Rhea assigned me a project earlier this morning. She sent me a link to Inc’s slideshow on How to Run a Business from Home and challenged me to create my own version for Outspoken. She thought it’d be fun to share some photos and how I work out of my apartment, fighting the daily battle between staying ultra productive and, well, laying on the couch and taking a nap. Not that I’ve…ever…accidentally fallen asleep at lunch and not woken up until 5pm. That would be crazy. And BAD!
[See the Outspoken pillow over there? Yeah, Rhea gave that to me for Christmas. Pretty sweet, eh? You’ll see it again later.]
I’ll be honest with you, working from home wasn’t always something I enjoyed. In fact, it’s still something I struggle with. That said, I found that a few little tweaks to my schedule and living arrangements have made the transition a whole lot easier. Here are some tricks and tools for staying productive while working at home.
The Unwritten Rules
Some people don’t need them. They’re perfectly fine going through their day at leisure and getting stuff done. I cannot operate this way. I need rules and structure. Last year was really difficult for me because I could work whenever, wherever and on whatever I wanted. HOW DO YOU EVEN OPERATE THAT WAY? I’d find myself getting caught up in silly projects, working 12 hours without having a glass of water, forgetting to eat, not having time to work out, etc. I was a mess. Now that I am older and wiser in 2010, I’ve created some structure and added rules for myself and my work habits. They include:
- I will be in my office no later than 8:30am every morning. The earlier I get up, the better I feel and the more productive I am. Double win.
- I will stop working at 8pm to make dinner. If needed, I can pick it up after 10pm to finish loose ends, but I get two hours.
- I will put aside time for these guys.
- I will care enough about myself to schedule time for Sanity Activities (running, reading, giggling, nonSEO writing) because I deserve them and they’re equally important.
- I’ll have my week mapped before it starts.
Commit to the Home Office
This was really big for me. When I moved to Troy last year I was moving from a tiny 600 square foot Southern California apartment to a place that is approximately four times the size (not exaggerating). That means I had a lot of space to fill. And I really did intend to fill that space and live like a grown up…until I quit my job. Then ‘eating’ sounded a whole lot more important than ‘interior decorating’. But while keeping the place pretty empty helped my bank account, it didn’t help my productivity. In fact, I refused to even use my office because the void of furniture, things on the walls, etc, made going down there feel like punishment. So instead I worked on the couch! Or from bed! Or from the floor! Which basically means I spent the first year of Outspoken napping. In 2010 I committed to owning and using the natural office space I had in my apartment. I added more light, puts things on the walls, added pictures and started making the space feel “lived in” and like an office should feel. And it’s worked. Amazingly.
I hear there are all sorts of time management tools you can use to stay productive – online stopwatches, things that beep at you, programs that block out distraction sites, etc. Personally, I use an egg timer. I know it’s not particularly sexy but it keeps me on task like no other. Why I do swear by an egg timer for time management?
- It allows me to break my day into hour intervals, which is super helpful.
- There’s no ‘pause’ button which means once it starts I have to commit.
- Parkinson’s Law.
- It’s tangible. Like my deadlines.
- The constant ticking makes me feel like I’m in a race with myself. I’m super competitive.
- It scares the bejesus out of the cats when it goes off…which has yet to get old.
Sunday is my planning day. I head to the coffee house around the block and I sit there and plan out what I have coming up this week in terms of internal Outspoken stuff, clients, and freelance projects. And then I schedule in time for all of it. If I don’t schedule something in, it simply does not get done. I cherish my Sunday planning time. It’s when the entire world is watching sleeping/football and I can get a jump on my week in total silence and with zero interruptions. It’s the day I get to catch my breath and get excited about what I get to do the next week. I also treat myself to a really good homemade dinner, as well.
I use my whiteboard to visually plan things out. While I don’t consider myself a “visual” person, for some reason it does make scheduling things easier on my brain. Or maybe I just like being able to physically cross things off to feel accomplished. I don’t know. Either way, this is my dry-erase board with my strategy for now up until Wednesday when I go on vacation. I showed it to Rhea yesterday and she burst into laughter. I know it looks like I’m plotting basketball plays or something, but it makes total sense to me. [Oh, and that’s totally permanent ink all over that board. Oops.]
A lot of my job requires that I be “on” and “accessible” all the time. It comes with the community gig and it’s my favorite parts of my job. But sometimes I can’t do it and I fail. Being ‘on’ that often can be really difficult when I need time to focus 110 percent on work or even to pull away and recharge a bit. And when I need those moments, I pull out the invisibility cloak and go off the grid. That means there’s no email. There’s no IM. No Skype calls. No Blackberry Messenger. No Twitter. No phone. Nothing. And that’s okay. Sometimes I need to go invisible in order to come back stronger, healthier and more focused in 24 hours.
My ‘Remote’ Offices
As comfy as my home office is, I spend at least 2-3 days a week working from other locations to help me recharge the creative juices and feel like a normal member of society. Some days I’m working on my own, sometimes I’ll drag Rhea, and sometimes we even get a full-fledged coworking group up and running (which is not always productive when hermits get chatty). Either way, having these ‘remote’ office locations is good for the soul, the mind and also forces me to take a shower so I’m not caught wearing the same clothes two days in a row. It also gives me something in the week to look forward to and get excited about during the week. Just like in marriage, spicing things up helps. If you’re FourSquare-levels of curious, I can usually be found at the cafe seen to your right on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Feel free to come work with me.
And there you have it. That’s my work and office setup. Share some photos of links to yours? Or some links to stuff I can put on my walls? Whatcha workin’ with, Internet?
About the Author
Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.