3 Pieces of Advice on the Elusive Task of Working From Home
Currently, I have a visitor in Tangier. My brother is staying with me for a couple weeks, which means happily abandoning my normal routine for walks and hikes in and around the city, playing tour guide, taking him to my favorite cafes, and generally doing a lot of hanging out together. I am having a wonderful time with it all, but it has also completely thrown me off of my own personal working schedule. It made me realize how much my productivity depends on open blocks of time where I can work at my own apartment at my own pace. Working from home is already a tricky enough balance in itself. Since it is something that has been on my mind and something that people have asked me about quite frequently, I thought it was about time to address the issue and let you know how I try to manage it all. How in the world does anyone get anything done when you work for yourself/from home?
While I don’t exactly work from home full-time, I am in the both luxurious and slightly complicated position of being able to dictate my own daily schedule. I work together with studios to figure out my class time-slots and besides those fixed, weekly hours, everything else— projects, deadlines, writing, this blog, etc. — are all usually up in the air (except when I have a performance coming up, which is a whole other beast). I have worked this way for the past 5 years, basically since I moved to Tangier, and before that I was navigating how to feel productive while traveling solo. Here is a not-so-secret secret: only very recently have I figured out a schedule and way of working that suits me and even then, I know that there is still a lot to learn and improve. It has taken a long time to begin to scratch the surface of how I can be the most productive without driving myself crazy or working non-stop.
I have always been someone who tends to figure out what works for me by trying, testing, and realizing first what doesn’t work. One major thing I learned early on is that even though I envy the structure and easy organization of 9-5 career tracks, they are not for me. I did several internships with these kind of fixed hours and instantly felt my creativity and drive draining away. Now I know that it is a privilege to be able to choose how you want to work and also that everyone is very different. Some people crave structure, are working their way up through a field that has specific requirements, and some people need that security that a 9-5 can offer- I have nothing but respect and admiration for all of those individuals. However, on a personal level, I quickly saw that it wasn’t for me and decided to try to figure out a way of working that would fit my own rhythm.
Once I had that clarified, then came the risky leap of diving into the unidentified world of “free-lancing,” “part-time,” “personal projects,” and “hustle,” and figuring out what all of those terms meant to me. I call it a risk because by choosing this path, you are essentially putting all of your faith in your own self-discipline and praying that it will be enough. No one will tell you what to do. Often no one will give you deadlines, roadmaps or checkpoints to make sure that you’re on track. It’s all from within- intuitive, exploratory, and self-analytical.
Over the years it has been a constant balancing act of managing my various projects and interests, creative curiosities in parallel with trying to be more strategic about actually earning a living. When people ask what I do for work, I always say “contemporary choreographer and dancer teacher,” but there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes. Project and proposal writing, workshop applications, blog writing and maintenance, podcast production, class plans, and there’s almost always one random side-project, whether it’s prepping for a special yoga event or helping someone else design their portfolio. It has taken quite a while and lot of trial and error to figure out how to organize and prioritize all of these various tasks that I am usually juggling at the same time. Just last year was when I finally felt like I started to fall into a rhythm that really works for me- lessening stress and heightening efficiency. Like I said, it’s an on-going process of learning and reminding, but I wanted to share three pieces of advice that I’ve been able to cultivate from working on my own time- most often from home. These are the main things that I have realized do work for me, and could possibly work for you, too, if you are in a similar boat and need a little extra support to stay afloat.
3 Pieces of Advice on Working From Home
1. Figure out what time of the day you are most productive and form habits accordingly. I have heard this advice from a lot of different sources, took it to heart, and now I live by it. If you are a morning person (like myself), always try to use that time to do the work that takes the most brain power. If you’re a night owl, embrace it. Do the opposite and let yourself tackle more mindless, relaxing tasks in the early hours of the day.
Just as an idea (and not by any means a template to be adopted, since everyone is completely different), this is loosely what my daily work schedule looks like, based off of what I have recognized are my body’s natural rhythms:
-Wake up early, make some lemon water and read, write, or do some light stretching. No real work or even social media before coffee and food.
-After a big breakfast, I usually catch up on emails, social media, messages, etc. I work on blog posts, articles, or any other projects that require creative writing. This is usually when my mind is the most fresh and focused.
-Around 10, I usually either teach a yoga class or I’ll head to the gym to train for about an hour. Once I’m home again, I’ll continue a bit more writing or create choreography for my classes that week.
-Lunch break- solo, or I’ll use it as an excuse to meet a friend.
-Just after lunch is when I used to try to force myself to continue working on creative projects and ideas, but I have learned that I am pretty much useless between the hours of 1 and 4. When I used to do food blogging, this is when I would bake, but now I embrace it as downtime, reading, maybe running some simple errands, or organizing things around the house (lately this has been shifting due to having even more side projects going on at once, so the amount of time here varies season to season).
-Around 4 or 5pm I either teach dance classes or I will often go to the studio at the conservatory to work a bit on some solo choreography or personal dance training. Depending on the day and how many classes I have/how motivated I am with my own training, I get home between 7-9pm to cook and have dinner with Marouan, chill, read, relax, and wind down to sleep before starting a new day.
2. Make sure to allow yourself real downtime. Not time when you are laying on the couch, still checking your email or replying to some work-related messages on your phone. I mean time when you can shut that part of the brain completely off. I think when you work from home there can be a tendency to overcompensate for the lack of structured hours and find yourself working from sunup to sundown, every day of the week. If you want to burnout as fast as possible, perfect. If you want to pace yourself more effectively, make sure to give yourself generous downtime. This might be during a certain period each day, weekends, however you want to structure it. Allow it to be flexible based on your current projects, but make sure you never let it slip. Rest is important.
3. This may sound contradictory, but sometimes the key to working from home is in fact to leave your home. Find a cafe or workspace where you like the ambiance and begin to think of it as a personal office. Just arriving at this space with your laptop or a notebook will signal to your brain that it is time to get to work. This is what I do when I feel like there are too many distractions at home and need to clear my head a bit. Even better if you can find a work buddy- a fellow free-lancing friend to meet up with, keeping each other focused and accountable.
I am by no means perfect at scheduling my own time every single day. I have days that end up more overwhelming than I would like and others where I feel like I accomplished absolutely nothing. Choosing to work for yourself and take a less-paved path means signing up for an in-depth and complex working relationship with yourself, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.