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Top 10 rules for working from home September 17, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

In these days of high gas prices and rising living expenses in general, telecommuting is a hot topic. Many people aspire to work from home, which offers you the freedom to tailor your hours around childcare and cut out unnecessary travel and clothing expenses, office distractions and the need to work 9-5. We translators are ahead of the game, so to speak. Here are my top 10 rules for working from home.

1. Set office hours and stick to them.

The beauty of working from home is you can work whenever it suits you, but it is easy to drift away and do other things – or just the opposite, work the whole day. Decide on a set schedule and stick with it. Keep a log if you have to. You might want to kick-start your day by taking a walk around the block or scheduling a shower at 9 a.m. and then getting to work.

2. Get dressed.

It is hard to feel efficient when talking to a potential customer in your pajamas. I’m not advocating wearing a blouse and a skirt or a suit and tie, but at least lose the pajamas. My favorite organizational guru, FlyLady, insists that you should always “get dressed to lace up shoes” when you first get up in the morning. This means fix your hair and face too. According to FlyLady, “you act different when you have clothes and shoes on.” As for why the shoes should be laced, “putting shoes on your feet that lace up are better than slip-ons or sandals, because they are harder to take off. Instead of kicking your shoes off for a quick snooze on the couch, you actually have to go to a bit more trouble.”

3. Avoid the television during your office hours.

I know this seems like a given, but I have heard from several colleagues who had trouble managing their time in the beginning because they were watching their soaps instead of sending out resumes to potential clients. It is so easy to get sucked into a television program and put off your work – especially if you do not have a looming deadline. Keep the TV off during your office hours or be very regimented about turning it off after a scheduled break. I love Law and Order marathons as much as the next person, but I don’t watch them if I have a looming deadline.

4. Create a separate office space.

Ideally this is a separate room, with a door you can shut at the end of your office hours. If you haven’t got enough space, think carefully about where you want to work. Keeping a computer in the corner of your bedroom is not a good idea. Bedrooms should be a place to unwind and relax – not have a constant reminder that you can quickly check your e-mail. If you have to, partition a space off in the living room or dining room with a screen.

4. Plan your day.

Make a to-do list and do things in order of importance. Keep up with your e-mail. Answer e-mail as soon as you can before it becomes overwhelming. Make the difficult calls when you are starting your day, because putting them off and dreading them can sap your energy all day.

5. Have a clutter-free desk.

Think of your desk as a place of action. At the end of each day, put everything away and update your job board. I love starting each day with a clear desk. Keep the minimum of essential items such as pens and a few stationery supplies on your desk. Try and work on one project at a time so you can keep focused.

6. Don’t let post-its clutter up your desk.

If you have too many post-its you will start ignoring them. Keep a notebook or log to record phone calls on rather than post-its and scraps of paper.

7. File stuff away as soon as you can.

Invest in a filing cabinet and personalize your filing system. Also, does it really need to be in alphabetical order? Why not file the items chronologically at the front of a folder? I have four files for each business year and file invoices, bank statements, pay stubs, bills, etc. in chronological order. More on this another day.

8. Turn off the lights and close the office door at the end of the day.

It is so easy to keep the computer on and check the e-mail before you go to bed. One of my colleagues does not answer her phone outside her business hours, which she clearly states on her answering machine message. It isn’t healthy to be accessible 24/7. Our customers don’t usually work 24/7, so they shouldn’t expect you to.

9. Communicate your boundaries with your customers.

If you get up at 5 a.m. so you are available to take your kids to school or are a night owl, let your customers know. My customers know I do not get in the office until 10 a.m. because I work best later in the day. I also avoid working with customers who don’t respect boundaries. Unless they have a valid reason for doing so and are in a life-and-death emergency situation, if an agency calls me at 3 a.m., 8 p.m. on a Friday night or even Sunday night (these examples have all happened to me at one time or another) I cross them off my mental list of customers. If the customer’s expectations are unrealistic tell them and explain why.

10. Be sure you get some “me time.”

Take weekends or a couple days during the week off. Schedule time to exercise. Get a monthly massage. Take a walk in the park a couple days a week. Down time is so important.

If you follow these 10 simple rules you will find working from home to be more enjoyable and rewarding than it would be otherwise. Give it a try and see for yourself. Did I miss something? Tell me in the comments!



1. Nicholas Sanders - September 17, 2008

Lose the pajamas only?

2. ginstrom - September 17, 2008

Awesome list! Here’s how I score:
1. – Fail. I work whatever hours are convenient to me.
2. – Fail. Shorts and t-shirt is the norm; then again, that’s the norm when I go out too. Also, I live in Japan so lace-up shoes in the house aren’t really an option 🙂
3. – Pass. I watch almost no TV anyway.
4. – Pass. I had my office built when I had an extension built on my house.
5. – Epic fail. I have clutter on my clutter.
6. – Pass. I don’t use post-it notes. 🙂
7. – Pass — because I almost never use paper. My wife does our taxes and takes care of our bills.
8. – Fail.
9. – Pass. Although I will pick up the phone off hours if I’m in the office and not busy with something else.
10. – Pass. One of the truly great things about being a freelancer, IMO.

