Are you one of the many professionals working from home for longer than you’re used to? There are tons of articles offering tips for working from home. I read the best, and I’ve summarized their suggestions. I’ve even included links to the original articles!
If you’re like me, you’ve worked from home before, but only for a day or two. Doing it long-term requires more than grit, you need to change your approach.
A Google search for “Tips for Working from Home” gave me 3 billion results. Daunting to say the least. I didn’t read all of them, but I read 50+ articles from experts in the field, and I’ve synthesized the best suggestions here. These are all great tips to make your work-from-home experience easier, more productive, and more rewarding.
Create a Get-Ready-for-Work Routine
It can be hard to just start working in the morning. After all, if you normally work in an office, then you already have a built-in transition period from home to work--your commute. That commute helps you mentally prepare for being in work mode.
The challenge of being at home is getting yourself completely in work mode. If you just open your laptop with your first cup of coffee in your hands, you may find yourself thinking about preparing breakfast or taking a shower.
The solution is to do those other things first. Set a routine for yourself. Give yourself the time to prepare both physically and mentally for work.
For some people, it might be as simple as sitting down for breakfast and reading the news. Once breakfast is done (and the dishes are cleared), then you go over to your computer, log in, and start the day.
Other people may want to add in a few household chores (like tidying a room) before settling in to get work done.
Whatever you do, stick to it. Your normal go-to-work routine is pretty unchanging. You’re either in a car or on public transportation, taking the same route every day. Your mind and body are used to this, and it gets you ready to move from personal time to work time. Create a new routine when working from home and train yourself to use this as your new transition period.
Create a Dedicated Work Space
This was one of the most-cited tips in the articles I read. When you’re working from home for just a day or two, it’s easy enough to use the kitchen table. This is not going to fly if you’re going to be doing it longer term.
Just like a morning routine, you’ve already got a dedicated work space in the office. Also just like a commute, this space helps you stay in work mode.
Your couch or your kitchen table doesn’t currently feel like a “place for work” to your brain, so you will be naturally distracted and less in the zone.
So take a minute and pick a place at home that will be your new home office for the time being. It could be anywhere, but make sure it’s as far from distractions like household chores or other family members as possible.
Turn this space into a work-only area. Don’t use it for personal computer time. Use it only for getting down to business. This will help train your brain that, when you’re sitting here, it’s time to be productive.
Get Dressed (Seriously)
It’s easy to joke about doing everything in sweats and how great a perk it is not to have to put in the effort to look professional.
Unfortunately, your appearance is another trigger to your brain that you aren’t really working. Your mind is used to getting a few work emails written over the weekend while you’re dressed down, but it’s not used to this being real work attire.
You may not be in the office, but you are at work, and you need to get your mind and body to treat the home office just as seriously as it treats the office office. So get dressed. You’re going to be on a lot of video meetings, so you’ve probably already thought about what you’ll be wearing from the waist up, but that is not enough. Go all in.
None of the articles suggested that you should wear anything uncomfortable. Nobody recommended high-heeled shoes, for example. One article did suggest, however, that you absolutely should wear shoes, and take them off once the work day is done.
If you’re noticing a pattern, it’s intentional. The biggest theme that emerged from my research is the need to train your brain to get used to this new environment. You have to teach it that you’ll be in full-on work mode, even though you’re in the same building where you normally do everything else.
Avoid Distractions (and Be More Productive) by Taking Breaks
At work, your day is regularly broken up. You walk over to get some water and chat with someone as you pass their desk. You walk from meeting to meeting. When you finish writing a report, you share a few words with a colleague before jumping into the next task.
You need the same thing in order to work effectively from home. If you think you’ll just plow through 8 hours of uninterrupted work, that is a recipe for disaster in the form of “distractions”. Your brain needs regular breaks, and if you don’t provide them, your brain will find them.
Several articles recommend using timers. This has two advantages. First, it challenges you to complete a task in a given amount of time. Second, if you place your timer away from your work space, if forces you to stand up to turn it off.
Respect the timer. If you didn’t complete the task, take 5 minutes. Go get something to drink. Stretch. Write to a co-worker on your company’s instant message system. Then go back, reset your timer, and get to work.
