Tips & Tricks for Working at Home

(A doodle from my sketchbook archives.)

The caronavirus has thrown a lot of us off-balance. As the owner of my own studio I’ve been working from home for over two decades. Suddenly some of you may be finding yourselves working from home too. I thought I’d share a few “pro tips” that might make your quarantine adventure go a little easier:

1. Set some boundaries. Although you work at home you also sleep at the office. Do as much as you can to create some sense of separation. Designate a physical space that is your “work zone”, even if it’s just a comfy chair in a corner. Try to make it as far away as you can from distractions like family/roommates, TV, etc. Bonus points if you can be near a window for some soothing natural light. Pick a start time and a stop time for your work day and stick to it. If possible let whoever you are living with know you are not to be interrupted during those times. The goal is to have something to walk away from at the end of the day so you can truly relax during your off hours.

2. Invest in some good ear buds or headphones. They can help you focus by shutting out the distractions around you. You can also catch up on podcasts or audiobooks while you work. Personally I like bluetooth earbuds (I’m currently using this pair from Amazon). They dangle lightly around my neck and I can wander all through the house listening to some good ear candy without distracting the rest of my family.

3. Get dressed. When you work at home it might be tempting to stay in your PJ’s all day. It’s a lot more comfortable (full confession: I’m wearing pajama pants as I write this) but I’ve also found it can affect my productivity. If I’m in my “comfy clothes” for too long I start to work a little more leisurely, am more prone to distractions, and even take more breaks. But when I go to the trouble of dressing properly I feel more professional and I get more done.

4. Log your hours. This might seem silly at first but it works. Jot down the time whenever you start working and again when you stop, including breaks. Breaks and distractions can eat into your day more than you realize, especially at home. Seeing the hard numbers in black-and-white has several benefits:

• It makes you realize how much (or little) you are actually getting done.

• It can help you to know when it’s time to finally quit for the day.

• If you are doing a freelance side hustle it will also help you learn how much you are *really* earning per hour.

There are several time tracking apps you can download, some free and some not. Personally I like Harvest and have been using it for years. (Full disclosure: If you click the link and sign up you and I will both get a $10 credit, but I would recommend Harvest even without that. It’s top-drawer for time tracking.)

5. With great power comes great responsibility. Working at home comes with some nice perks. Enjoy them! You have the freedom to set your own hours. You can eat lunch in your own dining room and take breaks whenever you feel like it on your very own couch. You can run errands in the middle of the day when traffic is lighter and there are fewer lines at the checkout. Just remember the work still has to get done. When taking a break give yourself a time limit and then get right back to the grind. Your future self will thank you for not making you stay up late to get caught up.

6. Stay healthy. Or at least, try to minimize the damage. Some people are more prone to overeating than others but personally this is a struggle for me. If I’m stressed or bored it’s all too easy to aimlessly wander into the kitchen for a quick snack. My home office is in a far corner of the house and away from the kitchen partly for this reason.

Also, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night. When I break that rule I get tired, which means I eat poorly and get less done, which means I’m more stressed, which means I don’t sleep….It’s a viscous cycle. Sometimes I’ll even charge my phone in the next room so that it isn’t tempting me while I’m trying to fall asleep.

Finally, try to exercise every day. Thankfully this is hitting us during Spring when it’s fun to be outside. A refreshing walk through the neighborhood can give you a fresh boost of energy and help clear the cobwebs out of your head.

7. If necessary, bring in some help. The caronavirus has disrupted a lot of schedules and workflows. Even with hard work and the best intentions it’s easy to fall behind. If you have a looming deadline or just feel overwhelemed, reach out to an experienced freelance professional such as Yours Truly. We are used to getting calls from people in a bind. It’s what we do for a living. My personal approach is to tell you what I can realistically do given your time and budget, and then stick to it. If for some reason I can’t help you out I will try to recommend another creative who can. Whatever your needs are, I’ll do my best to help you get the job done. More info here:

Enjoy your time at home. One way or another we are going to make it through this!