(Angie Nelson has been working from home since 2007 when she took her future into her own hands and found a way to escape the cubicle for good. Her site TheWorkAtHomeWife.com offers legitimate work from home jobs and advice. Sign up for her free email series, 7 Days to Finding Work From Home.)
So you’re ready to quit your day job and become a work-at-home wonder! You’ve had it up to here with commutes and inflexible work schedules. You dream of rolling out of bed into a cup of a coffee and an office dress code that’s “pajamas or whatever” – along with an office environment that’s not so much “relaxed” as “your couch.” You’re ready to work whenever YOU feel like it, to have an open schedule to run errands, socialize, or fit family commitments in freely throughout the day.
Well, before you fully commit and quit to make that transition, there are a few things about working from home that you should know. That wide open vista of free time you dream about doesn’t exist, and it turns out pajamas aren’t the best choice for all-day wear – even if you’re not going anywhere. Work-at-home jobs require as much dedication and discipline as traditional jobs, if not more – because now you’re your own boss, IT, and HR departments. There’s no one there to keep you focused and productive – except for yourself.
Check out my guidelines to fostering a successful work-at-home career, and to make sure you’re truly ready for this life. These are lived and learned pearls of wisdom.
Along with being your own manager, you’re also now your own IT person – unless you happen to have a spouse or friend or housemate who’s good with computers and readily available to help you. Make sure you understand the basics of keeping your computer in good working condition – from installing operating system updates to new software, as well as keeping your machine safe with antivirus and anti-spyware protection. You may also need to understand how to work with some peripherals, such as headsets, microphones, foot pedals, webcams, and printers. Make sure you’re comfortable with all your equipment and know the basics of their maintenance and use.
Keep a distinct separation between work and off time. When you get up in the morning to begin your work, mark the transition physically – this will condition your brain and your body to understand when it’s time to kick out of “relaxing” and into “productive” mode. One of the most fundamental ways to do this is changing out of your pajamas – if you’re not comfortable sitting at home fully dressed, designate some lounge wear as your work clothes. (Staying barefoot or keeping the slippers on is totally fair play, though.) Sticking to this daily routine should also help you remember to shower, which is surprisingly something some WAH folks seem to forget.
You should also keep your workspace separated from your play space if it all possible. Yes, this generally means staying off your couch. Work at a desk or a table, in a room with limited distractions. If you can’t work consistently and productively with a television on in the background, turn it off. If you need background noise, try an online radio station like those at Focus@Will.
Unless your particular job requires working with social media, avoid checking social media during working hours. When you’re alone at home and answerable to no one but yourself, there’s no “taking a quick peek” at Facebook or “I’ll just check Twitter real quick.” Instead, you will find yourself blinking at the clock an hour later and wondering what happened to all your lost time. If you can’t keep yourself away from social media, consider installing productivity software to help keep you accountable.
Working at home carries some risks associated with your mental and social health as well. Especially if you’re an extrovert, you may come to feel isolated and unplugged from daily life. You’re almost certainly not getting enough sun – unless you can work next to a window or in a sunroom. Here’s what you do: leave your house once a day. You can simply take a walk around the block, your garden, or your yard – anything to get a little fresh air and some sunshine. Maybe smile at someone. Walk or drive to the corner store for essentials, and engage in a positive social exchange – even if it’s just being polite and saying “thank you” to the cashier. These simple actions can provide a lift to your mood and a sense of connection to society.
Set your own schedule and stick to it. Yes, one of the best things about working at home is the freedom to choose your own schedule – but you still actually have to choose it. Try outlining your days at the beginning of each week, filling in your desired work hours, any deadlines, and any outside commitments. If something comes up, you can change it – but having that formal structure is still important to keep you productive and moving forward.
Just as important as setting your schedule is this: take regular breaks. Sometimes, when we work at home, we can end up being too demanding of ourselves rather than too laid back. We work through lunch, or even dinner. We don’t make it a point to get up and move around. This can be as damaging for your productivity as not working enough – sure, you’ll get plenty done, right up until you burn out and collapse with physical or mental exhaustion. To avoid this, schedule regular breaks throughout your day – take 5 to 10 minutes every hour just to get up and not look at a computer screen. When you’re eating lunch, just eat lunch. You’ll be sharper and refreshed when you return to your work.
(Career Step does not officially endorse any of the above-named products or services. We are simply sharing some popular tools that will help students.)
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