If you set boundaries and stay motivated, working from home can be enjoyable and productive. Here are my tips for working from home.
In a survey of 7,000 workers, 65% said they’re more productive working from home. They get more done with fewer interruptions and less office politics.
But then there’s the rest of us..
Now that the pandemic has forced more people than ever into makeshift home offices, here are my top strategies for working from home:
1. Set up a dedicated office space
Get your gadgets, laptop and everything else you need and arrange it in a dedicated space that is now your “home office.” Get a sturdy chair and desk where you can work comfortably. Remove any clutter or distractions from the area and keep it bright with a potted plant or framed print. Set up your home office near a window to take advantage of any sunshine.
When your work is spread out haphazardly around the house, it’s hard to maintain focus and keep a boundary between your work and your personal life.
Relegate work to one place and keep the rest of the house for relaxing.
2. Have your tech ready
Upgrade your Internet plan if needed for good bandwidth, especially if you’re using Zoom or Skype for meetings. There’s nothing more annoying than slow loading times or dropped calls when you’re working on deadline.
Have your important files, images and folders backed up on a hard drive and easy to access, and have clearly organized folders for all your projects. Invest in a printer if you like keeping track of some things on paper. Print out important emails and keep a filing system on your desk to get your tasks organized.
3. Use headphones
A good pair of headphones is priceless, whether it’s to block out household noise, listen to relaxing music or hear your conference calls better.
4. Keep your children occupied
Keep plenty of puzzles, books and activities available to keep your children occupied if they’re also home. Arrange with your spouse to take shifts watching the kids, or ask friends and family for help.
Keep your schedule flexible if you have young children that need constant care. And consider working in the evenings if your days are busy.
Make a schedule of activities for your children to give their day structure.
And stay realistic. Don’t expect your level of productivity to remain steady when you’re taking care of a baby or young children. Be flexible and adapt to your situation.
5. Start your day with a ritual
Kick off your day with a ritual – whether that’s brewing coffee and splashing on some perfume, or turning the radio on and spreading out your notebooks. This lets your brain know it’s time to start work, and it clearly draws a line between your work time and your personal life.
When there’s no office routines to start your day, a ritual is crucial to give your day structure.
It also makes it easier to switch off in the evenings – your work doesn’t happen haphazardly throughout the day, but it has a clear beginning and end.
Do some cardio before work to get energized or wind down with yoga stretches at night. Don’t let working from home leave you hunched over your laptop all day.
7. Use audio and video
Does WhatsApp work better for you than email? Do you find it easier to send a short audio message instead of exchanging emails?
Be open to new ways of communicating with your colleagues. Experiment with digital tools and find systems that you’re comfortable with.
When you’re not chatting with colleagues face-to-face, it’s harder to pick up nuances and body language. Work can quickly disintegrate into a distracting stream of WhatsApp messages that keeps any meaningful progress from getting done.
To keep things running smoothly, opt for voice messages and video meetings whenever possible, especially to clear up misunderstandings.
Schedule regular calls with your colleagues. Keep them short, and be clear about what you’re working on.
8. Stick to a schedule
Astronaut Scott Kelly lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year. He shared his tips for surviving isolation – and his first tip was to follow a schedule:
“On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep … You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment.”
When your day lacks any structure, your mornings and evenings blend together and leave you feeling unmotivated.
To stay motivated at home, start and end your day at a specific time. Create a schedule with blocks of time marked off for priority tasks.
9. Stay off social media
It’s easy to get distracted when your phone is always nearby. Leave your phone in your desk or put it in another room to help you stay focused.
10. Take regular – and meaningful – breaks
Working from home means fewer distractions. And that often leads to more focused work.
But it also means you’re doing more tiring work that requires real breaks.
It’s easy to immerse yourself in work when you don’t have an office of chatty colleagues. And it’s easy to forget to take a restful pause when there’s no scheduled office coffee breaks.
To stay productive, set specific times to take restful breaks. You’ll feel calmer and more productive when you get back to work.
Here’s how to take restful and refreshing breaks:
Take 15 minutes to stretch, do yoga if you’re hunched over your laptop, or move around to your favorite playlist. Movement gets your blood flowing and fights stress and anxiety.
Have a cup of tea and spend a few minutes tending your potted plants. Studies show that merely looking at the color green is calming and relaxing to your mind.
Read a magazine article or a book chapter to fully take your mind off work. When you get back on task, you’ll have a fresh perspective.
11. Eat a real lunch
Avoid stress snacking and take advantage of having your kitchen near to whip up a salad bowl or smoothie. Take some time to prepare your meal. The process of preparing food will reset your mind when you’re stressed or frustrated.
And if you don’t enjoy time in the kitchen, then prep your lunches and have some staples ready to go.
Eat lunch with your partner if they also work from home, and use that time to reconnect.
12. Take sick days
When you’re ill, don’t tell yourself that it doesn’t matter because you’re home already anyways. Take some time off and get the rest and treatment you need.
13. Set clear boundaries
Make your work hours clear to your friends and family so there’s no interruptions when you’re working. They shouldn’t be walking into your home office or trying to get your attention if your boundaries are clear.
Agree with your family that you shouldn’t be interrupted during certain hours unless there’s an emergency.
Use your breaks to check in with family, but make it clear that your work hours should be respected.
14. Evaluate your progress
Check in with yourself regularly and evaluate what’s going well and what isn’t working.
Are your 9-5 working hours realistic when your children are home, or do early mornings work better? Is your boss worried about an upcoming deadline, and how can communication be streamlined to keep them up to date?
When you’re not in an office, you have fewer meetings and evaluations to get regular feedback.
