Tips For Working At Home
About 6 years ago, I started to work from home full-time. It was a difficult transition and I met many failures immediately. I’d become distracted because the lawn needed mowing, a friend wanted to hang out, or I was a default babysitter for a sick kid. Yet, work was always there and I’d become burned out because I was staying up late working on a project when I should be sleeping. Those initial missteps lead to many changes. Changes I’ve been asked about a lot by friends and family now they are forced to work at home because of the Coronavirus. Here are my suggestions:
1) Have office hours: Your boss and clients need to know when they can reach you. More importantly, they need to know when you’re unavailable. This is necessary to keep your work life and home life separate. If a client calls after hours, let it go to voicemail. If no one is going to die, it’s not an emergency.
2) Have breaks, use entire breaks, and celebrate successes: There’s only two reasons why you work over 40 hours per week: you’re overworked or you’re terrible at your job. If you’re you have too many tasks on your plate, you’re going to burnout in a blaze of glory. If you’re not good at your job, then maybe it’s a good time to reflect on a new career. But, just like office hours, you need to take a couple 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch. My dog is great for this. For 15-minutes I focus my attention on her and have fun. It’s the best part of the day and it recharges me for work. Generally, I don’t take 30-minutes to eat. But, it gives me time to pause and reflect on the day. It’s a great time to do a quick task you like: baking cookies, practicing guitar, or gardening. (Warning: Having a refrigerator so close can lead to mindless boredom snacking. I don’t keep junk food in the house for that reason)
Also, find a small way to celebrate your successes. It can be disappointing making a sale, closing a deal, or whatever and not being able to tell someone. It can be a snack, taking a bit of a longer break to play a game, or breaking open a nip bottle of alcohol.
3) Make a routine: It’s easy to lose track of time, dates, and other markers of time when every day is the same. So, you need to create regular daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. For example, I schedule my emails for the first Monday of each month. I plan my promotions for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Every day, I bring my dog outside at 11am and 3pm along with other activities. And set aside limited time for checking emails and social media. These can be a never-ending black hole.
4) Have a work space: You need a dedicated place where work happens. I use to work all over the house. Nice days would be in the garage and patio. Sometimes I’d work on projects in the basement. Maybe in the family room if there was something I wanted to watch on TV. But, nothing has boosted my productivity than having a dedicated studio to work. And, it’s a space that my wife, friends, and family understand that I’m not to be interrupted.
5) Have the necessary equipment: This is particularly difficult for Coronavirus because it is (hopefully) temporary. You don’t want to waste money on supplies you won’t need when you return to the office. But, check with your employer about providing you with the proper equipment. Many places will gladly provide supplies to write off on their taxes. Also, keep your receipts for the same reason (phone bill, internet, property taxes, etc). Many companies have employees that work remotely. So, don’t be shy about asking for items that make you more productive like printer ink, computer screens, chairs, etc.
6) Set boundaries for social/family interaction: “You work from home, so you can do what you want” is a false statement I hear frequently. My home is now my office. And since I have office hours (tip #1), it is a place of business from Monday-Friday 9am — 5pm. Let them know you can get a drink, babysit, or whatever when your workday is over.
For example, my wife is now forced to work from home. I work in my studio and she’s temporarily in the family room. We separate after breakfast, have lunch together. and see each other after 5pm. Just like if we were in the office.
7) Communication: This can be the most difficult. When my wife went to a conference, I didn’t physically see another human being for a week. So, it’s easy to lose your social skills. And you develop other strange social skills.
a) Reach out to colleagues: Set aside some time to talk with your co-workers. While my organization is a “one-man band,” I talk regularly with other artists, online sellers, and curators. It’s not only good networking, but keeps me from becoming socially isolated.
b) Repeat yourself. Repeat it again. And don’t forget to repeat yourself: With virtual communication being so cheap and easy, people forget things mentioned in text, email, etc. If something is important, I find I have to say it three times to make it stick in their brain. Another trick is to include a “task list” in every message during a project. This way, everyone know’s where you are at on a project.
c) Communicate visually and by voice: You may be busy right now, but this can save a lot of time in the long run. The human brain did not evolve to understand texts, emails, and other abstract communications. Because of this, they are frequently misread and interpreted negatively. How many mundane emails/texts have you sent that turned into a fight? So, use Facetime, Zoom, Skype and/or the phone to let people see your facial expressions and hear the tone of your voice. Humans are emotional creatures. And seeing your emotions will put them at ease.
8) Leave work: This is related to office hours (Tip #1). After 5pm, get away from your dedicated work space (Tip #2, #3, #4 and #5). And find something to immediately turn your work brain off like playing a video game, reading, or going outside with your kids. This also applies when you are sick and for vacation time. You have to keep recharging yourself.
9) There are a lot of perks of being at home: Can you believe I get to play with my dog at work! That’s awesome. Also, I have a kitchen full of the food I want to eat every day. I play the loud music I want without anyone complaining. Just writing this, I think “teenage Mike Kraus” might think “old man Mike Kraus” is maybe “okay…”
10) Find what works best for you: I admit that I am a hypocrite because I have violated each one of my tips. And, it was at my own peril. I’ve had shows on weekends, worked at 2am, skipped breaks, hung out during the day with friends, and so much more. I either compensate for it by adjusting my schedule/routine appropriately or I burnout with regret.
Do what works best for you. If you’re a morning person; load up your schedule early and breeze through the end of the day. If your a night owl; sleep in and grind out the evening in style. It takes a lot of discipline to work from home. But, once you have the stability of a good routine, it can free up a lot of your energy for more fun.
Hope this helps. And, if you have any questions, let me know. We’re all in this together.
Michael Kraus was born on the industrial shoreline of Muskegon, Michigan. After earning his Fine Arts Degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he attended Grand Valley State University for his graduate degree. From there, he gained varied experiences from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago, Hauenstein Center For Presidential Studies, Lollypop Farm Humane Society, and the Children’s Memorial Foundation. And every place he worked, he had his sketchbook with him and found ways to be actively creative. In 2014, Kraus became a full-time artist by establishing Mike Kraus Art. Since then, he has sold hundreds of paintings that are displayed in nearly every state and dozens of countries. Currently, Kraus lives in Rochester, New York with his beautiful wife and goofy dog.
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