12 Ways to Keep Sane While Working from Home

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You’ve been looking at a computer screen all day. You’re all alone in the house, you have deadlines piling up, and you’re starting to feel stir crazy. If this sounds like you, then congratulations, you’re a typical freelancer or telecommuter.

Because working from home means that your work and personal living spaces are right on top of one another, telecommuters and freelancers typically face unique challenges. As SitePoint’s only full-time telecommuting employee, I know that it’s easy to start feeling a little nuts while working from home, so here are 12 tips to help you stay sane. Let us know any others that you might have in the comments below.

  1. Clearly define your work space. – Working from home means that your work space and living space are often one in the same. It’s important that you keep them separate as much as possible, though. If you work while sitting in your bed, for example, you’ll constantly feel like you’re at work during your down time, and that will just create unnecessary stress when you’re trying to relax.
  2. Take a walk. – There’s really nothing like some fresh air to clear your head. Often times, when I’m starting to feel a little claustrophobic, creatively blocked, or just a little burned out, I’ll go outside and take a short walk. Twenty minutes of fresh air is an amazing way to recharge myself for the rest of the day.
  3. Take a nap. – Because working from home means your office is in your house, it becomes really easy to lose track of time and just work straight through the day. Or late into the night. Homeworkers very often keep strange hours, and as a result, I find myself getting tired at odd times. A quick 15 minute nap is a good way to charge back up for another few hours of working.
  4. Have lunch with a friend. – It’s great to get out of the house, but it’s also a good idea to socialize with real people. I’m able to have lunch a couple of times per week with my girlfriend, which is a really nice break during the day and helps keep me from feeling too overworked. The human-to-human interaction that you miss from working with people in an office is important to replicate as much as possible.
  5. Join a local user group. – Another way to recreate that human interaction is by joining a local user group. Meeting up with a local group serves three purposes: 1. you can do valuable professional networking, 2. you can learn from your peers, and 3. you get the face-to-face interaction with like-minded professionals that is vital to staying sane for homeworkers.
  6. Engage with a community online. – User groups generally only meet one or two times per month, so in the intervening times, it’s a great idea to find professional camaraderie online by joining a web community that revolves around your industry. For web developers, we’re partial to SitePoint’s Forums, of course.
  7. Use Twitter. – Among all the things Twitter can be, one of the best uses I’ve found is as the online equivalent of the watercooler. Workers both at home and at offices can connect around common causes and have quick impromptu conversations about any topic under the sun. The occasional tweet during the day can definitely help you feel more connected to the web working community at large.
  8. Subscribe to a trade magazine. – There are two reasons to subscribe to a trade magazine. First, you’ll learn about what’s new in your industry and feel more involved with it. And second, a tangible printed magazine will force you off the computer once in awhile, which is very important for keeping your wits about you. Trust me.
  9. Keep work and personal contact info separate. – Just like you keep your work and living spaces separate, when working from home you need to keep your contact info separate as well. Get a separate phone number, email address, and separate instant messenger accounts for work. That way, when the work day is done, you can more easily shut out the work-related stuff and focus on your life outside of your job. Doing that will be a lot harder when clients are calling your personal phone line or sending you messages on the IM account you use to chat with friends.
  10. Get a cat (or a dog). – Having a pet around the house is an awesome way to keep sane during a long work day. Nothing melts away work-day stress like playing with my cat for a few minutes. Having a dog can also help to ensure that you take those walks during the day, as well.
  11. Take regular breaks. – As we noted, when your office is in your house, it becomes really easy to lose track of time and just work straight through the day. For a lot of people, taking a break from work while at home feels like goofing off because you’re in the same space in which you relax and unwind after work. Anyone who has worked in an office, however, knows that hardly anyone works the entire day — people get up and get coffee, they play Guitar Hero in the break room, they chat around the copy machine, etc. Working from home doesn’t offer those social opportunities, so it becomes very important that you take regular breaks during the day.
  12. Schedule time off. – A series of 15 minute breaks throughout the work day do not a vacation make. It’s just as important for your mental health that you take some time off. Unplug the laptop, turn off the phone, get out of the house, and don’t think about work for a week. Try to do that at least once a year.

