When most people hear work from home, they often imagine pyjamas-wearing, bare-footed individual pacing the room while on a call with clients or colleagues.
While the image above may be true to some extent, it doesn’t paint the whole picture, at least, in my case.
As a work from home dad with a year-old child and not-so-great social life (no buddies for weekend drinks), it’s a lot harder to feel all sunshine about my life and work.
First, I’m grateful and feel blessed to have created a lifestyle that allows me to stay fully involved with our son.
However, there are days when the hassle and distractions of caring for a toddler and the full weight of not having the support of like-minded people weigh heavily on me. During such moments, work suffers, and I wish I have co-workers to talk to.
Interestingly, however, I seem to find a way somehow to make things work in the end.
How do I manage to chase after a boisterous, active toddler that’s always exploring (read that as pulling things, climbing, and always too willing to put objects in his mouth) still stay productive and get work done, find meaning in my work and avoid getting swallowed by the darkness of loneliness?
Recently, I’ve been documenting my daily routines, thought processes and mental exercises that help me get through each day.
I intend to share everything I’ve learned with you. But first, let’s go back to the beginning.
3 years ago, precisely on the last Friday of March 2017, I was sacked from the job I got two months earlier.
While I saw the sack coming, it still felt terrifying to hold that one piece of paper that shows I no longer have a job.
How was I going to cope? Where am I going to find the money for rent?
While unsure and terrified about the future, I felt this little sense of liberation starting to well up. I knew at that moment I would be fine even if I don’t know what my next steps would be yet.
When I told my best friend who’s working in another city that I’ve lost my job. He was like, “Sam, email me your updated CV so we can start searching for another job immediately.”
I remembered vividly how, at that moment, I felt a sense of clarity. I knew without a doubt I wouldn’t be applying to new jobs soon.
I replied, “Nkwa, thanks but for now I’m not applying to any job yet. I want to focus on this online thing for the next three months and see how it goes. If I was unable to make any headway with it, then I can always go back to a paid job.”
So, that was how my freelancing journey, exploration of how to make money online, and finally launching my business began.
In those three years, I’ve failed. I’ve grown. I’ve succeeded. My mindset has had tectonic shifts. I’ve married, and now we have a son.
Here’s how I was able to do it.
Fearlessly, Shamelessly Embrace Yourself
Do it afraid. Do it shamelessly. Do it anyway. People don’t have to understand why you’re doing it.
The moment I made the decision to completely and utterly accept myself and what it wants, it became merely a matter of waking up, keeping my mind straight and going after my goals.
The big battle, I realized now, is in the acceptance. Your mind will tell you stories of due bills. Your loved ones will try to talk sense into your head.
However, once you come to that place where you say, “This is what I want. This is the lifestyle I want to lead. And I’m going to get it. I’m going to create it.” Everything else fades into oblivion.
You Will Get Misunderstood, A lot. Feel Alone, sometimes. Know it’s OK
Nothing prepares you for the utter and crushing loneliness you will feel, at times. It’s jarring, especially, if you’re someone that’s not used to being alone for an extended time – think days, even weeks at a time.
In my country, you will raise people’s suspicion if you’re always seen using a computer. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing legitimate work or not, you’re likely to be called a fraudster.
Learn more about what’s like to work from home in my country.
How did I manage this?
Not so well, at least, in the beginning. However, with time, I learned to reach out to other people online. I joined Facebook groups, where I learned my experiences were not peculiar to me alone.
Develop a routine, else you will drift
When you transition to work from home, especially, as a freelancer or own a business, it’s very tempting to want to wing through the day without a structure and routine. You’re the boss. No colleague or supervisor to look over your shoulder.
The risk with this approach is, you may get lost in unproductive activities that don’t add to the bottom-line.
But, you may wonder, isn’t the whole point of working from home to have some flexibility and control over your time?
Exactly. That’s the point. When you work from home, you can choose the type of work to do, when to do it, where to do it – on the couch, lying in bed or even in the loo.
However, if you don’t have any form of structure in place, you may find it pretty challenging to accomplish those tasks you’ve set.
A routine helps you get things done. It points you to the next task that needs your attention. Without it, you may end up drifting through the day without direction.
Before our son was born, it was pretty easy to create and stick to a routine. However, once the dude came along, all those routine and structure flew out the window.
It became difficult to concentrate on work at hand when our dear son is howling at the background. Or to take clients’ calls when you’re struggling between swapping soiled diapers and balancing the cellphone on your shoulder.
That was until I learned to structure my day around our son. Thankfully, dude usually sleeps during the day between 11 AM – 1 PM and 4 PM – 7 PM. So those precious hours became my work time.
Compartmentalize to avoid getting overwhelmed
When you work. Work. This mantra has served me well over the years, especially since the birth of our son.
Unlike an office setting with minimal distractions, your home is choked full with things that can distract you.
One way to minimize distractions is to have a dedicated space at home for work. Personally, I have a home office where all work-related things are kept and where I work.
Whenever I step into the room, I know it’s for work – nothing else. This way, I’ve been able to train my brain to switch to work mood every time I’m in the room.
Do Work That Feels Meaningful
Even when you work from home, if you feel the work you do is not meaningful, sooner rather than later, you will get burned out.
While remote work gives you flexibility with time and location, you also need to feel the work you do is meaningful and matters in some way to be satisfied in the long term.
Knowing that there’s an important reason behind what you do, and not just the money, can make all the difference in how satisfied you feel about yourself and life in general.
When I first started, I would accept any gig that comes my way. As long as the project is paying, I would take it.
It wasn’t long before I grew disillusioned. I knew I wanted a location independent lifestyle. I knew I love writing. Yet, I still feel like something was missing.
As days go by, I began to dread waking up. I no longer want to write. I just wanted to lie in bed without doing anything else.
It wasn’t until I asked myself what kind of work inspires me and resolved to work only on those type of projects did I regain my spark and joy.
I realized I feel most alive when I work with small businesses. The shift in mindset and realization that the copies I create for their organization, go a long way in helping them achieve their goals made me appreciate my work more.
For me creating these web copies, blog posts, articles, white papers, case studies, became a form of expression of my higher calling. It was no longer about writing, just for writing sake, but about fulfilling purpose.
On the surface, my work may look mundane, boring even. However, knowing that every word I carefully type allows my clients to create valuable assets that help drive their business goals is satisfying.
And as a result of the lifestyle I’ve chosen, I’m able to stay fully involved in my son’s life sharing priceless memorable moments with him even though sometimes, I have had to change diapers—I still love every bit of it regardless.