Four Mistakes I Made When I Started Working from Home

Mar 13, 2020

When I was in my 20s, and commuting on the Metro to the Capitol each day, I used to dream of the day when I could work from home.  But when that day came in 2017, I made every conceivable mistake.  It turns out that being successful while working from home is harder than it looks.

Not Maintaining a ‘Work Schedule.’ When you go into an office every day, it’s easy to stay on schedule.  You arrive at 8:00AM.  Get coffee around 10:00AM.  Eat lunch at 12:30PM.  Come home at 6:00PM.  But when you work from home, it’s easy to push those boundaries.  Lunches get longer.  Coffee breaks become more frequent.  You relax.

But once you fall out of a work routine, it’s much harder to get back into it.  So keep to your work hours.  Be online and available during normal business hours.  Don’t get so comfortable that every work day turns into a light Friday.

Not Staying Visible to Your Boss. This was a lesson that I learned from Kyle.  When you can’t see your boss in person, you still need to make sure that you’re ‘seen.’

Be logged into Slack, or Lync, or Gchat.  Be the one with your camera on in the video conference call.  If you haven’t had a reason to interact with your boss in a bit, find one.  (Don’t bug them, but if you’d stop by their desk to ask them a question about something if they were sitting next to you, it’s perfectly fine to do that virtually.)

Your boss needs to see that your work is getting done, and see you doing it.  However that looks in your industry, stay vigilant about it.

Not Dressing for Work. I’m not saying you need to wear a suit every day, but there’s something motivating about maintaining some kind of getting ready routine.  Even on days when I wear leggings or joggers, I shower, style my hair, put on a styled look, and reset from my pajamas and Scrunchie ponytail.  My doesn’t feel like its started until I’m showered and changed.

As for conference calls, keep a blazer or two (I have one camel and one black) nearby so you can look ‘dressed’ when you jump on one last minute.  Because, as I mentioned above, being the only one with your camera on during a video-conference is a good way too be seen.

Left. Curved Hem Tee // Leggings // Silver Studs // Quilted Zip Sweatshirt // Veja Sneakers

Middle. Madewell Texture Tee // 7 Flare Legs // Gorjana Hoops // LL Bean Jacket // Rothy’s

Right. Eileen Fisher T-shirt Dress // Baublebar Ear Crawlers // J.Crew Sweater Jacket // Leopard Mules

Getting Distracted by Chores. I cannot work in a mess.  Even when I was in a cubicle, it had to be tidy.  I couldn’t function until it was tidy.  It’s the same with my house.  During my first year of working from home, I would take a ‘quick break’ to clean the kitchen, look up at the clock and realize that I had been away from my desk for an hour.

Now, I maintain a morning ritual.  Before my shower, I let the dogs out, and pick up the living room while I wait for them.  I take them to the kitchen to feed them, and tidy up the kitchen while they eat.  I shower, change, and then pick up the bathroom.  I enter my office and do a little tidying up before I log on.  This way, there are no messes to distract me.  It’s by no means a deep  cleaning, but it’s enough that I don’t lose focus.

Losing Focus on the Work.  At the office, it’s easy to stay in a work headspace.  You look at your calendar, you prepare for the next day, you get ahead if you can.   A lot of women I know who work from home fall into the habit of completing their daily work, but not remembering to look ahead.  This is how I developed Success Fridays.

On Friday mornings, from 11:00AM til noon, I block off my calendar for a ‘Planning Meeting.’  I put my phone on do not disturb (only critical numbers ring through).  I don’t look at my e-mail.  This is one hour of intense focus.

My first task is to look through the previous week’s to do lists.  Was anything missed?  Is anything done?  What needs a followup? I add these things to a Close Out to do list to be finished before the end of the day.  Now, I plan.

What’s on the calendar for next week?  What prep work needs to be done before then?  What meetings and events need confirmations?  Then, I make my calendar and to-do lists for individual days of the next week.  Instead of keeping one big list, I break up tasks by day.

