Surviving vs. thriving when working from home

You don’t gotta go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work…

But you gotta put in work, work, work, work, work, work, work…

We can work from home, oh, oh, oh, oh…

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I joined the big-girl workforce in May 2007, just 3 weeks after graduating from Francis Marion University. The number of full-time remote workers has certainly grown in the past 9 years. In addition, many who work inside corporate offices enjoy the flexibility of working from home occasionally- if the weather is bad where they live or if they have other issues to care for (repairman, sick kids, car problem).

In June 2012, we moved to Charleston for Clay’s job. I packed up my corporate office on a Thursday, moved to Charleston on a Friday, cleaned our previous residence/apartment on a Saturday, and unpacked our new place that Sunday. Clay set my work computer up that night.

On Monday June 11, at 8 AM, my work from home story began.

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In October, I’ll celebrate my eight year anniversary with my company, so I’ve spent over half my time at my job working from my home.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, my personality, and how to be a productive remote worker over the past four years. Whether you’re starting a remote job, currently working remotely, or occasionally work from your home, I hope these tips help your work productivity and life balance.

Have a dedicated office space

Your sofa, bed, or front porch are for relaxing and should not be your workplace (at least not the majority of the time).

We’ve lived in two different residences in Charleston, and I have had a separate room as a home office in both. When looking at apartments, that was my one request- we had to have at least two bedrooms so I could use a room as an office. I realize not everyone has this luxury, but at least have a dedicated corner or area of a room for work.

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I love having a separate room for my desk, phone, computer, printer, and other equipment. While I have a laptop computer and could work somewhere else, I find that I am more productive in my office without distractions.

Set office hours

Since I work for a company, I have a set schedule with meetings. I have an eight-hour workday every day for a 40 hour work week. I have a team meeting every morning at 9 AM, so I must be online working by that time (I’m usually in much earlier).

If you freelance or don’t have set hours, I encourage you to set hours so that you can balance work with your life. This keeps you on task and away from other priorities during those hours. Also, if you’re the type who wants to do extra on the weekends or after hours, having a set office schedule can help you achieve a balance.

Shower and get dressed

Just as you’ll be more productive in a workspace with set hours, you’ll also be more productive if you’re wearing clothes vs. pajamas. This sets the tone that it’s time to work, not watch TV, play video games, nap, or relax.

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Before I started working from home, I never exercised in the morning. I was always one to work out after work. I still do some afternoon runs or workouts, but I now do some sort of physical activity just about every morning when I wake up.

Whether it’s a BodyPump class or an easy morning run, exercising in the morning guarantees I’ll get out of my pajamas, leave my home (resembling a commute), shower, and dress in real-girl clothes. My typical work “uniform” consists of khaki shorts and a long-sleeved or short-sleeved fitted t-shirt.

No need to dress business casual, but if I’m not dressed to venture into Target, Publix, or Starbucks, I’m not dressed for work.

Set a routine and stick to it

Using a planner/agenda for work has been a total game changer. I write in all my daily tasks, meetings, deadlines, and appointments. I log any time I will be out of the office, as well as time my team members who I may need to talk to are out. As I complete a task or attend a meeting, I highlight it rather than crossing it out- so I can see what I did that day (but know it’s done).

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This sounds corny, but I write down days when the corporate office is closed, so I don’t accidentally log in to work. If you work from home and have a spouse with a different holiday schedule at his job, you’ll understand.

A lot of people use their phones or computer programs for this- and that’s fine too- but having a visual reminder helps me big time.

Leave your home and socialize

When I “get off work” at 5 PM each day, the first thing I want to do is leave the house- especially if I don’t leave at lunch. I talk to my coworkers on the phone and on Skype, and I can text message friends, but it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction. I go to group runs, out to dinner with friends, and occasionally volunteer. One reason why I run so much is because I have so many running friends, so group runs and races (which I often run as workouts) become my social time.

When my shift is over, I shut down my computer and leave my office. I’ve set a goal to leave the house and be with others at least once a day- so running from the house but staying home the rest of the time doesn’t count. I’m naturally an extrovert, so I love getting out of the house and seeing people. If I don’t have anywhere to go, sometimes I’ll go out to dinner or coffee alone. You can talk to the barista or sit at the bar- and it’s refreshing to be around others.

Look at it this way: You job happens to be done in the same place where you live. You don’t live at your job, and you need to get away sometimes.

