How to Home Work
For decades I dreamed about becoming a 'full time writer', and after years of putting it off, I am now giving it a shot.
I now have four books published and it's been a real buzz! The reaction has been great but, of course, I'm not making enough (yet) to pay the rent or indeed any bills.
So, to ensure I don't end up in the Poor House, I'm working in broadcasting and journalism (BBC Radio Jersey in the Channel Islands) and still freelancing in media, PR and training. I've also signed up to a few writing communities, like HubPages, some of which have some a potential for monetary gain, albeit small.
I have previously worked as a contractor/freelancer but now I'm spending more time once again re-learning many essential lessons about home working.
So here are a few tips if you find yourself working from that cold little Spare Room, or the shed in the garden. Somewhere in the levity there are nuggets of sensible information.
Put on Clothes!
Whatever you do - when you rise in the morning, try to remember to get dressed!
When you work at home, it's SO easy to stagger out of bed, find your way to the laptop/computer and log on. Before you know where you are, it's lunchtime and you're still working, and you're still in your PJs.
Now, this is FINE so long as you are at home alone. However, it's pretty embarrassing if the postman calls and wants a signature on a parcel, because opening the door at 12noon to a perfect stranger while still in your nightwear does illicit some odd looks.
At this point it is very tempting to shrug and say something like '...working shifts...just got up...about to go into the hospital to perform life saving surgery...' but please do not! Because that would be lying and you might end up standing on the drafty doorstep with your postman rattling on about his father's surgery for a nasty in-growing toenail.
When you fail to dress, there's also a danger of being caught unawares on a Skype or Facetime call.
By coffee time you've forgotten you're still wearing your dressing gown, so engrossed are you in your project, that when a Skype call comes through, you automatically click to 'link up.'
For those of us who are used to meeting our clients face-to-face in less casual circumstances than your kitchen, chatting unexpectedly to a potential business contact while in your 'comfy' wear and stripped of makeup and indeed lacking any elements of personal grooming, does not make a good impression.
The tip here, when you realise your mistake (which hopefully will be as soon as you see yourself in the little window on the Skype/Facetime screen) is to click away from the video and go just to 'audio', while mumbling something like 'bandwith not great'. Which in my case, is usually absolutely true.
Dress to Impress!
When I was a TV presenter, I dressed for the part. Much of my time was spent behind a desk in a studio and so all the viewers saw of me was waist up. Unless I was on an Outside Broadcast, or doing one of those 'walkie talkie' things where we got to walk across the studio in front of a special effects map, my legs were rarely on display.
I first got the bug for TV news when I visited the local TV station while still at school but it also gave me my first reality check. I noticed my favourite newsreader, on whom I had a bit of a crush, looking all smart and knowledgeable in his suit and tie - from the WAIST UP! Below the belt line he was wearing tatty old blue jeans!
I'm afraid that, in that moment, my crush was crushed. And when I found myself on TV many years later, I made the conscious decision to walk another road.
No jeans for me.
You see, to be smart and to READ smart, I felt better when I DRESSED smart. I found it hard to do 'serious news' while wearing casual clothes, although I loved getting out and about to cover stories that were more quirky and fun. Like the time I went out to cover a story about a flock of sheep. A suit would have looked really odd in those circumstances - in the middle of a field in midwinter - so that's when the jeans and sweaters could be dusted off.
So what has this got to do with working from home?
Well, I find that getting up and dressing for the day ahead is not only important but helps put me in a formal 'working' frame of mind. Of course, I don't wear a suit at home...although maybe that's an idea...but I also don't just slip on joggers. That's just one step up from the pyjamas.
Most mornings, I ensure I shower, perhaps apply a little makeup and put on regular clothes. Jeans and casual wear are usually just fine for me, but as time has passed I've also found that my smarter clothes are crying at me from the closet yelling 'LET ME OUT!' so just occasionally I have given in to them and spent the day wandering around my little apartment dressed to impress.
Wearing smart casual clothes makes me feel more alert and that helps me to better perform and concentrate. It might sound a little excessive, but it works for me.
Being able to be a little 'casual' in our working attire is just one of the benefits of working from home. But that's where 'casual' should stop.
Anyone who works from home will tell you that when it comes to organisation, it is very easy to wander through the day, ambling from job to job, answering emails, doing a little 'facebooking' or 'tweeting', without actually getting much work done at all.
Before you know it, the day will have passed without a good deal having been achieved apart from responding to all the little 'pings' that pop up on the computer when you get a message or someone posts to your facebook timeline. Of course, I'm not suggesting you should not attend to emails which arrive on your desk ... but...
I find that when working from home, creating an organised and business-like environment ultimately results in more work getting done.
Once you've pried yourself out of your PJs and got your head in a business frame of mind, treat your day like you would if you had travelled into an office.
When I have several jobs/contracts juggling with writing projects and I'm predominantly working at home, I 'timetable' my weeks so I know what I'm doing on any one day, even if just working in the little spare room!
I have a white board which has sections for Monday through Friday (not Saturday or Sunday... see below), Forward Planning, Ideas and Important Notes including Deadlines. Under the day section I note among other things:
- Tasks for each day which require immediate attention including phone calls
- Meetings/Appointments - virtual or otherwise
- Work to be completed/part completed
This means that, in addition to responding to ad hoc invitations and work requests from contractors which require immediate attention, I wake up each morning with a firm plan for the day. Like most working days, whether in an office or not, you have to be flexible to accommodate unforeseen calls/distractions, but if you start the day with a Plan you are more than likely to ensure some work is completed.
Let's take an example. I know that I need to fill in a 'media request questionnaire' for my publisher, have to work on a press release for a client and really must do some research a potential client. On Monday, which otherwise may look clear, I 'diary' those 'musts'.
