4 Ways to Get Yourself to Work … at Home!

working from home

When I was 26 years old, I was offered a job at The Globe and Mail, writing one or two columns a week for the real estate section. Unfortunately, this opportunity was seen by my current employer (the Toronto Real Estate Board, where I wrote for its weekly paper Real Estate News) as a conflict of interest. I had to make a choice.

It wasn’t difficult. I said goodbye to cherished colleagues and headed home to be a freelancer. At this time, “home” was a tiny, semi-detached house in Toronto’s Pape and Danforth neighbourhood (a home I’d purchased for $60,000!). While it turned out I loved working from home, that first Monday morning was filled with challenges to solve. Some of them were clear right from the beginning, others I tripped over as I adjusted to my new reality.

What challenges appeared when I started working from home? And how did I solve them?

Define Your Work Space

This is vital. Initially, because the house was so tiny, I would set up my work in various places, moving from the dining room to the living room, and leaving papers and other bits scattered around. It didn’t work for my husband, and it didn’t work for me. I often couldn’t find what I needed and I had trouble staying focused. In the living room, I would “feel” like socializing but I needed to work. In the dining room, I’d “feel” like I needed to think about meals, or doing the dishes … but I needed to work. Eventually, I set up a very small table in front of the window in our bedroom. (No computer yet, so the table was very small!) When I was sitting there, my husband knew I was working, I knew I was working and, physically, my back was turned to all the household distractions of laundry, meal preparation, and so on.

A few years later, when I started another company from home, my business partner would also arrive for the workday. While I was now in a slightly bigger home, two people take up a lot more room. My space was yet another tiny table in the living room, while my partner worked in the dining room and had a tiny shelf where she put away all of her papers, folders and binders at the end of each day.

If you have enough space to dedicate a room in your house as an office … that’s perfect. But if you don’t, find a way to create a specific space that will be an office, and only an office, every workday.

Define The Day

This was much easier to accomplish in the days of pens, paper and typewriters, but it is essential to your health, to your family and to your friends that you put boundaries around your workday. Do you start at 8 am and end at 4 pm? Or do you work until 2 pm and then again in the evening? You had set hours when you worked from an office, so you need them at home as well. You may want to experiment with this a bit to discover what’s going to work best with your home’s daily rhythms, but fully embrace the discipline of creating a schedule of when you will start and stop your workday. Not doing so can breed resentment that you are spending all your time working or guilt that you are not putting in the necessary hours. If your office is in a shared space, such as the dining room table, pack it up and put it away at the end of your day.

Define Your Focus

It is incredibly easy to allow household chores to seep into your workday. Avoid this at all costs! While it’s fine to enjoy lunch and wash up the dishes (which you likely did at the office as well), or take a 30-minute break and walk the dog, you will kill your productivity by putting in loads of laundry, simmering soup on the stove, or deciding to quickly vacuum a room. These tasks simply lead to other domestic tasks, and the beeping sound from the washer or dryer will completely disrupt your concentration while writing a proposal or participating in a video call. When at work … work, period.

Define Your Head Space

This is perhaps the hardest challenge – to wake up every morning in your home, stay at home for the day and … get your head to go to work. People who successfully work from home have a “trick” they use and you will have to find one that works for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment. For me, it is simply about walking into my defined space each day. As soon as I do, I’m at work. I have several colleagues that get up and get dressed as if they were going to the office each day and that brings them “to work”. Another colleague follows this step but also walks out of the house, around the block and comes back heading straight for her desk. The transition brings her “to work”. It can be a closed door or a conversation with a colleague, or your second cup of coffee, or … . Getting your head to work is essential when your office is also your home.

What about you? What challenges have you encountered working from home … and how have you solved them? Please share your tips in the comment section below.


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10 thoughts on “4 Ways to Get Yourself to Work … at Home!”

    • Thanks, Nicole. Yes, I hope they are helpful to some who suddenly find themselves working from home. It can be a tough transition.

  1. Oh, MJ, these are all good ones. I would add, that when we started our business from home, I had a couple of neighbours who wanted to drop by for coffee during the day. Once I was asked if I would babysit for a neighbour while she went shopping “since I was at home anyway”. Friends and family who would never call during the workday at my office, suddently thought this was okay. Learning to politely refuse (or reschedule) these interruptions was a skill I developed really quickly!

    • Great contribution, Megann. I know at lot of people who found the “drop in” to be the most difficult thing to deal with when working from home. It is hard for others to understand that you can be at home … but working! Thanks for this.

  2. Great tips! I am learning to refine these days working from home, working from home with a toddler presents this own challenges, defining my day and my headspace is key for me.

    • Yes, having small children around and working from home is a very specific kind of challenge. The interruptions can be constant and there are days when it feels like nothing has gotten accomplished. One little trick, which I use as a caregiver to my husband with dementia: write your list the night before and then keep a list going of what you are currently working on. When you do get interrupted and have to leave your desk, when you come back, the note will help you know exactly what you were doing. This avoids losing the 10 or 15 minutes trying to regain focus … which I was often spending checking email, etc. Great to hear from you Nathalie! Thanks for your comments.

      • I love this tip of writing a note to yourself of what you were working on when you get pulled away from your work.
        This happens to me for various reasons and sometimes when i do return to work i have been completely thrown off course.
        I am going to give this a try. Thanks.

        • Hope the idea helps, Carm. I use it frequently … and then sometimes forget … and get back into “spinning my wheels” after an interruption. And there seem to be quite a few interruptions these days! Thanks for your comments.

  3. Mary Jane, your suggestions are great and so are the comments. When I started my business my children were 6 and 8 years old, so at least they were at school some of the time. My challenge was that they seemed to know when I was on an important phone call, and they would start arguing at the top of their voices. They are both parents themselves today, and now that I am the only close-by Grandma, they still call and say, “Are you busy …….. Now I struggle with knowing my grandchildren are growing up so quickly, I “should” be helping with them, even during the work day.

    • Thanks, Eileen. I’m sure it is difficult to balance work with spending time with grandchildren. One of the joys of working from home is you can set your own hours and allow for this time and perhaps either work earlier in the morning or later in the evening. I find myself working on weekends too, but often take Friday off, so it does balance out.


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