How to stay sane when you’re working from home

As a remote team member of Search Party, I sometimes struggle with the seemingly infinite freedom of working from home. For example, what I tell myself that I do is break up my day into 3 hour chunks and some of those are filled with work while others are personal. The end result should be that I work roughly 9 hours a day, but not usually in a continuous set.

What actually often happens is that I wake up, open my computer and somehow it’s noon and I’m not even dressed. So I get dressed and guess what? Back to the computer. Dog looking bored, dinner not started, yoga class missed. Work obviously gets done, but I end up tired and kicking myself because I know that I messed up on the “life” front. Again.

Whatever your pitfalls of working from home, I promise you can fix them. With just a few guidelines to follow, you can avoid the working from home traps that plague many remote workers. Here are my sanity-keeping tips while working from home. On days when I actually I apply them, I end up happy as a clam in both what I accomplish for work and my personal life.

Be organized

Whatever that means to you. Asana lists, JIRA tickets, Pomodoro timers or scribbles on a napkin stuck on your fridge — it doesn’t matter. You know what works for you. So just do it.

When you work from home, there’s no manager, peer or subordinate to remind you of things when you bump into them in the lunch room. There’s no impromptu team standup. Just you.

Personally, I prefer to set SMART goals for high-level stuff and then, for actual tasks, I like a good old fashioned to-do list on paper. It’s literally the only thing I still write on paper on a daily basis, but the fact that it’s something physical, that I hold and cross off as I get things done, is very satisfying to me.

Set boundaries

This is where I struggle. Work and life blend into each other and all too often, work wins. But I’m getting better at this and you should make it a priority too!

Clearly define when you will work and give yourself some wiggle room so you don’t feel guilty if you go off track occasionally. Practically speaking, set your “available” hours in your calendar to your working hours. Tell your team ahead of time if you won’t be around during a time where they’d normally expect you. Set yourself calendar reminders or IFTTT rules to tell yourself to stop working.

A trigger that’s currently working for me pretty well is my sister, who lives with me. Her work hours are pretty set (while I work with teams in 3 completely different timezones). There are only certain times of day that we can hang out to have coffee and watch Masterchef or catch up on the latest Jimmy Fallon gags over wine. If I don’t stop working then I miss out, so I make it a point to keep that time available.

Just say no

When you’re literally not in someone’s face, it’s easier for them to ask you for things. Writing an email to you, remote Joe, is a whole lot less confrontational than walking over to works-in-the-office Jane. Moreover, Jane has more context about the situation since she’s there in person and she can use body language in addition to just words to communicate. You have an email, or maybe a video conference. Either way, you’re an easier target for a favor.

So change that. Be aware that since it’s easier to ask you, people will ask you — mark my words. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you have to say “no.” Just put yourself in Jane’s shoes. If you were in the office, would your answer be the same?

Take advantage of your situation

Whatever the reason you decided to work remote (provided you actually like it and weren’t forced into it), seize the reasons why you took the job. Take that middle of the day yoga class. Wake up early and finish early so that you can start prepping for that dinner party at 3pm. Work from a beach in Indonesia. Don’t wash your hair every day (this is what baseball caps were invented for…). Just do it. You work from home. Do your work well, have a good work ethic, but take advantage of your situation. You might as well be happy with this awesome opportunity!

And on that note, I’m taking my dog for a walk, because that’s one of the reasons I love working from home.

Originally published at on July 12, 2015. Search Party is a recruitment marketplace connecting employers and recruiters.