How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind

According to an infographic recently put together by the American Museum of Corporate American History and Solvate, the average commuter spends 429 days just commuting over the course of their lifetime.

Which makes me feel relieved that I put a stop to that bullshit early on.

I mean man. What a waste.

Not to say that working in an office isn’t better for some. Office culture provides structure. A social outlet. A separation between work and home.

But still.

You can have that at home, too. In fact, you can have it even better.


1. Create a space that’s all your own, and that’s all about work.

Depending upon your living arrangement, your home office may not be an actual home office. In fact, it may be a corner of the kitchen. It may be a closet. It may not even have a door. But it should be all about you and your work.

For the past year, I’ve worked in bed with my laptop. [Insert long, frustrating story involving us putting our clutter in storage, and putting our condo on the market.] Not only was this terrible for my back and my legs, but it was also terrible for my productivity, and terrible for my motivation levels. So we grabbed a smaller, hand-me-down, antique desk from my mom and moved it into our “office” space this past weekend.

I share the space with my husband. There are two litter boxes to the left of me. There’s no separation between this space and the living room. But I have a small amount of storage now. I have my ergonomic chair. I’m not working where I sleep.

And this has made all the difference in the world.

2. Set work hours.

Or, if you’re loath to fall in line with the corporate 9-to-5, at least schedule out blocks of time for each item on your daily to-do list.

Is your to-do list out of control? You can more effectively prioritize your time — and the items on your list — by setting quantifiable goals. First, ask yourself: Where do I want to be a year from now? Use the answers you come up with to draw up a list of goals for the coming year. Then ask yourself: Which items on my already-existing to-do list get me closer to these goals? Move these to the top of your list. Move the other items lower, or consider eliminating them entirely.

Next, break down your goals into more easily accomplished (and far less overwhelming) action steps. Schedule them out over the course of the year.

Finally, every morning, draw up a list of your goals for that day.

Start fresh every morning, so as to avoid feelings of guilt and frustration.

And if you feel that you need some extra accountability (now that you don’t have a manager peeking over your shoulder), e-mail this list to a motivational partner every morning. (Leslie A. Joy, a tweep of mine, has coined the oh-so-perfect term “accountabilibuddy.”)

3. Schedule in some time that has nothing to do with work.

When you work from home, it can be easy to forget things like lunch. Showers. Pants.

(The bralessness is a personal choice.)

So when you’re scheduling out those blocks of time for the day ahead, include blocks for that hoop dancing class you’ve had your eye on. A quick snuggle with your cats. Dance breaks with your cats. A daily walk. Topless yoga in the living room. Making time for these things will allow you to decompress and recharge, and will keep you from burning out. Because even when you love the work you’re doing, there can be too much of a good thing.

And don’t forget to make time for your friends and family! I know you love your work, but your peeps can at least love you back.

4. Get the hell out of dodge.

Where the magic happens.

Whether you’re looking to take your work with you, or you want to make some purely social plans, you need to get out. At least sometimes. Or you’ll go stir crazy. Or lose the capacity to interact with other human beings.

I make it a point to schedule at least one social activity a week. And I sometimes take my laptop to a coffee shop nearby. There’s an outlet in the corner. There’s free Wi-Fi. The coffee mugs are ridiculously large. I can be around other people. What’s not to love?

You could also seek out a co-working arrangement. According to the infographic mentioned at the beginning of this post, co-working spaces have grown from zero to 250 in the past five years.

5. Remember to punch out.

Too many freelancers and entrepreneurs work evenings.

They work through their nights. They work through their weekends.

Many will gladly admit to this, as if it was a badge of honor when, in fact, it’s just a bad habit.

When you don’t place boundaries on your time, both your health and your relationships can suffer, big time.

Not only that, but you could end up enabling some pretty pesky clients as well.

When you don’t respect your time, no one else will, either.

