Be your Best ‘At-Home-Work-Boss’.
During the past decade, I’ve completed my PhD and set up my own business from home. I love working from my own space, being my own boss. But, as you can imagine, I have had to get used to my own company, to learn to motivate myself and to know when I needed to make a change.
Honestly, It’s not always been pretty.
Periods of demotivation, doubt and boredom are bound to come along when working from home, especially if you are feeling socially isolated during the current pandemic.
If I could give my past self one piece of advice?
Be your best boss.
Perhaps you’re a boss of sorts already: a director, a teacher, a parent. You put in place strategies to support your employees, your students or your children with what’s expected of them. You build a scaffold to help them succeed.
When working from home, whether you’re employed by someone else or not, you need to do that for yourself. Keeping yourself on track whilst also nurturing your progress is a delicate balance.
Here are my top five tips to becoming your best ‘At-Home-Work-Boss’:
1. Set a realistic work schedule
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”— Benjamin Franklin
Two keywords here: ‘realistic’ and ‘schedule’.
First, be realistic. there are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. You need time to sleep, to eat, to exercise, to socialise and to relax. Take out your diary (virtual or real) and mark out some ‘work’ hours. Depending on your goal, this might be a few hours a week, or more of a full-time schedule. Make sure, if you're carving out big chunks of time for work, that you are also setting time for regular breaks.
What works for you? That depends — do you work for an employer who requires ‘core’ hours? Do you have caring responsibilities or other commitments outside of work? When are you naturally most awake? Remember, every individual is different, so, pick a schedule that works for you and your life.
Why is a schedule so important? A schedule keeps you on track, it ensures that no matter when your work hours are, you are doing enough of them to meet your personal goal.
Think of it like this: a cyclist without a track to follow will never win the race. You need a track too —just make sure that it’s personalised for you, your life and your goals.
2. Find the right setting
“You don’t “discover” your place in the world. You carve it out.” — Thibaut
Finding a workspace is key. Your workspace needs to be conducive to work — for many, that means quiet and calm. However, I know people that find they work best in a cafe or a shared office. Think back to when you’ve studied best, perhaps it was in a silent and peaceful library, or your favourite coffee shop. Now, as best as you can, recreate that space, somewhere in your house. Even if that’s your kitchen table, try and set up one part to be for work, try to keep it tidy and organised. Add music, ambient ‘people’ sounds, coffee, plants. Anything that makes you feel like ‘you’re at work’. Most importantly, when work time is over, according to your schedule, make sure you can disengage. If you can’t close a door on your work, do so symbolically; make a point of packing away your work things. You need to signal to your brain that there is a difference between work time and leisure time — especially when working from home.
Being always ‘on’ does not make you more productive, only exhausted.
3. Evaluate your progress
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” — Maya Angelou
I’m a bit old-school, so I keep a paper journal.
The method of recording is not important. What is important is that you keep some record of your work time. By doing this, you can look back at your work hours and assess what has worked well and what has not.
Also, I find that if I record my work hours, I’m much less likely to slack off.
Some days are just a slog. No matter how much you love your work, there are just some days where you’re too tired, too sick, too distracted, or whatever.
Making progress is like climbing a mountain: you’re not going to see how far you’ve come until you look back.
As well as evaluating individual tasks, look at the overall trend — are you making steps in a positive direction? For example, are you getting more done in your work time, are you producing better quality work? Are you finding more joy in your work routine?
These questions are important. Don’t just look at your hours, look at what you produce.
For example, during my PhD I would sit for hours and hours, staring at the same dataset, often feeling frustrated at my lack of progress, my lack of insight. In the end, I finally gave up and sacrificed some of my ‘work time’ to go for a run instead. This was a game-changer for me. I would come back refreshed, reinvigorated and, quite often, be able to work out a creative solution to my problem.
In short, I learnt a key lesson: to succeed I needed to produce my best quality of work, not my best quantity of work.
4. Don’t forget to celebrate
“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” — Tom Peters
Imagine a boss who never, ever praised you, never celebrated your successes. Maybe you’ve even had a boss like this. How would you feel? Demotivated, frustrated, under-appreciated?
So, be your best boss and don’t forget to celebrate. If you’re like me and struggle to congratulate yourself, make it a habit. Perhaps at the end of your working week, write down all the things you did well, no matter how small.
Don’t forget to reward yourself through your working day too. Perhaps I managed one hour not looking at social media, excellent — gold star for me (or whatever small reward).
Basic psychology, I know, but in my experience, it works.
Reach out to others, perhaps a family member or friend, and tell them about what went well. Social sharing is another tool in your arsenal, and you don’t need a physical office community to use it.
5. Build resilience
“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” — Elbert Hubbard
Remember I talked about ‘balance’ earlier? To manage yourself well, you need to balance reward with constructive critique.
Say the word ‘criticism’ and people back away. Not that surprising. The word conjures being ‘told off’, humiliated and shamed. No, take the time to critique your work constructively. Just labelling your work as ‘bad’ is not going to help you progress if you don’t have realistic ways to improve it.
Of course, it might be during one of these times that you realise that you are on completely the wrong path, perhaps even in the wrong career. You have a choice here: to stick at it and trust that things will improve, or, let go and make a change.
There’s no right answer here — but whatever you do, don’t choose from a place of fear.
Trust yourself and take heart — you’ve got this.