Being self-employed or working remotely requires a great many skills that not all people possess. You must be disciplined; able to regulate your schedule and stay on top of deadlines. You must be engaged; able to stay on task even when you are surrounded by distractions like television, your pets, or possibly your kids. Above all else, though, you must be organized.
When you are entirely in charge of your workload, it is easy to fall behind or become lax with projects. For some of us, even on our best days, this can happen from time to time. So here are a few tips to help you stay on top of your work from home game.
1. Buy a Planner
Yes, I am very well aware that this one seems obvious. However, you’d be surprised by how many busy and hard-working adults do not have a planner. This is the age of the planner, and if you need some suggestions there are a plethora of options out there.
My personal favorite is the Ink + Volt Daily Planner. These planners have pages for yearly, monthly, and weekly goals and to-do lists. They give you helpful prompts and checklists to make sure you are checking in regularly with your progress for a given time period. Additionally, it has a page per week dedicated to journaling (or room for notes depending on your persona).
Day Designer’s top selling planner, The Today and To Do Undated Planner, is unique in the planner world. It doesn’t follow the calendar year but rather has a select number of undated pages with prompts for to do lists, gratitudes, to do priorities, plans for the day, and more. While some of us may need a more disciplined layout with every week of the year, this planner is so popular that it is currently sold out. Day Designer also has standard calendar and academic year planners in fun designs.
Another option is the Erin Condren Daily Planner. This planner also has pages at the beginning to bring your goals for the year into focus. Each month has a page for notes and an inspirational quote for motivation. The weekly layout is a standard planner page, but the design, layout, color theme, and coil color are completely customizable. Additionally, the covers come in a diverse array of creative options to suit your individual personality.
2. Set a Schedule
So you’ve bought the planner, now what? One of the most helpful ways to stay organized and productive when you work remotely is to make yourself a schedule. When you’re low on projects and have some money in the bank, it’s easy to become lax about work. However, if you continue to be diligent, you can build your brand and, with some hard work, maybe someday you can be lax on all of your days.
People are most productive in the morning. This was a hard realization for me when I branched into the self-employed world because I am not a morning person. In fact, my coffee mug proudly states “Morning People, be perky at your peril!” It was a rude (and needed) awakening when I realized that the best way for me to stay successful was to draw up a schedule that mimicked that of my previous full time job. Here is what I drew up for my days in real estate when I was low on clients and finding myself being very lazy:
7:00 AM wake-up
- Feed and walk dog
8:00 AM work-out
8:45 AM Healthy breakfast (eggs, yogurt and granola, fruit smoothie)
9:30 AM Get to work
- 30 minutes minimum email check; follow up with past/current clients
- 1 hour minimum prospecting, farming, and reaching out to potential clients
- 30 minutes minimum researching, reading, and expanding my brand
- 30 minutes minimum writing
This schedule obviously varied when I had lunches, coffee meetings, or other client related events, but it was crucial to my productivity. If I reached the end of a day without having stuck to the items on my schedule, I felt tremendous guilt. Additionally, I set certain goals for specific days of the week or times of the month. For example, every Monday I dedicated another 30 minutes or more to creating and scheduling all of my social media content for the week. The first week of the month I made sure that I researched and wrote my monthly blog post and newsletter. If you’ll notice, also, the schedule only took up about half my day! Then I could have my afternoons to run errands, go for a hike, or stay home and read.
3. Have a Set Office Space
There is a tremendous amount of research around having set areas of your home designated for certain things. For example, if you often work on your computer in bed you may end up having trouble sleeping. This is because your brain cannot distinguish between the various purposes it associates with that room. The Division of Sleep and Medicine at Harvard University states, “Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.”
However, there are financial benefits for having a set office space at home as well, particularly if you own your home. By designating a specific room as your office, the percentage of the square footage of that room compared to the square footage of your home can be deducted from your taxes on a number of items. Some of these include electric bills, internet bills, home insurance, and HOA payments (if you have one). I saved a shocking amount of money on my taxes last year after learning this tidbit. Clearly, not only does a designated office space have productivity benefits, but financial benefits as well!
4. Set Goals
Setting goals is a simple and straightforward way to accomplish and achieve. I like to set yearly big picture goals, monthly progress goals, and then weekly and daily to-do list goals. My Ink + Volt planner is very handy for this. For example, I started my own business this year and I work from home. So one of my big picture goals for the year was to “expand my business.” Expand is a very subjective word and open for interpretation.