So don’t let your at-home career consume you. Eighty-nine percent of freelancers describe themselves as happier since they began freelancing full-time. Don’t become part of the other 11 percent.

Work from home? How do you retain the last threads of your sanity?

Related: Product Placement: Can You Afford Comfort?


  1. Great tips. I had a semi-acceptable routine down pat. Then I got pregnant and tired. Oh, and my husband started working nights. So I am completely thrown off. Though I do maintain a regular M-F “punch in” time of 8am. Sometimes earlier, never later.

  2. Awesome piece, Steph. I’ve been reading a lot of posts on this topic from writers and other work-at-home creative folks who all seem to struggle, at least a little, with working from home. I love it and wouldn’t want it any other way, but I totally run into problems: working when I should be playing, ignoring exercise, ignoring work because a mountain of clothes are begging to be washed, etc. You have some great tips in in this post and I’m going to make an effort to follow them; the biggest one I keep reading about/NEEDING to incorporate is KEEP A SCHEDULE. It’s 5:10pm and instead of thinking about dinner (I’m starving, now that I mention it) I’m thinking about the work I want to finish up. Boo to that. However, the best thing I’ve done for myself is clean out our spare room and finally turn it into an office. Well, that and schedule weekly walks with a couple of friends. It’s a twofer– I see actual human beings besides my husband, and get some physical activity!

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristin! I actually used to be terrible at all of these things when I first start working from home four years ago. I spent hours watching America’s Next Top Model marathons. I was quick to straighten up the condo instead of working on queries. Then, once the volume of work I was bringing in picked up, I was ALWAYS working. I’d forget lunch. I’d never exercise. I’d never see other human beings. I was relying on my husband as my sole social outlet. I was depressed. These are all definitely things I learned to master over time.

  3. I definitely need to do #2. Thanks for the reminder! In addition to going to the gym, I’ve been walking every day. It’s not only helped me feel more relaxed, but I’ve gotten some great ideas from doing so. =)

    • #2 is only something I’ve recently started doing and, my lord, it has made all the difference in the world.

      And I love my daily walks! Especially now that the weather has turned beautiful again. When I stepped outside yesterday with my iPod playing my guilty pleasure playlist, I couldn’t help but smile! It’s rejuvenating.

  4. i needed this. thank you.

    do you take requests?

    i could use some tips on dealing with the anxiety that comes when you finally make the choice to go it along. (or is that just me?) a month into my new freelance career and i’m a bit anxious about it all: will i ever earn as much as a did full-time? why is it taking people so long to respond to my emails? will that company move forward with my proposal?

  5. Oh Amy, it’s definitely NOT just you. Even now, having just left YT, I’m prone to extreme terror and self-doubt. That’s where number two helps me. If I follow all of that, I know that I’m doing everything I can do.

    It also helps to remind myself of everything I’ve accomplished. When I see that, in the past, I’ve always accomplished that which I set out to do, it makes me feel better about my chances.

    Also, on the flip side, try to think of the worst case scenario. Like ridiculously worst-case. What’s the worst thing that could happen if this didn’t work out? How would you deal with it? Could you survive it? When you know that, even if the worst happened, you’d still be okay, it makes those fears seem smaller.

    I also set a financial goal for the coming year, because I know that my husband is under a lot of financial pressure, and I want to be able to compromise if things don’t work out. If I don’t meet that financial goal, I’ll have to rethink what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it… and may go back to having a regular gig.

    Hope this helps!

  6. Very nice post Steph.

    I have come to love working from my house too, and had to have my desk in one corner of my living room for all my work.
    Several ergonomic adjustments for my laptop, desk and seat and things have never been better.

    I however sit at the desk from 8am to 5pm, lest I succumb to the addictions of that space.

  7. I will refer people who ask me about working at home to this post.

    The other thing that helps me is to respect energy levels. After lunch, I get sleepy. So this is time for walking, errands, phone calls, naked solitary yoga, or a short, shameless nap. Then from 3-5 pm I rock.

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