How to work from home

I get asked all the time if I’ve learned anything about time management and motivation in terms of working from home. I think in the past few years a lot more people have taken that huge dive over the edge and are now going, wait. There’s no one here to tell me what to do. I have to tell myself what to do. And myself wants to chocolate.

It’s not always easy to keep myself from wandering all over the Internet, from twitter to design blogs to cat videos. OH, CAT VIDEOS. They need to make those things injectable, and then Jon would be all, dude, are you tripping? And I’d be all, I think I may have taken too much Determined Cat Trying To Fit Inside Many Too Small Boxes and OMG JON. YOU HAVE FEATHERS GROWING OUT OF YOUR FACE.

So I decided to make a video of what I do to keep my day from spiraling into pajama bottoms, chips dyed with genetically modified organisms, naps on the floor underneath my desk, and applying for cat adoption. I couldn’t fit everything into a three-and-a-half minute video, so I concentrated on the main points. Other things to consider:

1. If you work with your husband like I do and you have children, make sure you both agree on a custody arrangement. Because divorce is likely. Or, you could do what we do and set aside a large amount of money for therapy.

2. Snack on raw nuts. So much better for you than that entire box of Cap’n Crunch.

3. Having lunch at home saves a ton of money and fuel. It also means you’re not tempted to hop in and catch a matinée. (YOU KNOW YOU WOULD)

4. Just a friendly reminder to brush your teeth.

(FYI, I happen to know Tyrant’s phone number, Y’ALL.)

Many thanks to Citrix Online for sponsoring this video. If you have any tips for how to work from home, please share the learning. Also, maybe we should form a union! So that we can’t just up and decide to fire ourselves!

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it.

  • Daddy Scratches

    After working from home for the better part of 10 years, I was laid off last year and subsequently took a job in an office building. At the time, it seemed like a fate only slightly better than death, because I LOVED working from home.

    Fast forward 10 months, when, one morning, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to do some work from home. And then with the kids and the bickering and my wife and the TV and the and the and the…

    I quickly dressed and sped to my office. Eight hours a day in a peaceful environment, listening to my iPod. I even view the occasional cat video. This ain’t so bad after all.

  • jilllovesbacon

    I love working from home. A good day: wake up, coffee, workout, shower, hit the computer and get a shitload of work done, and all is well.

    Then there’s a day like today: wake up, coffee, DVR, snacks from last night’s party, more DVR, hit the computer and wander around, maybe get a little work done, and still in my robe at 11 AM. And actually, both are good days.

    BTW—nice arm muscles!

  • Erin Human

    Your tips are good… I try to plan to do the right things at the right times. I’m most creative and able to focus (and most want to be ALONE) in the morning, so that’s when I like to write and draw. I am more restless and social in the afternoon so that’s when I like to tackle stuff like phone calls, running errands, etc.

    My other tip is don’t be afraid to play hooky! It’s one of the beauties of setting your own schedule. As long as you’re not behind on your work, it’s refreshing and fun to goof off sometimes, and you can sneak in some really good family time by breaking the rules.

  • Rebecca from Texas

    What a great video – thanks so much for letting us peek into the window of your working world – this was super!

  • slappyintheface

    I have always said that I wanted to work from home, but in reality I would be an unbathed 300 pound recluse who yells at the TV and drowns in my own mountain of debt. It would NOT be a pretty sight to behold.

  • ThePeanut

    I’ve been working from home for the past 4 years and I cannot agree more with setting aside specific times to do things. It helps to mold my day into something that is productive rather then a mish mosh of half assed things that I’ve accomplished.

    I work out of a spare bedroom in our home. We’re starting to renovate it into something that resembles more of an office. I think that’s super important. I don’t want to feel like I’m in my home, I want it to feel like an office that’s comfortable yet helps me be productive.

    After work, I have chores that I do outside of the house that way I don’t get cabin fever from being in my house all day and all night long. It’s important to get out and do things and not become a hermit.

    Lastly, I treat my day as if I’m getting up and going to an office. I get up, go to the gym, shower, get dressed (no PJ’s!) and make my way in to my “office” to start work. To me, it’s super important to NOT roll out of bed and just roll into work.

    Love the video! I need your office!

  • geekjive

    AHH!! Working out with Coco! Love it!

  • BuenoBabyGirl

    Heather, I am very impressed you can work with that lovely ring and bracelet. I have to strip all the jewelry off my hands and wrists otherwise it sounds like I’m typing with a hammers.

  • ottmama

    You’ve inspired me to go take a shower today. Once I get through this bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. WOW! I feel like a work from home FAIL

  • kristanhoffman

    Love the peek into your daily life!