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  • Jerich

    11. Get married – nothing beats a married freelancer :D

  • http://www.wilwaldon.com wilwaldon

    I’d also suggest drinking plenty of water. It regulates your body temperature, especially in those high stress situations. Keep a few snacks handy or chew gum.

    Listen to music. It gets you in the mood to work sometimes. It has to be the right kind of music though.

    Do things throughout the day that keep you happy. That’s about it.

  • Anonymous

    Hv seen this image somewhr, can’t recall …

  • http://www.pcbunk.net XtrEM3

    I had to comment on this blog because I wanted to commend you on the great picture chosen for this article. Then I decided to also comment on the previous commenter who is too accustomed to top 10 lists.

  • Speck

    Good points all.

    I’m lucky in that I have a detached office (a room built on to the back of my garage). Having distinctly separate living and working spaces makes all the difference. A few other things that have helped me:

    Use the phone instead of email when you can and conduct web conferences via Dimdim or some other web conferencing service. Use Skype video chat. Set up a Yammer account for your office, which is better than email or Twitter for sharing company info, news, and gossip. These connections with co-workers goes a long way in reducing the feeling of isolation one can get at times working from home.

  • Stephen Parker

    I really love these suggestions. Seriously, thanks for the reality check.

  • http://www.magain.com/ mattymcg

    @Anonymous: The image is from the Stanley Kubrick 80s horror movie The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson. Nicholson’s character loses his mind progressively throughout the film. It’s an all-time classic, and contains the famous quote “Here’s Johnny!” Check it out.

    RED. RUM. RED. RUM.

  • Speck

    @mattymcg: Probably the more salient quote from the movie, given the theme of this article:

    "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy....

  • http://www.brassblogs.com doodlebee

    I actually do almost all of these. The only one I have trouble with is the “have lunch with friends” one. I have the additional issue that I (and my business) have moved 700 miles away from my friends and family/original location. So on top of the isolated/working from home stuff, I also have the issue of needing to get out there and make new friends. Which sucks. because it’s *so* much easier to make friends when you’re 3 years old and have no preconceived notions about people and aren’t set in your ways. (Not only that, but I’m a “southern gal”, and used to talking to strangers and waving “hello” as I drive by – and I’ve relocated to Yankee country, which is apparently a land of people who believe if a stranger waves “hello” to you, they’re just trying to get in good so they can break into your house and kill you with an axe.)

    Such is life – it’s not easy being a freelancer who has also moved far, far away. I’d love to hear more tips on *that*!

  • Paul Warren

    I’ve worked from home for the last 8 years now…

    This article is an interesting read, but I think I might have to do one myself as you’re missing some very important points!

    *starts to twitch*

    – Paul

  • Barry

    Thanks for sharing, just started free-lancing from home and become more of a vampire nowadays, you don’t realize the time and sometimes just think what am I doing at 5am but just want to carry on working.

    My worst problem would have to be the creative block.

    GREAT ARTICLE, THANKS

  • chidchan

    Interesting,I am the new for work from home. I wish to success a half of you with my try. Thank you for your suggestion.

  • Christina/@Seeger

    Nice post Josh. Serious breath of fresh air and a good reminder to all of us.

    I started on Twitter about a month before I started working from home and it made a HUGE difference for me.

    Doodlebee: I’d totally recommend getting on Twitter and following people in your community (there are a bunch of ways to find them). I’ve met a ton of people through Twitter. Of course, I live in Portland, Ore. which has a really active and fun tech community and, well, generally rocks. Good luck.

    Thanks again, Josh – hope PDX is still in the running for your next home office. :)

  • http://www.clu3.com clu3

    I think what’s also important is to do some light exercises and workouts during the day. I used to wrk from home and everyday I did some sort of exercise, either swimming or jogging and that really helped.

  • Speck

    @Christina/@Seeger: I’m in Portland too, and would love to hear more about tech/design meetup opportunities in PDX. I’m on the list for RefreshPortland, but would be interested to hear of others. DM @ TMFSpeck on Twitter if you have any thoughts…

  • dan

    Or have 2 little boys who want to have this little dragon again you printed from web yesterday evening to colour it. NOW!