Some days I know I will work solely for one client or on one particular piece of writing. And having this 'diaried' means that it is easier to bill/invoice for the hours I KNOW I've worked.
About now, some of you will be shouting out - 'THAT'S WHAT GOOGLE CALENDER IS FOR!' - and of course I do also keep a diary/online calendar. But I find that also having my schedule written up, on the wall, right where I can see it, means I start the day much more organised and am able to keep more focused on the tasks in hand.
I even diary in 'breaks' if I am meeting someone for coffee or lunch, which is just one of the benefits of working at home, and for oneself!
Take a break
All homeworkers, especially writers, know about prevarication!
Instead of settling down to any proper work, you find excuses not to do so. Those emails, or calls, little household chores like washing up, laundry, ironing, those 'emergency' bills that need paying. It all really amounts to one thing...we're avoiding sitting at the computer and getting down to the real task of the day. Words on Paper!
However, once you are there, in your chair, it is also very easy to get so engrossed that you work the whole day without taking a decent break. And if you're wondering, walking a few steps into the kitchen to make a coffee/lunch and bringing it back to your desk does not count! I'm talking about proper breaks.
If you were working for an employer in an office you would not only be given but also, in most cases, be expected to take your breaks. So, unless you are so inspired that the creative juices are flowing and you really can't stop, please do stop from time to time for a little rest.
Taking a break or several breaks in your working day can make you more productive, and less stressed.
A good 'lunch break', whether that be at home sitting in another room other than the room where you have your computer, or 'out', can refresh and reinvigorate. Even when I'm heads down writing chapters I find that a good brisk walk often helps with the creativity. Certainly, if I'm stuck on a piece of writing and have 'writer's block', getting out into the fresh air can bring clarity to a creative problem.
Most importantly, if there's one thing I've learned it's not to feel guilty about giving myself a break.
This is a hard one for most of us self employed people. 'Time is money' is a deeply engrained mantra in many of us. That's why we often don't take breaks in the day, weekends off, or vacations. There's always that voice in your head which says 'Holidays? Can't plan one because I might miss out on some work which comes unexpectedly...and when I AM on holiday I won't be earning!'
Am I right?
If you change your mind-set and stop thinking of vacations as 'time lost' but rather 'experiences gained', you may end up more productive. You spend precious time with your family, which is vital. The time away from the daily grind of home working may well revive your creativity and enthusiasm. You will gain new experiences and visit new and interesting places. If you feel up to it, make notes, take photos and collect brochures, because you may find you pay for part of the holiday by later selling a travel article on that very destination.
When it comes to breaks in your working day at home, the one thing to avoid is that feeling of GUILT you get when you go out for a walk or decide to take half an hour for lunch. Don't beat yourself up about it. Believe me, if you take those little breaks, you'll benefit in the long run.
So long as, by the end of the day, you're satisfied that you haven't wasted the entire previous 8 hours in household chores, emails and twitter, rather than achieving those 1,500 words you were aiming for, you can take as many breaks as you want!
That's the joy of homeworking - we can please ourselves! No one is watching. And if you think they are, then look closely at your neighbours and keep alert for Peeping Toms!
What about Weekends?
I've been as guilty as most other self employed homeworkers in the past when it comes to keeping a work life balance...weekends mean nothing!
When you work for yourself it's very easy to spend not just the whole of each weekday with your nose to the computer, but also working into the early hours of each morning. And when it comes to weekends, many of us just can't pull ourselves out of our work vortex.
That's one of the problems with having a room in your house/apartment which is the 'working space'. 'Work' is always lurking. We just can't escape!
Over the years I've learned that 'All Work and No Play makes Cathy a Very Dull Person Indeed' and that trying to keep weekends clear of work is vital to my sanity.
Keeping weekends clear of scheduled work means that you stand half a chance of slipping in some family and personal life, if nothing else! That's why, on the Planning Board in my office I don't 'diary' anything for Saturdays and Sundays!
It doesn't mean I ignore emails completely. But I do deliberately decide to distinguish between the messages which are URGENT and need a response and those which can wait until Monday.
Of course, when I am up against a deadline every moment counts, and then I do factor in weekends for writing/research and more. There are also the moments when you get inspired and, no matter what the day or hour, that idea has just got to be attempted, or at least noted. However...
Where possible I do try to keep Saturdays and Sundays free for a little fun, rest and recreation.
It's why I ensure I diary my 'next week' on Friday afternoons - writing on my Planning Board before close of play on Friday evening all the things I know are scheduled for the following week. If I happen to see the Planner over the weekend I might give the jobs some thought, but I resist the urge to start on the tasks designated for the following week.
If you're lucky enough to be able to create a 'working space' separate from your 'living space' in your home, or in a shed in the garden then you will be able to close the door on 'the day job' on Friday night. If not, then you might have to work a little harder to keep the 'work and life' separate in the evenings, and at weekends.
Do you find achieving a Work Life Balance difficult because you work at home?
Achieving Work Life Balance
Remember the old adage 'We should work to live, rather than live to work'?
Ensuring our homeworking environment does not leave us stressed out, friendless and un-groomed is vital to our good mental health and, I believe, our productivity.
If we work and don't play we may end up with a library full of books with our names on them and even awards galore and lots of money in the bank ....we can all dream, can't we? But we may find the cost is that we've sacrificed part of our 'real' lives!
Creating that Work Life Balance will ultimately ensure we remain a well rounded individual who is worth having as a family member and friend.
Whether the tips above help you become more organised, focused and happy as you aim for a good working and 'real' life, is entirely up to you!