Author’s Blurb: Working from home sounds much more casual than it is. What I had expected was going to be a casual routine of getting my work done from the comfort of my bed was not at all the case.
Curious to see how the experts have managed this so far, I reached out to Malaysians who have this practice down to a tee.
I managed to get the opinions of 7 established freelancers and home based businesses who are in diverse industries of everything from visual design, technical writing, electronics, and even wedding desserts.
Get Some (Digital) Help
Staying on track with my tasks was where I stumbled a bit when working from home.
This was confusing at first because, basically, I still had access to the same resources, documents, etc. when working in an office space—so why was I struggling?
After I mulled it over, the answer hit me.
I struggle a bit with independence this way, considering how familiar I am with bouncing ideas off my editor and running things by her in real-time—so when the time came for me to set mini-goals of my own, I faltered.
We did have a schedule going for us even whilst working from home, but I soon realised that I needed something else to fall back on to get the smaller things done.
Almost all of the freelancers we talked to told us that they depended on some sort of productivity management tool to get through the day as well.
Some common answers were:
- Pomodoro tracker – A timer that urges you to work in 25-minute intervals before taking a short break, which experts have said increases productivity.
- Toggl – Time logging tracker that allows you to see how much time you spend on a task.
- Freedcamp & Asana – Project management apps that work best if you struggle to keep track of your progress of multiple tasks at once.
Personally, I use my own Trello board to stay organised. Not the one I’m using at work, but my own.
This way, I can focus much more on micro-tasks that need to be done.
Although tasks don’t necessarily have to be done with strict discipline, it’s important to be consistent.
Just ask Ellia, who—despite only having taken the freelance dive less than a year ago—already understands that progress only happens when you’ve got a good schedule going for you.
“I don’t wake up strictly at a specific time as I used to when I had an office job, but whenever I do wake up (even if it’s 1PM) I start my day then and follow a ‘not strict’ routine, but it’s still consistent,” she said.
Watch Out For The Burnout
Just because you’re at home most of the time doesn’t mean you’ll have good work-life balance.
Kenny Lee is a freelance electronics designer turned copywriter who has been working from home for over 8 years.
He said that there comes a time when separating from work is difficult. “If you’re a workaholic, not having the physical separation that comes with commuting back from the office can lead to over-working.”
Not being able to ‘plug out’ from your work when working from home might even happen when you’re trying to prove a point to your employer that you’re actually getting work done, and not messing around.
“At some point, you may feel like your days are passing by really quickly. When you bring work closer to home, it feels like your days go by even quicker—which is possibly due to the shortening of your ‘work, eat, sleep, and repeat’ cycle,” explained Khai Yong, a digital marketer who’s been working from home for about a year.
To take the stress out of his day-to-day, Khai Yong insisted that there’s nothing better than keeping physically active. “I’m an active person so I regularly play sports or hit the gym to take my mind off work.”
With the Movement Control Order in place, we can still make the best out of our ‘off’ time at home by following home exercise routines that sometimes don’t even require fancy equipment.
May, a freelance graphic designer and art director, is a little more strict with how she differentiates her working hours from resting hours since she works closely with clients.
“There’s always a limit to everything, including work. Always set a cut off time. If not, the client can totally take advantage of you,” she explained.
This can be applied to white-collar employees working from home as well.
Your employer and you should work out an agreement on how despite tech keeping you practically always connected to work, it isn’t an excuse to ‘check-in’ late at night or after you’ve signed off.
Of course, it then falls on your shoulders to communicate your deliverables and tasks clearly and effectively as well, so there’s no miscommunication on both sides.
Another nugget of advice to avoid this situation is to never get your work done from the comfort of your bed.
Not only does it significantly make you feel lazy and unmotivated to get anything done, but it can get harder to fall asleep at night if your brain begins associating your bed as your workspace.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
While I can’t relate to being lonely (there are 5 people constantly bothering me at home at any given time), the same can’t be said for some freelancers.
Mae Tan, owner of BITTER/SWEET, a cake business that caters to newlyweds, felt the pang of loneliness after a while too.
“It wasn’t only lonely, but unhealthy as well. At one point, I think I lost all social skills and preferred to keep to myself,” she admitted.
Often, Mae attributed her loneliness and burnout to poor time management.
“But over time, I started to see the effects and impact this made in my life, and I knew I had to make a change.”
Armed with a stronger sense of discipline, Mae advised us that with proper time management, you should be able to allocate more time with friends and family as well as balance the work with social responsibilities so that workplace isolation doesn’t become too much to bear.
Freelancing has also allowed writer Farah to allocate more time reconnecting with family over lunch or tea.
“I have always kept my social life separate from work. Even having friends outside of the organisation helps,” she continued.
For someone like Liew (who’s had 15 solid years as a tech blogger and 3 more as a web developer), it’s really about perspective.
“I’m not an outgoing person, therefore I don’t feel lonely by working from home. I can communicate with family and friends online,” he continued.
Not everyone might be affected by workplace isolation, but for those who do (and don’t have the luxury of being surrounded with humans all the time) it’s a good idea to check in with colleagues informally as well.
Even if it’s just a short 5-minute call about how things are going at home, or a casual Zoom session once a week—there’s no rule about talking to your colleagues about non-work related things.
Bottom Line: Working from home was exciting to me at first, but it comes with its own challenges. However, I do find that if used wisely, it’s a great way to recuperate from the excessive travelling and to focus those efforts elsewhere.
- You can read more about other work from home related pieces we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Khai Yong / Kenny