Working at Home for Newbies

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In 1982, I went out on my own. My office was a home office. In the beginning, I had to do a lot of adjusting. I even found I had to trick myself to get down to work in the morning.

Every morning, I’d have breakfast and dress as if I were going to “the office.” Then, I’d leave my house, locking the door behind me. I’d get in my car and drive around the block. Then, I’d get out of the car, go up the stairs to my front door, unlock it, and head for my office, where I was ready to work.

Sometimes, if you can’t muster the discipline to work, you must fool yourself. That’s what I was doing. You may have to do it, too.

You may be working from home for the first time. Or, you may be working at home all the time but with lots of people around you who weren’t there before. You must adjust.

When you work at home, there are interruptions from loved ones, not work colleagues. There’s no commute, but there is the ever-present lure of household chores. There’s no schedule, but there’s no structure, either.

I know all this because I’ve lived it for almost 40 years. I’ve worked out of apartments and houses. I’ve had an official “office” and used the dining room table. Once I worked in a garage with a woodstove to keep me warm (sort of) in winter. And I’ve done it with small kids, teenagers, and gone kids.

Along the way, I found some things that work, and I made a ton of mistakes. Here are 10 things to think about if you’re new to working from a home office.

Designate A Workspace

There are lots of spaces in your home. Only one of them should be for work. It might be an office, per se. I’m not the only person who’s created a workspace in the dining room. You can do it if you must.

Your workspace should be the only place you work. A door you can close is important, but not always possible. If you do have a door, consider investing in a door hanger that lets people know you don’t want to be disturbed. Tell them you’re disturbed already.

Create Rules of Engagement

When you’re working from home, people need to know when they can interrupt you and when they can’t. My rule when my kids were at home is that you don’t interrupt Daddy unless you also must call 911. That didn’t stop them from bursting into my office past the sign that said I was working and through the closed door to share something exciting. I confess, I don’t remember any interruptions, but I remember several of those bursts of joy.

If you’ve got loved ones around you, take “loved one” breaks. Spend a little extra time with your children. Take it as a break from work. Have lunch with your spouse.

Everybody needs to adjust. It’s not just hard on you, it’s hard on everybody else around you, too. Allow for that.

Create Your Own Structure

When you work, work. Don’t do anything else.

Work in only one space all the time. If possible, eliminate interruptions.

Develop rituals for starting work and ending work. When those rituals become habits, they will help separate work time from other time. If your workspace is the dining room table, clearing it off at night might be your end-work ritual.

Quit at a designated time or before.  You can always find something else to do in the office. Don’t do that. Set a time to quit. Quit at the time you set.

Consider an Accountability Partner

Some people work better when they account for their performance to someone else. I’ve used an accountability partner from time to time in my business. You may be the sort of person who would benefit from having one all the time.

Timers Can Help You Maintain Work Discipline

You can work with a version of the Pomodoro technique. That’s where you set a timer and work for a designated length of time, usually 20 minutes. Then, you set a timer for your break. Then you set the timer again for work. Basically, it’s working in sprints.

Simple kitchen timers cost about ten bucks. Your phone probably has timers you can use.

You can find several programs that will track your time worked. Toggl is the one I use.

Take breaks and use your timer to time them. A little time with kids or housework makes a great break from work. Just make sure you set a timer, so you get back to work when you plan to.

Music Can Help

Music can be good for your mood and good for your energy. The trick is to find music that doesn’t distract you but does keep you moving.

In my case, anything with words distracts me. So, all the music I listen to while I work is instrumental. But there are no hymns. I’m a preacher’s boy and I know the words to lots of hymns. If my device starts playing a hymn, I automatically start thinking of the words. That’s distraction.

If you use music, find what works for you. I’ve had clients and friends who worked to rap and heavy metal music and did just fine.

Invest in A Good Work Chair

You may want to skimp on a lot of things, but don’t skimp on a chair. Don’t use a dining room chair or an easy chair as your work chair. Get a real office chair. Get one where you can adjust the height and the position of the back. If you’re skeptical, just do it. You’ll thank me later.

Pay Attention to Keyboard Height

Most of us work with computers. A computer has a keyboard. To be most effective, it should be at the right height for you. Set it too high, and your shoulders will feel like 2x4s by the end of the day and hurt like the devil. Put it too low and you wind up bending forward slightly. Your lower back doesn’t like that, and it will tell you.

Adjustable laptop tables and an adjustable chair can help make this work for you.

Try Standing Up When You Work

Standing up gives you different energy. I write standing up. I take phone calls standing up. I participate in video meetings standing up.

Try to work standing up. I’m not suggesting you buy an expensive variable-height desk. An adjustable music stand that costs about $40.00 can hold your laptop or keyboard and plenty of notes.

Reach Out and Connect

If you’re used to having a lot of people around you for work, the isolation can get you down. Make it a point and habit to contact someone at least once a day. Have a chat over the phone or over video. It’s best if the chat is not about work.

Bottom Line

If you’re new to working from home, there will be a lot of adjustment. Use these tips and the advice of others to make your situation as good as you can. Don’t expect it to be automatic, easy, or quick.

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What People Are Saying

Jacqueline Casey   |   11 Apr 2020   |   Reply

Hi Wally! Thank you for this invaluable, relevant, and timely post. I have been working remotely now for three weeks and needed advice from a veteran. I appreciate the reminder of the Pomodoro technique which I now plan to start using on Monday. And I have really learned my lesson about having a proper office chair! Thank you for sharing! Best, Jacqueline

Wally Bock   |   11 Apr 2020   |   Reply

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jacq.