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How to work from home without losing your mind

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By Jane Copeland

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I work from my kitchen table. Full time. Usually more.

work from home threeFor almost two years now. Creating content – whether it be for my blog or my programs, mentoring clients over Skype and managing social media.

It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

And while I wish I had my own separate studio to work from, I’m learning ways to make life between the legos and the Fireman Sam trucks, work.  

I know it won’t be like this forever. But right now there is a curly-haired, cheeky toddler napping in the room next door. There are also toys strewn across the floor and under my feet. The kitchen could do with a clean too.

This is my office and where you’ll find me most days.

It’s taken a while but I’ve now made peace with working from home. I can tell you that it does take a kind of rhythm to make it work.

So here’s what I’ve learned from the last two years about working from home without losing your mind. 

1. Keep regular office hours

I haven’t always done this. Actually sometimes I still don’t, but I’m trying to and it’s improving my productivity.
I work virtually 100% of the time. Everyone I need to connect with in order to do work is only one click away, thanks to Skype and instant messaging. Initially working virtually took some getting used to, but now I think it’s awesome.
This is because working virtually means that you can work with anyone anywhere. Distance is diminished by instant, reliable connection. It’s like I’m there in the office with them even if they are in France and I am in Sydney!

Even though I’m not part of an office team as such, regular office hours have helped me set my body clock to the routine of a work schedule. I also feel fresher when I start work each day, which is the best way I know to tap every ounce of productivity. 

2. Dress up

Well not really, but at least get out of your tracksuit pants or pyjamas! Seriously, it does make a difference. In order to get into your ‘work flow’, you need to feel like there’s some kind of separation between work and home. One way of doing this is by getting dressed. I like to wear comfy casual outfits while I work – not yoga pants but actual casual clothes. When you’re in work mode you kind of want to feel on some level like you’re in the office. Put it this way, would you wear your pyjamas to the office? I think not.

What I wear is a large part of what I tell my brain I’m doing.

3. Keep your blinds closed

Oh boy this is a huge one because let’s face it there is ALWAYS something on the to-do-list that isn’t work related. It’s taken a while but I’ve been able to make peace with the fact that I am not always going to have a sparkly clean, organised home.

Instead I’ve let it go of perfect and instead focus on working when I’m working. You can too.

Keep your blinds closed but the space where you’re working neat, tidy and productive. Turn your back on everything else.  

If you don’t, then I promise your precious work hours will be a series of fits and false starts.

4. Get as much help as you can afford

I have help. My parents live around the corner and are always on hand to help me out with caring for Elliott. As well, Elliott’s dad has flexible hours and is often available during the day to look after Elliott.

I couldn’t do what I do without my mother and also a hands-on partner. 

Things have changed enormously since Elliott has started going to childcare two days a week. I now have been able to have some kind of concrete structure to my days. For example I schedule all my client work on Wednesday and Thursdays, and on Monday and Tuesday when Elliott is around for some or all of the day, I work on more fluid projects such as social media and creating content.

5. Forget about grocery shopping

So I live in an estate which is attached to a shopping centre. This is super handy for several reasons. The main one being I can pop down at any time to pick up some groceries. It’s not an activity which involves getting in the car and parking, or much time.

Of course not everyone lives on top of a shopping centre. The next best alternative is online grocery shopping. Um, it’s only a few bucks more for the delivery! This is well worth the investment when you think you’ll avoid the hassle and time required to go grocery shopping.. with children in tow.

7. Get out of the house often

There have been periods when I haven’t and it isn’t healthy.

Although I work virtually, offline is where the magic happens. Let me explain…. There are a few things that nobody tells you about working for yourself. One of them is that when you work online, offline networks become critical to saving your sanity.

It’s true. When you work from home and alone, you need to be part of some kind of community and support network, of like minded peeps.

Bottom line, you do need to interact with three dimensional people.  

Work colleague

Work colleague

8. Create a dedicated office space

Sure, my space is the kitchen table which may sound weird, but I’ve claimed it as my space and it no longer gets used for eating on.

I have tried working in other areas of my place, but I love having a huge desk and the kitchen table works for me.

It’s for work and work only and when I’m sitting at ‘my desk’ it helps me get my game face on.

