The Balance: Flexibility vs. Routine

image from Heidi Stock Digi Design

Working from home is awesome.

You can hop out of bed (or not!) and be at work in seconds. No long commute for you!

You’re close to your kettle, your fridge, your TV, your bed, your couch, possibly your significant other and children, your pets…

In short, you’re close to all the things that make life relaxing and sweet, but that can also distract the heck out of you!

Those of you who have a ‘regular’ job (or those of us who remember what it’s like) will know that having a J-O-B brings with it a certain routine. You have to get up at the same time, get showered/dressed/fed. You have an external force that drives the shape of your day.

There’s a certain rigidity to this, sure – but there’s also a certain sense of peace that comes with routine. You don’t have to make the decision to get up, dressed, and out the door anew each day – it’s just something you do. A habit.

For those of us who work at home (and especially those of us without kids to organise), it can be a real struggle to create this same sense of routine in our lives.

Part of the joy of working from home is that we don’t have to adhere to routine. We have a sweet, endless sense of flexibility to our day. If we want to brush off work and go for a bike ride, we can. If we want to sleep in, we can. If we want to have an impromptu 3-hour lunch with a friend, there’s nothing stopping us.

However, within this flexibility lurks the danger of laziness. No one but us is making us work/get up/exercise/answer those emails.

Spending every day in this flexible state can end up resulting in feelings of stress and overwhelm, where we just jump from one task to the other without any sense of calming daily structure.

I know I’ve struggled with this a lot in my own life; when I don’t impose some sort of routine on myself, it all just turns into a bit of a hot mess.

I asked my fellow creatives how they cope with this – to share one core routine or ‘keystone moment’ in their day that helps them to stay focussed and feel in control.

The existence of this constant balancing act between flexibility and routine came out loud and clear in their responses.

Ensuring I have a lunch break is really important. Also acknowledging that sometimes I can be flexible and work in the evening rather than only 9am-5pm ~ Cate Lawrence

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Dedicating/ scheduling a day for certain activities such as bookkeeping activities. That way there is more or less a dead line to be met to have all information to be gathered by and provides a routine. ~ Megan Beverley

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I generally write off my mornings! I’m a night owl and am not very effective in the morning, so instead of trying to fight it I see that time as being for catching up on the news, socialising online and having a good, leisurely breakfast. At lunch time-ish is when I get started with work and I generally do some sort of work until bed time. ~ Simone Walsh

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I found getting up in the morning, eating a good breakfast and having a shower as if I was going to work helps. ~ Elle Roberts

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I start with a morning walk with my dogs and a friend and we chat about our day to come, then breakfast and all the ‘get ready for the day’ stuff then go to the studio. I have different admin tasks each morning, I love creating my daily ‘to do’ list. Afternoon is for making and creating. I always have a lunch break and plan meetings at the local cafe so I can see people and not go stir crazy. ~ Lorna McKenzie

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I work on the 45/15 rule: Each hour I’ll do 45mins focused work, 15mins check emails, twitter, or put a load of washing on, etc. I tried to be a good little worker but can’t focus for 8 hours straight so this works a treat for me. ~ Poppy & Bliss

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Flexibility is the key, if I’m not in the right headspace for book work, then I’ll sew or do some social networking. I would probably put at least 8-10 hours into my business 5 days a week, often more. That’s with 4 children, it’s amazing what you can achieve if you’re passionate about what you’re doing. ~ Middlemost Clothing

Everyone seems to have a slightly different mix of routine and flexibility. Some work on an hourly basis, some daily or even longer.

I think the key is finding your own balance.

Find the point where you feel calm and in control of your work/life while still feeling the freedom that working from home can bring.

So, if you work from home – how do you walk the tightrope between flexibility and balance in your life?

8 thoughts on “The Balance: Flexibility vs. Routine

  1. This post caught my eye at just the right moment. I work from home full time, and I’ve recently realized that I need to start creating better routines and boundaries between my work time and my home time. Otherwise, I’ll work unproductively for 13 hours a day, leaving myself frustrated and exhausted. Thanks for the tips! It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles to find this balance.

  2. This post is exactly what I needed to read. I work from home, but in the tech industry (with a dream of working in the craft industry). I am blessed enough to travel and live wherever I like with my job, and so I move every month or so. But creating routine is difficult. I make a point of getting outside everyday, and having a lunch break. I know that if I don’t get at least 2 hours in before lunch, the rest of my day is shot. I know that staring at my computer for more than 2 hours without a break is deadly.
    Thanks for compiling all these different work habits. It is an encouragement to me to see that others struggle with creating routines, and getting down to work.

  3. Great topic! I think we all struggle with having too much freedom at times. It’s probably a reaction to a much more structured day job from the past! I agree that we all have to find our own balance. I tend to give myself flexibility on a small scale, but set weekly, monthly, etc goals. So as long as I get the work done by the deadlines, I’m good. However, certain things are solid routines, to ensure there’s no skipping lunch, breaks, etc… things that keep a general foundation for us to work upon.

  4. At the moment, I work full-time and my creative biznez is on the side of all that. As in, I get up, shower, head to work, work a full day 8-5, then head home (perhaps after pilates or yoga) and work my butt off ’til bedtime! It also means I relish the weekends for catching up and getting focused. I have a coach who sets me three tasks each week and stays on my case, too.

    I actually enjoy the fact that I am forced to get up every morning. I’m really not a morning person, either, and I have a feeling that – if my side biz ever becomes my full-time gig – I’d have to make myself get up at a certain time, shower, get dressed, walk the dog, then begin.

    I really like the idea of setting aside different days for different tasks. I tend to feel more inspired to write on Mondays and Tuesdays, for instance.

    Great post – thanks!

  5. I have wrestled with this and have decided that I need an actual office. I’m off to look at one today, how funny that this post is exactly about what I’m struggling with! Clearing space to work (physically and mentally!) at home is just sucking my energy. Even going to coffee shops etc is not working well because I have to drag everything around with me.

    If anyone decides an office outside the home is best, I wanted to let you know about an option I’m checking out. We have a business innovation center nearby that receives grants from the SBA to help small businesses. They give a discount on the lease and offer advice and support.

    Good luck to us all, owning a business is no picnic but what a fun ride!
    Thanks for the post!

  6. Not that I’m taking pleasure in other people’s struggles but boy am I glad that I’m not the only person who has this problem! When I quit my job and started working from home I had zero routine and would realize around 4 p.m. when I was feeling sleepy that I had failed to eat or drink anything all day. Not good.

    For me, taking a shower and putting on actual clothing has been huge in terms of telling my brain “it’s time to work now.” If I REALLY want to drive the message home, I take the time to do my hair, put in my contacts, and put on my face! Super simple, but it works for me.

  7. I have just left my full time job, and though it won’t be long term, I have decided to treat my “break” as dedicated work on my creative projects. I have been really worried about becoming lazy and losing my momentum. This morning I started a new “morning ritual” to get me in the right headspace to start the day. It felt wonderful to give myself time to plan and focus, even for 20 mins. This wonderful idea came from Maeg Yosef’s post:

    http://edisonrex.typepad.com/edison-rex/2011/10/creative-call-to-action-create-a-morning-ritual-commit-daily-to-your-creative-work.html

    I find that getting myself ready, into clothes I can leave the house in and focused from the start, really made a big difference to my day. I hope I can keep it up!

    Thanks for the post, I think freedom is in loving what you do.

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