I have been working from home for ten months now. I have no boss. I write. I freelance. I blog — these three span my earnings, my passion, my work, and my routine. I design my own schedule, discipline, deadlines, meetings and calls, and priorities.
I work hard. I have to. I need a lot of energy to write. To write well. I work long hours with intense concentration as I am still learning and my work involves a lot of thinking.
As a writer, I find the solitude essential — I thread my thoughts into any pattern without being disturbed.
A work from home routine sounds dreamy but it doesn’t come easy.
Working from home is a skill. An art. When people work from home, they tend to be less motivated, feel alone and bored, and aren’t disciplined. No boss, few or no meetings, homely environment, no formal dresses, no fixed timings, an easily accessible bed and TV, privacy — all of these seem to affect concentration, focus, and productivity.
We can perceive these work-from-home conditions in two ways — as hindrances or as benefits.
I look at them as benefits. Independence, zero commute time, the comfort of my own home, access to healthy and delicious cheap food, and, most importantly, uninterrupted solitude — no one to pester me or boss me.
Let us use these conditions to our advantage.
How to work from home successfully?
Charles Duhigg described Keystone Habits in his book The Power of Habit — “The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns and new structures. These keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.”
Important keystone habits can bring a complete shift in your life. Let us look at some of the keystone habits and priorities that you can lever to work from home successfully.
Walls of my work-from-home life — A few keystone habits and priorities that my life is centered on.
Motivation — The Fuel.
I want to write. Write better. My passion is my motivation.
What is your motivation? Find it and make it your driving force. Remind yourself of your motivation every day — while waking up and whenever you seem distracted or lost. I have pinned a post-it on my desk that says, “Let us enjoy writing. That is what you chose it for”. Whenever I sulk and struggle with some article or drowsiness or boredom or the cruel editing monster, I gaze at the post-it.
What if motivation is missing? What if you have a job but you aren’t motivated to do it? Now that is a problem you would have to solve. Read my article Why Starting Over is the Answer Sometimes and How to Do it. It might help.
Find or create your motivation. It could be just money too — which is okay. Life is an opinion.
A habit of working at least a minimum number of hours every day.
Habits can make you or break you. As Charles Duhigg wrote, “More than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”
If you develop a habit of working a fixed number of hours every day — this habit would drive you crazy if you work for lesser hours.
Keep an account of your time — When you start working and when you stop. How much time did you spend at lunch? How much time did you spend watching Best Friends Moments on Youtube? Add up your break time.
If you don’t keep an account of the time you have worked, you would never know. Estimates are estimates.
When my friends randomly call me to a cafe or to drive around during the day — because they know I can come — I say no. If I leave work during the day, I would have to work longer into the night to complete the minimum number of hours. Or I might just miss on working hours. Also, accepting these invitations would then become a habit. Now, saying no and sticking to my schedule is my habit.
You might feel like missing out but that is not true. Evenings and weekends or other off days are reckless. If we behave recklessly every day, we would never set up a work culture. This article on how to choose between ambition and happiness addresses the same issue.
Meetings, Hang Outs, and Social activities — Beating Loneliness.
You prepare a presentation. You look at the watch. The conference call is at 8 PM. Your wife is in the office. No one would come home the whole day. You have no one to talk to.
You feel lonely while working from home sometimes — it is natural. Don’t beat yourself about it.
Maybe your work involves meetings and coordination with colleagues and teams. Use that human interaction time. Try to schedule those meetings when you found yourself feeling alone or bored — like post lunch or around sunset. Learn from your past traits.
I run in the park every morning. I call a friend post lunch, sometimes. At the end of the day, I walk with my boyfriend through the bustling traffic, then onto the silent streets shadowed by blossoming Jacarandas and Bougainvilleas, buy oranges and grapes and strawberries, drink orange juice or tea, and have butter chicken or cheese sandwiches. I plan all my Friday and Saturday evenings and Sundays.
Do something interactive at the end of the day every day or whenever you can manage. So that before the next day begins, you have swum in the pool of social interaction and human connection.
Plan outings with your friends or family. Over the weekends or a midweek evening. You would look forward to going out and taking a walk in the park or partying and drinking or doing whatever is your thing. This keeps you going through the day, and the week, and the lonely working hours.
Treat Yourself — Spice Up Your Day. Regain the lost glucose.
I eat cottage cheese or chicken or some fancy vegetable curry for lunch, a few times of the week. Something delicious that makes me drool when I think of it. Even if preparing the lunch takes 10 minutes more. Those 10 minutes increases my efficiency and energizes my mood. I work towards the lunch, most of the times.
Treat yourself. Give incentives to yourself.
Have good, strong coffee. Not the shitty one. Fragrance and the caffeine of the coffee make me sit at the desk again and wake me up.