3. Irishpolyglot - September 17, 2008

My score:
1. Pass/Fail – I don’t work particular hours, but the hours I *do* set I stick to them!
2. Epic fail. The most formal I can be during the work week is shaving less than once every 3 days 😛
3. Pass. What’s a TV? 🙂 I haven’t used one of those in years. Don’t miss it. I use stumbleupon video and torrent downloading as a replacement, but my efficiency programs I’ve installed don’t let me access them when I’m in a work slot!
4. Pass/Fail – I change living location every month and always try to have an office space! Right now I have an office, but two months ago it was in my bedroom. You’re right about “quickly checking emails”, very good point I need to work on!!
5. Epic fail. My desk looks like the centre of gravity of my whole flat is there. Definitely something else I need to work on!!
6. Pass – don’t use post-its. I keep a very small equivalent as a program in my computer that doesn’t get cluttered. 🙂
7. ? I don’t have ANY physical documents. Everything I do is electronic and I my bank etc. has PDF versions of statements for me. I have nothing to file. I scan anything I’m rarely posted and put it in the recycling bin. I save trees 😛
8. Ridiculously epic fail. I travel with my job and have to leave my computer on at night to WAKE ME UP when I get work from European clients 😛 I’m unavailable after EU office working hours though, and when I’m not in this bad a time-zone it’s usually a non-issue, since I only have EU clients. Sounds really bad, but I get back to sleep quickly and it’s a sacrifise I am happy to make for being on the road!
9. Pass.
10. SUPER pass 😀 I’m not a workaholic 😛 Most of my life is me time 😀

Thanks for the interesting tips!! Certainly some things were emphasised that I need to change 😉

4. jillsommer - September 17, 2008

You guys are hilarious! I don’t necessarily follow all the rules either, but I find that when I do I feel more together and efficient. And yes lose the pajamas, but shorts and a t-shirt are fine. As long as it isn’t something you’ve slept in or would be embarrassed to be seen outside in. 🙂 And for what it’s worth, I usually fail number 8 too. I try to set office hours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. but usually find myself still at the computer at midnight. It isn’t healthy, and I really need to work to change this. Maybe I should call them “guidelines” instead of “rules”?

5. Corinne McKay - September 18, 2008

Fabulous post, this should be required reading at the ATA conference! It’s interesting how everyone excels at some of these and struggles perpetually with others, so I think it’s great to take inventory every once in a while and see how you are doing. For me, keeping a regular schedule is really, really important, otherwise I get into this downward spiral of working late, working too fast, sleeping too little, being a total grouch to my family, etc. I try not to be a slave to the schedule because hey, that’s part of the beauty of freelancing, but I do really try to have a schedule for the day in my head, so that a few quick errands don’t turn into an entire afternoon of thrift shopping.

Right on!

6. Janine Libbey - September 18, 2008

I do my hair and put on makeup everyday to put myself in a “work” frame of mind. It also means I look all right if I run into any clients at lunch time which has happened to me on more than one occasion!

7. Look what I found: Another translator’s blog « ¿Se habla English? Life of a Translator - September 18, 2008

[…] to this blog because you are bound to find something actually beneficial (such as her post on 10 top rules for working from home). And because it offers glimpses into her life outside of translation. Well-rounded individuals […]

8. MT - September 18, 2008

Amen!!! 🙂

9. Judy Jenner - September 19, 2008

Great post, Jill. As a newcomer to freelancing (but who marched out of the house in awesome three-inch heels and dresses every day for almost 10 years), I am still trying to figure this all out. It’s only been three weeks, so I am trying to learn what works for me. Great suggestions! Well, I do pass 4/5/6/7 already. And 3, by default, because I don’t watch much TV anyway. I have failed at #1, this far, and don’t have too much data on #9, but not doing badly (yet).

I have been working too much and feel guilty when I am not, but hopefully this will pass. I have been commenting to friends that my boss, the witch, won’t let me hang out at the pool during the day, which is silly, because I can work at night, too. 🙂 I really need to set a schedule like you and Corinne suggest. Right now it’s all over the place, and I am not sure if I like it or not. Part of me loves it, because I was really tired of the ever-predictable rhythm of work in my corporate life, so maybe I need to go crazy with an unpredictable schedule for a while and then structure it a bit more.

With that said, I am off for a run, and maybe hit the pool, too.

10. TootSweet Transcreations » Blog Archive » Why would you want to be a freelance ?! - November 14, 2008

[…] other thing that can help is to set up some rules. Although I sometimes find it quite hard to discipline myself, I too try to be out of my pyjamas […]

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