The life of a digital nomad sounds romantic, but it takes structure to be productive.
When people hear that I work exclusively from home, they usually say something along the lines of "That must be hard" or "I could never do that because I'd get too distracted." But I tell them that I love it, that I wouldn't have it any other way – and it's true. Working from home, particularly as a parent to young children, feels like a profound blessing.
That doesn't make it easy. An interesting study of 100 home-based workers by London-based academic Frances Hollis, mentioned in the Guardian, found "common disadvantages and negative impacts" to which I could relate on some level and have had to address over the years. These included
"mental health suffered (anxiety, stress, depression), isolation was rife (not being in a team), and it was hard to have self-discipline (proximity of the fridge and biscuit tin; not enough exercise; difficulty in setting boundaries between work and life)."
These are very real problems, and I've dealt with them in the following ways, as I'm sure many other home-based workers have, too.
Create a routine:
When you don't have a place to go every day, you have to create your own rituals and routines to give the day its shape. For me, that includes getting dressed, brushing my teeth, putting on minimal makeup – essentially preparing myself so that if someone knocked on the door I wouldn't look like I'd just rolled out of bed. I almost never work in pyjamas unless I'm feeling sick.
It helps having a busy family. Kids have to get fed and dressed. They have to practice instruments, finish homework, and pack their lunches before heading to various destinations. By the time they leave and the house falls into a state of blessed silence, I am chomping at the bit to get working.
Break it up:
Officially I work a six-hour day, but that's a long time to be creating website content. I prefer to break it up in chunks. The first occurs early in the morning, from 5:30 to 7, before the kids are awake. The remaining hours I spread between 8:30 and 3 pm, when daycare and school end. Banking those early hours allows for coffee breaks, short appointments, or a quick power nap (which resets my creativity instantly).
When I step away from my desk, I continue to think about the articles I am writing or planning to write, and as soon as I'm back, they flow easily. These little breaks help to maintain the quality of my work.
Find community online:
It helps a lot knowing that others are in the same situation. TreeHugger has an online forum where all staff writers are able to chat, share tips and leads, and offer suggestions. It creates a sense of community and makes the job feel less lonely when there's someone to talk to and bounce ideas off.
As an ex-homeschooled kid, I am accustomed to working at home and shutting out distractions. But I've had to take drastic action to deal with my phone – a distraction that didn't exist when I was homeschooled! I keep it on silent, either face-down on my desk or downstairs in the kitchen, and I only let myself check it once I've completed a post. It means the difference between a productive, satisfying day and one when writing feels like pulling teeth.
I work in absolute silence, no music playing. This may be a reaction to the household volume when the kids are at home – it is so loud all the time – but it helps me to focus.
Have a nice spot to work:
For one year, my home office was in the attic, in a small low-ceilinged room with a north-facing window. It was very depressing. Eventually I moved it downstairs to the guest room, which has two large windows. It is a much better arrangement; I am more energized, alert, and cheerful.
Buying some beautiful plants, hanging a favorite painting on the wall, working on a gorgeous wooden table that my father made for me, and getting an adjustable sitting/standing desk all help to personalize the space.
Get daily exercise:
If I didn't get out to exercise each day, I'd have few reasons to leave the house during the week and I'd go crazy. I make a point of exercising daily not only for the physical health benefits, but also for the social outlet, an opportunity to converse with adults.
I go to a CrossFit gym that's around the corner from my house, and I walk my youngest kid home from daycare each day, no matter the weather. This ritual signals the end of the workday for me and gets us both outdoors.
If you work from home, what are your tactics for staying focused, stimulated, productive, and sane?