Now that we have a world pandemic on our hands and we have to obey social distancing rules, many of us have found ourselves obligated to work from home, whether we want to or not.
And while for some working from home might sound like the dream, especially for us introverts, it doesn’t come as naturally or as easily as it probably seems.
Many people are used to working in an office setting, and changing that all of a sudden definitely takes some adjustments, especially under the current circumstances when we’re under a lot of stress and maybe our partners are working from home as well, and perhaps we also have kids to take care of.
I have been working almost exclusively from home since the beginning of my career in 2007, and while it definitely has its perks and I wouldn’t change it for the world, it also has its challenges and requires a lot of discipline and planning if you want to get anything done and not feel like a failure at the end of your work day.
So over time, I’ve learned to develop a routine and habits that work for me and make me feel productive.
And let me tell you, once you get into a routine that works for you, you’re golden. You’ll probably need to experiment a lot to find out what that is, since what works for me might not work for you and your particular situation, but oh man, once you get there, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world and you can conquer anything!
So I would like to share my tips and tricks for working from home. Even though our circumstances and lifestyles might be different, I find there are a few universal rules or strategies that work for most people.
Here is what I found helps most when working from home:
- Have a dedicated work space
- Schedule everything in
- Establish your working hours
- Set boundaries for yourself and other people
- Structure your day the same way as in the office
- Change out of your pj’s
- Don’t schedule in too many tasks
- Do the hardest task first
- Keep your work area tidy
- Try to not eat at your desk
- Remove distractions
- Stop checking your email every 5 minutes
- Keep your energy lifted
- Use productivity tools and software to make your job easier
- Reward yourself
15 Tips To Work from Home
1. Have a dedicated work space
Having a dedicated home office in a separate room is definitely ideal, but if you don’t have that option, try to have a dedicated work space that you associate only with working. That can be either a work desk, a corner in your living room, or a lounge chair that you dedicate only to work time.
I think some sort of a desk or a table is ideal especially if you’re working on a PC or laptop, but if you find you can work on your sofa and be productive, do what works for you. I can’t really do that, at least not for a very long time, since I don’t find it especially comfortable, but who knows, it might work for you.
If your partner is also working from home, and if at all possible, try to work in different rooms, even if that means one of you is working at the dining room table and the other one in the kitchen or a small desk in the bedroom.
If you work separately, you’ll have less chances of getting distracted, especially if one of you is in online or phone call meetings all day.
2. Schedule everything in
And I mean everything. Your morning routine, your breaks, your lunch time, your exercise, your house chores, and of course your work slots. And do it the night before if possible so your whole day is set and you know exactly what you need to do in the morning.
But let’s break them down a little:
I think it’s extremely important to start your day on the right foot in general, but especially when working from home. If you wake up late and waste precious time in the morning, the entire day can snowball into a mess where you get almost nothing accomplished.
If you waste the first part of the day on useless activities, it will be much harder to motivate yourself to work at all.
If you’re not a night owl, that is.
If you’re one of those people that come alive at night time, then maybe this doesn’t apply to you and you can get your downtime in the morning, but for many people having a productive morning usually leads to an equally productive rest of the day.
So try to wake up early, have your breakfast or coffee, take a shower if you’re a morning showerer, and get your mind ready for work. If you haven’t planned your day the night before, now is the time to do that as well.
Incorporating exercise into your routine is extremely important for the health of your body, especially when you’re working from home and sitting in a chair all day.
Ideally, you should stay active throughout the day and get up from your chair at least once an hour, but if you are the kind of person that gets glued to their chair once you get into your work mood, try to at least incorporate one form of exercise into your daily routine.
It doesn’t matter what it is, whatever exercise you like, even if it’s just walking (when you’re not quarantined, of course). The important thing is that you move your body and increase your blood flow.
Exercise releases endorphins and makes you happier, not to mention it helps you focus on your work better and increases your productivity, since you’ll have increased blood flow to the brain and you’ll be in a better mood.
If you can’t go outside or at the gym, there are so many cool and free online exercise classes ranging from pilates and yoga to HIIT and weight training. Right now a lot of instructors are doing free group classes as well on platforms like Zoom, which is a great way to connect with other people even if you’re locked inside the house.
Meal time and cooking
When it comes to food, working from home can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
You get the opportunity to cook all of your meals, which you might not have been able to do if you spent most of your day at the office and commuting. This can save you a lot of money, but it can also be a black hole that swallows all of your time if you’re not careful about it.