  • nachenko

    Doodlebee, your life is my life. Relocated to a place I knew nothing of, all day long at home, working and bored. Everybody thinks “hey, working home! How lucky! This is not REAL WORKING”.

  • http://www.webstrong.net iarfhlaith

    This post is WAY too similar to a post written earlier this month on freelanceswitch.com called 11 Ways to Banish ‘Lonely Freelancer Syndrome’.
    Their 11 points included ‘Have a Schedule’, ‘Microblog’, ‘Participate in a Peer Forum’, ‘Chat via IM’, ‘Call Friends, Family, or Colleagues’, ‘Express It’, ‘Step Out’, ‘Take a Course’, ‘Network, Socialize, Speed Date’, ‘Get Visual Input’, and ‘Interact with a Pet’.
    This list is far too similar to be a coincidence.

    Guys, like my old college teacher used to say:

    I’ve no problem with you using content from other sources, but always remember to include references.

    If you can’t be interesting, be useful, but most of all be original!

    – paraphrased from Roo Reynolds.

  • Irf

    I tried working from home – i just couldn’t do it. Way too many distractions – including a very naughty one year old. So I put my hands up and admitted home working wasn’t for me.

    I now rent a tiny office in the city centre. I tend to find I get a lot more work done. If it works it works but i think there’s no use trying to fix a problem when there’s an easier solution out there.

    Good luck and well done to those that have made it work from home.

  • http://www.magain.com/ mattymcg

    Whoah. Some pretty hefty accusations there iarfhlaith. Of course two people who work from home are going to have some overlap in their list of techniques for how to be successful at it. You’ll also notice that more than half of the tips are quite different, and those tips that differ are in fact key advice.

    Josh’s list is based on his own experience, and is entirely original. I don’t imagine he’ll take too kindly to any suggestion otherwise, given his livelihood revolves around writing original, quality material — something he’s proven very competent at the past few years (all whilst working from home, btw).

  • devlim

    the 10.Get a cat (or a dog) is the best way

  • http://www.brassblogs.com doodlebee

    @nachenko – yeah, I know. When I started this business, I had a goal I’d set for myself ($$-wise) and I was very surprised to realize just a few weeks ago that I’d hit it. So as the business goes, it’s going great, and I love the working from home thing. However, you’re right – I do get tired of people thinking I’m *not* working. I think I put in more hours than anyone I know – including my husband. And when someone says “oh, you still doing that web design thing? it must be a fun distraction from housework.” Makes me cringe.

    But this post is excellent (and yes, I’ve read the “freelance switch” one as well – it’s similar, but not the same…) and I love the comments – I especially like the one about Twitter. I’m already on Twitter (I love it – it’s like having a “water cooler” in my home office!) but I never did think to try and find people local to me. Turns out there’s a lot of them – there was actually a tweet-up last night (I found out too late and couldn’t make it) – that sounds like it would be fun! Turns out I also have one of those “jelly” offices down the street from my house – and they often have gatherings once a month. I signed up for their newsletter to see what’s coming up. SO thanks for the tips :)

  • http://www.kyscorp.com Dark Tranquility

    Getting married as stated before is a good thing too lol…
    When I worked at home I tended to schedule some time to read books, to listen to music and feed my fish…

  • Anonymous

    Here’s Johnny!!

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @iarfhlaith: What mattymcg said. Actually, about half of the points on my list came from talking about this issue with friends of mine who also work from home. :)

  • http://www.webstrong.net iarfhlaith

    Josh,

    Fair enough. I’ll concede that there’s only a finite number of tips you can give guys working from home and it’s inevitable that there will be overlap from one post to another on the same topic. Having worked from home as a developer for over two years I can accept that.

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @iarfhlaith: Hopefully you were able to find something helpful from both lists. Having looked at Freelance Switch’s list now, I think both have good advice and enough differences to complement each other.

  • Jafo232

    I have worked from home for 10 years and most of these are good tips. Most people think working from home means you work less, but generally you end up working more hours.

  • washingtonson

    thanks for the great info! I follow you on Twitter

  • nightwatchman

    I work from home, yeah, but I now work nightshift, hence the user-name.

