Working from home is tough, but I honestly believe writing from home is even tougher. Even when there isn’t an external disruption, I always find my mind going a million miles a minute. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
But, if you’re like one of the million people writing from home, these 10+ tips will help you craft solid working from home habits that help you excel (and finally finish your book!)
Create a Schedule and Habit Triggers
We never really know if we’ll have an uninterrupted working day, or if a thousand things will fly out of the woodwork. Just like in any office or day-job setting, any number of things can go wrong.
But, the best way to combat any disruptions is to create a regular schedule. Set a specific time you will wake up, get dressed, work out—and then go right into your working day. Even if you don’t have any appointments. Heck, even if you don’t plan on leaving the house (which I totally don’t advise), you should create a schedule that sticks.
So, how do you create a regular routine while you’re writing from home? There’s one simple answer: habit triggers.
Habit triggers are something you do right before you do the thing, which in this case would be writing. Every time you sit down to write, what do you or what can you do to help get your mind in the moment? Do you sit down with coffee, tea, or some other delicious snack? Do you write right after your workout routine?
Whatever you designate the trigger to be, stick with it and, over time, your mind will naturally start to sway toward writing when you perform the trigger.
Structure Your Entire Day and Use a Planner
Though some people absolutely hate planners, you should at least try it to see if it works for you or not. One thing I’ve found while writing from home is that I can get very easily distracted if I’m not careful. One too many distractions and my day is completely gone, and it’s time for dinner.
My planner helps me create an outline for my day, much the same as my story outline helps me write my book.
The #1 reason I hear against planners is the perceived rigidity. If you have everything written down, you have to do all the things—and that could not be further from the truth.
A planner is solely there to keep you, the writer, on track with your goals. It should help you highlight where your areas of focus are, help you plan breaks (which you should always take), and give you a great bird’s-eye view of your day, week, month, and year.
The other big reason I hear is that planners are expensive, and they totally can be. I use a fairly inexpensive planner I found on Amazon (affiliate link), though you could probably find one at your local office supply store, too! I’ve also tried the Panda Planner, but discovered a preference for spiral bindings.
Know Your High Productivity Times
Some people are naturally more productive in the morning. I wake up at 5 am every day, with the exceptions of Saturday and Sunday when I wake up at 7 am. But, there are some people on the other end of the spectrum who, if woken up at such hours, would feel physically sick and uncomfortable until their internal clock caught up to them.
The key to discovering when you’re most productive is trial and error, and noticing patterns within how you feel throughout the day and how much you get accomplished and when. Are there hours or times that you check more things off your to-do list? Are there times you often hit a wall, when you just need more coffee?
Create a journal for your patterns. Write them all down. Use those notes as indicators of when you feel good, terrible, inspired, motivated, and more!
Stay Motivated With a To-do List
Staying motivated as a writer can be difficult at times, but there are always things to do. I often find that I am least motivated when I’m treading water, when I don’t have a clearly defined path. Thus, the primary way I stay motivated while writing is by creating a to-do list.
Set Clear Physical and Social Boundaries
In one way or another, you are always sharing your space with other people, so establishing clear physical and social boundaries is imperative to writing from home. And, if you’re not careful, people will inevitably disrupt you. It might be by barging into your writing space, or by texting and/or calling your phone. Either way, you can set your boundaries with one or two paragraphs or conversations by gently reminding people.
That being said, if you have a partner or kids, you might want to schedule regular check-ins. They could even coincide with your daily writing breaks.
Knowing how, when, and with which tools you work best goes a long way toward helping you craft a healthy writing life. But what things specifically should you be looking at?
Setup a Morning Routine and Stick to It
This goes back to my earlier comment about creating a schedule and habit triggers. Morning routines are what indicates to your body (and mind) that your day is underway, and it needs to catch up.
Something to keep in mind: A morning routine can be complex or very simple. For some, it might be a whole facial routine, a workout, breakfast, and your favorite smoothie; while, for another, it might just be a cup of coffee or morning pages.
The key is starting the routine and sticking to it (consistency!)
Exercise and Stretch Throughout the Day
Regular exercise is important for a balanced and healthy life, and stretching helps smooth out your muscles. And you don’t need a whole gym to do it. Simple exercises and stretches are totally doable in minimal amounts for most everyone.
My mornings typically start with 20 minutes of stretching and yoga, and during summer, this extends into a 30-45 minute morning walk. During lunch, I also take a one-hour long walk. Add to that 20 minutes on the elliptical in the evening and another 15 minutes of stretching.
With the exception of the elliptical, these are all free (no treadmill) and easy to accomplish throughout the day. Now, doing 2.5 hours of exercise everyday isn’t for everyone, but even just walking around the block every 3 hours will help you get out of the house and get active.
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
I feel like we’re harder on ourselves when we’re writing from home, versus when we’re writing at a coffee shop or during our lunches at work. Especially during difficult times, staying challenged and motivated can prove difficult.
