July 30, 2010

Summer Friday: The Joys of Working from Home (a.k.a. Shower Optional)

Every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day I'm going to be featuring guest bloggers as a part of my "Summer Fridays" series. This week's entry comes from the lovely and talented Brooke Forry of ClaremontRoad.com who shares her personalized journey into the world self-employment.

Just about six months ago, I had a moment of temporary insanity. "Hey, I'm going to quit my job and start my own business!" I thought to myself. "This will be fun!" And then I did just that.

Actually, that's not how it happened at all. In reality, my decision to quit my job and start a business may have been an absolutely crazy leap of faith, but it is one that I thought about and wrestled with for a long time. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made -- to leave a stable 9-6 job as a graphic designer for complete unpredictability and financial instability -- but half a year later, I can proudly say it is the best decision I have ever made in my career.

To make a long story short, in early 2010, I partnered with four other amazing designers and friends to form Curious & Company, a full service design firm specializing in print and interactive design. While we're still getting our business established, we are fortunate enough to each be able to work from our individual homes, which, for me, means I spend the majority of my time here:

work from home office

You can find me sitting at my little desk click-clacking away and designing up a storm pretty much all the time. Sometimes wearing my pajamas. Okay, usually wearing my pajamas. With no makeup on. And my knotty (unwashed) hair pulled back into a ponytail.

In all seriousness, I do bathe (sometimes,) and I love working from home. While I work probably twice the hours that I did at any previous job, having the flexibility to make my own schedule gives me the opportunity to take time to myself when I need it, make plans with friends and family without feeling limited to hour-long lunch breaks, spend time with my husband even when I'm working and have control over how efficiently my projects run. If you've ever thought about working for yourself or working from home (or both), here are my best personal pointers.

Work when you're most productive.
I am a night owl. I feel most creative and inspired in the evening; it's also easier for me to be more productive at night when there are fewer distractions (and less emails blowing up my inbox). I stay up late, sometimes working into the wee hours of the following day, but then I ease into my mornings a little later than most people do because that's what works best for me. (Example: on Wednesday, I went out to breakfast with my mom and didn't sit down to start doing work until 11:30 a.m.) Don't feel restricted to stick with the 9-to-5 game if it doesn't feel natural; embrace what works best for you.

Track your time.
It's very easy to get distracted when there's no boss looking over your shoulder to check up on your productivity. Staying accountable for your time is key in using your time wisely and not getting off-track with non-work distractions (like Twitter, which is the ultimate time-suck of all time-sucks). The Pomodoro Technique is great for keeping tabs on your productivity every 25 minutes -- I use mytomatoes.com in lieu of a kitchen timer, and it's amazing how much I can accomplish when I know I have to keep track of how I'm spending every 25 minutes. If that doesn't work for you, keeping track of your time with another application like Toggl or a simple pen and paper can work wonders for productivity and staying aware of how much time you're spending (or wasting) on certain tasks.

Set deadlines for everything.
Even if you're working on a self-imposed task, give yourself a deadline for everything. It's really easy to keep pushing things off when there's no client waiting at the other end of a project, but more often than not these are the tasks that will help your business run more efficiently, or help you secure new clients. If you put them off for too long, you're only hurting yourself.

Make lists.
I'm the queen of lists -- I have lists that remind me to make new lists. I function well with lists because I love the satisfaction that comes from crossing something off after it's completed, and writing everything out helps me to prioritize and organize what needs to be accomplished. Teux Deux is a great application for making simple, attractive lists for each day of the week; Remember The Milk has more capabilities -- it allows you to create lists under different categories and set deadlines -- although it's not as "pretty." And, of course, pen and paper works, too.

Give yourself a break.
If you're feeling antsy or unproductive, take a break! No one is forcing you to stay chained to your desk, and taking a 20-minute break will likely result in much more productivity than if you continue to just stare at your computer for four hours. How you spend your time is up to you; as long as you get the work done, you decide when that happens and how many breaks you get.

Have food in your house.
This may sound silly, but if I don't have some decent options for lunch, I will either walk down the street and buy something unhealthy to stuff in my face, or I will snack on a hodgepodge of foods that I find in my kitchen (which are usually lacking any real nutrition). Having healthy food in our house helps me to resist the temptation of the burger joint around the corner, and eating nutritious foods helps to keep me focused and on-task. No matter how much I really, really want that burger that will make me feel like crap.

Make it a point to venture outside.
Earlier this year, we had some pretty brutal weather on the east coast. There was this one day where I was feeling particularly antsy working from home, and then I realized why -- it was because I hadn't left our apartment in five days. Like, not even walked out the front door beyond reaching for the mail. I was kind of ashamed of myself. It's easy to stay cooped up in your little bubble when you don't have anywhere to go, but fresh air and a look at the world can work wonders for the soul. (And it's an excuse to take a shower and put on real people clothes/non-pajamas once in a while.)

While it's not for everyone, starting a business and working from home has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. I work a million hours a week, but I love every second of it and I wouldn't trade it for anything. (Okay, maybe I'd trade it for a winning lottery ticket.) If you've ever thought about taking the leap to self-employment, take time to make sure it's the right decision for you... and then put off that shower, put on your pajamas, kick up your heels and get to work.

Awesome post, Brooke! Love all of the tips and especially the time-tracking resources. You can read more from Brooke about adulthood, pretty things and pop culture over at ClaremontRoad.com. Click here to read all of the Summer Friday entries.