Ah, the joys and challenges of working from home. All that freedom and flexibility! And, also, EEK! All that freedom and flexibility.
As anyone who has been in charge of creating their own schedule can tell you, it’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s much easier to stay on task when there’s a risk of a coworker or boss walking past your desk at any moment. And exactly when the workday begins and ends gets much fuzzier when your office consists of wherever you set down your laptop.
So, today we’re going to talk about tips for setting up your work from home schedule, maximizing your productivity, and also making sure that your work hours don’t creep into your relaxation hours.
Get to know yourself.
The first and, arguably, most important key to setting up an effective work-from-home schedule is to learn exactly when YOU are naturally most focused and creative. No, not when it’s most convenient for you to be focused or creative, but when you actually are.
I desperately wish I were most focused and creative in the afternoon because I’d much prefer to ease into the workday with small, admin tasks in the morning. Alas, that’s just not how I work. I’m at my most creative and focused in the morning, which means that’s when any copywriting or big project work HAS to happen. By the afternoon, my focus and energy are at a low point and I have to do admin tasks then.
To make the most of your workday, you need to figure out when YOU are most focused and creative and schedule your most challenging work for that time. Maybe, like me, you’re a morning person. Or maybe you do better work in the afternoon. (Lucky!!) Either way, you need to arrange your schedule to keep that time blocked off for important work.
Don’t take calls during that time if you can help it and don’t let yourself get pulled into smaller, less important tasks.
Once you’ve identified your personal most productive time of the day, then identify your least most productive time. For me, it’s 1 or 2 pm to 5 pm—I’m utterly useless for creative work during that time. BUT that time is perfect for lower-focus, lower-energy tasks.
I’d strongly recommend that you do the same: Save your admin tasks like sending follow-up or check-in emails, invoicing clients, researching potential clients, and so on for that time.
Clock in and clock out.
When your office is within your own home (or even when it’s in a hotel or café), the lines between “work time” and “non-work time” can get a little blurry. It’s easy to let non-work activities like laundry or dishes slide into your workday (“Oh, it needs to be done and it’ll just take 10 minutes!”) and it’s easy to let your work time slip into your off-hours (“I’m just going to answer this email while the oven is pre-heating.”)
At first, this might seem like an efficient use of your time. But the problem with doing non-work activities during your workday is that there’s an energy cost every time you switch from a work activity to a non-work activity. Instead of “maximizing your time” you’re actually taking away from your brain’s ability to focus and stay disciplined. (It can also be a STRONG indicator of Resistance…)
And when your work bleeds into your downtime hours, you run the risk of burning yourself out. All work and no play doesn’t make Jack a dull boy—it makes him exhausted and unable to do ANYTHING.
So, what do you do? Set yourself definite hours for when you’re working and when you’re not, and do your very best to stick to it. Maybe your workday starts at 9 and goes to 4 with a break for lunch. Or maybe you have a full-time job and your part-time workday starts at 7 pm and goes to 7:45. Either way, the key is to set those times and stick to them—don’t let non-work activities slip in during those times, and don’t let work slip outside of them.
Now, of course, if you need to get to an appointment or run errands during your work hours every once in a while, you can do that. (Your boss is flexible like that 😉 ) But then actually clock out—mark it on your calendar as time away from work. And just be careful about “essential” errands sneaking into your workday too often…
Guard your workday.
For people who don’t work for themselves (or for people who aren’t used to working from home), your schedule can seem to them like an open day when you can do anything you want. And sure, you can enjoy that jealousy just a little bit. 😉
But the problem comes in when they treat your workday like a non-workday, calling or messaging you during your peak work hours. (Or asking for favors or meetups during the day.) Now, yes, one of the great things about being freelance is the flexibility—but when you let your friends or family break up your day, you’re basically giving over your schedule to them!
Much as we love our family and friends, you need to set some ground rules. First, I’d strongly consider shutting off your phone or at least silencing the ringer and message notifications. If you don’t know you’re being contacted, it’s much easier to ignore it.
Or, if you need to keep your notifications on, then let your friends and family know when it’s okay to call you or text you—or, at least, when they can expect to get their calls answered or their texts returned. If they don’t know when is the best time to call you, how can they possibly get it right?
And the same goes for people within your household. You might adopt my friend’s “Don’t knock if there’s no blood” policy for her closed office door—meaning, of course, “I love you kids so much but, during the time that this door is closed, don’t knock unless someone has been grievously injured.” And, frankly, sometimes significant others need the same gentle guidance, too. (“Please try not to interrupt me when the door is closed. Pretend I’m not even here.”)
I don’t go around quoting Spider-Man as a rule but, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Working for yourself and setting up your own work schedule gives you a lot of power, but it’s also your responsibility to make sure those hours are used effectively.
With some clear planning and some rules in place, you can ensure that your best work gets done during your designated work hours (whenever those are!) and you’re free to enjoy the rest of your day.
Your turn! Which of these recommendations will you adopt for your schedule? Let us know in the comments below.