I’m widowed, single, and heading quickly into the empty nest. I have one more kid at home, but she’s so social that “home” is basically a place for her to (not) do her laundry and clear space on her bed (from all the laundry that’s not being done) to sleep.
I’ve been very conscious about moving into this time in my life and as each of my kids became more independent, I’ve tried to do the same. I have no expectation of remarriage which means my house is about to be REALLY quiet.
Having worked from home for years, I’ve gone through several iterations of my day. The first was when the kids were young and my schedule was dictated by pick-up, drop-off, and after-school activities. Then they all started driving which was AMAZING and I wasn’t scrambling to get everyone where they needed to go – but school still sort of dictated my work hours. Now it’s very common for me to be entirely alone all day until I see my daughter when she comes home from work or being out – right around when I’m about to go to bed.
So, I’ve had to become intentional about how I structure my day and how I protect my free time. As I had more and more time on my own, I realized quickly that I could get into the unhealthy habit of working all the time – which is fine until you want to take a vacation or something and realize you’ve completely overscheduled yourself. Bottom line: I don’t want work to be how I fill all of my time.
Here’s how I stay mindful of my free time when I’m working on my own in an empty house.
I was talking to my sister one day about how much I was dreading my week because I had so many meetings scheduled. “I love days when I have absolutely nothing on the calendar and I’m able to work on what I want to,” I said.
This idea immediately threw my sister into a panic. She loves having her day scheduled out and that structure is soothing to her. It was then that I realized how important it was to understand and acknowledge without judgment the way you like to work. The 30-year-old me would have felt like I should do what she does and create a concrete schedule. The 46-year-old me is fine with keeping things loose. I still get things done and I enjoy my day.
Create SOME structure
Even knowing I like to have a fluid day, I still need some structure. I typically don’t turn the TV on until around 5:30 PM. My “lunch break” is usually about 30 minutes. I know that if I allowed myself to indulge in a little HGTV in the middle of the day, I’d blink and two hours would pass. Instead, knowing that I can’t watch anything until the evening helps me look forward to my downtime – it’s even better if I’ve gotten sucked into a show or if there’s a movie I want to see. If I do feel stuck on a project or need a break, a walk is my go-to.
Find a social network
The trap I sometimes fall into as a single woman working from home is not socializing enough. As someone who loves to be at home, this can be a slippery slope and I do think that if you don’t get out enough, it will cause you anxiety when you eventually leave the house. I also think it’s important to practice being around people; I know that sounds strange, but there have been times when I’ve been on my own for long stretches and I almost forget what it’s like to have a conversation. Again, slippery slope.
I look to my women’s networking group for a lot of my socialization. What’s fantastic about it is that I can create a social calendar that’s completely within my control. I’ll look at what they have going on that month and sign up for what I want to. I’ve joined committees so I have monthly meetings and stay in practice with working with others – something that can get rusty working on my own.
I’ll also try to put other things on my calendar like golf, book club, or classes at the gym that are appointments I have to keep and that get me out of the house or at least talking to other people.
Protect your weekend
When I started my business, I made the huge mistake of working weekends. This was wrong for two reasons:
It meant I had no downtime.
It sent a message to my clients that I would work for them at any time – and then they started to expect it.
Now I absolutely will not work weekends unless I’m trying to get ahead to take time off during the week. I make it a rule to not turn on my computer, even to check a movie time, because I know the second I do I’ll get sucked into something.
If you’re someone who has allowed work to creep into your weekends, this might be hard to give up at first. I know I had to retrain myself. But allowing yourself to rest and even get bored could be a big part of being successful at work. (CLICK HERE for “How being bored is going to grow your business”.)
A lot of creating a fulfilling life working from home is knowing yourself; understand what makes you happy and what brings you stress. It’s also about being very intentional about how you structure your time. In many cases, social opportunities won’t just find you sitting at your desk – you have to seek them out.
It also requires a different type of discipline. When you’re at an office you’re probably more mindful of creating quiet times when you won’t be interrupted so you can get things done. When you’re at home, you have to create “interruptions” that will break up your day so that you’re not just staring at a screen for hours at a time.