Remembering to celebrate your wins and learn from your opportunities will help you stay in an uplifted mindset.
Take Sick and Vacation Days Like Normal
Working and writing from home might seem like every day is a vacation day, but it isn’t. Your mind and body (and writing, really) need time away from the grind of the everyday.
Bear in mind, taking actual vacations while writing from home is more difficult than it sounds. How are you supposed to distance yourself from something you do every day? That’s where the next tip for writing at home comes into play:
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Creating a dedicated workspace will help you on so many levels. My writing space has allowed me to keep everything book-related in one cohesive place, allowed me to focus my work and lessen distractions, and help reaffirm the boundaries I set for friends and family.
But, beyond all that, what else is important about my at home writing space?
Get Comfortable Office Furniture
I’ve gone through many chairs, and I have a few different options around at all times. I have my ergonomically friendly computer chair, which really helps during those sluggish mornings. Then, I have a standard tub chair and bouncy ball chair.
Combined, they all help me create my own writing space, with different sitting positions, depending on how I’m feeling and the time of day. Typically, I start each day at my computer, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay there (and I usually don’t).
Having options keeps things from becoming boring, keeps my productive juices flowing, and acts as another habit trigger for me. I know I’m getting to work if I’m sitting on one of them.
Protect Your Time and Workspace
Don’t let others infringe on your writing time and space willy-nilly. Yes, there will be emergencies and things that require your immediate attention—things we can’t foresee, therefore can’t schedule in our planner.
But, unless the house is on fire or someone (aside from your book darlings) is harmed, don’t fall into the trap of rushing to everything you’re asked to do.
A rule I have in my house is that when the door is closed, don’t disturb me. Obviously, unless there is a true emergency. I have my dogs, my water and coffee, and my laptop, and I’m ready to go no-contact for a few hours.
Now, this really only works because I have a set schedule in place. Every few hours, I leave my office and will check-in, let the dogs out, grab more water, stretch/exercise (depending on what time it is), and otherwise reset myself.
Keep Clear Working Hours
This will change depending on your preferred working hours, but this is something you need to communicate when you set up your boundaries. How many hours will you need to or do you want to write for? What time of day will those hours fall? When are you most productive, and therefore more likely to get more writing accomplished?
The above questions and more are all great ways to determine which hours are best for you, but the key here is to stay consistent with them. Of course, not all our lives are ideal things, but even a general week-to-week schedule will help.
Like your boss might do, set up a weekly schedule and stick to it. Then, put it on your refrigerator for your family to see, so they know when not to disturb you.
Don’t ALWAYS Stay Home
Writing from home is literally my dream come true, but that doesn’t mean I should go months without ever leaving the comforts of home. Whether daily, weekly, or monthly, find somewhere you can write outside of your house.
Does a coffee shop, restaurant, library, park, or something else come immediately to mind? Pick your place and make a goal to visit there weekly or monthly. If there’s a park nearby, maybe you can do this daily. Even better, mix up the places so your senses don’t dull from the constant familiar spaces.
Turn Off Social Media Apps
This should really be a no-brainer, but turning off distractions is important for writing at home. When there’s so many things to sidetrack us from our writing, we need to do everything within our power to keep us focused.
For me, that means turning off notifications. Sometimes, that means taking it a step further and “losing” my phone somewhere around the house. Usually, that place is in the kitchen somewhere.
Communicate and Collaborate Openly
As any writer knows, an entire book was not crafted by one hand, but by the hands of many writers, editors, and cover designers, each with their own unique skill sets. Whether you’re a full-time writer and/or author, are working from home, or are just writing from home in your spare time, no one person does everything.
Communication with the outside world, that is, with people outside of your house, is inevitable.
And, because of this, we need to know how to communicate—often via email—effectively.
Make an Effort to Connect Beyond Work
This is especially difficult when working with freelancers, but communicating beyond the scope of the project is equally important. Things happen. Emergencies happen, and we need to be understanding and empathetic, even if it crunches our timeline or we need to find a new freelancer on the fly.
When working from home, communicating with co-workers is much easier—and much more intuitive. Ask them questions about themselves, about their day, or just wish them a merry weekend. All of these things are simple to add into an email and mean a lot to people on the receiving end.
Use Professional Communication Tools
Nowadays, texting is probably fine—but you need to read your client, co-worker, and/or freelancer. Some people hate texting or otherwise messaging for professional purposes. I know I do…
Email is much more professional on many levels and, even well into the 21st Century, is the preferred method of professional communication.
Some freelancers or working spaces are also accustomed to using professional productivity apps like Slack, and the other ones I mentioned before: Asana, Notion, and Trello.
Use a VPN — Like NordVPN
Using a VPN—I use NordVPN—is especially imperative when you’re connected to an unfamiliar network. That includes libraries, cafes, coffee shops, airports, communal working spaces, or really any public wi-fi connection you make.