    I’ve only been working from home for about 6 months, but I agree that a schedule is essential — and also one of the hardest things to develop and stick to. (And to get other people to respect! “Oh, you work from home? Can you come walk my dog at lunch? Can you do all the dishes and the laundry? Can you take this to the post office? Can you walk me through this complicated process in Adobe Illustrator?”)

    I love the flexibility, but the self-discipline has taken a while to develop. It’s also kind of a lonely enterprise when you don’t have a husband, kids, or assistant doing it with you. At least I have my dog. (And lizard.) I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it fits my personality. I know a lot of people who would hate it and/or go crazy and/or get nothing done.

    Also, I’d been wondering if you guys used ergonomic keyboards / setups, given how much time you spend on computers. (So that was nice to see in the video.) Over the past couple years, and the past few months especially, I’ve started to experience a lot of pain related to the strain of working at a desk and computer for hours. I never expected that, and I’ve had to make lots of changes.

  • MollyCT

    Love the video!

    I work from home much of the time as well, and can’t insist enough on the importance of keeping a schedule. Just because I’m home does NOT mean that I am free–so I get to the point never to schedule anything during my working time.

    Also, what has proved essential to me is to log my hours, and share them with a work buddy in a similar situation in a google doc spreadsheet. Every day I quickly list my time spent doing this or that, noticing negativity, countering those negative thoughts (sometimes you can turn into a bullying boss when you become one of yourself!), and then listing my goals for tomorrow. Then my friend (in another state!) writes something at the bottom like “good job!” and I do the same for her, and we keep each other going, and we feel like someone positive is there checking in on us.

  • hockeybrad

    This is a wonderful, short, video. I agree with your steps and tips, and like your illustration of it all.

    I dabbled with working from home over the years and found it fun, but distracting. Then, I took a job where I could be at home full-time. I now have an office set-up, a schedule I keep, and the kids are old enough now to understand the rules-of-engagement-for-daddy-while-he’s-working. Summer is more hectic than the school year, but at any time I can close my door and be completely left alone.

    It’s a wonderful arrangement and I value the time I’m spending with my kids instead of commuting or staying late for face-to-face meetings.

  • Schnauzie_Mom

    My two rules for working at home:

    #1- Do not sit down with the dogs (or any pet, for that matter) for even a minute. They will suck you in to their warm, snuggly cocoon of procrastination and it will take at least an hour to pry yourself away.

    #2- Do not wander to the pantry every time you need a break. Your ass will not forgive you.

  • EliBailey

    I work from home, so thanks for the video – lots of good tips that I should be doing. Unfortunately I am very easily distracted, like right now (that cat video was hilarious).

  • tokenblogger

    Oh! I get it. All that gym time? You’re really in training to become a professional arm wrestler. ;o)

  • madamecraftypants

    I read “…It also means you’re not tempted to hop in and catch a matinée.” as “It also means you’re not tempted to catch a manatee.” I’m thinking what’s so wrong with catching manatees? But, really, that would be as distracting as catching a matinee, wouldn’t it?

    I’ve been working at home for 8 years now and my #1 rule is to be flexible. I have a 2.5 year old at home with me all day so, as much as I’d love to have a set-in-stone routine, that’s just not possible for our situation.

  • Circe74

    I’ve been working from home for 9 years now, and I’d say the most important thing people need to know — especially if you’re telecommuting for another company and not working for yourself — is to SHUT IT DOWN at a certain point. One of the huge bonuses of having telecommuting employees for a company is that the employee is ALWAYS in the office. There’s no saying, “Oh, I don’t have that file with me,” or “I’m stuck in traffic. I’ll take care of that when I get in.” You’re in the office 24/7, and companies WILL take advantage of that, and of your strong work ethic, and the next thing you know, you’re working until 9 p.m. every night and it’s become expected behavior, not just the occasional late night. Working from home means you have to give yourself a time to turn it off for the day, and stick to it. Your company won’t do that for you.

    And speaking as a coworker to telecommuters with kids — if you’re doing the same job as others, and being paid the same as others, you should be producing the same output as others. Unless you have a unique job where you can adapt your hours to be longer if the kids need you during the day (like if you have your own company, you’re a sales rep and can extend your day, etc), you shouldn’t be working with your kids at home unless you have a nanny or some other kind of day care. Nothing is more infuriating than when I try to reach out to a coworker about something urgent and they’re “away from their desk” for hours at a time because they’re overseeing their kids. It’s the other side of the coin from telecommuters who spend their whole day playing World of Warcraft. Companies figure it out eventually, and the rest of the people who could benefit from the conveniences of telecommuting suffer for it.

