The telecommute lifestyle is one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
After eight years of telecommuting and ten years of freelancing, I’ve learned to implement a few hacks to increase my productivity, but also to keep me in my right mind.
Working at home appears to be a luxurious and glamorous lifestyle at first glance, but the truth is, it was a rude awakening. It’s not easy to work amid so many distractions or to keep to a schedule and balance family, business and life.
Here are my favorite telecommuting hacks to keep sane and productive.
1. Take Care of Yourself First
Take care of yourself first? It sounds selfish, doesn’t it? The truth is, it’s smart to keep your health and well being in mind. If not, you’ll end up with very unhealthy habits and you won’t do anyone any good. When I began working from home I used work and family as an excuse not to work out. After a couple of years, my bad fitness habits caught up with me and I’m now working harder at getting back into shape. Maintain your health now because if you keep making excuses you’ll find you’ll have to put in a lot more time and effort at getting back to a healthy weight and re-learning those eating habits. I know that finding time to work out is difficult. However, you can find time if you’re really serious. In the summer, I walk in the morning before my family wakes. During the school year I work out during school hours. Yeah, sometimes I have to skip some leisure time to catch up, but being healthy for myself – and my family – is well worth the inconvenience.
Maintaining a healthy weight also means to keep the noshing at a minimum or seriously consider what you’re eating. I used to eat a lot of junk while I worked because that’s what’s in the house. Finally I stopped buying it and stocked up on fruits and healthy snacks instead. You know what? They taste better.
Finally, taking care of yourself isn’t all about fitness. It’s also about making life about other things besides work and family. Enjoy your time on Earth. Go out with friends. Read a book. Keep a balance of serious and fun and you’ll find it makes all the difference in the world.
2. Schedule Everything
Most telecommuters dig the flexibility of the work at home lifestyle. Those of us who freelance or have flex time agreements with our employers get to do our own thing as long as we get the job done – and do it well. The problem is, we can also become victims of our flexibility. We want to go to the supermarket during the week when it’s less crowded. We want to have lunch with our friends. We want to clean up around the house. We want to drive our kids to their tennis matches. We want to read, go to a movie or just watch bad TV. So when does work come in?
I’ve learned that by scheduling every single task and detail I get more done, especially when tackling multiple projects for a variety of clients. Perhaps I’ll schedule Client A’s task from 8 AM to 10 AM. From 10 until noon, I’ll handle client B. From noon to one is lunch with the girls and then it starts all over again. I even schedule email time and leisure time. When school is out during the summer, it’s not as easy to keep to a schedule, but it’s doable because kids’ activities are scheduled too. Scheduling enables me to keep all my tasks under control so that when I do want to take a day for the beach or relax by the pool for a couple of hours, I won’t fall too far behind.
Flexibility is grand, but if we make flexibility more important than our workload, problems happen. Being flexible doesn’t mean we do our work piece mail. It means we get the job done, but can set our own hours and work at our own pace.
3. Set Boundaries
My pet peeve about working from home is clients and others who call at all hours of the day and night because they know we’re at home. Some of them feel they have carte blanche to call at 7:00 AM or 9:00 PM because of our flexibility. Also, sometimes clients or employers feel we can work on weekends and holidays for the same reasons. This only happens if you let it. Setting boundaries for work and for play is ultra important for telecommuters as it’s the difference between being productive and allowing people to walk all over us.I do not allow clients to call after a certain hour, and I set a specific time for returning calls. I also make it clear to my friends and family the times I consider my “business” hours. I have family time and business time and rarely the twain shall meet.
Setting boundaries is more than just scheduling calls. It’s knowing when to say no or charge more money. It’s telling a client that you won’t be treated poorly (if that’s happening) or that a certain project goes against your beliefs. I’ve found that by setting boundaries and saying “no” as needed, my clients tend to respect me more.
As we’ll discuss more in the next tip, I also set personal boundaries with friends and family so they know my working hours and respect my time. Establishing business hours tells people, “OK, this is when I work so please don’t call with neighborhood gossip, we can do that during lunch or after work.” Again, we can be flexible, but when we’re too flexible people just don’t respect our time.
4. Find Your Quiet Time
Figure out the best time to work undisturbed. When I first began freelancing it was from 4:00 AM until about 7:30 when folks were still sleeping. Now my working time is during school hours plus a few hours after. I’m not freelancing as a writer anymore, but it’s still important for me to find the quiet blocks of time to work.
- When my clients know my business hours, they are likely to only contact me during that time.
- When my friends know my business hours they are less likely to call me or show up with a coffeecake at that time.
- When my family knows my business hours, they are more likely to respect that time and keep interruptions at a minimum.
- When I know my business hours I’m more likely to direct all my focus on business at that time.
Again, this doesn’t mean we’re not flexible, but respecting our time and having others respect our time is crucial for our success.
5. Tackle Your Least Favorite Tasks First
Procrastination usually happens because we’re putting off tasks we don’t want to do. Procrastinating on one project can set off a disastrous chain of events. By choosing the most unattractive task on our list and doing it first, right away, we’re creating smooth sailing for the rest of the day. Saving the best for last is sort of a reward, or light at the end of the tunnel. It gives us something to look forward to and we’re not as likely to put off the inevitable. By telling ourselves, “this will be over soon and then I can get on to the good stuff,” we’re motivating ourselves to complete the task while in a timely manner…and keeping procrastination at bay.
What are your favorite hacks for telecommuting? Share (or commiserate) in the comments.