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6 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Working from Home

21 Sep

6 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Working from Home

As I enter my fifth year of running my own Public Relations business from the comfort of my home, I got to thinking about how this experience is so vastly unique compared to the few years I spent working in a traditional office environment.

I made the entrepreneurial leap not that long after graduating college, which means I truly have limited knowledge as to what it’s like to work a 9-5 job from an office building. However, I make up for my lack of cubicle-life experience with the many valuable lessons I’ve gained from running a successful business under the same roof in which I raise my family.

There are pros, there are cons and there is no shortage of comical experiences I could share, but for now I want to focus on these six important lessons I learned from working from home.

You still need to structure your day

When you work from home, you can structure your day however best fits your personality and workload, but the key is that you must still incorporate structure of some type. I like to get up early to catch up on emails and knock any daily, reoccurring tasks off my list right away. I then spend time with my family and get them on their way before I use the rest of my morning to tackle my biggest and most pressing tasks of the day.

I break my big to-do list down into the must-do’s for each day of the week. I set realistic expectations for the day and try my hardest to reach them before taking a break or doing something off task. This is the structure that works best for me.

In a work-from-home environment, failing to plan is planning to fail. You need to be very clear about what you plan to get out of each day and keep yourself accountable to this task list.

Some of the “perks” of working from home are better in theory

Sure, when you work from home you can multitask and clean or do laundry, you can also sneak in a workout anytime of the day. I have found that these “perks” can backfire and disrupt my day if I am not careful. People who work in a traditional office environment can more easily push these household or personal tasks out of mind because they are out of sight. Sometimes I too need to let these wait until my off-hours so I don’t waste my workday doing things that aren’t related to my clients.

Another perk that is better in theory? Having endless access to snacks. I really have to use self-control to not dive into those leftover brownies or grab a snack because I’m bored. When I worked in an office, I only ate what I packed for the day and was able to more easily stay away from the break room.

You have to be intentional about separating work and personal time

My home is my office and my office is my home. You can’t be the commute, but the flip side is sometimes it can be hard to switch from work mode to family mode. If I leave my laptop open on the kitchen island, I tend to check emails and try to work ahead on work tasks when really I should be focused on quality time with my family.

Other people get to leave their work and worries at the office. When you work from home, you don’t have this obvious separation so you must be intentional about leaving your virtual office for the evening. Most everything can wait until the morning!

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Because I work from home and set my own schedule, I can sleep in, watch reruns of my favorite TV show, do some online shopping and run errands that are completely unrelated to my client work. But this doesn’t mean I should do these things. I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to see what I’m working on, which is all the more reason to be accountable to myself.

No matter where you work, you still have to do work to keep your job. Taking a little break to indulge in a guilty pleasure is not only a perk of working from home, it’s a necessity for keeping your sanity. But be sure to balance what you can do with what you should do.

Fight to not revert back to “cube life”

It’s surprising to me how so many people who fight for the freedom to work from home still manage to recreate all the crappy parts of a traditional office workspace. I once worked for a company that was completely virtual, yet made all their employees sign into skype between 9 and 5. We were expected to be strapped to our computers during this time unless we “made an announcement” via the online chat that we were getting lunch, going to the gym or heading to the bathroom. That’s not only as bad as a traditional office workspace – that’s worse!

My lesson here is embrace your freedom to work from a local coffee shop one day and your back porch the next. I know I said to need to structure your day, but this doesn’t mean every day has to be the same. Maybe this means one day you tackle tasks early so you can take an afternoon nap and the next day you close up shop early to head out of town for a long weekend. Most importantly, never take a job where you feel obligated to announce to your coworkers that you’re stepping away from your computer to take a shower.

Even introverts need human interaction

Finally and most importantly, working from home can be a very isolating experience. The majority of the time I love the peace and solitude of my house during the work day when the only sounds are the clicking of my keyboard. But there are other times when I really wish I had a cube-mate to engage in some casual conversation when I’m feeling stressed.

As an introvert, it feels ironic to admit that I need human interaction from time to time to energize me. This is why I attend weekly networking meetings and scatter client meetings and phone calls throughout the week to ensure I get just the right dose of time with real people before I retreat back to the sanctuary of my home office.

Do you work from home? What life lessons has this experience taught you? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

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17 Comments

Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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17 responses to “6 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Working from Home

  1. Alicia

    September 21, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Stephanie – This article has been very inspiring to me as I start my 4th day of being laid off from my previous employer and have been forced to job search from home. I learned quickly the importance of structuring my day and not letting little tasks around the house keep me from staying on track.
    I’ve also been toying with the idea of pursuing a career that allows me to work from home, so I can have a flexible schedule and be able to take care of a family someday. Thanks for the morning inspiration – these thoughts I will definitely take into consideration as I move onto my next venture!