  • LillyO

    I made my husband insulate the treehouse he built…it is now my home office. Morning doves at 6:30 in the morning cannot be beat! Being off the ground, I no longer wander to the pantry.

  • patrice108

    separation of church and state (home and office) is totally vital. though even with my home office in my basement, I found it really hard to turn off for the night. especially if I wasn’t as vigilant as I should have been during the day with getting work done. I personally found that working from home was really not the right choice for me – I constantly felt pressure to do more while simultaneously goofing off more than I should, all with no social interaction. (I pounced when someone called or came home from work.) I’m glad it works for lots of other folks though…people who are better at sticking to schedules than I am. and, of course, people with assistants. winking emoticon!

  • Lauren3

    I want your next video to be of you doing a HULK SMASH! on/to something with your new arms.

    And you have to say HULK SMASH!

  • Lisalynn

    I’ve been working from home now for almost 10 years. I do medical transcription. While I don’t have an actual schedule, I do have to meet a 24 hour turnaround time. I usually get up at 4 AM (I know, I know), make my coffee and go straight to work. I then have three solid hours where my husband, son, and dogs are still sleeping, there’s no phone ringing and no distractions and the amount of work I get done is insane. When everyone wakes up around 7 ish, that’s when I take my shower, make lunches, do my chores, start laundry etc. When everyone leaves the house (by 9), I get back to work, and work until I’m done. Believe me though, I take a little afternoon siesta! The hardest part, I find, is that because you work at home, friends and family think it’s okay to call and chat and keep me on the phone forever. I’ve had to start ignoring the phone. But it’s really important to have a routine. Yes, some days I stay in my PJs…it happens. But you can make it work and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I have the flexibility to do my outside chores during the afternoons and most importantly, I can get to all of my son’s school functions, etc, and have time for my family at night.

  • cselkins

    Great video!! Very encouraging. I have been “working from home” for 4 years now, with a 4 year old, a 16 month old, and a 1 month old. Sometimes it feels fruitless, but I know I am called to be here. A blogger myself(and also from TN!), it is hard to balance writing, the kiddos, and housework, but you make it seem chic,intriguing,and fulfilling! Thanks for the tips!

  • Cynthia at Coffee On The Patio

    Terrific video. I have been working from home for over 20 years. I really like it. I work more than if I was in an office and it is often hard to separate home/work parts of my life. In some ways I have more freedom and in some ways less, but I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

    I like the idea of having a separate floor for your home office …go upstairs and you are at work…go downstairs and you are at home. I’m more of a “sit in this chair and I’m working…”

    I dance around my kitchen as well…a guaranteed mood booster!

    Cynthia

  • anya

    Damn it, now I want to work from home, too! If I ever figure out what it is I want to be doing, I’ll make sure to do it from home. 32 isn’t too old for it, is it?

  • LuckIsMyMiddleName

    Before I even watch the video, I’m going to go ahead and acknowledge the irony of the fact that I’m supposed to be working right now. From home.

    Save me.

  • Miss Wistari

    Ive been working from home 15years; 23220000 hrs playing Bejewelled.

    Word of advice: STAY AWAY FROM THE POPCAP GAMES!

  • Midnight

    I’ve been working from home for nearly eight years and I thought your video was excellent. I wish I were better about structuring my day (especially the bit where you go to the gym every morning!).

    Since I work “part time” (ha ha ha ha), I’d add that it’s important to give yourself grace on the days when you get nothing accomplished for one reason or another, because when I have something big going on, I work all hours of the day and night to get it done, and it’s easy to forget that when it all happens in one’s house.

    Having a defined office space is huge. Mine isn’t on a separate floor, but I have doors, and oh, how I love them.

  • jan001

    I would LOVE to work from home. I’d like a schedule like someone I know used to have — certain weekdays in the office, certain weekdays at home. That way you stay socialized as well as getting things done.

    Mine is the kind of job I could do any place where I had a computer with a secure internet connection. I have a nice home office on the other end of the house from the HDTV (okay, fine, there’s a 9″ TV in there; cut me some slack). Sadly, my employer does not subscribe to the idea of working from home except under extremely exigent circumstances. They seem to be more concerned about what time my butt is in the chair in the office in their building than by how productive I am/am not.

    By the way, IMO, the absolute very best part of the video is 1:23-1:31, the disembodied hand with the sign, followed by the knife for emphasis. I’d take a cue and keep a knife at my own workplace but there are signs all over the place that say “NO WEAPONS” and have pictures of a gun and a knife that, come to think about it, looks a lot like yours. ~8/

  • Geezees

    Great video…I work from home and found this extremely true.