Make friends with others who work from home

You might not have real-life work buddies for water cooler chats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make friends with others in your workplace- their own homes. Some of my best friends and track training partners (Tami and Rie) also work from their homes. Sure, sometimes we feel like the awkward homeschooled kids in a sea of those who work at corporate offices, but it’s fun having someone to go to lunch with on workdays or go to the beach on weekends.

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I love my friends who work in corporate offices, and my friends who do not have 9-5 jobs, but fellow work-from-home friends truly understand the day to day life, along with the benefits and struggles of working from home. They get it.

Respect others’ needs as well

Finally, when you begin working from home- or when your spouse or significant other does- realize that it involves adjustments for everyone in your household.

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While I work from home, my husband does not. Clay works in a brick-and-mortar office, except on the rare occasion that he has a doctor’s appointment or traffic is so bad that he doesn’t go in until later.Between his commute, gym, and MMA/BJJ classes, Clay is away from home for 10-12 hours every day. After Clay’s workday, he wants to be at home, even if I want to get away from home.

In times like that, you have to respect the other person’s needs as well. Over the years, I’ve learned not to be the needy wife, to leave the house when I want to even if Clay wants to stay at home, and to never make him feel like he HAS to do things with me. On the other side, he doesn’t make me feel like I need to be at home when I want to go out and play after work.

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Working from home may not be for everyone, but it’s for me. In four years, I’ve developed much more self-discipline, become a better writer, and forced myself out of my comfort zone. Like any brick-and-mortar, you have to find a place of balance- and if you’re diligent, you will.

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This entry was posted in Life after College, Married Life, Technical Writing, Work, Working from Home, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Surviving vs. thriving when working from home

  1. I’m totally guilty of staying in my pajamas all day when I work from home. Granted, that is only one day per week, not every day of every week. But I have found that having a dedicated office instead of my old set up where my desk was in the open area between my kitchen and living room really cuts down on the distractions and aimless trips to the fridge for snacks!

    • Amy Lauren says:

      I think if you work from home once a week or occasionally, it’s easier to just stay in your pajamas- after all, you have to get dressed and go to work every other day. Working from home every single day, I’d feel like a slob if I just *never* got dressed.

  2. Even though I don’t work from home, I think is very solid advice!!!!
    Way to thrive in the work at home environment!

    • Amy Lauren says:

      You DO work from home- you manage your household and raise 4 kids while your husband works a crazy schedule. So even though you don’t have a corporate job, you can probably relate- because who isn’t more motivated after a workout and getting dressed in real clothes?

  3. Hollie says:

    I would agree that it is definitely important to set an area to actually work. If you work from you couch, you’ll feel more relaxed and there are too many distractions.

    • Amy Lauren says:

      I can’t say that I’ve ever worked from the couch- although I have had times when I had to read a lot of documents for work, so I went downstairs to the couch to read them. I just got the laptop recently, but it stays at my desk on the dock unless I travel to the corporate office. I suppose I could hit a coffee shop to work, but it’s so much harder to get work done without the dual monitor setup I have at the desk.

  4. Ariana says:

    These are great tips! I have been working from home for almost a year now and it took some adjusting, but I finally feel like I’m in the groove! I agree that getting dressed is important…fortunately I do also train clients out of my apartment so that forces me to get dressed most days, but some days it’s just so tempting to stay in my PJs… 😉 I have yet to have an office, but one of my fall projects is to turn a little corner of our tiny apartment into one!

    • Amy Lauren says:

      It does take adjusting! Just like how it takes a few months to adjust to a completely new job, it took me several months to get into a groove of working from home. Good luck with turning a corner of your apartment into an office- even a small space dedicating for working will help big time, even if you can’t devote a whole room to it.

  5. It sounds like you have totally figured out the work from home thing and how to make it work for you and your marriage. These all sound like really good tips. I teach private piano lessons at my home after work and it is the best job. I get to be in my house, the kitties usually like to lay and listen to the lesson, and if I am lucky, I have 5 minutes to change out of my real work clothes and into something much more comfy.

    Paul is home all day because he is on disability so I can relate to you and Clay in that I am gone all day and Paul is home all day, and all I want to do after work is be HOME and sometimes he wants to GET OUT. Luckily, we are both independent and don’t need each other to have fun. Also, we each take one for the team from time to time… he stays home when he doesn’t want to and I go out when I don’t want to.

