12 Ways to Keep Sane While Working from Home

By Josh Catone
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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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