The secret is planning, planning, planning. The way I see it you have four major options:
- Meal prep once or twice a week and have all your meals ready for the week. This is amazing if you’re crunched for time and you don’t mind eating similar meals for a few days in a row.
- Batch cook all of your meals. Save some leftovers in the fridge and put the surplus in the freezer. This is kind of similar with meal prepping, but you only eat the same food for a day or two so you don’t get bored and then you have the frozen leftovers for when you’re really busy or you feel like eating that food again.
- Cook only once a day. If you don’t like to have your work day interrupted by cooking, cook only at dinner time and make an extra portion for lunch the second day. You can also incorporate batch cooking into this: make a large batch in the evening, save a portion for next day and freeze the rest.
- Plan some quick meals for lunchtime. If you get really bored of the same food and you like having something fresh every day, try to schedule in some easy-to-cook meals at lunchtime. That way, you’ll get a nice break in the middle of the day, but you won’t waste too much time or get so exhausted by cooking that you completely lose your stamina for the rest of the day.
Also, keep your lunches light, so that they give you a physical and mental boost, and not put you into a food coma in the middle of the day.
I’m sure there are other ways to go about this, and I still have things to learn at this chapter myself, but whatever you do, don’t leave it up in the air.
You will get hungry every day, and if you don’t have a plan you will end up grazing all day long, which is not ideal, or end up ordering takeout because you don’t have time, which will cost you a lot of money.
Love them or hate them, they need to be done.
And working from home gives you the advantage of being able to do house chores during the day and not let them all pile up at the end of a tiring work day or at the weekend.
But if you don’t plan for them, they will end up distracting you all day and you won’t get any work done.
Somehow, there’s always something to do around the house, and going to the office gives you a chance to get away from all that, but when you’re at home it’s very easy to get distracted by the pile of dishes in the sink, clothes that need to be folded, or toilets that need to be cleaned.
But don’t let it control you. Instead, take advantage of the fact that you’re at home and plan all your house chores around your work schedule.
The dishes can wait until later in the day, but if you need to put in a load of laundry, use the washing time as a challenge to get an important task ticked off your to-do list.
And, if you want to, use your scheduled breaks to do house chores. But don’t get into something time-consuming when you know you only have a ten-minute break. Choose a small task and time yourself so you don’t go over that time or let one task spill over into the next.
You’d be amazed how many things you can get done in just ten minutes if you take it on as a challenge. Check out this video from WheezyWaiter:
It works for more than house chores. You can take on any task for ten minutes. Usually beginning something is the hardest, so you’ll most likely find out you want to keep on going once you begin.
But don’t do that with house chores however, unless it’s during your time off work or the weekend. Then, by all means, have at it.
3. Establish your working hours
Just like you need to schedule everything in, you also need to decide when you start working, but also when you switch off.
Now that might not look the same every day, but it’s very important to set a clear work schedule, so that you don’t let your work life bleed into your personal life.
It’s very easy to do that when you’re working from home.
4. Set boundaries for yourself and other people
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should get constantly interrupted.
If your mom or friend calls you during your work schedule, politely let them know that you’re working and you need to keep it short. You can schedule a conversation for later if need be.
Also, if you have other people living or working in the house, let them know if you don’t want to get interrupted and ask them what their preferences are as well. Some people enjoy some idle chit-chat during their work day as a way to take a break and it’s great to have an open conversation about it instead of building up frustration.
5. Structure your day the same way as in the office
If you’re used to working in an office, don’t allow working from home become an excuse for slacking off and waking up late.
Instead, set your day into chunks of time similar to what you’re used to at the office. Wake up at the same time, get dressed, drink your coffee or tea and get to work just like you normally would.
It’s hard enough to stay disciplined on your own without a team around you to push and motivate you, don’t make it harder on yourself by completely ruining your work schedule as well.
6. Change out of your pj’s
A lot of people say to get dressed as if you were going to the office even if you’re working from home.
I don’t necessarily agree you should put on a suit and uncomfortable shoes to feel more productive.
At least that’s definitely not for me. I’m a creature of comfort and one of the most important bonuses of working from home is not having to wear shoes. Shoes are the bane of my existence.
But I also don’t like feeling like a slug.
I think the most important thing is to slip into something that makes you feel good about yourself. Even if that’s a nice sweatshirt or a t-shirt and a comfy pair of jeans.
Just don’t stay in your pj’s.