With the 10-15 minutes that I usually have left, I plan out blog content.  Keeping up with this amount of content requires time, but it also requires organization.  I write most of the content on Friday nights and Sundays, so I need to have a game plan before then or it’s easy to waste time.

Once my planning is complete, it’s such a relief.  When I get off course or lose focus, I can just look at the lists and look at the plan.


Others who work from home, please add your thoughts in the comments.  It’s an adjustment, and no one formula works for everyone.  But these are mistakes that I made, and hopefully, you can learn from them.

Career Style, Style, Work

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  1. DC says:

    I work from home about half the time, depending on the week. I keep the same hours I keep when I go into the office (8:30-5:30 unless I’m working on a project or on a deadline). During that period, I’m available on Slack and by phone. About once a week, my team and I take an hour to check in and go through all open projects and make sure we’re aware of upcoming deadlines and all tasks are assigned. I also do an personal triage once a week with everything (and I mean everything, even if it’s “check in on X”) on my to-do list, and organize it based on priority.

    Getting dressed is critical to keep me on task and to let me turn off at the end of the day, when I might change for dinner or to work out.

    I do let myself do chores during the day, as long as they are time-limited. Mid-morning if I might take 5-10 minutes at the office to go for a walk, I’ll set a timer and put in a load of laundry and stretch. I also set a timer for lunch, as early on I made the mistake of cooking lunch every day and spending too much time lingering (what freedom from sad desk salads or sandwiches!). Now, I’ll cook if I can do so and eat within my allotted time (sometimes I’ll make an omelette or prepare fancy avocado toast), and I keep leftovers or salad fixings ready to go in the same way I would if I were at the office.

    Setting timers has been a huge game changer for me. I set them to make sure I’m keeping breaks to the same amount of time I’d take at the office, but if you need them to help you stay focused (Pomodoro, anyone?), do that.

    I’ve also found that it is really easy to be dehydrated when I work from home. At the office, I have a mug that I fill up with water at the beginning of the day and refill before each meeting/whenever it’s empty, and I am less inclined to do that at home. Be aware of that and stay hydrated!

  2. Erica says:

    Appreciate this, thanks!

  3. Tori R. says:

    I just started working from home full time, and this is so helpful! Do you have any advice for setting up an office space at home?

    • Belle says:

      Just make a dedicated space, even just an end of your dining room table. And try to make it away from the TV watching areas. It’s also a good idea to add something that makes you happy like a plant or some framed photos.

  4. Mallory says:

    I switched to working remotely full-time last summer (moved to another state and negotiated to stay on, woohoo!).

    For me, having a dedicated desk and work space (not even a full office) was so crucial. Otherwise, it’s too tempting for me to take a laptop and sit on the couch, or on the porch, or whatever, and lose focus. For folks that might be making the switch temporarily for public health reasons right now (and thanks!), that might be your kitchen table or a corner of your room, but it makes a world of difference. It also makes it much easier to “leave the office” when you’re done for the day – my computer is off and doesn’t come back until the next day, just like when I was working from HQ.

  5. Erin says:

    I really like the idea of the Planning Meeting, even for when I’m in the office. I work from home once a week, but am now teleworking indefinitely, so that will be an adjustment. I do like being by a window at home:)

  6. Kay says:

    I worked form home for 5 years. My best advice is create routines and stick to them. Every morning I woke up and went to the gym. Came home, showered, and planned my day. If it was Monday, I planned my week as well. I am an extrovert so I always tried to plan time to leave my house and interact with folks. If I didn’t get naturally from a meeting, I went to a coffee shop.

  7. Susan C says:

    I worked from home for 13 years, and a had a few “rules” that kept me focused. I never wore jeans or leggings, because I associated them with relaxing. Instead, I stuck to dress pants or chinos. I never, ever worked in my pyjamas! And I never turned on the T.V. I did stick to a pretty rigid schedule, because I had school-aged children that needed my attention at certain times. If I was having difficulty focusing on a certain project, I would print the invoice in advance and stick it to the wall, within eyesight. I knew the invoice couldn’t go out until the work was completed, and that was sufficient motivation!

