Working from home has become more of a norm for many in the last few decades, and in this current state of things, it is the new norm for some who have never done it before. It is a challenging time in many ways. Whether you have chosen to work from home already or have been unexpectedly thrust into the situation, it’s helpful to have guidelines to follow in order to make it productive.
The freedom of working from home can be nice, but it can also be hard if you don’t have a system. Whether you are new to the concept or not, here are 10 tips that can help you work from home more effectively.
1. Set work hours and stick to them.
The lines between home-life and work-life can get blurry quickly when you are working from home. It’s critical to set specific work hours and keep a routine in order to stay sane. Start when you are supposed to start, and stop when it’s time to stop.
In an office setting, a lot of routines are set for us. For example, everyone comes in around 8 am. Maybe you always have a Monday morning meeting. People are taking lunch breaks around the same time, and people leave the space around 5 pm. You may always talk to Susan in the break room at 10:30 am when you both have a coffee break. And so on.
Building your own routine from home can give you guide-posts for your day. For example: Get up and shower, stretch, have a coffee and breakfast, and sit down for work at the same time daily. Do a mid-morning walk outside to take a break. Do video conferencing calls with your team. Take an hour for a lunch break, etc. This is just a loose example. You get to choose what works for you. Having a morning ritual and then some specific rules throughout the day will help you stay on track.
2. Work during your peak times.
If working from home means you get to choose your work hours, then choose wisely. If you aren’t attached to a 9 am – 5 pm schedule, then what would your optimal hours be? If it’s 6 am – 2 pm, then do it! Working from home means no commute so traffic isn’t an obstacle. The office being open or not isn’t an obstacle. Pick the times when you’ll have the least resistance and best flow.
I know many people who choose early morning work hours because the rest of the working world is quieter at those times — and their household may even still be asleep. They have the opportunity to focus and do their best creative work — undistracted. Maybe you do your best work later in the morning or in the evening. If you have the flexibility, align your schedule to your personal rhythms of peak productivity.
3. Create a dedicated workspace.
It’s tempting to bring the laptop into bed or to set up shop on the couch. But think about creating a dedicated space for work. It helps you get into the mindset of working and it allows some separation from home-life. If you get in bed at night and your mind thinks, “This is where I work,” then how can you wind down and get the sleep you need? In fact, it’s recommended to keep your workspace out of the bedroom altogether, if possible. (If you can’t avoid it, then just make sure you are sticking to those set work hours.)
This is about creating a mindset for work, building a routine, and maintaining some separation between work and home life. That said, we can all benefit from a change of scenery sometimes. If sitting on the back porch to work allows you to generate your best ideas, then by all means, sit on the back porch. Just be aware of whether your habits are boosting your productivity or squashing it.
4. Get dressed.
I don’t believe that you have to wear business attire to be productive. But I do believe that getting out of your pajamas and creating the routine of “getting ready for work” is a signal to your brain that it’s time to shift gears into getting things done. Keep the stay-in-your-pjs days for your days off. Not to mention, if you are doing video conferencing with your team or clients, you probably want to look somewhat professional, right?
5. Set boundaries.
This one can be tricky, especially if working from home is a new thing and there are other family members at home. If you have the ability to stay in a separate space, do it. Make sure your spouse or kids know your work hours and know you’re not available. It’s important to create clear communication around this. They need to know you aren’t being rude and disengaging; you need to create an environment to get work done so that you can be fully engaged with them later. If you have kids and/or a partner and this is new for everyone, perhaps setting an hour lunch break where everyone can come together for connection time would be a good idea, too.
6. Keep out distractions.
Working from home brings a whole slew of new distractions, in addition to the ones you are already familiar with in the workplace. Yes, social media, pinging notifications from your smart phone, and open browser windows are still there to distract you. But now you have distractions of home life that feel like they aren’t distractions. “Surely I can do laundry in between projects!” “Why don’t I go ahead and do the dishes while I’m on a lunch break? And I should take out the trash now. The floor needs sweeping; let me get on that now.”
If you can’t help yourself, then at least schedule in specified break times during the day where you permit yourself do home tasks, but stick to the time slots and get back to work when you are supposed to. Otherwise, it’s easy for the day to go by without getting your work tasks done. And this just adds to the stress.
As far as family members are concerned — yes, we love them, and yes, they can be distractions, too. Follow #5 and set those boundaries clearly, to start with. Then make use of headphones, sound machines, or music to drown out distracting noises. (I often use ocean sounds as white noise, which can be found for free with a quick search on YouTube, among other places.)
7. Do focused work first thing.
If you have to generate ideas, do creative work, or really need to get in the zone, do that kind of work first thing. Your brain will be freshest, you will be most energetic, and your ideas will probably be best at the start of your workday. Save the mundane tasks like email or entering data for later in the day. And the same thing goes for calls — save those for after lunch when the social interaction can serve as a pick-me-up.
8. Maintain clear communication with your team.
While this is always an important tip (wherever you are working from), it’s even more crucial when you are all working from home instead of a centralized office location. Be ultra-clear in your emails, make use of apps or platforms that help to streamline the workflow and team priorities, and have regular video-conferencing meetings.
If this type of workflow is new for your team, make sure to set goals with each other to stay accountable. And consider scheduling in video calls simply to stay social and even to share challenges and tips related to your work-from-home situation. You may have heightened levels of stress and anxiety. You may have kids at home. There are lots of reasons why everyone may have struggles getting as much done as they are used to. Keep an open conversation and remember that others may be having a tough time as well.
9. Stay organized.
Productivity can be more challenging at home (as we’ve discussed), so organization is key. Make your to-do list for the next day at the end of each workday so don’t waste that valuable time at the start of your work session on list-making. Know and set your priorities, and be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day’s work.
10. Take breaks away from your workspace.
You are at home. Maybe everything feels more relaxed, and therefore you can just sit back and scroll through social media right where you are sitting. Don’t fall prey to that trap. Get up, go to a different room, take a walk outside, stretch, etc. Decide whether or not it works for you to engage with other family members in break times. Will they distract you for longer than you intended? Or will it be beneficial to everyone to connect and will you be able to get back to work in a timely manner?
With the flexibility of working from home, you might want to take longer breaks and simply finish up your work later. Or you may need to work less hours in the day. Maybe you take an hour break mid-morning to exercise. This might even boost your productivity for the rest of the day. Figure out what works for you (and your family, if applicable), but do your best to make it a part of the scheduled routine so that you can stay productive.
One final note: Don’t be too hard on yourself. If working from home is new for you, give yourself a little compassion. In the current environment, you may also have a spouse working from home, and you may have kids at home. Work together to create a schedule that works for all of you. Keep as much routine as possible but realize that there may be places where you will need to be flexible where you haven’t before. And in the times that you aren’t working, do the things that are enjoyable to you. Be fully engaged with your partner or your family. If you are single, then engage with friends or family with video or phone calls. Your mindset is everything, so laugh, do things that bring you joy and stress relief, and don’t sweat the little things.
“Feeling sorry for yourself and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have.” – Dale Carnegie