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6 Work-at-home hacks I’ve learned over 6 years

A woman works at a laptop in a home.

Working from home sounds like such a great idea until you actually have to do it five days or more per week.

My traditional worker bee buddies think I’m living the dream, but the pitfalls are many. Don’t worry though. I’m here to coach you through. Whether you are new to working from home or have some experience but need to add to your repertoire of solutions, let me share a few hacks I’ve picked up over the last few years.

Set a routine

I’ll share mine with you. After checking my social media under the covers, I get up and brew some coffee. While it brews, I shower and change clothes. I don’t wear anything fancy, I just make sure what I gab is clean. And socks. I never forget socks, because I live in a cool climate.

But, no matter where you are good socks can make your day. I’m going to name names. I put Darn Tough socks on my feet feel and I feel secure and ready for anything. Try putting your best foot forward and into a good sock.

Because I work at a table in my bedroom, I neaten up my bed. I don’t want to look at something messy when I loose focus at work. That will happen, so plan ahead for it.

I bring my coffee over to my workstation and go through my work email inbox. Then I go fix myself some breakfast while planning my responses. This is a huge benefit in working from home. Taking a breath and eating something enhances my ability to be compassionate with co-workers.  Some people have a lot more to deal with than I do. For instance: parents with multiple kids at home.

Setting a routine for parents with kids

You have it rough, but you got this. You’ve made it this far taking care of everyone. You can set your kids up for their day while you work. Here’s how to make a schedule they can follow on our sister-site Penny Pinchin’ Mom.

The idea is to set yourself up to get started and on task. For me it’s coffee and changing clothes. For you it might be sharing special one on one time with your child and spouse. Maybe it’s a jog and a shower. It’s a routine that fits your life and helps set you up for success.

Get ahead of schedule

If you have a project or assignment with a due date or time, set reminders in your calendar to pop up a day and/or an hour in advance of the due date and time. Maybe some of you work for a platform that sends out its own alerts. That’s great, but my advice is to stay ahead of those prompts. There are Apps that can help, but I still just use my Google calendar which I sync on all my devices.

Send your assignment in advance of the due date, even if it’s 5 minutes early. If the people you work for have to hunt you down to find the work you owe, that could cost you your job in a gig economy, unless you are a unicorn with mad skills that no one else possesses.

Seriously though, life happens. If you work ahead of projected due dates, should something happen like an illness or a power outage, you will have built yourself a safety-net of time.

TIP: When I bid on a contract, I try to add an extra day or a bank of hours to my projected due date. Then, I deliver the assignment to the client ahead of time with a note about how my rates reflect the value of my experience.

Plan your workday

And since I do work at home, I plan breaks every two hours. That’s right. I get up and do something else for up to 30 minutes. Sometimes I look at social media, but most often I go for a walk or do ten minutes of jump rope in the driveway and wave to the lady across the street. She used to think I was nuts, but now gives me the thumbs up sign from her window. Hi lady!

Planned breaks give me something to work against. I dig in knowing I can switch tasks or be done with something I hate, like taking care of my administrative tasks: banking and invoices. It makes my day feel more manageable when I think of it in terms of two-hour blocks instead of this amorphous blob in which I could do everything or nothing.

I have a friend who paces her day with games. She says gaming breaks help to keep her brain ‘juicy.’ Do what makes you feel good. Get that serotonin flowing by staring into your dog’s eyes. It’s your life as well as your workday. You have the ability to make it a good one.

Eat regular meals

Don’t let me catch you with a bowl of chips next to your keyboard. Not only is it unhealthy, but also getting the grease and crumbs off your keys is difficult. Trust me. Working from home, doesn’t mean you can bath in the Ben & Jerry’s and lick Cheetos dust off your fingers as you work, unless you want to gain ten pounds a week. Eat breakfast and plan your lunchtime. And because you are at home, you have the opportunity to make yourself something healthy.

If you are new to remote work, take the time to set up the kind of habits you always told yourself you wanted to try. The time is now.

If you are already a remote worker, it’ll be harder to re-establish a new routine, but nothing is impossible. I recommend rearranging your home office. If you are based out of the kitchen, maybe try to make a new workstation at one end of the couch. Carve out a new niche in your home and forming new habits will be a little easier to establish.

Respect your workspace

Once you have a base of operations, treat it like you would an office. My housemate knows my routine, but I still hang a homemade ‘office is session’ sign on my computer so she knows to text me instead of interrupting. Kids and loved ones are a little harder to ignore. But here’s a tip from behavioral science.

Don’t feed a behavior, neutralize it. If your loved one isn’t a toddler, chances are good they can learn to wait five or ten minutes to delay the gratification of getting an immediate answer. Be kind but firm and non-reactive. The idea is to remain calm and neutral. Boundaries are not easy if you are starting from scratch, but they are worthwhile for every aspect of your life.

Respect your coworkers

You’ll probably have to attend some remote meetings. If you don’t already possess them, get headphones or earbuds with a mic you can speak into. And learn how to mute yourself unless you are speaking. This is remote meeting etiquette. Kids, dogs, and spouses wandering behind you in the video feed is a given, especially if you don’t have a lot of space.

The problem is your speaker picks up all that background noise too. It’s the noise that makes it difficult for others to hear to focus. You can’t control everyone, but you can control your own sound. You can mute yourself in most remote meeting applications. This turns off your mic while you listen to whomever is speaking.

When you need to interject a comment or if it’s your turn to speak, it’s just a click to turn your mic back on. And because you are speaking directly into a microphone, the rest of your household will be in the background and less distracting to your co-workers and maybe your boss.

Just get started

And that’s it. Setting up and getting started was the biggest hurdle for me in the beginning. But after a few weeks of trial and error, I settled into my work routine and now it’s automatic. In fact, I find my productivity for my own work has also improved with scheduling.

The fact that I have become a scheduling advocate amazes me. Limits and scheduling always seemed like such a huge pain and part of dreaded administrative task work. But, I’ve turned a corner. Setting limits has helped me stay on task and boosted my creativity.

Give my tips a try. If you find a good hack, let me know (and post your ideas in the comments below).

–By Nic Desmet

SmartCents Mom