Many people have a love-hate relationship with working from home. There’s the joy of the flexible schedule, the ready access to snacks, and the 30-second commute that saves on gas money. But then there’s the isolation, which can be lonely and soul-destroying at times. Just getting motivated to sit at our desks and start something is tough when we’re in our home environment, unsupervised, and surrounded by distractions.
Bad habits aren’t uncommon. We might stay in our pajamas, forget to take breaks and work even longer hours than we would if we were in the office. Or, we might have the added challenge of managing kids, pets, and housework without the respite that going to the office would normally provide.
The trick is to create at-home substitutes for the structures that office-working provides. An office gives you a regimented schedule, coworkers give you social interaction, and a physically present boss gives you accountability. With the right work-from-home strategy, we can mimic these constructs while also enjoying the perks of being on our own turf.
With everything that’s been going on lately, many people are working from home for the first time. Here are some tips to help you stay focused and productive.
Set a routine
When working from home, it’s vital to start the day off right. Rather than sleeping in, make sure you get up on time as if you have somewhere to be. But don’t start working right away in your pajamas. Instead, create a healthy morning routine. Make sure you eat some breakfast and get straight to work at your chosen designated start time. Getting more done in the morning makes you feel like you’ve achieved something, and you might get a boost of motivation in the hopes of finishing the day’s work early.
It’s also important to set a finish time. Don’t fall into the trap of overworking at home, and set a time when work must stop. Tomorrow is another day, after all, and you’ll probably work better after a night’s rest.
Show yourself some respect and get into the right frame of mind by getting dressed in real clothing at the start of your day. You don’t have to sit there in full professional garb – anything better than pajamas will do. This also serves the benefit of making you look and feel presentable if you should be called onto a last-minute video meeting.
When you’re working from home, you have to play the roles of both the manager and the employee. Set priorities for yourself so that you have a clear task when you sit down at your desk in the morning. Write down your tasks and tick them off as you go for a sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day, write your to-do list for the next day so you can mentally “shut the door” on the workday.
Plan meals ahead
When the kitchen and pantry are practically within arm’s reach of your workspace, it can be tempting to break for snacks and refreshments constantly. Planning out the times you will take a break and what you will eat will help maintain some structure and prevent the “quarantine fifteen” from creeping onto your waistline too.
Get some exercise
Being sedentary isn’t just harmful to your health; it’s terrible for your motivation and discipline. Working out gives you a boost of energy that’s incredibly helpful for productivity, as confirmed by many studies. It will get you thinking more clearly, and simply make you feel like you did right by yourself for the entire day. Free, at-home workout guides and videos abound on the internet, and you won’t need to worry about paying for a gym membership or stressing about how you look in your workout gear.
If there are other people at home with you, productivity can be challenging. Have honest conversations with family members or roommates about your needs, and use noise-canceling headphones to create mental privacy if noise is an issue.
Optimize your environment
You might be tempted to sit on the couch and work, but setting up a designated workspace will help you feel much more professional, and make you more productive. Make sure your work area has natural light and caters to ergonomics, even if that just means placing your monitor on a pile of books or using a tall dresser as a standing desk.
Tell a friend, family member, or colleague what you’re going to get done that day. This sets up a system of accountability and minimizes procrastination. You can even have a check-in session with colleagues at the same time daily or weekly, to provide some social interaction and accountability.
The typical productivity advice is to minimize distractions, but this can be depressingly similar to locking yourself in a room like a prisoner. What you can do is turn your would-be distractions into rewards, whereby you must work for a specific amount of time, or finish an assignment, before you can earn a reward. This could be something like watching an episode of a show, doing a sudoku puzzle, or whatever you enjoy.
Some distractions do need to be minimized, however – like your phone, social media, and chat apps. Leave your phone in the other room while you’re working, and delete distracting bookmarks, close tabs and turn off notifications to maintain your mental focus during your designated work periods.
Leave the house
Although you may be sheltering in place, you do still need to spend time outside. This allows you to get sunlight, fresh air, and a change of scenery, which will boost your brainpower and productivity. Try starting the day with a brief morning walk, and take another one to beat the mid-afternoon slump.
Interact with other people
You may not be able to go anywhere to socialize, but it’s still important to build human connection into your day. Try making one of your reward activities a phone call or video chat to catch up with a friend or loved one. You could even multitask by making the call while you’re on your mid-afternoon power walk.
Keep things in perspective
While it can be easy to feel negative about the current situation, remember that working from home is many people’s dream. When working at the office, you may have even found yourself yearning for more flexibility and being able to work without a boss watching you, or getting caught up in those annoying office politics.
While you’re working from home, be sure to make the most of it! There are so many elements within your control, and with a little discipline, you can keep up the productivity, feel really good about yourself, and enjoy more free time too.