  • specialkrispy

    Fantastic video. I just became a SAHM, I have some small things I do from home and found this incredibly helpful. I wish I had some tips to share besides don’t waste one moment with the kids. But I think everyone knows that anyway.

  • Pandora Has A Box

    I also “work” from home, though I’m able to do a lot of my job on my iPhone, which means I’m not tethered to a desk 24/7. What do I appreciate about working from home? The ability to take an afternoon nap when necessary.

    You are 100% right about delineating family time from office time from you time. When I was a working Realtor, I had a difficult transition creating time for me or my family because work was omnipresent. I’ve learned how to take a break since then.

    Great video! It’s fun to see how a day with you and the Tyrant (and presumably @jon) unfolds.

  • Esmter

    @Circe –

    you are so right. I’ve been working from home for over 6 years, and I still struggle with being taken advantage of for always being ‘at work’ even during off hours.

    also, you never really get a sick day, unless you really are dying. what part of i’m at home hacking up a lung and won’t take your call do coworkers not get?

    -Em

    p.s. getting dressed here means changing from bathrobe into sweats. the other day i had an early dentist appt, so i was in ‘real pants’ (jeans) for more than 8 hours. torture.

  • Esmter

    oh and a DOOR is key. i lock out the cat, the dog, the spouse – everything – when on a conference call. the best way to put your work at home life in jeopardy is to be THAT GUY on a conf call with the dog barking in the background. or a kid screaming…or heaven forbid, a toilet flushing.

    second key – get a phone with a mute button. everyone sneezes.

  • ktdids

    Whatever that sound at the 2:14 mark was (coyote?), it just freaked the shit out of my dog, she still thinks something is trying to bite her butt! Thank you.

  • Jalima

    Great advice, fab video! No wonder you have haters Heather, you are living the dream.

    Schedule… Will get right on that when summer is over and the kids back to school :) Thanks.

  • BOSSY

    Blah blah great outfit blah. No seriously, that was a very informative list of suggestions — and overall darling.

  • bubellah

    I no longer work at home, but I would like a Tyrant of my own, please.
    That is all.

  • barbara

    Great video Heather! I really liked your tip on setting a time to “leave” the office. Just because you work from home, it doesn’t mean that you have to work all day long.

    I hope to eventually get to a point where I can work from home as well, so your tips were a great help.

  • gardengirl49

    I work from home 1 day a week and go into the office on the other days (unless I need to work at home on a particular day in which case it is never a problem). I find it easier to maintain a schedule in the office and my work is easier when I can talk to my colleagues face-to-face. We could do things by email and phone, and we have teams in India and Europe where this is the only option, but I’m just more comfortable when I can see the person I’m talking to.
    However, I appreciate being able to work at home because it allows me the flexibility to do laundry, accept deliveries, and go to doctor/dentist appointments etc. My boss knows this is what I do and so long as the work gets done he doesn’t care when I do it – so long as I am available on-line for scheduled meetings. I have a 45 minute commute each way so not going into the office gives me an extra hour and a half in the day.
    To me, for those of us who are not self-employed, it is all about respect and being treated as adults. I have worked at places where the “butts in seats” philosophy applied. I have to say that I was not nearly as motivated as I am in a situation where I’m trusted to produce good work within reasonable deadlines without micro-management.
    My tip for working at home – or in any remote situation – is that communication is key. Being at home doesn’t mean being incognito. It is important to learn how to participate in what is going on, regardless of location.
    Now I need to get back to work to meet the next deadline…8^)

  • HungryGrad

    So… do you have the curse of productive hours and hours during which you kind of can’t do anything?

    Because I totally do. (Grad school didn’t count; I was running for my life there, and did the equivalent of 1.5-2 years of work in 2 months.) When I had a real job before that, I accomplished in 4-6 hours what would take most people a day or 2 to finish, but then I got spacey and bored.

    Does that happen to you? If yes, do you just go with it, or do you go the full 8-10 hours?

  • littlepandemonia

    GRRRRL, where DID you get that shirt?

  • juliejackson

    I love this video! I’ve been working at home for 15 years (Subversive Cross Stitch and Kitty Wigs, and copywriting before that).

    Without kids or an assistant, I’m much more independently motivated but also a little TOO driven at times. In the past few years I’ve learned to have a lot more balance and make time to enjoy life.

