Some of the best lessons are the ones you learn the hard way: disappointing people who rely on you, facing complete burnout, and retreating to your parked car mid-workday because you literally don’t have the energy to do anything else.
All true stories.
And what did I learn? I learned that I’m not cut out for corporate America or stale desk jobs. That buzzwords like “low-hanging fruit” and “circle back” are my version of nails on a chalkboard. That I’m the worst version of myself when forced to work within constraints. And don’t even get me started on corporate policies...
I realize this makes me sound like a rebel without a cause, but it has everything to do with my anxiety and how my mind works. There are plenty of people—from entry-level associates to high-earning execs—who struggle with mental illness but still manage to be successful in the corporate world. I’m just not one of them.
It took me eight years and six jobs to realize this, but I’m happy to say I’m now in a good place. I get to focus on Loose Leaf while mostly working remotely as a part-time writer. It’s a dream scenario that I’m grateful for every single day.
But just because this is my ideal situation doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m learning that working from home is a true test of self-discipline, motivation and accountability—traits that can sometimes be hard to come by when dealing with anxiety.
Through trial and error I’ve discovered how be the most productive version of myself while working from home, whether it’s for my calligraphy business or my writing gig. They’re not entirely foolproof solutions, but they work for me and might help you, too.
1. DESIGNATE A WORK SPACE (THAT ISN'T YOUR COUCH)
I used to think, very naively, that I could park myself on the couch with my laptop. It’s a good strategy if your goal is to see how many YouTube videos you can watch in a day. Not a good strategy for getting work done.
That’s why I’ve conditioned myself to instantly equate my home office with work, just as if I were in an actual office. That means everything else—social media, videos, entertainment, cats—lives outside those walls.
I realize not everyone has an office or spare room. You might even be working with nothing but a kitchen table. If that’s the case, make sure the space you choose isn’t anywhere you sit regularly. For example, don’t work in the same spot you eat. The idea is that you want to separate work from home as much as possible.
2. MAKE A (SHORT) TO-DO LIST
Here’s the thing about to-do lists: you actually have to DO THE THINGS on your list.
I used to aim way too high, filling my day planner with multiple tasks I knew I couldn’t accomplish. I’d end up with a lot of sad, empty checkboxes and to-dos that I’d carry over into the next day. And then the day after that. It was an endless cycle of little productivity.
As simple as my to-dos were, it was the number of them that was overwhelming (hello, anxiety). I focused too much on what I wasn’t getting done and knew I needed to make a change. That’s when I decided to make shorter to-do lists with 3 to 4 tasks I knew I’d be able to check off. Every checked box meant I was getting something done, which feels GOOD, which then leads to MORE productivity. Win win win.
3. LET YOURSELF REST
This idea goes hand-in-hand with making a to-do list, but I wanted to separate the two because scheduling time for NOT working is just as important as blocking off time for all your to-dos.
I tend to keep my schedule pretty loose and allow plenty of time for mental breaks. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Maybe your thing is getting a big chunk of work done in one sitting. Or maybe you’re like me and can only work in 30-minute intervals before going stir crazy. However you work, make time for NOT working.
4. WEAR WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL YOUR BEST
There was a very short-lived period of time when I thought feeling my “absolute best” was wearing my pajamas all day. Turns out wearing my PJs actually makes me feel like I should be sitting on the couch flipping between The Price is Right and Jerry Springer.
That’s not to say you need to put on a power suit; for me it’s wearing something that would, at the very least, be appropriate in public. (Yes, that includes a bra.)
5. GO OUTSIDE
GO. OUT. SIDE. Breathe the fresh air. Walk around. Loosen up. Sometimes it’s a quick break to the great outdoors that makes all the difference in how you spend your workday. I’ll often take my laptop outside to respond to emails or write (weather permitting). Or I’ll bring my iPad and Apple Pencil outside to doodle. I’m a lover of nature and like to take full advantage of the fleeting warmer months here in Ohio. I recommend you do the same!
6. BRIBE YOURSELF
There’s a caveat to this one: bribe yourself ONLY if you’re honest. There have been many times I’ve told myself, address these 20 envelopes and catch up on all your emails and THEN you can treat yo’self to [a glass of wine/ice cream/mac & cheese/Netflix] – only to say “screw it” and skip all the work. THIS IS NOT HOW BRIBES WORK.
I’ve gotten much better, though. How? I just remind myself that at the end of the day, enjoying my vices without having done anything to earn them is not rewarding, and it only prevents me from accomplishing anything.
These aren’t end-all, be-all ideas; living with anxiety and depression means dealing with the occasional “nope, not happening today” moments. But these strategies have become crucial to me being the most productive version of myself.
So tell me, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and work-from-homies: how do you stay on track while maintaining your sanity? I’d love to hear your suggestions!