Tips for Working at Home: Dealing with Motivation and Isolation

Yesterday we heard some of the good things about working from home, and there are some great things, but it also has its drawbacks. I talked to all the people I know who work at home and found that a lot of the same complaints kept coming up over and over again. So, if you are considering a work-at-home situation, or if you already have a home office and you are wondering how to deal with the drawbacks, here are some helpful hints to make your life a little easier.

Trouble Getting/Staying Motivated

The first thing people typically notice is that they have trouble staying on task. After years of hoping that your boss won’t catch you checking Facebook, it’s easy to go a little crazy when you realize that no one cares what you do or when you do it. And then, once you have started working, if you hit a snag, there is a whole house full of crap you can do instead of dealing with your roadblock.  Laundry never looks so appealing as it does when you are avoiding a pain in the ass project. If motivation is your problem, try one of these suggestions:

  • Create a “start of the workday” ritual. You probably had one of these when you worked outside your house, though you may not have realized it. The ritual consists of the three or four things you did every day, first thing, before you commenced to working. It helps me when I’m at home, because my brain knows that “Get Mountain Dew, select music, lay out supplies” means it’s time to settle into work mode, no matter where I am.
  • Get dressed in the morning. I know that one of the biggest luxuries of working at home is optional pants, but getting dressed has a lot of psychological ramifications. Your subconscious has a lifetime’s worth of evidence that Get Dressed = Time To Be Productive. Take advantage of that and throw on some clothes to jump start your day. You don’t have to go crazy – who needs a bra when you’re all by yourself? – but put on pants and a clean shirt for at least a few hours, just to get started. Once you hit a good working groove, you can change back into pajama pants (I have done this many times: get dressed in the morning and then change back after lunch because jeans are for suckers).
  • Make a schedule. If you are really having trouble staying on track, make yourself a work schedule and pin it up where you can see it and mark off when you “clock in” and “clock out.” The time clock is frequently one of the things we most look forward to leaving behind, but sometimes it’s the only way. You can also use it as a way of tracking what days/times aren’t working the way you thought they would and you can then adjust accordingly.
  • If you get stuck and you feel like you need to walk away for a minute, set a limit. Don’t just walk away and start doing other things, or you could lose the whole day to project avoidance. Either set a time limit or give yourself one task to complete before you go back. When your time is up, or your chore complete, go back to work. If you are still stuck, then rinse and repeat. Just be specific about when you are going to go back to your paid work again.
  • Don’t forget to eat.  When there is no official lunch hour and no great migration of hungry co-workers to join, it is surprisingly easy to forget to eat.  Make a point of taking a real lunch break and a snack break once or twice a day so you don’t get fuzzy-headed, cranky, and burnt out.
  • There is no such thing as “Just one game of Solitaire.” You’ll try to convince yourself that there is, but we all know that it’s a lie.


The second thing people notice after working at home for a while is that it gets lonely. Once school is done, an adult’s main source of socialization is the workplace. When you don’t have a workplace full of other people, you have to find other ways of filling that void. I once walked into a friend’s office and burst into tears because I realized that I hadn’t talked to another person face-to-face in over a week. Don’t let this happen to you.

  • Go to Starbucks. It doesn’t actually have to be Starbucks, but if you do a lot of work on your laptop, then it pays to find a place with Wi-Fi where the employees won’t mind if you camp out for a while. If you do computer-related work but don’t have a laptop, then take a notebook and hard copies of what you need to do and get your work on old-school with a pen and paper.  Just being in a place where there are other people bustling around will make you feel like less of a cave-dwelling monitor zombie.
  • Join a club. Some of us can’t go to the coffee shop to work. I am a glass artisan, so until they start setting up torch stations outside Starbucks, I have to work in my studio. However, there is a really nice lampworking group that meets once a month just fifteen minutes from my house. It costs $25 a year to be a member, and it is entirely worth it for the socializing and networking opportunities. Wherever you are, whatever you do, chances are there is a group nearby that you can join. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to have a group of people I can talk to who know what I’m talking about. Shared language is another thing you develop in a workplace, and it’s something you don’t miss until it’s gone. It also helps normalize things. I can spend a month trying to do something new, getting frustrated and assuming that I can’t do it right because I’m an idiot.  Having someone who’s opinion I trust say, “Oh yeah, that’s really difficult, but it looks like you’ve made a lot of progress,” puts things in perspective.
  • Make a point of hanging out with friends on a regular basis. Even if you live with people that you talk to every day, you still need to interact with others. My house can be a pretty exciting place, with me and Mr.B, three kids, their friends, two dogs, a cat, and occasional grandparents, but I still need to talk to people I’m not related to in order to maintain my sanity. Have dinner with friends over the weekend or make a weekly TV date to get your social activity in. TV dates are great if you are on a budget. Watch your favorite show with another friend who like the same show and take turns supplying dinner. They are also a great solution if you have a friend who is a new mom. New moms also frequently fall into the isolation trap, and this is a way you can hang out and not have to deal with the hassles of taking care of a small baby in a public place.

If you have any further suggestions about motivation or isolation, please share with the rest of the class. These are based on my own personal experiences and a poll of the people I know who work at home, there’s always room for more. For now, though, that’s it for part one of my work at home tips.  Check back tomorrow for part two, where we’ll be talking about burnout and how to deal with friends and family who think “work at home” means “just sitting around the house.”

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

7 replies on “Tips for Working at Home: Dealing with Motivation and Isolation”

As a chronic procrastinator, what worked for me when I was crying over writing my dissertation was getting out of bed and going straight into work mode. I would get up at 6am, put on sweats and thick socks over my pyjamas, make a cup of tea, and get to writing. No email, no blogs, no reading the news… No distractions until I had put in two or three hours of writing. Then, at 8 or 9 am I would read and answer my work email, have a shower, have breakfast, watch the news on TV or catch up on my feeds reader, do some errands… It always made me feel like I had cheated an extra two or three hours out of the day.

Thank you for this, I love it! I am starting a new job in early October and it is work-from-home. It will be my first time telecommuting, and this is all really helpful.

As a hugely lazy person, I really like the get dressed suggestion. I intend to attempt to go to the gym most mornings and then come home, shower and get cracking. I think by leaving the house in the morning to go to the gym, or just to Starbucks for coffee or something on days I don’t want to work out, I will trigger my brain that it’s time to do work. Ditto on getting dressed.

If I just rolled out of bed and then sat down at my desk, it would be a big “does not compute”.

I also think the big thing (for me) will be setting up a real office. This is going to mean reorganizing our spare bedroom, but if I have a real desk to sit down at rather than taking my laptop to the couch, it’s going to make a big difference.

Leave a Reply