Whenever I tell someone that I work for Youth For Christ Canada’s National Office, 9 times out of 10 next question is, “Where’s that?” When I answer, “Langley, British Columbia,” a confused look usually follows, because that would be about a 6 hour commute (by plane no less) from where I live. Obviously I don’t actually work in that office, and like most of my co-workers who are spread across Canada (and the world!), I work from home. This is actually my second job that has allowed me to work at home and on a flexible schedule, so when I accepted this position, I knew a bit of what to expect. After a cumulative year or so of working from home, I like to think I’ve got it mostly sorted out; so I thought I’d share my strategies with those of you who might be in a similar situation. Below are my 7 secrets for getting things done and not going crazy.
- Have an office
- This one might seem obvious, but set up an actual office space in your home. Though you might need to get creative if you have a small space like I do, your bed doubling as your desk is not going to be productive or sustainable. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or big, or Pinterest-worthy, but having a place that you go to get work done is a big factor in ever getting any work done. Part Two of this one is to actually furnish it like an office – have the things you need to work: a stapler, a good chair, a printer, a foot massager, etc. whatever it may be. Lastly, stay organized (to whatever extent you can, as I know some people are just not naturally gifted in this area); it could be Google folders in sub-categories for every little project or just one envelope in the back of your drawer where you keep important papers. Whatever it is, just have some sort of organizational system, because it’ll make your life at least 78% easier.
- Keep a To Do list
- It doesn’t have to be in a planner, it doesn’t have to be in calligraphy, but write that stuff down. I have a running To Do list that I keep in the same document as my Hours/Tasks spreadsheet (see below; it’s not as scary as it sounds). This To Do list is broken into three categories: 1) Today, 2) This Week, and 3) Pending. The first two are pretty self explanatory and “pending” is just simple the tasks I need to be reminded of down the line (like follow up with this person next month or add this thing to a future project). At the beginning of each day I take a quick moment to move a couple items from “This Week” to “Today” and then delete them when they’re done. Be flexible and allow room for change – other tasks may arise. You might not get everything done, or you might want to do something else, and that is all okay. But a To Do list keeps you in check when you’re not sure what to work on next, and it prevents you from forgetting about any upcoming deadlines!
- Plan your day
- In a previous work-from-home job, my employer required me to submit a weekly log of activities and hours. It more or less read like, 9:00 – 10:00 work on project A, 10:00 – 10:30 respond to emails, 10:30 – 11:30 call with so-and-so. Although at first this seemed a bit tedious and annoying, it allowed me to see the bigger picture of what I was spending my time doing and how much time I spent doing it. Because my hours were also variable, a simple Excel spreadsheet could easily tell me how many more hours I needed to work that week (meaning that Friday could be an extra full day of work if I’d been slacking, or a half day if I’d been busy earlier in the week). I’ve kept up this habit for my current position, and it is so helpful for helping me plan both my hours and tasks over the day and week. As a bonus, looking back on these spreadsheets makes filling out monthly reports a breeze, as I have a record of everything I’ve been doing! Even though my boss never has asked for these spreadsheets, having a record of when and how much I’ve worked, as well as what I’ve been doing, is also super helpful in keeping me accountable to myself, my supervisor, and my partners.
- Connect with colleagues
- One of the craziest things that happens when you work from home is you start to create this little bubble that can leave you feeling alone, stir crazy, or like all your co-workers are just robots behind computers. As much as you can, incorporate Skype, phone calls, and in person meetings. I recently had the privilege of meeting with our whole YFC national team for 3 days of meetings and parties. This was invaluable – more than just putting names to faces, this allowed me to establish friendships with my co-workers and feel a tangible sense of teamwork. I am much more likely to ask for help from, collaborate with, apologize to, and encourage people that I have real life relationships with.
- Take breaks
- Some of the best advice I received about working from home was from a former supervisor. She reminded me that when you’re in an office, your day is naturally broken up by visits from co-workers, walks to the kitchen for snacks, or bathroom breaks. Don’t feel the need to rigidly calculate your working hours as if grabbing a snack subtracts from the total amount of hours you’ve worked that day. If you were in an office for 8 hours, you would be paid for 8 hours but wouldn’t necessarily be 100% focused that entire time. On the other hand, don’t do 8 minutes of emails and then play Candy Crush for 52 minutes and still count it as an hour of work; break responsibly. So stretch, have a coffee, pet your cat, go pee, and don’t feel bad about it (your body and your brain will thank you).
- Also, take legit breaks too. Don’t be afraid to turn off the clock for an hour to have lunch or go for a run (again, your body and your brain will thank you).
- Don’t work from home
- I don’t mean that you have to go into the office (especially if there is no office to go in to), but sometimes it’s good to take your office on the road. Whether it’s a coffee shop, a shared office space, a library, or a nearby campus, sometimes a change of scenery is helpful. I find this strategy particularly useful when I need to get a lot of computer work done but would rather sit on the couch and binge some Netflix. Going to a coffee shop forces me to be productive because my TV isn’t calling to me from the next room. Being around other people who are also working also does something in my brain to make it think I should be working too – I was always better at studying in the library than in my bed.
- You do you, honey.
- My mom hates when I say this, but you do you! If you’ve been reading this whole list and thinking that I sound like an actual lunatic, then maybe your working from home strategy should look quite a bit different from mine. At the end of the day, as long as your work strategy is productive, healthy, and sustainable – you’re good to go.
Hopefully you’ve gleaned a little bit of wisdom and practical strategies for working in a home office. Any strategies you’d like to add? Let me know below in the comments!