It’s every writer’s and artist’s dream: Wake up refreshed and practice an energizing meditation followed by a quick yoga flow. Enjoy a nice cup of coffee, then retreat to the office or studio to write the next New York Times Bestseller, invent the next iPhone or create your next masterpiece. It’s pretty much how my life has turned out. Minus the meditation and bestseller. Plus a rambunctious toddler who often wakes during my most productive hours and likes to “do yoga” with me. I’ve been working from home on and off for the better part of 10 years, first as managing editor for five regional publications and now as a small business owner/full-time freelance writer. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a mom, working from home offers me the best of both worlds: the satisfaction of doing what I love and running my own successful small business, plus the alone, toddler-free time I so desperately need to keep the house running, get my toes done and every now and then, just enjoy doing nothing for one hour. It has its extreme joys (staying in pajamas, no makeup, the occasional mid-afternoon nap) and its distractions (laundry, last week’s episode of Scandal, the dishes). But over the years, I like to think I’ve perfected the art of being productive, staying sane and social at the same time. These are my trade secrets.
- Find your mind’s most creative time.
Every maker has one. As a managing editor who could pretty much create my own schedule, I discovered that when I could drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m., magic happened on paper. The story lead I was struggling with the day before just clicked into place. That word I couldn’t put my finger on suddenly flowed out. Between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. (this was pre-children, naturally), I could accomplish what most others accomplished in one entire work day. When I went back to working in an office for a few years, this transition was extremely challenging. Now that I’m back to making my own schedule, I’m back to waking at 4:30 a.m. three days a week, however I now have to account for a certain little human waking up, eating breakfast, getting ready for school and getting out the door. I typically have around two-and-a-half uninterrupted hours before that whole song and dance begins. Because I know my mind is at its sharpest then, I save my most challenging assignments for first thing in the morning.
- Create a schedule (and stick to it).
My workload is a combination of retainer clients and one-off projects. For the most part, my retainer clients run on a pretty predictable schedule with regular monthly due dates I can anticipate and plan for. I try to keep a pretty similar schedule week to week to help balance the recurring work, while still being able to work in any new projects that come my way. My typical schedule goes something like this:
4:30 a.m.-6:30: Coffee + New, particularly challenging or “it’s due today!” project
7 a.m.-9:30 a.m.: Take C to school and work out (yep, I get that over with first thing otherwise, it won’t happen)
9:30 a.m.-Noon: Breakfast + Finish new/challenging project or start retainer work (blog posts, social media calendars, etc.)
Noon-2 p.m.: Retainer/regular client work
2 p.m.-3 p.m.: Admin (logging mileage, invoicing, following up on proposals, making calls)
From 3 p.m. on, I’m typically done with work and am doing things around the house, whether it’s laundry, dishes or making dinner before picking C up between 4 and 5 p.m. And of course, there are days when I’ll reserve an entire day for one project. For a really big project, I’ll often reserve two to four days and try to get my regular work done ahead of time.
- Plan the next day.
It’s a well-documented habit of the highly successful individuals: Before you go to bed, plan for a productive tomorrow. I keep an up-to-date to-do list in my phone, categorized by client and then by deadline. Every night before bed, I review this list and plan my next day accordingly, creating a schedule in Google Calendar and accounting for every hour. It may look something like this:
4:30-6:30 a.m.: Write Taffy Home Page
6:30-7 a.m.: Schedule LM social media posts
7-9:30 am: Take C to school and run
9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.: Write Zazzle Blog Post
11:30 a.m.-Noon: Client call
Noon- 1 p.m.: Implement MC website revisions
1-3 p.m.: LM Blog post
During my work hours, I try my best not to let distractions get to me. I may start a load of laundry or the dishwasher when I get home from taking C to school, but I won’t revisit them until I “clock out” at 3 p.m. I also ignore my phone if I know it’s not urgent and try to limit my social media check-ins unless it’s work-related.
- Network (a.k.a. Lunches)!
Find fellow work-from-homers, writers, artists, inventors and keep in touch by scheduling monthly or bi-monthly lunches with each. I regularly lunch with 3-5 fellow freelancers or past work contacts. Not only is this essential to keeping me sane on days when I need to get out of the house, it’s also led to a good amount of work.
Zazzle Tip: For tax purposes, invest in an accordion binder for your receipts and a small notebook to log your mileage. I learned the hard way that your mileage log should include starting mileage for the year, plus starting and ending mileage for each trip, and of course, the reason for each trip.
What are your favorite tips for working from home?