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Kevin Mack
Kevin Mack

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Working from home…without letting it take over

Hello all, so I know this follows a little bit of a departure from the technical posts, and I promise to get back to that. But I have been asked by a couple of people about working from home, and how you do it? So I thought I’d through a post out here on how to do it.

So I’ve been fortunate enough that I have had a job where I “work from home” for the past 4 years. I say that in quotes because some of those years involved traveling to end customers. Some of those years spending 4 days on customer sites, and 1 day a week at home. I will likely do another post about working mobile, or traveling for work.

But for this, we are going to focus on working from home, and how to do it. Like I said I’ve been doing this for a few years and learned a lot about how to work from home without it taking over your life.

Lesson 1 – Recognize that it’s an adjustment

So let’s not mince words here, working from home is an adjustment, and very much not like working in an office. You will hear some people tell you it isn’t, but I would disagree with that. The adjustment is compounded further if you are in a situation where you have other family members at home. So its important to know that you are going to have a period of adjustment and plan for that.

Another element of this that is important, especially if you have family at home is to have an open discussion with them about this transition. You need to make sure you have open lines of communication and that expectations are set appropriately between yourself and others. This will help make sure that “working from home” becomes a benefit to everyone, and not a curse.

Lesson 2 – Define your work hours (at least to some extent)

I know, most people will tell you that part of the benefit from working from home is flexibility, and that is absolutely true. But this prevents a misconception that a lot of people have.

There’s a lot of saying around how “if you don’t define your priorities, others will define it for you.” and I would argue that the same is true of schedules. Now that you work from home, in a lot of cases, you have a lot more control of your schedule. And in the beginning I strongly recommend that you define when your work hours are.

Let’s be clear here, the term is Work from home, not perpetual vacation. You are expected to get work done, and deliver results, just the same as if you were in an office, working a 40 hour week. You just don’t have to go to a building to do it.

By defining a work schedule you end up accomplishing the following things:

  1. Helps define a mental space for you to make sure work doesn’t take over your life. (more on this later)
  2. Helps communicate to family members that during specific times you are working, and therefore unavailable to run errands.

So let me give you an example, my family knows that I start work at 8:00am and work until 4pm every day. And that means that during that time period, they understand that my priority will always be doing work and items around my job. So in the event that I need to run an errand or help say for example, take one of kids to an appointment (to help the amazing miracle worker who is my wife) they know that I will do my best to help, but during those times I have to make my job a priority.

Now I’m not saying this has to be ironclad, but it should be the rule, and other times are the exception. This helps to also make sure that my family understands me needing to make trade-offs. Like for example, this past December, my son had a Christmas concert in the morning. I absolutely was not going to miss that. But my wife knew that I was either going to make the time later in the day, or take PTO for it.

This is the key that working from home, does give you huge flexibility, but especially in the beginning its really helpful to setup rules like this to communicate appropriately.

Lesson 3 – Realize how much you work

This sounds odd, but it is true. When I first started working from home, I would go to work when I got up when I normally did for work, about 6:30am, and then I would be done at 5.

But you need to realize that during that day your commute was all of 5 minutes when you walk to the office, which means that I was working 7am (shower / breakfast) to 5pm which is a 10 hour work day. But it was easy to fall into the routine and not think about it. If you want to maintain a work-life harmony, you do need to know how much you are leaning one way or the other.

Lesson 4 – Have a defined workspace

This goes to the mental state I mentioned above for working. You need to have a defined place where you work, or else you will never be able to separate work from home in your mind. Not being able to separate the two will cause a lot of issues with stress in your life.

So you need to make sure you have a place that is defined as “your office”, whether that is an actual room, or corner. It should be away from where you live normally. This will help because you will get your mind used to boundaries.

Lesson 5 – Don’t eat at your desk

This one sounds bizarre until you think about it, and honestly it’s something I’ve only implemented this year. But its very easy when you work from home to get pulled back to your desk during your lunch hours, you run down to the kitchen, grab something quick and go back.

In a normal office setting, this is a little harder as you can talk to Coworkers, get invited to lunch, etc. But when you work from home you are on your own.

If you’re like me, there will always be something you could do that will pull you back to your desk. It happened when I was at an office, but it got worse when I worked from home. You need to make sure that you take a mental break in the middle of the day to prevent stress and burn out.

Lesson 6 – Build exercise into your work day

This is one I’m trying to do, but I noticed that when I worked from home, I saw my body weight increase originally, and to be honest it makes sense. If you think about it, normally you would do a lot of activities, like commute to work, walk around the office, go out to lunch, commute home, etc.

This has been replaced with…Walk down the hall…Walk to the kitchen / bathroom…Walk down the hall

See the problem, you need to make sure you get out of the house, have a break mentally, do something healthy. These are all essential to your well-being.

Lesson 7 – Allow for context switching

As I’ve mentioned above, part of the adjustment to working from home is mental. And you need to make sure to take steps to allow your mind and body to switch context from home to work and vice versa. This is not a trivial thing. For example, I have steps I take to start my day that are designed to help me get into “work mode” and then steps I take to close out my day before I leave my office. This helps with my stress levels by allowing me to have the ability to be present in both elements of my life.

Lesson 8 – Stay organized

It’s important to remember that when you are at an office, you have others around you to help you stay organized. They will help you stay focused on priorities and context of situations around you. When you work from home, you still have communication mechanisms, but really its more reliant on you to make sure that you have the systems in place to stay organized. I use apps like Microsoft To-Do to manage my life, and that helps me to make sure that things don’t get lost in the cracks.

Make sure you take time to setup these systems to keep things organized for you.

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