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      September 21, 2015 at 8:28 am

      Hi Alicia – I’m sorry to hear about your recent unemployment, but it looks like you’ve already found some silver lining. Sometimes these “pushes” in life are such big blessings in disguise that force us to take a leap we would have never had to the guts to otherwise. If you haven’t already, I think starting a blog would be a great use of your time and experience while job searching. Employers would be impressed to see your consistent work – and I personally can speak to the fun and fulfillment it brings, even if not earning you a dime. Best of luck and thank you for the comment!

       
  2. terryshen

    September 21, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Nice to read about your lessons on working from home, Stephanie. Do you use an Editorial Calendar or something similar to help you structure your work (or day)?

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      September 25, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      That’s a great question! I’ve been fortunate to have (at least what I consider) a pretty easy schedule that I can get away with simply using my Google Calendar. I crave big blocks of time in my day for intense writing or strategizing projects. I try and schedule days that are specifically devoted to meetings and phone calls and other days that are strictly quiet/writing days. Switching back and forth from either mindset is hard, so block scheduling my time is what works best for me. I’d love to hear if others use some free resources out there that help with scheduling their work days.

       
  3. Beth

    September 25, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    I completely agree with everything you shared! I’ve been working for 8 years now as a freelancer, and I was nodding my head the whole time I was reading. I love how you talk about structure – if I don’t plan what I want to accomplish each day, it just won’t get done. I have a similar structure where I start early in the day getting my most pressing projects completed first. It makes me feel much more accomplished, and the momentum usually keeps me going through the afternoon. 🙂 And you’re so right about distractions…I’ve gotten to the point where I try not to do anything non-work-related during my business hours to keep from the inevitable distraction. I just wish there were other freelancers around some days so we could connect over lunch or coffee. It does get pretty lonely! Thank you for sharing your insights – they made me feel less alone today!

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      September 25, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      It’s great to hear your feedback, Beth and your personal experience with working from home. It’s definitely a unique situation that is often misunderstood by people who have never experienced it (just as I’m sure I can misunderstand what office life is like anymore). Some of the benefits can become the pitfalls if you’re not careful – just like you said about feeling alone. There is such thing as too much of a good thing even as it applies to working from home!

       
  4. JocTheWriter

    September 26, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Scheduling and prioritizing tasks are the big ones for me. I use Freedcamp to keep myself on track. I have no idea how I would operate without it.

    And cats . . .especially when they want to talk to while you’re conducting a phone interview for a trade journalism piece. Unfortunately, it’s worse when I lock them out because the younger larger one bangs on the door. 🙂

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      September 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for sharing your scheduling tool! I’ll need to check out Freedcamp. I also have a cat who can certainly make just as much noise and commotion as my toddler when she knows I’m trying to work in quiet. What funny creatures!

       
  5. Ana

    September 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Another challenge could those with whom we relate, whether relatives or friends. I have done both, worked in and out of the household.
    When I work from home, people are generally less condescending. They think that I spend my days doing very little, and don’t seem to see the much I do at home.
    When I worked at the office, they would be more grateful towards my daily effort towards keeping things on track at home and at the office.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      September 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      That is a very interesting perspective, Ana. I guess I’ve been fortunate to have had family and friends who support and value what I do whether from home or in a traditional office. You should never feel like to need to “prove” to someone else what you’re accomplishing in a day, but rather let your success speak for itself!

       
  6. Jocelyne McGeever

    September 28, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Ladies,

    Have you thought about how you are dressed affects your mood towards work? I find myself more focused when dressed in casual office wear than in casual “play” wear.
    The part about working from home I appreciate the most is being able to match my tasks to my level of energy during the day. Focus thinking takes place early in the morning and after 5:00. I could not take advantage of this time slot without cheating my family if I worked in an office. Human interactions are in the early afternoon if I can manage it. I plan for short household tasks to be my little breaks from the computer during the day.
    And yes, planning also makes me more productive.
    Thank you for posting.

     
    • Stephanie Shirley

      September 28, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Jocelyne – I don’t doubt that clothes can make you feel more focused and pulled together. Most days I have a meeting that requires me to get dressed and “look the part.” On the days I don’t, I actually don’t see too much of a decline in my productivity and this could just a personality type thing. I actually enjoy the efficiency of not putting on makeup, drying my hair and working in comfort. But of course I handle the essentials like showering every single day, meeting or no meeting…ha ha!

       

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