When you’re working from home, it can be easy for your work and your home life to blur into one. For the sake of your happiness, personal relationships and productivity, it’s important that you don’t let this happen. But how? Part of the answer is to create a work from home schedule.
Creating and sticking to a work from home schedule is one of the most powerful changes you can make to boost your productivity and improve your work-life balance while working from home.
However, the process of coming up with a schedule that works for you – then actually sticking to it – can be trickier than you might think.
Create your work from home schedule
Unfortunately, you can’t just download a readymade schedule off the internet. Everyone’s work and home life is different, and some people find it easier to work at some times of the day than others, so your schedule has to be unique to you.
When creating your work from home schedule, your aim is to come up with a regular routine that will help to keep you on track. That means a series of activities that will set you up to avoid procrastination, get all of your work done, and keep up to date with your personal life too.
It’s a delicate balance and there are a number of things to consider.
Consider your professional commitments
The first thing you might want to consider is your list of professional commitments. Do you work with colleagues and clients? And, if so, what are their working hours?
It might be that you don’t have much flexibility in your own schedule, because you have team meetings and client calls that you can’t miss. On the other hand, you might be a very independent freelancer with much more freedom to choose when and where you do your work.
Deadlines are another type of professional commitment. If you have a regular piece of work that needs to be sent off by, say, Friday afternoon, you’ll inevitably need to create your schedule around that task.
Consider your family and social life
Once you’ve thought about your professional commitments, your family and social commitments are next on the list.
Whether it’s picking the kids up from school or meeting friends on a Friday afternoon, if it’s a regular part of your week that you don’t want to lose to work, you should plan it into your schedule.
Another benefit of this is that family and friends will get to know your routine too. Not only will you feel more in control knowing that you’re off the clock and free to socialise, your friends and family will know when you’re contactable and when you’re likely to be busy working.
Are you a night owl or a morning person?
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘night owl’ to describe people who like to stay up late, where other people might prefer to be in bed by 9pm but up at dawn. Everyone is different and it’s important to consider what type of person you are when making your schedule.
Unless you’re restricted by other factors (such as colleagues or family), the work from home lifestyle doesn’t have to be 9 to 5. In fact, this flexibility is one of the great benefits of working from home.
The key is think about when you do your best work and feel most motivated. If that’s 7am to 3pm, great. If it’s 2pm to 10pm, that’s fine too. As long as it works for you and your work-life balance.
Take a break
One downside of working from home is that you lose some of the routine that comes from working in an office or other communal workplace. Where you might previously have taken coffee breaks with colleagues, or gone to lunch at the same time, when working alone, it can be easy to forget to take a break at all.
Fortunately, if you create a schedule, you’ll never forget your break again, as meals and time away from your desk will become a regular part of your routine.
And remember – don’t feel guilty about taking breaks! As long as they are relatively short breaks to recharge, as opposed to unproductive procrastination, then it’s much better to give yourself a break than it is to work all day and burn out.
Write it down
However simple your routine may be, we strongly recommend writing it down and keeping a copy within view while you’re working.
This is particularly important when your learning a new routine, as a printed copy will act as a constant reminder of scheduled activities and help you to stay on course throughout the day. You may even want to tick off activities as the day and week progresses.
Of course, a printed or digital calendar can be extremely useful in helping you to follow a routine. Block out time, set alerts and consider sharing your calendar with people who need to know your schedule.
You may also find it helpful to use a template, such as this one from Microsoft, to help you map out your schedule for the day and the week ahead.
Sticking to your work from home schedule
Creating a schedule is one thing, actually sticking to it is another. Often , people put a lot of time and effort into creating a schedule, only to then fail to follow it.
This not only means that you miss out on the benefits of having a work from home schedule, it also means that all the time and effort you put into planning your new routine has gone to waste. Clearly, this is to be avoided, and the best way to do that is to recognise the reasons why you might fail to stick to a schedule.
Common pitfalls when attempting to follow a schedule include:
Setting unrealistic goals and time frames
If you don’t allow yourself enough time to complete the tasks in your schedule, you’ll inevitably fall behind. Once this happens, you’re no longer following the schedule at all and you’ll eventually abandon it entirely. It’s important to give yourself more time than you think you’ll need when planning your routine.
Lack of motivation
Are you motivated by your work? Are you working at the right times of day when your energy levels are at their highest? If not, you could lack motivation and enthusiasm, start procrastinating and fail to stick to the work schedule you had planned.
Failure to account for external factors
Unless you work entirely independently and never see anyone else ever, you’re going to be influenced by factors beyond your control at some point.
Whether it’s an unexpected task from your boss, a sudden increase in client enquiries, or your partner asking you to help with urgent household tasks, external factors are bound to come into play eventually.
The solution is to build time into your schedule to allow for some flexibility. You can also recognise that it’s ok to deviate from your schedule on occasion, as long as it doesn’t become a regular habit.
Poor time keeping
You can’t stick to a schedule if you lose track of time!
Make sure that you have a clock in your workspace, set calendar alerts, and use alarms or timers on your phone to make sure your tasks don’t overrun.
Set up a dedicated work space
Finally, the place where you work can have a big impact on how well you stick to schedule.
Drawing a physical divide between your working space and non-working space actually makes it easier to separate your working and non-working time.
Once you have set up a dedicated work area, you should avoid doing non-work tasks in that space. Equally, you should avoid doing work in other areas of the house. This will help you get into a work mindset when you enter your ‘office’ space, and will help you switch off at the end of your working day.
We can’t stress the importance of this enough. Recognising the need for a dedicated work space is a hugely important step towards learning to work from home.