9. Do what works for YOU

Just like working from a kitchen table might seem odd to you, it works for me. Create an environment and work flow that works for you. Everyone’s has a different work groove and what works for you might not work for me.

Experiment and see what work space and work groove works best for you.

10. Knock off at 5pm

I write this more as an order to myself.

For so long I have let my work spill over into my evening thinking I’ll “just do this one last thing”. But having a hard “end” to your day is essential to give your head time to clear and readjust to family time.

With no commute home to clear your head, you need to manufacture the hard stop between activities to help you transition from “work” to “home.”

Honestly, this one is the hardest for me.

Manufacturing reasons to actually leave the building helps too – like going for a run or picking Elliott up from daycare or my mother’s house. This kind of forces me to delineate between my two chunks of day: work life and home life.

11. Save big housey projects for another day

Sometimes there are things that you just have to do at home – things like cleaning projects and the like.

However, try not to tackle anything that will immobilize your productivity. Save those projects for weekends or holidays.

12. Some days, despite your best efforts, everything will spiral into chaos anyway – that’s OK

Treat with chocolate and perhaps wine.

Start over again tomorrow.

These are my tips, now what are your top tips on working from home?

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Jane Copeland - to view all of Jane's blog post click here

Jane Copeland is an Australian entrepreneur and head of The Business Made Beautiful Academy – an online business school for women utilising her unique Next Top Coach ™ System. She is also a digital marketing authority, publisher of the award winning blog Copingwithjane.com and author of the book Boardroom to Baby. Jane's obsession with internet marketing and her teachings, have helped many people across the globe to stand out from the crowd and redefine their version of success. Learn more about Jane’s programs here.

  • Kylah Morrison

    ‘#8. Create a dedicated office space’ is definitely important for me. I always notice that when my desk is piled up with crap (particularly crap not related to my biz), I can’t think as clearly and productively as usual. Unfortunately I haven’t mastered how to cherish and maintain ‘my space’ effectively just yet so it often takes a day or two until I realise why I’ve lost my mojo!

    • Jane Copeland

      Kylah, thanks for your comment. I agree totally about clear workspace = clear mind. I’m still working on maintaining my space too. It’s a work in progress isn’t it 🙂

  • Lisa Manson

    Fabulous advice Jane!
    One extra point I’d add… Be very clear and diligent in dealing with friends & family that you ARE running a business from the very first day you begin, otherwise you’ll invariably become a place to drop-in for coffee / (free) advice / play dates…
    x

    • Jane Copeland

      Thanks Lisa. That’s so true…when you work from home people don’t see it as real work for some reason. It’s annoying!

    • Kylah Morrison

      I had this just the other day. I hadn’t even left daycare from dropping my son off and received a txt asking if I wanted to catch up for a cuppa because “today is your daycare day isn’t it?”.

      • “Umm no – actually today is my make a truckload of money day sorry” haha
        Most people are really good when you set some clear boundaries & the ones that aren’t probably are not going to be supporters of where you want to be with your business anyway 😉

        • Kylah Morrison

          Totally agree! Although it caught me by surprise so I’m glad you’ve reminded me about being clear about my boundaries/priorities 🙂

  • Jane Copeland

    LOL!

  • Zohra

    Really good advice Jane. I also find I’m really productive if I don’t have my Hotmail or Facebook open. I only check emails after a chunk of work, say at my lunch break, and answered only urgent emails.

    • Jane Copeland

      Gosh Zohra, that’s so true. I should probably add it as a point in my post – avoid the social media time suck and checking your email every 5 mins!

  • Ashleigh

    Great advice – I find writing daily goals really helps me stay on track. Dressing up is really important as well, yes there are days we stay in our PJ’s although I find I am way more productive when I have a routine – wake up get dressed have breakfast, then write my plan for the day and get to it!

    I find that when people know you work from home they definitely see it as a bludge. No I am not sitting at home watching TV and no I can’t meet you for lunch!

    Knocking off at 5pm is really hard, I’m always doing something just fluffing around on the computer doing work or researching something! I really should just put the laptop to bed at 5pm!

    I also really need to work on an office space! Mine is a crease in the couch at the moment!! Planning on moving into a 2 bedroom unit really soon!! Definitely not good on my back!

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