What a VPN does is give you online privacy and additional anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and is a necessary and practical step for on-the-go professionals.
Stay Vigilant Against Security Risks
Employ a “trust but verify” policy when connecting to unfamiliar networks and a “if you’re not expecting it, question it” policy in regards to your email. Ransomware is a (totally illegal) double-digit billion-dollar industry. Keep your documents, videos, photos, everything backed up so these attacks have less of an impact.
Also, it’s just good general practice not to click links or attachments you aren’t expecting. Even if it appears to be from someone you know, always (question it) call and verify.
Remember, stay vigilant about security risks, even when working and writing from home, but especially when you’re accessing any public wi-fi source.
Okay, but why is a VPN important? Let’s say you’re at your favorite cafe, connected to their wi-fi system. In theory, anyone else connected to that wi-fi could see what you’re doing on your computer. A VPN protects you from others snooping on what information you’re accessing via your internet connection. They can still see you’re receiving data, they just can’t see what specifically you’re accessing.
I use NordVPN because they have servers across the globe, and pretty much anywhere I would want to connect to. They’re also pretty affordable, especially with a longer plan.
For everyone, but particularly for writers, make sure you backup everyone of your book babies. Every bit of work, every fresh save, every document, so that if your hard drive fails, you lose your laptop/phone/USB stick, that you still have the precious book you’ve been writing for who knows how long.
I lost data once, because my file got corrupted. How much did I lose? About 20,000 words, which literally derailed the entire project. Even thinking about it now gets to me.
Take Advantage of Your “Writing From Home” Days
Of course, the perk of working from home is why we all strive to turn our passion for writing into a full-time career. So, when you are finally able to accomplish it (or even if you’re only writing part-time from home), don’t lose sight about your why!
Here are some of my favorite things about working from home:
More Time With My Favorite “People”
Which…means my dogs. For me, it’s important to spend as much time with them as I can, so when I originally started my writing journey, one of my main “whys” was to spend more time at home with my dogs. They’re basically my favorite things in the world.
I love sushi, but I gave it up. I’d never give up my dogs. Don’t even ask.
Make Nutritious Lunches—Bake Some Bread
Have you ever forgotten your lunch at home, just bought takeout because it was more convenient, or because you perceive it to be “cheaper”? I’m not going to go into all the reasons you should always eat from-home meals, but writing and working from home really allows me to make what I want, when I want.
When you work in an office or in retail or in the service industry, your lunch is dictated for you, usually by your boss or supervisor. On those precious days you’re able to write from home, you make your own rules. You dictate when your lunch is. Why not make the best of it and make something truly delicious?
Get an Accountability Partner
Writing everyday—or even just whenever you can—is great, but what else? Do you have a goals list? Is someone hounding you everyday to figure out if you accomplished those things?
Unlike with a regular job, us writers (freelance, full-time, part-time—doesn’t matter) don’t have that. Even if you work full-time, and only write two days a week. If you don’t have goals, how can you track what you’ve accomplished? Or what you’ve done, or when you’re going to finish?
Having an accountability partner has helped me perform more, do more, accomplish more—and helped me avoid things like writer’s block and burnout. An accountability partner was definitely something I was missing last year, but the person I connect with now challenges me to do more, while also being realistic.
Create an End-of-Day Routine
When you leave your place of employment, that’s your prompt that you’re off the clock, so how do you get that when you’re writing from home? Again, it’s all about habit triggers. Here’s what I do when I’m “signing off” for the day:
Take a Short Walk (like an evening commute)
After shutting everything down, I grab a fresh bottle of water and take my dogs on a walk. Though it’s usually a short one, it’s a great way to act like I’m “walking away” from the day’s work and clearing my head, ready to get into the rest of my night. It also helps me get those precious moments “outside”.
Meditate and Relax
You can do this separately, but I try to couple my walk with a bit of mindfulness. All I do is clear my mind and destress from the (hopefully) productive day I just had.
When I get home, I continue my meditation and relax in my exercise room, then:
Do Some Yoga
Or some stretching. It doesn’t have to be anything too structured, but working at a computer all day will leave your muscles tense. I find that a mix of the usual yoga poses and general stretching help relax and loosen tense muscles.
The thing about writing is that everyone does it a little differently. No two journeys are the same, just like no two people are ever the same. There are always variations, even if they’re slight.
I know there are many part-time, weekend, or two-hour-a-week writers out there. Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. But there’s nothing that says you can’t start living your dream writing life, even before the “dream” has happened. The trick is plucking parts of your dream out and implementing them in a sustainable way. No, that doesn’t mean quitting your job, but it might mean structuring your day a little so you can make more time for the things you truly love.
With these tips in mind, I was able to reframe my entire writing mindset, streamline my routines, and increase productivity. Of course, there are still a lot of things I want to accomplish, but I am one step further from burnout, which is pretty much my biggest nemesis.