    • Amy Lauren says:

      I remember reading about your piano lessons and that sounds like a great situation- it probably helps you and the students to be at ease, too, which is the best situation for performing music. And yeah, both Clay and I have to take one for the team sometimes in the afternoons and get out or stay in!

  6. Great suggestions. Your job sounds really interesting as well and it is awesome you can combine your interests in writing with a solid career. Do you love what you do overall? Working from home seems ideal, but I am sure it can get lonely at times as well. I like working near people sometimes even if I am not working with them– like going to a coffee shop to get something done.

    • Amy Lauren says:

      I work as a technical writer, and I enjoy what I do. It’s not a flashy job, and I’m sure most people think writing instruction manuals, training guides, FAQs, online help, etc, has to be a boring profession. Sometimes it is, but it serves a good purpose to help our clients… and knowing that gets me through the tough days. Our clients are nonprofit organizations and they all have a mission, so I like knowing that what I am doing is helping them accomplish their worthy goals.

  7. Angela says:

    I enjoyed reading this and I can relate with wanted to get out of the house at the end of the day since I’ve been doing all of my graduate work online. I also agree it’s super helpful to have a separate work area. When I first when back to school my office was just a dumping ground for junk. Once I fixed it up I noticed a significant increase in my performance!

    • Amy Lauren says:

      It helps big time! Plus I like that my office is set up to be an office, and I try to keep my desk clean and relatively junk-free. I do love being able to decorate as I want and control the thermostat though- those are BIG pluses to working from home.

  8. Amy, I really really really love this post. I feel like you just taught me so much! I work from home in that I’m a stay at home mom but now that I’m working on my book I’m finding out very quickly that my lower back gets sore from sitting on the couch to write, but then I get too distracted when I’m sitting at our kitchen table. We have a spot in the family room by the front door that would fit a small desk perfectly so I’m going to go look for one to put there! And maybe even a little desk in our bedroom for when I have the chance to escape the kids for a bit to write. I also totally agree about how it helps so much to shower and get dressed even though we don’t leave the house sometimes. My writing is way better quality when I’m dressed in a way that makes me feel productive. I even have certain writing clothes for my deep-thinking posts! Ha ha! Anyway, thanks so much for this post and I’m definitely going to change things around here and write about it… and link up this post!

    • Amy Lauren says:

      Sure- you’re more than welcome to link up. And you can reach out if you think I can offer any help with writing and work from home tips. You definitely qualify as working from home because being a stay at home mom and running 60 mpw is pretty much a full time job anyway, along with writing a book :).

      A desk is a great thing, and a quality desk is SOOOO worth it. A few months ago, I upgraded my particle board Target desk to a solid wood one that I found for sale on Facebook. I only paid $50 for this desk, but it holds everything, unlike my old desk (which didn’t have drawers and was smaller).

  9. Christine says:

    I work from home full-time, too, and I love it for the flexibility and lack of a commute. I just bought myself a new desk (new job, new desk!) and I love it. I tend to be in yoga and/or athleisure wear most of the time, but getting dressed more than that is just too much effort for me and doesn’t affect how work.

    My biggest hurdle is that my husband’s job is the exact opposite of mine since he travels every week for work and spends several nights away. So he comes home and he’s tired from traveling and wants to be home, and I’m ready to get the heck out of the house since it’s been me and the dogs all day during the day and I’ve been on toddler patrol by myself in the evenings. Not the greatest balance, but we’re getting better at working with it.

    • Amy Lauren says:

      After wearing those rhino pants at that trade show, you have more than earned the right to work in yoga pants.

      I definitely consider the “athleisure” style of clothes being dressed. If you can wear it to Publix or Target, it’s dressed (Walmart doesn’t count… we all know people go into that store looking crazy…).

      It looks like you and your husband still get out a lot to go to the beach and out to eat, and of course you are getting out of the house for barre classes and bodyflow, so I think you are doing a pretty good job of balancing!

  10. Working from home would be a dream. Just losing the commute alone would save me 5 hours a week.
    Great advice for those who do work from home.

  11. I soooo wish I could work from home…well remote cause if I could I’d never ever stay home. My workplace would be the dining table in my RV! One day I’m gonna get there! Our dream is to take off on the open roads. Sure we’ll have to have income coming in so I need a remote job for that! These are great tips!

  12. Loved reading your take about working from home! It definitely has its pros and cons, and it I love how you make it work for you!

  13. Very good account of a typical workday in the life of a work-at-home employee.

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