A few articles recommend adding in household chores for breaks. I loved this suggestion. If you know that you have a set time to get up and do the dishes or vacuum a room, then that takes away the temptation to do it whenever your mind wanders. You will have dedicated time to get work done, and you can treat the housework as a reward (it means you won’t have to do it in the evening).
One article suggested using the laundry as a built-in timer and break enforcer. Plan tasks that you should be able to complete by the time the wash cycle is done and others that should be do-able when the clothes are dry. Just like the timer, respect the laundry machine. Don’t let your wet clothes just lie there or your dry clothes get wrinkled. Get up. Move. Then get back to work.
Even the most sedentary desk workers get up regularly throughout the day and walk around. Even if it’s just to pick something up from the printer or to go to a meeting. If all of your meetings are on your computer and if you printer is right next to your desk, you can too easily fall into the trap of sitting for too long.
The breaks discussed above are one built-in way to walk. Another great tip is to walk around during phone meetings. You will find yourself feeling 100 times better and more focused once you sit back down.
Get Out of the House
You don’t usually spend your entire work day inside the office do you? Build in the same routine when working from home.
Some people may feel that this is cheating, but getting up and getting outside will do wonders for your ability to concentrate when you go back to your desk.
For some people, this is as simple as walking down the block. Other people may want to include some light yard/garden work as part of their breaks.
Don’t get me wrong, it is cheating if you turn this into an excuse to stop working for a longer period of time than you would in your regular office. Instead, think about how long you would normally take a lunch break. How long would you normally spend walking around the block to get a cup of coffee. That’s not cheating, and your mind and body need both the change of surroundings and the sun and fresh air.
Parent Pro-Tip #1: Use Nap Time to Your Advantage
Got young kids? Daycare/School cancelled? There are plenty of tips out there, and you’ve probably already thought of a lot of things you can do to make this work. I’ve collected two that really stood out to me.
If your kids still take naps, you have a built-in part of your day with (mostly) guaranteed silence. Plan accordingly.
Pick a project that requires real concentration and which you can reasonably expect to complete in the amount of time that your child typically sleeps for.
Once you put them down, sit yourself down and really work.
Parent Pro-Tip #2: Create a Boredom Box
I loved this suggestion. There will most definitely be times when your child is going to just get bored. You can’t stop working every time this happens. You are at work.
So take some time in the evening or over the weekend and create a “boredom box”. Fill it with things that your child would enjoy doing. Do they like crafts? Art? Music? Pick anything.
One key is to also include some kind of instructional material. After all, your child is bored because they can’t think of anything to do independently. So don’t expect them to be able to pick up the materials you’ve provided and come up with a plan on their own. If they can read, great, give them written instructions. If they can’t, no problem, provide pictures suggesting interesting things to do.
Another key here is making the boredom box a measure of last resort. It should be fun, and it also shouldn’t be the default setting for the day. If your kids think of the box as the main activity, then you won’t have anything left in reserve for the inevitable moment when they come walking over and tell you there’s “nothing to do.”
Create an End-of-Work-Day Routine
Just as important as setting a routine for getting yourself into work mode is a series of steps for transitioning back to home mode. Your evening commute currently gives your brain a chance to shift gears and prepare to be at home. You need the same thing now that your office is also your home.
Take some time to send end-of-day messages to colleagues and your boss. Let them know what you accomplished today and what you will be working on tomorrow.
Log off of your internal instant messaging systems. This sends a signal to co-workers that, while you’re still available on the phone (like during a normal day), you are no longer sitting at your desk actively working.
Clean up your dedicated workspace. This task gives a feeling of completion to the day and also provides an activity that you can accomplish between work life and home life.
Turn off your computer. The dark screen (or closed laptop) serves as a final signal to your mind and body that the work day is done and it’s time to just be home again.
To paraphrase George Orwell: Break any of these rules sooner than do anything that outright doesn’t work for you.
Everyone is different. Find the solution that actually works.
Once you’ve found it, stick to it. Your brain has years of routine that it needs to re-learn in order for you to successfully working from home for a longer period of time than you’re used to.
References: Highly Recommended Reading
--by Eric DeVaney at HubSpot
--by Dan Pontefract at Forbes
--by Marielle Leon at GlassDoor
--by Heather Levin at Money Crashers
--by Martin Zugec at Citrix
--by Marguerite Ward and Sharon Feiereisen at Business Insider
--by Jill Duffy at PC Mag