  8. Jamie says:

    When I WFH, it’s hard for me to spend 8 hrs at my desk- it feels too restricting since I’m typically traveling to different sites each day. So, I’ve got 4 work zones in my apartment… desk, couch, kitchen counter (standing), and outside. Each time I shift projects or jump on a call, I change locations. If I’m not on a call, I also switch up the music or lighting! Anything to help break up the monotony.

  9. Carol says:

    Thank you for this very timely post!

  10. Joanna says:

    Love this. Keep the work from home posts coming. It’s been a weird transition for me!

  11. Jill says:

    Love this, too. Started working from home full-time last fall. At first, I was so worried about distraction that I figuratively chained myself to my desk. Gradually I realized that I could take 15 minutes to eat a sandwich. I would at the office. Being home doesn’t mean I’m not working. In fact, I’m working a lot. I like to sign up for yoga or something right after work so I’m motivated to get work done and fulfill my need get out of the house and also see people. I’m lucky to have a little den at the end of my row house where my desk is set up. That keeps the dining room and living room clear of work things and keeps work separate from non-work.

  12. WFH 4 eva says:

    Have done 2-3 days/week WFH for 10 years.Sometimes, ahem coronavirus pandemic, I WFH for weeks at a time.

    Do whatever works for you. You may save a lot of money on makeup and clothing while also resting your hair from heat styling.

    Where you are concerned about visibility:

    Schedule regular high profile networking events, attend, look your best.

    Schedule regular haircuts and color appointments.

    Keep your work and event makeup up to date and at the ready for when you do have higher visibility.

    If you go into an offie, on your office days, schedule lunches and coffees with colleagues and attend an event in your city/area once per month.

    Commit to community groups, whether studio fitness, Junior League, your church, a volunteer group, and be active. Use your time at rocket yoga or on the conference planning committee to build relationships.

    • alex says:

      WFH 4 EVA makes excellent points. I’ve also worked from home for decades and if you don’t go into offices in town, or even go into town, without realising it is happening, you cease to look current. IRL, people don’t wear what people in magazines wear and if you aren’t seeing vast numbers of *women* dressed for work, you drift into looking like someone from the olden days.

      Same thing happens with software. It changes, you don’t realise until you sit down in a desk in an office again.

  13. Jen B says:

    I love the timeliness of this post!

    I’d add that lighting and angle matter for video conferences. No one wants to see up their coworkers nose, or feel like they are being stalked by a serial killer.
    Keep your camera close to or above eye level (not way below) and look for the most even lighting you can.
    … Plus saves time on makeup!

  14. Ilona says:

    Thanks, this is really useful! I like the idea of having a blazer on hand for quick upgrades. Any additional suggestions for work @ home outfit ideas would be great. Bonus points for ideas that can be flexible for moms of little ones. I go from taking care of my toddler in the morning to jumping on a call to appearing on video conference without much opportunity to change or switch things up.

  15. […] work from home mistakes to avoid. If that was not enough, there are more work from home tips from Abra at Capitol Hill Style coming in the shape of what not to do. Make sure to scroll down to […]

  16. Rebecca says:

    This is super helpful. I’ve been teleworking 1 day a week for nearly a year, but now find myself teleworking full-time in this age of pandemic with a compromised immune system.

    I agree that video conferencing is where it’s at. It’s better than phone; seeing faces and peoples’ expressions makes a world of difference in communication. I also make sure I’m dressed, with makeup on, before I log in.

  17. ~M says:

    I’ve been working from home for a little over half a year. What has made the biggest difference for me is wearing tennis shoes. I can be wearing leggings and a tshirt, but if I have tennis shoes on, then i mean business. I’m not just lounging.

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