Working from Home Ground Rules

The number one question I’m asked by a person when they find out I work from home is “do you work in pajamas?” The other response I typically get is “I could never do that, I’d never get anything done.”

No I don’t wear pajamas during work hours. And as long as I don’t stay in my pajamas all day I’m typically really productive. So how do I stay motivated, disciplined, and creative while working from my home? It comes down to some basic ground rules:

Rule #1: Establish a consistent morning routine

Everyone has their morning routines before leaving for work. The only big difference between mine now vs. when I left the house for work each day is I don’t worry much about how I look. With that said I always dress in clothes I’d feel comfortable wearing in front of a client—no sweats, no pajamas, no yoga pants… ok sometimes I wear yoga pants. I also make sure I’m fed, caffeinated and feeling ready to go before I step in front of my computer at the same time every morning.

Rule #2: Designate a office space and keep it tidy

For me, it’s critical to have a separate room in the house just for my office. My house is a small two-bedroom so the office doubles as a guest space on weekends. In order to keep it feeling open and tidy we built a murphy bed and I intentionally keep the clutter down to a minimum so I’m never tempted to clean instead of work. The room has lots of natural light, artwork, and plants to keep me feeling awake and happy almost as much as the coffee that’s currently sitting next to my keyboard.

Rule #3: Have a daily morning checkin

Our team always kicks off the day with a morning check-in call to discuss what’s on our plates for the day. We also each touch base on what we will need that day from other team members. This sets the expectations for the day and ensures everyone is on the same page. We have eliminated internal email and instead when we need to chat we’ll send an IM or pick up the phone and call. It not only saves valuable time (in my experience emailing back and forth can be a huge time suck) but it helps me feel more connected to my coworkers and I’m rarely lonely while working from home. But really I’m never completely alone because puppies.

Rule #4: Take time with the dogs

One of my favorite parts about working from home is having my dogs around me all day. They’re the best kind of officemates – quiet, calm, and always happy to go for a lunch walk. Plus they don’t complain about my taste in music.

Rule #5: Meditate

I’ll admit some weeks I’m better at this than others. The days I feel anxious, overwhelmed or just fall flat creatively I take 10 minutes away from all screens and meditate. It’s not for everyone but it helps me stay energized, calm and focused. If you’ve never tried meditating I highly recommend checking out a guided meditation podcast or an app like HeadSpace.

Rule #6: Get out

If I’m feeling antsy I make a point to leave the house for my lunch hour. In the summers it typically means a mountain bike ride or a walk with the dogs. In the winter I’ll sometimes go out for lunch, run an errand or take the pups for a more brisk jaunt around the neighborhood. Leaving the house clears my head when I’m not feeling particularly creative and helps me reset for the afternoon.

Rule #7: Make checklists

I’m all about making hand-written checklists (yes on paper). During crunch weeks, in-particular I’ve found checklists are an easy way to manage my time and I’ll often make a separate to-do list for each day of the week on post its and line them up along the bottom of my computer screen. There’s something so satisfactory about throwing away a completed to-do list.

Rule #8: End the day at the same time, every day

Keep a consistent schedule just like you would if you were going to an office every day. No work emails or Basecamp after 5:00pm. For me there are a few exceptions to this rule. If a big deadline is approaching I may work a bit later than usual and/or start the day earlier. But on a typical work day I really try to start and end at the same time every day.

Rule #9: Get to the office

I often travel to Saint Paul for in-person client meetings even though I usually have the option to participate via video conference. Spending time with our clients and my team helps me stay motivated and passionate about the work I do and the organizations I do it for.

Rule #10: Admit if it’s not working

Working from home is not for everyone. It takes self-discipline and grit to stay focused. If you have the opportunity to try it and it feels too lonely and/or you’re not getting your work done then it’s probably time to go back to the office. Maybe you can even convince them to become a dog-friendly work environment.

Rule #11: TURN IT UP TO 11

Play the music you like that your coworkers always complained about. Without headphones.