So it’s crucial to be realistic and honest about what isn’t working.
15. Shut down in the evenings
Once your workday is done, shut down your computer and leave your work behind you.
It’s not always easy with smartphones, chat groups and bosses that expect you on call 24/7. But it’s especially important to disconnect when you’re working from home, because you don’t have that transition from an office building to your home to give yourself distance.
The only way to get that distance is to clearly mark off your evenings as time for yourself.
An end-of-day ritual helps you separate your work day from your evening. This can be as simple as shutting down your laptop, clearing your desktop clutter and brewing a cup of tea. Or having coffee on the balcony and listening to a podcast.
But whatever our end-of-day ritual, it should send a clear signal to your brain that work is over. And it should provide your mind with a new activity so it’s not left stewing about work.
Take an hour to rest after work. Then do some self-care that invigorates and inspires you. Meditate, do some yoga, or listen to a good audio book.
Give your mind a fresh activity, and you’ll return to work more productive.
16. Sleep well
It can be tempting to stay up late if you don’t have an office to be on time for.
Resist the temptation and keep a regular schedule. It will make you more productive – and help preserve your sanity.
17. Fight isolation
Working from home cuts you off from everyone you’d normally meet at the office. There are no more lunch breaks, drinks after work or chats over coffee.
You’re also cut off from others working in your field – and you can’t easily network or share the experiences that propel your career forward.
Be aware of this loss and make a conscious effort to fight isolation. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut where your days and weekends blend together. Being constantly home leaves you feeling stagnant.
To stay motivated, meet with friends, join a book club or take yourself for a walk.
Keep up with trends in your industry and join online conferences, listen to podcasts and sign up for newsletters. This lets you network and be part of a community.
18. Get some fresh air
Pack some sunshine and fresh air into your day – even if that’s just a coffee on your balcony.
You’re not commuting to an office or running errands after work. And that means it’s easy to spend all your daylight hours indoors, loosing track of time.
Schedule in regular breaks without feeling guilty about taking time for yourself. Breaks for sunshine and fresh air get your blood flowing, give you some Vitamin D and leave you more energised.
The benefits of fresh air:
fresh air and sunshine help fight off depression
eases muscle aches and cramps
improves your mood
gives you a greater sense of vitality
makes you more resilient to physical illness
19. Keep your household work separate
It’s tempting to throw in a load of laundry during your coffee break, but beware: one chore quickly turns into a few. And then you’re working into the evening to catch up, the line between your work and your life hopelessly blurred.
So stay focused and ignore the floor that needs sweeping.
Don’t use household tasks to distract yourself – recognise that you’re likely procrastinating and using busywork to distract yourself.
Then take a real break. Get some fresh air, stretch our your legs, read a magazine or do something else to refresh yourself.
20. Time block your tasks
There’s no supervisor looking over your shoulder and no office rhythm to keep you on track.
You must be your own boss and keep yourself motivated.
And that should start with your daily schedule.
Instead of a long to-do list that just keeps gets longer, create blocks of time (of an hour or two each) that are dedicated to specific tasks.
Instead of checking your inbox distractedly every 20 minutes, designate an hour in the morning and evening to reply to messages. Extract any tasks from your emails onto a to-do list, and then schedule those tasks into blocks of time on your calendar.
A work day ruled by a haphazard to-do list and constant emails leaves you very busy but unproductive.
Instead, identify your priorities and break down your bigger projects into individual tasks. Then schedule those tasks into your day and treat that commitment as seriously as you would a meeting.
If you’re overwhelmed and have too much going on, then reevaluate your priorities. What can be done later, what can be delegated, and what can be crossed off your list entirely? Learn from your experience and say “no” more often in the future.
21. Take it easy on yourself
If working from home isn’t the cozy fantasy you’d imagined, then don’t be too hard on yourself.
It’s OK to feel lonely and frustrated without the structure of an office. Give yourself time to adjust if you haven’t done this before.
And realise there will be good and bad days. There will be times you’re racing through work, and times when you struggle with the bare minimum.
This is normal, especially when you’re dealing with other challenges or juggling work and family.
22. Work during your most productive times
You don’t have to stick to a 9-5 schedule.
Work when your kids are napping. If you’re a night owl then pull out your laptop in the evening. Get up an hour earlier and tackle your inbox if you’re a morning person.
Set your own schedule to optimise whatever works best for you. Because what matters is the quality of your work – not putting in 8 hours in accordance with a standard corporate timetable.
And stay flexible: take your lunch break during your favorite TV show, or start your day early if you have plans in the evening.
23. Make your work day pleasant
Listen to some music to lift your spirits. Spotify has some great playlists designed for calm or productivity. Turn the TV on mute to run in the background on a nature or music channel.
Spritz on a citrus scent to energise yourself in the morning. Keep a potted plant, a bowl of fresh fruit or a beautiful print on your desk. Take your work outside when the weather is nice, or spend an afternoon working at a cafe.
Bring in some daily pleasures to make work pleasant and interesting.
24. Reward yourself on the weekends
The weekends don’t always feel special when you’re working from home. At worst, your life revolves around your laptop and your TV.
Make your weekends worth looking forward to with some quality leisure that leaves you refreshed.
There’s nothing wrong with sinking into your couch and doing nothing. But when your entire weekend turns into TV series marathons, then Mondays will be even more exhausting.
Because “doing nothing” isn’t really the best way to relax. Mindless entertainment every night leaves you drained. And an endless cycle of work-TV-sleep-repeat leads to burnout.
Get some quality leisure into your weekends to make you feel energised. Read a stimulating book, go for a long walk off your usual path, or try watercolour painting, gardening or baking. Do something new and your weekends will feel special once again.