You want to work from home because of the many upsides: the flexible schedule, the ability to work from anywhere, the time spent with family.
Those are the reasons I quit my job, went fully remote, and never looked back.
However, even though working in an office is crazy, working from home has some downsides as well.
If you’re thinking about becoming a remote worker, or you’ve already chosen this option, you have to keep the following struggles in mind:
● Not being able to unplug after work
I will try to explain each of them below and I’ll give you a few tips based on my own experience. I hope this can help you manage the transition to remote work more easily.
Fear #1: Procrastination
It’s 9 am, everybody has left the house, you’re alone at home sitting at your desk (or your kitchen table), you have your peace and quiet at last.
You’re staring at the computer screen, wondering: ’Now what?’ Should you go through your emails, get cracking on a big project, or poke at a few small ones?
Maybe you should check your to-do list, except you forgot to update it again. Maybe you should get a snack or check your social media, and you swear it’ll only take a few minutes…
An office gives you a structure where you have a specific schedule, a clear understanding of your tasks (well, more or less), and you get no place to hide.
None of that is true at home.
You can work whenever you want, for as much or as little as you want. You have to organize your own schedule and tasks. If you decide to watch TV all day instead, there will be no one looking over your shoulder.
There are also distractions from significant others, housemates, pets — and most importantly, children.
In Buffer’s annual report on the state of remote work (Buffer 2019) 10% of respondents said that getting distracted was their biggest struggle when working from home.
But this is a struggle everyone can overcome:
Optimize your workspace
First, remember that being distracted at work is a problem for everyone. Working at the office doesn’t save us from getting distracted. Research tells us that workers get interrupted around seven times an hour (Nagle 2018) and they spend two hours a day just recovering from distractions.
So it’s not like you’re at an innate disadvantage just because you are working from home. In fact, you can make full use of the flexibility at your disposal and reduce distractions — for example, you can change your workspace to maximize your ability to engage with your job.
If possible, remove any potential distractions from your working room: no TV, no games, no entertainment of any kind. Own your space, make it look “professional”.
Do you share the house with kids? Make sure they treat your space as a sacred “Do Not Disturb” zone. At my home, when my door is closed, it means nobody comes in unless it’s an emergency. If the door is open, they can come in and chat.
Find some rules that work for your family and stick to them.
If it’s not convenient to create such a space at home, consider going out of the house to get work done. You could also get a desk in a co-working space, preferably one that you have access to 24/7.
Create office hours for yourself
If you chose to work at home to escape the 9 to 5 grind, why would you impose office hours on yourself?
For one thing, having a routine is better for your mental health (Plata 2018). It also makes it easier to get started with work, and you will feel like you have more control over your day.
My advice is to maintain a firm daily plan and then stick to it. Your schedule can fit your needs, so choose any time that works for you. Maybe you work best from 7 am to 2 pm, or from 4 pm to 11 pm.
Talk to your family, figure out what’s most convenient for everyone. For example, you can choose the most affordable childcare options available and then fit your workday around that.
Develop a routine of defining your 2 primary goals/tasks of the day (preferably, do this the night before).
Then start your working day doing those tasks — separately — from start to finish without distraction (and please do not start the day with your email).
Now, whatever you do with the rest of your day, you’ll already feel great about what you’ve achieved.
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” — Abraham Lincoln
Dress the part
Once you’re ready to start your working day, put on some working clothes like you would if you were going to the office. It’s a good mental trick to put yourself in the zone. It’s great to be able to work in your jammies but it might just send the wrong signal to the lazy part of your brain.
People who dress up for work are more alert and perform better (Tulshyan 2013). On the other side of the equation, there’s that blessed feeling when you end your workday and slip into something comfortable. If you’re always in the same type of clothes, it can feel like your workday never ends.
To overcome fear of procrastination, optimize your workspace, follow a regular routine, stay organized and dress the part.
