Anyone who works alone as a freelancer or telecommuter can tell you their situation has advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages are easy to list: freedom to work when you want, a space you create, a flexible schedule, peace and quiet, no commute, more frequent breaks, and the occasional nap as a treat.
But, when you tell people that you work alone at home, how many say, “I could never do that”? They’re referring to, of course, their lack of built-in discipline, the loss of the usual office conviviality, and the lack of a defined schedule enforced by a boss pointing at his or her watch.
Those are legitimate considerations because you can easily find yourself sleeping in, working in your pajamas, having an erratic schedule, and talking out loud to no one in particular.
All the while, you might not get much work done.
The funny thing is — to remain productive, coherent, and well structured — you need to stick to at least some of the habits you needed when you worked a regular job.
First, you should always get up early. That doesn’t mean the crack of dawn, but early enough to have a full morning of work ahead of you.
Regular Forbes contributor Paul Tassi gets up every day at 7:30 a.m.
“By forcing myself into this schedule, I’ve found that over the years, my most productive time during the day has been from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.,” he says in Forbes. “After breakfast, my mind is sharper. It’s early in the day so I’m motivated to work harder, faster and more efficiently in the hopes of finishing up the day early.”
If you don’t keep a regular schedule, just as you would at an office job, you’ll fall into some bad habits, foremost of which might be couch surfing.
You also need to put on decent clothes. That may seem counterintuitive, since not dressing up should be a perk of working from home, but if you don’t establish that ground rule the lines between fun time and work time start to blur.
“When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment,” fashion psychologist Karen Pine told Forbes. “A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear,’ so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.”
That doesn’t mean you need to sit in front of your computer in a shirt and tie all day. But ditch the favorite t-shirt with a hole in it for something neat and clean. If you’re in jeans the rest of the time, it’s probably a good idea to at least wear some khakis.
Having a dedicated office space is a good idea as well. It gives you somewhere to go and differentiates your sleep space from your workspace. If there’s one way to assuredly get nothing done, try working in bed.
Get up from your desk at intervals. That’s good advice no matter where you work, but it’s especially crucial to a telecommuter who is going to spend his evening in the same place he spent his day.
If you need motivation consider a study that suggested sitting for prolonged periods increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, even among people who exercise regularly.
Open your space up as much as possible to take in as much stimulus as you can. That can be as simple as making sure you open the drapes to let in sunlight, face your desk toward a window, and open said window when weather allows. It also helps to get out for a bit and walk around. Take a break and breathe some fresh air.
Catherine Morgan, a small business consultant, prefers the concept of “allocation” of time to “balance,” which is another way to look at your day.
“I tell clients to remember that priorities will change, and so will allocations,” she says. “When a new product or service is launching, more time will be allocated to that. After the launch, personal time may become a priority.”
She adds that any task will expand to take up the amount of time allotted, so she suggests scheduling specific, yet realistic, blocks of time to complete your work.
Then there’s the conundrum of just being alone and how it can make you start babbling to yourself.
The solution is to establish a circle of friends or colleagues with whom you can chat on a regular basis. Your conversations can be about work or not, so long as they connect you to the outside world. If you don’t already use one, learn how to use a teleconferencing tool so you can at least see people in two dimensions.
Go to meetings and other functions that relate to your line of work and network as you go along.
“Besides the benefit of human interaction, attending professional events broadens your horizons and gives you the opportunity to exchange ideas and hear other opinions,” Karen Lachtanski wrote in Entrepreneur. “It is these kinds of interactions that you normally get in an office environment. As a remote or part-time worker, you have to create those interactions.”
By now you get the picture. Working on your own doesn’t mean having the luxury of throwing discipline out the window. If anything, it requires more.
But don’t forget to take a vacation.
March 23, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN