Working From Home: The 8 Keys to Success

Three years ago, I was working within the (often dreary) confines of a cubicle-lined office on Bloor Street — clocking my 8-4 from Monday through Friday.

If you had told me that in a year or two I would do a professional 180 to start working entirely from home with a mix of freelance and full-time, remote agency work whilst also working as a kickboxing coach — I probably would have laughed. At the time, that seemed like a far-fetched, infeasible concept.

And yet, the freelance career path and remote work model is seemingly taking the millennial masses by storm. According to studies, the majority of U.S. workers will be freelancing by 2027 and the number of U.S. freelancers hit 57.3 million this year. Young professionals around the world are opting away from the traditional career format to instead throw themselves into start-ups, sharing economy jobs and freelance work. The driving reasons for this shift? Likely the need for flexibility, loss of traditional job security and the millennial penchant for entrepreneurism — just to name a few.

As I write this, I’m seated at the kitchen table in my downtown townhouse, clad in a hoodie and leggings, coffee mug in hand and my dog asleep at my feet. I went to the gym this morning and I’ll likely be settled in this spot, writing, until about 5 PM when I leave to coach kickboxing classes at my studio. My morning commute is the 15 seconds it takes me to walk downstairs, or the few minutes down the road to a coffee shop. It’s not a bad set-up, if I may say so myself. But with that said, working from home isn’t all lazy mornings, PJ’s, Netflix and couch time. Rather, it actually requires a different kind of discipline, process and mindset to remain productive and organized, all of which I’ve spent the last two years slowly fine-tuning. So for anyone thinking about making the leap to a freelance career or work-from-home model, I’ve compiled all the do’s and don’ts that I’ve learned the hard way, so you don’t have to…

1. Start With Making Your Bed

William McRaven once said, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed”. This may seem like a rather trivial step within the larger picture of your day, but it should be an integral morning practice especially  for those of us working from home. A big part of developing productive habits is the ability to identify important tasks and readily complete them — so consider this the first important task of your day, and start your work day on a positive, productive note. Think about it, what’s worse than walking into a messy, visually chaotic and largely disorganized office space? If your home acts as your office, the same rules should apply.

2. Separate Your Work Space from Your Leisure Space

Ensure you have designated workspace in your home if that’s where you intend to do the bulk of your work. By this, I mean try to avoid doing work from the comfort of your bed or couch every day — as that set-up quite often isn’t conducive to hardcore productivity.

An organized space is a productive one, and in the case of a home office, you have complete autonomy over the vibe you create. Pinterest it up, ransack IKEA or Home Sense — whatever it takes, create a space that makes you feel at ease and inspired. Even better, items you purchase for a home workspace can be written off at year end. Peace of mind and  tax breaks? I’m about that life.

3. Adhere to a (Consistent) Schedule

Sure, part of the appeal to working from home is the ability to work in PJs and replace the dreaded morning commute with an extra hour of sleep. However, that doesn’t mean structure and scheduling should go by the wayside. Resist the urge to hit snooze on your alarm, throw on a fresh pot of coffee, jump in the shower and get yourself together with the same way you would for any other day.

Try to maintain a consistent wake-up schedule and utilize an agenda or online calendar to visualize a game plan for your day that segments out your work in a manageable way. Treat each item on your to-do list with the same importance as a meeting, even if that means assigning specific time windows for designated projects, a workout, lunch or breaks. Recognize that working from home requires you to be a self-starter — you won’t have a boss peering over your shoulder every few minutes to ensure you are on track and focused. You are the boss, and you have to hold yourself accountable to the schedule you create.

4. Create Boundaries

Guess what? Working from home doesn’t mean working less. Rather, it often means working more — much more, at times. Rather than having a set 9-5 schedule and leaving work at the office, your work lives with you at home. Especially when working with other freelancers or clients in different time zones, having work days that far exceed 8 or 9 hours becomes the norm. I can’t tell you how many late nights I’ve found myself split between an Office re-run, emails, an article, and/or photoshop work long after any office would have closed.

While this is all part of the hustle associated with entrepreneurship and the freelance life, it’s incredibly important to establish boundaries where the physical boundaries of a traditional office job no longer exist for you. Along with the creation of your daily schedule to keep yourself accountable, ensure that friends, family, clients and remote co-workers also respect and adhere to that schedule. Regardless of having uninhibited access to your laptop and iPhone, make a point to try and keep your work within set hours, where possible.

Ultimately, it is up to you to create the work-life balance that allows you to live your best life (personally and professionally).

5. Sometimes, You Just Need a Change of Scenery

While I love the bright confines of my living room and the furry company of my dog, sometimes I just need a change of scenery. To give yourself a productivity boost or add a little more separation between work and home, hit up local coffee shops or explore shared workspace options. Not only that but getting out of the home office gives you an opportunity to work in a more social space and potentially network or engage with co-workers, an experience which is often limited for remote workers.

6. If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

Productive isn’t always our default setting, especially in this digital age where notifications are constantly consuming our attention. Be honest with yourself about what platforms and activities represent the biggest distractions, and set yourself up for success by removing those temptations. In some cases, this may mean the creation of custom toolbars and browsers (one for leisure, one for work) or even putting your phone on airplane mode during set hours of the day.

You can also choose to mute notifications, keep your phone in the next room (on loud, just in case you get a phone call) or utilize apps that remind you of the time you’ve spent on various platforms to ensure your attention isn’t getting lost. Also make a point to schedule non-work appointments or errands outside of your work hours (where possible) to avoid major disruptions during your primary work hours.

7. Set Your Own Pace

We all have times during the day where we are most (or least) productive and motivated. Take some time to understand the ebb and flow of your professional energy to organize your to-do list in a way that assigns harder tasks to those times when you know you’ll be in the right headspace. If you’re not a morning person, start your day off with some simple tasks (or maybe even a workout) and ramp up with bigger projects and tasks as the day goes on and you hit your creative stride.

8. Get Familiar With Taxes

Being your own employer or working from home (usually) means you also assume the responsibilities that an employer normally would, including an understanding of taxes and finances. Either take the time to read and get educated (check out books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad), utilize apps like Quickbooks for easy, cloud-based accounting, or hire a kick-a*s accountant to ensure your affairs are always in order. Oh and, save your receipts — those bad boys can represent a whole lot of $ in write-offs come the end of the year.