Fear #2: Isolation
Feeling lonely is the main struggle of remote work according to 19% of respondents in the Buffer poll I linked above. This is something we all need to take seriously if we want to build our career working from home.
In time, feeling lonely and isolated can harm your mental and physical health (Schmalbruch 2019), and it can certainly have a negative impact on the quality of your work.
What you can do about it:
Unfortunately, there’s still a widespread idea that working from home is easy or unambitious. This might make you feel guilty in conversation with friends and family who are working 9-to-5 jobs. At the same time, you may end up doing overtime to prove your commitment to your job.
In either case, your personal relationships suffer. One solution to this problem is to schedule some time off with the people you care about. Perhaps you could go hiking with your friends, take a class together, or simply invite them over for dinner.
If someone does have a bad opinion of your working choices, it’s better to get that out in the open. But in my experience, people are more likely to be supportive — some might even come to you for advice.
If you have a family, You can, and should, introduce some breaks in the middle of the day and spend quality time with your spouse or kids.
How do you make sure your professional life doesn’t suffer because of isolation?
Consider going to networking events, especially if you are growing your own business or personal brand.
Connect with people on LinkedIn who are in the same industry and already have experience working from home. Invite them for lunch or coffee.
You can also join a club or do some volunteering to ward off loneliness. There’s a chance it will help you build valuable professional (or personal!) connections. But even if it doesn’t, dedicating some of your free time to a hobby or a cause is sure to help you become more well-balanced.
To overcome fear of isolation, schedule time off with friends and family, network, join a club or do some volunteering.
Fear #3: Not being able to unplug after work
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including You.” — Anne Lamott
According to the Buffer poll, the most common problem with working from home is that work starts bleeding over into your free time. 22% of respondents said their biggest struggle is to unplug after work.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you feel a constant urge to prove yourself, you may end up working all the time. But there is also the fact that working from home makes it harder to stop thinking about your ongoing tasks.
Psychologist Guy Winch has a fascinating TED talk about rumination. In this case, rumination means the unproductive and harmful way we think about work even when we’re supposed to be resting. You can watch it here:
Winch says that working from home makes this tendency worse. “More and more of us are losing our physical boundary between work and home. And that means that reminders of work will be able to trigger ruminations from anywhere in our home.” (Winch 2019)
What you can do about it:
Create real boundaries
Winch’s advice is to reassert your boundaries intentionally. You can literally unplug from the tools you use for work — for example, never check your notifications or inbox after 8 pm.
But it also helps to change your environment when your workday is done. Changing the lighting and music is a simple way to signal to your brain that it’s time to relax.
Most importantly, keep in mind that you need and deserve to take a break from time to time, and it’s up to you to make this happen.
Create a shutdown ritual
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport recommends a strict shutdown ritual:
● Make sure that every incomplete task has been reviewed
● You have a plan to complete them all, and it’s a plan you can trust
● Your plan is recorded in a place where you can revisit it when the time’s right
Most importantly: “You must then accept the commitment that once your day shuts down, you cannot allow even the smallest incursion of professional concerns into your field of attention.” (Newport 2016)
Don’t Get Stuck
Working from home is definitely here to stay, and it’s becoming an option in a growing number of industries. This means that there is a great deal of support available to people who are working remotely.
The moment you notice that the way you work is causing you problems of any kind, you can start looking for help. Reach out to someone who has plenty of remote work experience already.
Remember that it can be enough to talk to others going through the same things. Sometimes, all you need is a new perspective on the way you approach your job and life.
- Buffer 2019, State of Remote Work
- Nage, J 2018, Time Management Facts and Figures
- Plate, M 2018, The Power of Routines in Your Mental Health
- Tulshyan, R 2013, Is Casual Dress Killing Your Productivity At Work?
- Schmalbruch, S 2018, 10 ways loneliness can affect your health — physically and mentally
- Winch, G 2019, How to turn off work thoughts during your free time
- Newport, C 2016, Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, Grand Central Publishing.