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A Freelancer’s Advice for the Newly Working-from-Home

My friend Trina’s workplace closed last Monday, and yesterday marked the start of her second week as a remote worker. She was doing okay, but beginning to feel scattered, unproductive, distracted, and guilty because she wasn’t spending her usual 9-to-five workday fully engaged in her job.

Then I talked to my sister Paula, who’d been let go from her bartender job when the whole restaurant closed down, and today was the first time in about 30 years that she didn’t have a job to go to. Her situation was a little more stark. Though she’s got some savings to see her through, she was grappling with a whirl of thoughts. Think of all the projects she now had time for! Think of the luxury of visiting with friends on social media! Think of… pretty soon she was thinking dire thoughts about the virus and going into a tailspin.

Both my friend and my sister were grateful when I called them. Five years ago I left my last corporate job to start my own freelance writing business. I had experienced the guilt of the unproductive and the whirling maelstrom of tasks to choose from. It took practice, but eventually I learned what worked best to keep my sanity and my productivity while working from home.

  1. Dress like you’re heading out to work. This advice is far from new, going back as far as Napoleon Hill or as recently as Michelle Goodman in her wonderful book, My So-Called Freelance Life. Bunny slippers and sweats are temptingly comfortable, and who’s to know? But putting on your work clothes, at least nice enough for casual Friday, helps your brain to focus and think job-like thoughts. It raises your energy and shores up your self-esteem. Anything you do to prevent negative thoughts is well worth the effort. (See Number 10.)

  2. Set your work hours and stick to that schedule. During those self-prescribed hours, remain at your desk or laptop, preferably in an area with few distractions and, except for scheduled breaks, keep your butt in the chair until quitting time.

  3. Draft an agenda for what you’ll accomplish each day. These can be small but important tasks that will make you feel successful once they’re done. I like to work the 3-2-1 method: Three business goals, two other-directed goals, one self-care goal. Reverse order as needed.

  4. Stay in touch with those who matter. With colleagues, you might be already chatting on Slack or on a group conference call, but once in a while, just pick up the phone. With coworkers, talk a little business, ask how they’re doing, and mention something fun. Make sure your daily agenda includes time to check in with loved ones, too, during a break or after the workday is done.

  5. Get better at hosting an online meeting. If you’re not already using Zoom, Go-to-Meeting, FreeConference or other video meeting systems, learn one. You never know when you’ll be called on to set one up, either with colleagues, potential hiring managers, or friends and family. We might be quarantined for a while, but we don’t have to be isolated.

  6. Exercise your brain. Read about something other than the health crisis. Learn something new to help you in your job. Enrich your mind by reading for pleasure—but save the puzzle and game apps for downtime.

  7. Get up and move around. Maybe you’ve got a home gym or you run every morning. Good for you! But if you’re shut out of your health club or your yoga studio is closed, be sure to get in some exercise at least once a day. The experts say it’s especially important—and completely non-contagious—to get some fresh air, even if just through an open window. And hey, it’s almost spring! Birds, daffodils, softer breezes, budding trees, babbling brooks—get as much of that as you can.

  8. Minimize your exposure to the news cycle. Tap into news that’s relevant to your business. Decide for yourself which (and how many) articles about the Corona virus you want to read in a day.

  9. Listen to music that makes you happy. I never thought I could work with music playing until I discovered Focus@Will. It’s a music streaming service designed for focusing your mind while you work or create. Choose the optimum style for your brain and personality, and customize the energy level of the music you hear. The built-in timer is an incredibly useful tool. Not into using yet another app? Even just building a feel-good playlist in Spotify can work wonders for boosting your mood anytime.

  10. Dispel negative thoughts. The above tips are aimed largely toward people whose jobs have switched to remote, but they are still working and connecting. Many workers, however, have just been sent home. I can tell you from experience, your mind can’t tell the difference between being sent home because of the Corona virus and being fired. It’s vitally important to keep believing in ourselves. Resist negative thinking through any means necessary. In fact, I heard a great tip at a workshop last weekend. If you feel yourself spiraling, take three deep breaths and remember TAN: with the first breath, let go of tension. With the second, let go of anxiety. With the third, let go of negative thoughts. Then get outside, pick up a book of poetry, or call a friend. When you move a muscle, you change a thought.

  11. Forgive yourself. Some days are like, I can’t even. Some days I just can’t concentrate and anything I do feels crappy. Some days I’m interrupted over and over, and by the end of the day I want to scream and commit crimes and misdemeanors. On those days I forgive myself.

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