, hold yourself accountable, and enjoy that extra hour of sleep instead of a commute!
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