Getting Real with Shadra Bruce
I walked away from the well-know very large Boise-based corporation I was employed by for the last time in Wednesday, May 23, 2007. I was “fired” with a hefty severance package to keep my quiet since my atrocious boss told me I wasn’t allowed to use my sick leave to take care of my two kids who, at the time had pneumonia.
Apparently that violated all kinds of FMLA rules and he could have been in hot water. But, since we truly detested each other anyway (he replaced the man who hired me, whom I had loved dearly), it was a win-win for me to walk away quietly with a few months of pay in my pocket. Bye, Joe. Seeya later. Jerk. Yeah, I know. Now it’s 13 years later, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and nothing’s changed. To a corporation, most of us are as replaceable as a computer.
I was not about to go back to cubicle servitude. I’ve shared the story of how I started my work from home life, and 13 years later, I’m still going strong – through three cross-country moves, two cross-country road trips, a month in Europe, four high school graduations, two college graduations, one wedding, two grandbabies – both of whom (along with their parents) lived with us until last May when they moved to England, but that’s another story – and a pandemic.
These are my tricks and tips for making work from home work for you (even when you have to share space with 7 other people!)
The Secret to Work from Home Success
Here’s my secret for making work from home work: just keep going.
I suppose that might have felt like a let down, but in 2006, I landed my first writing gig and wrote an article every month for ClubMom. I got $100 per article and made $1200 that year. I only landed that gig because Dave and I wrote – for free – for our local newspaper for 2-1/2 years. We had a weekly column called A More Perfect Union that appeared in The Corning Leader in Corning, New York. 800 words every week. I was still in grad school (first try, failed miserably) and still trying to make a go of corporate servitude. But I got paid for writing something, so I knew I could make it happen again.
If I had given up after the first assignment
or the first time a proposal got rejected
or the first time I misquoted the cost of a project and basically made pennies for my time
or the first time a project ended and I was left hustling again…
I would have been back in a cubicle!!
So just keep going.
Work Hard, Play Harder
This is not new advice, but it is harder to do when you work for yourself. I have struggled at times to find the balance I needed to not feel overwhelmed. And when you’re first working from home, you might have to put in extra hours – especially if you are determined that it support your family. When I started working from home, Dave was still finishing up his teaching degree at Boise State. The idea was that he would become a teacher, I would work from home, and we would spend the summers traveling. By the time he finished student teaching, the work from home freelance fun had turned into a legitimate business venture that needed both of us run. Which was ok, because teaching is the one of the hardest jobs on the planet. (Thank you to all of the great teachers we’ve known over the years).
Now, everyone is working from home. Even the ones who are still (hopefully happily) working in corporate servitude. Whether you’re building your own business or just working from home to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, you have to take care of yourself and set yourself up for work from home success,
The rules that work for me are:
Separate work and home time
My days end between 4 and 5, and while they often start at 6 or 7 in the morning, I sometimes take two hour lunches or spend time watching a show with one of the kids before going back to work. And I rarely work a full Friday. And I never, ever work in the evenings. Unless there is a true emergency or a pre-arranged event that I’m live-tweeting for a client, there is no work that I do that can’t wait until the next day. Corporate people may not have the same flexibility, but you should definitely set boundaries for when you are available and leave ample time to be with your friends and family.
Make a workspace
I’ve had an office in the laundry room, a spare room, the living room. I’ve worked from the dining room table. I currently do all my Zoom calls from my bedroom, where it’s quiet. But wherever my workspace is, it’s dedicated to work. I have a comfortable work chair, a desk or table, and room for everything I need to make it nice to be in that space. When I’m done with work or taking a break, it’s a space I can walk away from. When everyone was sent home last March, I know a lot of people were making do with the sofa or the bed. But if this is going to be a longer-term thing, you need a dedicated and comfortable workspace.
Invest in the equipment you need to do it right
I buy a new cell phone every two years, and a new laptop every year. I write 30,000 or more words per month every month – and that’s just for clients. That doesn’t count my own blogging or any social media. I literally wear the letters off my keyboard. So I get a new one every 12-18 months. I invest in top grade security and firewall, and I pay for services that make my job easier and allows me to do more for my clients. Investing in yourself and your business can really pay off. If you work for a corporation, they may have equipment they will provide. You should definitely ask, especially if they require specific security protocols, like VPN.
Have a door that shuts when you’re on calls
Have a quiet space for calls. You need to have a space that’s well-lit, quiet, and comfortable, especially if you’re on the phone or on video calls a lot. I have monthly consultations with most of my clients, so end up on the phone or video conferencing about 10 hours a month. Because of the setup of our house and the fact that we had grandchildren living here, I set up my bedroom with a table for conference calls. I move in there for the call, then come back out for work. That table is great – at night, it becomes our date-night table when Dave and I are having a stay-home date night (sort of our only option right now).
When you work from home, communication is crucial. Not just with your family (“I’ll be on a call for the next hour, so whatever you need can wait unless you’re bleeding from your eyeballs.”) But also communicate with your clients (or your boss). There are so many more people working from home now than ever before because of the pandemic – and it’s going to stay that way for a while. You need to be able to manage your boss’s expectations. If your kid is home and you’re having to help them through home school assignments, or you’re caring for someone in your household who is ill, say something. It’s likely your boss gets it at this point (unless he’s an atrocious boss, and then – well, you know what to do). If they know what you have on your plate, they can help you prioritize what must get done versus what would be nice to have,
This one is where I fail the most. Sitting all day, even at home (maybe especially if you haven’t invested in a good office chair) is really bad for you. I get caught up in my work, have learned to ignore my bladder, and can ignore the clock for hours. But really, you should get up an stretch every hour. Go for a walk. Stretch. Do 10 minutes of yoga. But do something to let your body know it’s not part of the chair.
There are so many other things to talk about when it comes to working from home, but they’re more for the people who want to or who are running their own business, so I’ll make that a separate post. Stay tuned. And let me know if you have any questions or need any specific advice – on motherhood, working from home, writing your book, or anything else!