    Here are a few tips from Kitty Wigs HQ:

    1. TIME OFF: Sometimes I’m in a slump. There’s no reason to beat your head against the wall when you’re truly having a bad day, so I give myself the day off. Guilt-free. Sometimes I even have to do this for a couple of days in a row. But I know it’s okay because I’m a former workaholic. The first 7 years I worked WAY too hard all the time, starting at 6:00 a.m., but now give myself more flexibility and I do much better work. At least take a nap!

    2. CAT VIDEOS: Never watch a video about something if you can read it. I’m a stickler for not wasting time. (exception: your videos and the videos at The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee. OH MY GOD, HEATHER, HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE CAT VIDEOS??)

    *ahem*

    3. MOTIVATION: When my husband joined me working at home back in the dot com days, we made a pact to quit every day at 4:00 sharp. The THRILL of doing this after working for so many micro-managing bosses is just indescribable. Since we’re in Texas, we buy ourselves a kiddie pool every year and enjoy the afternoon with cold beer. It’s the only way to keep your sanity in the Texas heat. I can’t tell you how therapeutic this is, it’s so vital. We get a slightly bigger pool every year. Sometimes I regret not keeping up with what’s going on with my web friends, but I’ve got to make it to the pool by 4:00!

    4. DO NOT DISTURB: I don’t answer the phone. Especially if I’m writing. I don’t answer the door unless I’m expecting someone. To me, interruptions are the number one killer of creativity and flow.

    5. INSPIRATION. I make time every day to find awesome, amazing things that make me laugh really hard or blow me away with their WOW factor. And I always take a minute to email that person a crazily enthusiastic note. I know from working in a vacuum how much these kind of emails mean to me. They keep me going. Sometimes I’m even lucky enough to strike up a collaboration.

    6. DISCONNECT. I do not have a smart phone. I don’t want to be that connected and people don’t need to reach me that badly. I have an old touch ipod that I sometimes indulge in night time reading, like Gawker, but that’s it. I consciously try NOT to make my internet access too portable because then I’m not paying attention to life. It makes me insane when someone I’m with checks their phone or answers a text. Be here now or please get lost.

    7. MUSIC. Music all the time makes life happy. I have a special mix of songs that I can’t resist dancing to and I get up and dance my ass off. Sometimes I put on a crazy wig. It’s the next best thing to a standing desk, which I’m not quite ready for yet.

    Oh, and one big secret for those who are just starting to work at home: you can EASILY get more done at home in one or two hours than you can accomplish in an eight-hour day at an office. So don’t get in the habit of feeling you have to work 9-5 at home. I worked 12-hour days at home for YEARS and it almost killed me. Find your equivalent to a kiddie pool — whatever motivates you to make your day shorter, because you’ve got more important things to do, like having fun!

  • Dog_Mom

    I love working from home – going on 11 years now (which makes me, hmm, 15?). I found that I really try not to fart because it just becomes too much of a habit and really hard to stop when I’m in public. BE careful!!

  • Allie

    My rules for success are:
    1. Don’t set an alarm. (I’ll be up by 930 either way and it’s a 30 second commute to the office)
    2. Don’t keep food in the house.
    3. Leave for lunch.
    4. IM with coworkers still in the office to keep your finger on the gossip pulse.
    5. No doobies before 10am.

  • cassidy.stockton

    Great video! Your girls are so cute! I love hearing your southern accent- it’s something I fail to add when reading your posts. Love the ideas, just wish I could work from home someday.

  • hildag

    Thank you for allowing us into your home and life. You are such an inspiration.

  • mcperk

    This is totally awesome – very cool.

    Do you have a really big bruise on your arm? Or did you just give blood?

    Sorry. I’m such an asshole.

    You guys rock.

  • cipsi

    I just started a new job where I work from home when I’m not traveling to the corporate offices (in other states from mine) or to clients.

    I’m struggling with setting a schedule, but thanks to all of you .I’ve gotten some great tips to make it work.

    My house is incredibly tiny, though, and I don’t have a separate space for an office. I do have an office armoire in the dining room which I plan on converting to my “office” as soon as I clear off and donate the old desk top computer that living in there now.

    Thanks, dooce and community!

  • AshesVonDust

    “This is what works for me”

    “KENYAN WATER!”

    Wait, what? O.O
    Then I realized your video would start in a minute. Heh. I am so bright.

    I love this video. Really good ideas. Also, I love the Coco-presses. And Creeper Chuck.

    Speaking of Chuck, that photo of him under the couch. Wow! Cute but also OMG it’s so clean under your couch! I have about 6 different animals worth of cat hair under mine, some grocery store flyers from last year, and.. I don’t even want to know what else.

  • AshesVonDust

    @LillyO Holy crapcakes, treehouse office?! That is the coolest thing I have heard all year.