It’s important to differentiate between rest time and work time in order to get in the right mindset.
So put on something that makes you feel a bit more put together, fix your hair a little, do your skincare routine, put on a nice watch and maybe some jewelry and a little make-up if you feel like it.
It really doesn’t need to be extra, it’s the little details that make you feel like you’re making an effort that are making all the difference.
But if a formal suit and shirt work for you, by all means, go for it!
7. Don’t schedule in too many tasks
I know you want to fly through as many tasks as you can, but there’s no point in scheduling 20 tasks when you can only realistically tackle 5 of them.
If you constantly have unfinished business at the end of the day, you might end up feeling defeated.
So in my opinion, it’s better to set fewer tasks and get them all done than setting too many and always having that nagging feeling that you haven’t accomplished enough.
And hey, if you have time left, you can always tackle another task or two, which will make you feel like you’re so on top of things — which — you are.
8. Do the hardest task first
As Brian Tracy says in his book “Eat that Frog!”, there’s never enough time in our day for everything on our to-do list.
So in addition to keeping it short, it’s also very gratifying to start with the hardest task first. If you get your hardest task out of the way first thing in the morning, there’s nothing else you can’t do.
If you keep postponing it and dreading it all day long, it will just gnaw at you and occupy mental space.
9. Keep your work area tidy
At the end of your work day, tidy up your desk or work area.
This will send a signal to your brain that your work for the day is done and you can begin to relax, but it’s also super nice to come to a clean work area in the morning.
It will give you a chance to start your day on the right track and feel more accomplished before you even start working.
10. Try to not eat at your desk
Unless you’re ravenous and you absolutely need to have a snack while working, try to keep your meal and work time separate.
Consider eating as a break from work and give it the attention it deserves. Being mindful while eating also helps you digest your food better and prevents you from overeating.
According to this report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, attentive eating helps with weight loss and maintenance without the need for calorie counting, as we tend to pay much more attention to our hunger and fullness signals when we eat consciously as opposed to when we’re distracted.
As Doctor Howard LeWine says in this article summarizing the report, “Multitasking—like eating while watching television or working—and distracted or hurried eating can prompt you to eat more. Slowing down and savoring your food can help you control your intake.”
11. Remove distractions
Working with the TV turned on or loud music is maybe not the best idea for focus and productivity.
But that also depends on what drives you and sets a fire underneath your wings. Some people go into hyperfocus when they have some type of music on, while others give their best work in complete silence.
If you’re not the complete silence kind of person, but you also can’t focus with music on, maybe try some form of white or background noise. There are a lot of playlists on YouTube and Spotify with café or office background noises, rain, ocean waves, trains, fans, etc.
Experiment and find out what works for you and helps you get motivated and into a work groove.
Also, turn off all unnecessary notifications on your phone so that you don’t get distracted by it every ten minutes.
12. Stop checking your email every 5 minutes
For many of us, checking our emails has become a compulsive and almost obsessive habit.
Whatever the reason for it, it needs to stop.
You’re not helping anyone, least of all yourself, by checking your email every 5 minutes.
Try to set a routine for email checking as well. Whether that is twice a day or ten times a day depending on the nature of your job, set specific time slots for it and stick to them. When you’re done, close your email tab and don’t come back to it until the next time set on your schedule.
It will be hard to resist, but think about it, you’ve already established your tasks for the day, what good does it do to constantly check your email? It’s not like you’ll be able to tackle any new tasks without leaving the scheduled ones behind.
The bottom line is there will always be new tasks and things to do piling up, but you can always schedule them for tomorrow.
Rarely will there be something that you need to take care of right then and there. If it’s really something that urgent and you don’t respond, people will call you.
If you want to get a deeper insight on why we compulsively check our emails, check out this article and learn more tips & tricks on how to stop checking your email so often.
13. Keep your energy lifted
If you find your energy gets lower throughout the day, try to find ways to uplift yourself:
- Coffee is great, but maybe stick to just one in the morning, and try having some healthier energizing drinks later on, like a matcha or green tea, a ginger lemon tea, a turmeric latte, or a green and berry smoothie.
- Stay away from sugary foods, which only give you a fake temporary boost and then a sugar crash, and instead snack on a piece of fruit.
- Move your body whenever you start feeling sluggish, or every hour if you can. Get up and do a few stretches or hold a plank for a minute or two. You’ll immediately feel more invigorated.
