Is your work-at-home life a struggle between putting in the work and achieving the life of your dreams? I’m here to help with 7 tips on how to create a work-from-home schedule that works for you.
Is your work-at-home life a struggle between putting in the work and achieving the life of your dreams? You are absolutely not alone. Transitioning into a work-from-home career is a vista of exciting new opportunities – and more distraction than you know what to do with. Without someone else putting in the time to make your schedule for you, how the heck do you get anything done?
This period of adjustment can feel scary, but I’m here to help with 7 tips on how to create a work-from-home schedule that works for you.
1. Choose Your System
One of the first steps in making your schedule work for you – so it’s not you working for your schedule – is to select an organizational system that suits you. It’s got to be something that keeps you focused and that you’ll actually use. Your system doesn’t need to be fancy; it doesn’t even need to be high-tech. It simply must be an effective tool to manage your time.
If you like to go old school, grab a classic agenda from your nearest office store: get one with at least a two-page spread for each day or week so you can pencil in all your commitments and goals.
Panda Planner is a really popular option and may be great for those of you who need a little more accountability and focus. You have the opportunity each day and week to review and prioritize your goals.
If a desk calendar keeping you on task works for you – and you have the desk space for it – do that. If you love washi tape and a rainbow of colors, give bullet journaling a go (but don’t let it become a colorful distraction from actually getting stuff done).
For you tech-lovers, if your brain lives in your smartphone, set up a productivity app – Todoist is a great one for arranging your long-term goals and daily activities easily and quickly. You can even trick out your Google Calendar with appointments and deadlines if it works better for you.
Don’t be afraid to try different types of systems until you find the one that makes your days sing in tune and on time. I use both a paper planner from Erin Condren to keep track of my daily and weekly tasks and Todoist to remind me of recurring tasks and things I may think of while away from my desk.
2. Clarify Your Goals
This is the other basic building block of a schedule that works: you must understand what your goals are before you can choose the best path for accomplishing them. Decide on your major goal – is it to work fewer hours per week? Or to use your work to fund travel? Do you want to create a blog that’s a thought leader in your chosen subject? Maybe you want to build your own VA business or become a successful freelance writer.
Whatever you want to accomplish, define it – and then you’ll know what the work is. You’ll know what you have to do on a monthly, weekly, down to daily basis. And you’ll be able to build a to-do list that you can distribute across your calendar.
If you don’t define your goals, you won’t know where you’re going – and you’ll be more likely to chase work-from-home schemes that don’t work, or waste your time with shiny new tools or ideas that don’t work for you. Having a clearly-defined path will also help you recognize how long to spend on waiting for things to gain traction before you cut your losses and try something new.
3. Prioritize Realistically
Here’s the thing: we expect too much of ourselves. Pretty much all the time. We sit down to make our to-do lists with the best of intentions, and then we pack way too much onto our future selves’ shoulders. This sort of idealistic planning is responsible for most of our failed New Year’s resolutions – and also much of our feelings of defeat and frustration. We set ourselves up to fail by expecting too much.
Instead, set yourself up to succeed with the 1-3-5 rule. The founder of The Muse, Alex Cavoulacos, put it this way: “On any given day, assume that you can only accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things.” It’s a pretty handy rule of thumb to keep you focused and knocking out what needs to be done in a reasonable time frame. Give it a try!
Here’s another great tip: try and get the big thing out of the way at the beginning of your day. When you tackle your biggest project at your freshest, you guarantee you’re bringing your best self to the table – and make everything else you need to do that day seem a breeze by comparison. You just set your tasks up and watch them fall in the face of your momentum.
4. Custom Build
When you’re working from home – or living the life of the digital nomad – you should embrace the fact that you’re not tied to the typical 9-to-5 grind. Your office is basically wherever you are and your office hours are whenever you choose – within reason. It’s true that you still do need to define certain time frames as your work hours, and make them consistent so that clients and business partners know when to reach you. Beyond that, however, building your schedule is all about building around your life and what you want to do.
If you’re a night owl, work all night! (You just might want to set up one day a week for meeting with clients in the daylight.) If you have school-aged children, work during the few hours between getting the kids off to school, running errands, and then picking them up in the afternoon. Break for dinner and family time, then put in more time after they’re in bed.
You don’t have to have a rigid work schedule. Work when it makes sense for you, and take off whichever days you please.
5. Minimize Distraction
Part of making your schedule work for you is actually putting in the work when you’ve scheduled yourself to do it. That means minimizing distractions.
When you first start working at home, it can be easy to waste the hours moving from one distraction to the other. There’s TV at home, or family members. There’s a quick coffee break waiting to turn into wasting 3 hours on social media. How do you guard against these distractions when there’s not the fear of a supervisor watching over your shoulder?
Take steps to eliminate common distractions. Tell your family that you’re unavailable for certain spans of time each day, and have a set workspace with a door you can close. Put your phone in airplane mode or on do not disturb. (On some devices, you can program Do Not Disturb to notify you if calls or texts from certain numbers come in, so you won’t miss emergencies.) Use computer apps that block you from time-wasting websites – yes, like Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook – until after a certain time.
Do whatever you need to do to stay on task.
6. Allow Flexibility
It’s important to custom-build your schedule and then to stick with it, but flexibility should be part of your planning, too. Things are always going to come up – the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that – especially if you have kids at home. I know my single and/or stay-at-home moms know exactly what I’m talking about.
Get ahead of the game by creating a schedule that can flex when necessary. You can do this a couple of different ways. Try giving yourself plenty of lead time on any given project so you’re not in trouble if you have to take a day off. You could also have some floating work time in your schedule, where you’ll slot in an hour or two wherever makes sense. That way, if your partner can’t drive the kids to their after-school lessons one day or if one of your babies gets sick, you can afford the time to adapt and regroup with your work later.
7. Try New Things
If your scheduling system is not working for you, toss it and try something else. Never be afraid to say goodbye to that pretty bullet journal or to not use all of that free trial on some shiny new productivity app. The most important thing is finding what works for you, and not forcing yourself into using a system that you’ll never keep up with. That’s just a waste of your time, and you know the value of your time. Spend it chasing the life you dream of and deserve.
Feeling more in control already? That’s what I like to hear! Get back to work and get stuff done.