    I found it impossible to get anything done during the day. I was constantly getting “Oh, Archie! Your home, can you see why my laptop has smoke coming out?” or “Just passing. Saw the car there, thought I’d just pop in for a chat or seven”.

    Now I stumble into bed between Four and Five in the AM. My partner lives across the street (don’t ask me how, but it feels good) and comes to pick up the dog at Seven for his morning stroll along the beach. She drops him back around Eight and sits on the porch to do her morning emailing over my Airport connection. I get up around Ten or Eleven, brew a coffee, check my email and gradually wake up by about Noon. A steady stream of well-wishers and bored housewives trundle in throughout the day until I head off to the girlfriends house for dinner at Seven. After dinner, an hour of strolling along the beach and a couple of hours of television I head home to “Clock On” around Eleven or Twelve.

    I’ve just purchased the new SitePoint book about Freelancing! Is that baby going to get a work out? You bet!

  • http://www.d9r.com/ D9r

    A 5 hour work day? Sounds super. You’re right it’s easier to work at night because of less distractions, but I force myself to keep some sort of normal hours to make it easier to interact with the rest of the world. Working at night might even adds to the insanity in a way; I don’t know.

    Love the photo. The Shining is one of my favorites. REDRUM REDRUM ….

    I found getting involved with several local community organizations helps — for the social benefits as well as business networking. There’s a business association, arts guild, networking group, and historical society to name a few.

  • Speck

    I agree that keeping regular hours are good, whatever “regular” may mean. I’m on the West Coast but telecommute to an East Coast office that runs a fairly typical 9-6 schedule. That means I’m in my office by 6am and out around 3pm, although I do find myself, like others here, working more hours than that sometimes because of my proximity to the “office”.

    Those “routine” things make all the difference. I get ready for working at home just like I would get ready to go to work. People back at the office like to joke about how I’m working in my ratty bathrobe, but those same people are the same ones who wouldn’t make very good remote workers.

    Yes, working remotely is different, but the more ways I can make it like working at the office, the easier it is for both me and my co-workers.

  • Akki

    thanks to share great info.

  • http://www.faridhadi.com FaridHadi

    I agree with most of the points that you have listed and would say that the most important one, according to me at least, would be “Have lunch with a friend”. Sitting alone at home is the most difficult part of freelancing.

  • anon

    good article ! anyone know how I would go about finding a local user group in NORTH LONDON, uk ?

    thanks

  • Alison

    I certainly understand the vampire remark as I love to work at whatever time of day then nap etc as needed, but it never fails after pulling an all nighter to finish that project while it’s quiet, the phone will ring at 9am with a new client on the other end wondering WTF you’re doing in bed at that time of day LOL

    Love the list and Love the Jack – perfect pic for the topic!

    Super info here on SitePoint and it’s great to feed the brain for breaks.

  • http://www.wilwaldon.com wilwaldon

    I find that listening to some good soothing music like Bob Marley helps me relax while I work. I also don’t have a TV, so there are no distractions from Shows or Movies. That helps a lot. But then again, I have games on my PC and can watch movies on demand with Hulu haha.

  • Holly Wallace

    Thanks for the great tips! I find setting a start work time and an end work time really helps. So I endeavour to be at the computer by 9.30am every morning and be away from it by 6pm at the latest. I find that half an hour of exercise or a class outside the house at knockoff time helps to break the urge to keep working and turns my brain off. Shutting down the computer at the end of the day and closing the office door also helps so I’m not tempted to just nip in and check my emails or just finish one more job.

  • khuramyz

    Great article.
    Its better if you can take a whole day off like sunday. Just get out of the city or country. Where no client/partner can reach you. LOLz.

  • shan

    meditate 2 mins each hour.

  • What?

    “good article ! anyone know how I would go about finding a local user group in NORTH LONDON, uk ?”

    Islington :) – Although I haven’t lived there for a while so I could be wonrg.

    How about everyone works a 9am-5pm, or 6am-2pm – then I think you will find that your life will simple fit into everyone around you.

    If you need to work extra hours later that night – then do it and take time off later in the week.

    Structure is the one thing which was missing from the list – keep yourself in a routine – whatever that is and stick to it as much as possible – but ehy, you work from home, so mould it to suit you.