- Use the sense of smell in your favor. Buy an uplifting essential oil like any type of citrus or mint and either smell it directly from the bottle, put a few drops in an essential oil diffuser, or put a carrier oil with a few drops of essential oil in a roller bottle, rub it on your wrists and inhale every time you need to.
14. Use productivity tools and software to make your job easier
There are so many great tools and platforms out there to make our jobs and lives easier, and what you need will depend on the nature of your job and what you prefer, but here are a few basic ones you can try:
- For online calls, video conferences and messages: Zoom, Slack, or Microsoft Teams
- For task and project management: Paymo, Asana or Trello.
- For sharing documents and spreadsheets: Google Drive
- For scheduling: Google Calendar
- For notes and to-do lists: Google Keep or Evernote
15. Reward yourself
Celebrate your small and big accomplishments throughout the day. Allow yourself to have a 15 minute break to do whatever you want whenever you finish a block of tasks or one task that you were particularly dreading.
As you’ve seen so far, working from home is hard and requires a lot of self-discipline, so you really deserve to give yourself a pat on the back and feel proud of yourself when you manage to get difficult things done.
And even when you don’t. There will always be days when you don’t feel your best or you just can’t focus, but we all have those days. Embrace the waves you’re going through, especially as a woman, and remember:
Never allow yourself to feel like a failure. You wouldn’t think like that about anyone else.
Working from home is not easy-peasy, but you’ve got this!
And let’s not forget about the advantages of working from home:
You get to make your own schedule
How many people can say that? You get to plan your day exactly the way you want it and incorporate activities you wouldn’t be able to do if going to an office, like exercising and cooking.
You have flexibility
You don’t have to work on a 9 to 5 schedule if you feel it doesn’t work for you. Also, if something comes up and you need to interrupt your schedule or run a quick errand, you can come back to work later and work later hours, especially if you’re a freelancer and you’re working for yourself.
You can work when you feel more productive
This falls within the same lines as above. If you don’t feel productive on a 9 to 5 schedule, play around with it and see how your energy fluctuates throughout the day and month, and what your most productive times are.
If you find out when you’re most productive, you can work more efficiently and finish your job in less time.
You don’t have to wear uncomfortable attire
Forget about uncomfortable shoes or underwire bras. When you’re at home, you get to wear fluffy slippers and a comfortable bralette. You’ll never have to experience that feeling when you can’t wait to get home from work and take off your shoes and bra.
Well, at least not every day. You’ll still have to wear uncomfy shoes to events and when you’re going out, but it won’t be all day every day for the rest of your life.
Urgh, can you tell just how much I hate wearing outside shoes? :))
You’re not constantly distracted by other people
Working in an office with other people can get exhausting if you’re constantly interrupted or distracted.
Imagine not having to be subjected to all that noise or to annoying colleagues chatting the day away while you’re trying to work, or chewing loudly and making stupid jokes.
Imagine being surrounded only by the tranquility and quietness of your own home.
Solitary introverts, I know you’re feeling that right now!
It saves you time, which in turn can save you money
Can you imagine how much time you’re wasting every day on that commute to work? Imagine being able to spend that extra time on working harder, cooking, exercising, learning a new skill, or just bettering yourself.
And it’s not like you can’t read a book or listen to a podcast during your commute, but having that extra time at home opens so many more options.
If you spend it working or learning a new skill, you can earn more money.
Likewise, if you spend it cooking, you can skip on going out for lunch or ordering food in, which can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Not to mention you won’t spend money on transportation as well!
You are privileged
Some people like doctors, cashiers, factory workers, or delivery guys can’t transfer their work to a home environment, so being able to work exclusively online puts you in a privileged position in times when you need to isolate yourself, like during a quarantine.
Okay, this all sounds great and I’d love to apply all of them if I could, but:
What do I do if I have kids staying at home too?
Well, you’re basically screwed. I’m joking. But this definitely makes things harder.
I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on this since I don’t have kids and I can only imagine what it must be like trying to juggle working while keeping the kids entertained and focused on their learning, and also cooking and doing a million other things.
So I’m going to direct you to other people who’ve (somewhat) successfully done this before. This article on how to work from home with kids is written by a mom who’s been put in the situation of having to work from home with kids around repeatedly, so I think it’s a great place to start.
So let me know, how long have you been working from home and what are your top tips to stay productive?
I hope some of my tips will help you, even if just a tiny bit along your journey of working from home and I hope you end up powering through your tasks like a ninja 🙂