So, to narrow it down I specified in my yearly goals that I wanted to have gotten more clients for my business. Then for my monthly and weekly goals I broke that big goal down into manageable steps that will help achieve my goal for the year. One of my monthly goals was to get in touch with all of the school districts and set up meetings to spread the word about my business. Then on a smaller scale, a weekly goal was to post three times on social media sites for my business.
If you are a copywriter or a freelancer of some kind, expanding your business might also be your goal for the year. So a monthly goal might be to have completed 5 projects or earned $2000. Therefore your weekly goals might be to have submitted 5 proposals for projects (with the hope that at least one is accepted).
On a related note, goals and to do lists can be very helpful for keeping up with other aspects of your life as well. Sometimes, I find that I have a hard time remembering small items to do in my personal life, when I am focusing so much on building my business. Therefore, I also add things like “buy mother’s day card” and “schedule dinner with my sister” and “write 30 minutes a day” into my goals so that I can achieve in my personal life as well! Setting tangible and realistic goals is a great way to stay organized and on top of your work when you work from home.
5. Have a Morning Ritual
While I have not yet mastered the art of the morning ritual, the arguments for morning rituals are compelling. Business Insider Magazine stated in an article titled 6 tricky morning routines that are difficult to pick up but will pay off for life, “It’s about putting yourself in a positive mindset and getting things done before everyone else.”
That said, the morning ritual looks different to everyone. It really depends on what puts you as an individual in a positive mood. That may include listening to certain music, getting in your 60 minutes of exercise, or surrounding yourself with other positive people. If you have no idea where to start for a morning ritual, here is Larry Kendall’s from Ninja Selling (p. 24):
- Gratitude: Spend a moment thinking about something you are truly and authentically grateful for on that given day. Write it down in a Gratitude Journal. (Don’t believe in the power of gratitude? Check out this compelling article.)
- Positive Reading: Don’t start your day by checking emails or social media. Rather, read something positive like a few pages of your current book or catch up on the latest in your field of work.
- Affirmations: An affirmation is stating a positive and achievable goal as if you have already achieved it. For example, for me this might be “I am a successful business owner.” I’ll admit, this is the hardest one for me to get on board with. However, Ninja Selling is adamant that their most successful practicers start the day with an affirmation, and that “Your nonconscious is programmable” (p. 36). The idea is that if you start to say your affirmation enough, your nonconscious will begin to believe it, and then your actions will start to take on the properties of this affirmation.
- Write Two Personal Notes: At the end of your morning ritual, Kendall suggests writing two notes to others. This is a simple way to “focus on others” and also to reach out to your database of potential clients (p. 24).
Not on board with Ninja Selling’s morning ritual? Forbes published this list of the morning habits of some of the world’s most effective people. Perhaps it will help inspire your morning routine.
6. Track Habits
Whether you work remotely or in an office, Habit Tracking is a great way to stay on top of your daily needs. Habit Tracking is creating a daily to do list of essential items that don’t always get done. Belle Beth Cooper stated in her article on lifehacker.com, “Something about the process of checking off a habit each day and keeping a log of my progress really improves my motivation and ability to complete that habit each day.”
Some of the items you might put on your habit tracking list might be make my bed, eat two servings of fruit, morning ritual, work out for 30 minutes, read a chapter in my book, practice Spanish for 15 minutes, etc. By using checklists, or dot journals, or even some of the many apps available for this, habit tracking is a simple and efficient way to see improvement in your daily practices over time. If you’re interested in checking out any of the available apps to help you with this, here is a great list of options.
7. Read, read, read!
Just like the muscles in your body, your brain requires exercise or it will start to weaken. One of the best ways to exercise your brain is to read! In fact, a lot of the most successful people in the world are avid readers. Business Insider compiled a list of some of the most successful people and their reading habits. Check it out here. While reading nonfiction in the area of your work is interesting, there is plenty of stimulating fiction to challenge your brain as well. The Goodreads app is an excellent source for the latest trending books and a great way to track the books you are reading, want to read, or have read.
Not much of a reader? Try Book of the Month for a start. They give you five choices of books at the beginning of every month, and you can pick one with your membership. You can of course add on more of the choices for a low price.
While many of these tips can be helpful to keep you organized and on track if you work remotely, this kind of lifestyle is not for everyone. It requires immense self control to stay focused and avoid distractions. When you’re working at home, your couch for napping and your TV for watching are only a few short steps away. It is not always easy to resist this temptation. Additionally, if you have any kind of substance abuse challenges, the normal hours of the day are in great flux when working remotely, and it is easy to slip into bad habits. Before taking a freelance or remote job, take some time to accurately assess yourself and see if it is the right job for you. Best of luck, work-from-homers!
Written by Emily Baker
Emily Baker is the founder of Equity for Educators.