See — motivation is not enough. You cannot fool the body and the brain that you want them to work just because you like the work. You have to play a give-and-take game with them.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explained in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, “Effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose.” Several experiments proved that restoring the level of available sugar in the brain prevented the deterioration of performance.
Use delicious food and beverages to regain the lost productivity.
Josh Waitzkin said in his book The Art of Learning, “If you are interested in really improving as a performer, I would suggest incorporating the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life.”
Then he explained how even a two-minute break in the middle of a chess championship or a Tai Chi Push Hands competition helped him regain energy and cleansed his mind.
Breaks motivate us and re-energize us and flush-out our tiredness.
My breaks are — lunch, a tea or a coffee refill, a balcony visit for a few minutes, reading a book or an article, arranging flowers, watering plants, cooking, filling my red glass water bottle, closing my eyes for a minute, staring at Brahmini kites in the blue sky as they glide and make me want to fly.
Make lemonade. Maybe watch friends and laugh like crazy. Do something that entertains you and not stresses you further. Make sure your break is not rushed inducing a sense of urgency. Do not call people who make you anxious or complain.
Take breaks before you get too worked up. These breaks could be 2 or 10 or 15 minutes long. Take enough but not so many that you start working between the breaks.
A Daily Schedule — Build a daily routine.
Quoting Charles Duhigg, “Routines reduce uncertainty”.
Routine and schedule put you in an automatic mode — rather than having to reinvent the wheel again and again which exhausts our mind.
The best sportsmen of the world have a set routine for the competition day. They practice the schedule over and over. So, on the competition day, they just follow their routine. The main fight or a swimming race is just part of the schedule where they beat the opposite competitor— rather than focusing that the day is special and their careers depend on it. Bob Bowman trained Michael Phelps through a routine and he became the Olympic swimming champion practicing that routine.
I used this technique, even though I didn’t know about it then, while preparing for an engineering entrance examination in which the best of the country compete. I used to give mock tests and solve a lot of problems with a timer every day. That was my routine. On the day of the test, I used to have breakfast, shower, cycle to school, take out a pen, paper, and watch, and settle on my desk to solve problems. Like every other day.
I nailed the examination in which almost .6 Mn students participated.
Believe in the power of routine. Build one. Then see for yourself.
Discipline is core. It is like the salt in food. Discipline makes you win the marathon.
An experiment was done in 1960 in which four-year-old children had to wait before they could eat a marshmallow and if they waited, they got two marshmallows. Or they could eat the marshmallow immediately. As Charles Duhigg explained in his book The Power of Habit, “In this experiment, scientists discovered that the children who could delay gratification the longest ended up (when they grew up) with the best grades and with SAT scores 210 points higher than everyone else.”
Charles Duhigg established that self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent. And the best way to strengthen willpower and self-discipline is to make it into a habit.
Self-discipline is essential to success. And people with great control aren’t working hard. They have made discipline into a habit. I take no extra effort in not getting back to work after a short break. I am habitual.
Discipline helps stick to a schedule but it also comes across in small activities such as closing the Friends video when lunch is over or continuing watching. When you work from home, you don’t have to flash your access card at a fixed entry time and you are not answerable to anyone. You don’t have a boss or a corporate work environment in which AC’s are blasted at full so you don’t sleep. You are free and your own boss. But if you have a loose grip on discipline, that would affect each and every activity of your life, and you would have a loose grip on success too.
Instill discipline into your life such that it becomes a habit and doesn’t take any effort.
I give myself deadlines. Else the tasks just keep spilling over into the next day. I have a monthly editorial for publishing posts and for freelancing. I bookmark fiction submission deadlines as per which I submit stories and poems. I try to stick to these deadlines. Mostly, I am behind the schedule.
But imagine how much more chaos would be without the schedule? Nothing to push me to completion or make me feel bad that I did not do enough.
A deadline is important. If you don’t have a boss or submission deadlines, create your own finish lines.
Figure out what works for you.
I complete my most challenging or complex task in the morning — when I am the most energetic.
My writing suffers if I have not slept well. So I nap for half an hour.
I don’t work well in noise so no point going to a cafe and struggling for a quiet corner or being at the mercy of the guy who blasts music at cafes or that chatty man who keeps shouting in his phone as if he was in the seventy’s and was making a trunk call.
Tune into your own energy frequencies. Figure out what works for you.
Don’t listen to people — they would tell you that work from home sucks. That you would keep sleeping or would be bored. Everything depends on how you take it.
My motivation, quiet working hours, end-of-the-day long walks, weekend whiskey and walk around the lake, brewed coffee, Brahmini kites gliding in the sky — keep me engaged and excited and entertained and relaxed.
Find your keystone priorities and habits and breaks that let you work from home successfully.
Let me know in comments what energizes you when you work from home.
My next article would be how to make a schedule. Watch out for that one.
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