How to Work from Home and Stay Productive

Get dressed for your home office just like you would for a professional workplace

When I first started working from home, often I would put on running shorts and a T-shirt in the morning, knowing I'd be going for an afternoon jog later.

But I came to realize that the overly casual outfits were making me feel like I was just hanging out at home, not working from home.

Now I go through my entire morning routine. I dress in clothes just short of business casual, do my hair, and throw on some make-up. Once this is all done, my work day has begun. More importantly, I feel ready for a work day!

Keep a schedule and make sure others respect it

One of my major challenges in learning how to work from home was establishing and maintaining a real schedule. I was getting sucked into work, even working on the weekends. 

I had to create a set schedule for myself. However, first I had to find out when I was the most productive. For myself, I learned I am my most productive 9 am - 5 pm. So, that’s my work hours. Not everyone is like this. If you’re more productive earlier in the morning, or later in the day, then start and end at the times that work best for you. 

The next hurdle was making sure other people respected my time. Sure, I’m home, but I’m also working. That needs to be communicated to the husband/wife, kids, and friends. When I'm within my work hours, I am at work and not free.

Take real breaks during the workday

Along with keeping a real schedule to make sure your work-from-home arrangement remains productive, you need to take real breaks during the day to make sure it stays manageable.

When I go to the kitchen for coffee, I'll allow myself five minutes to flip through a magazine or scroll through a website, and when it's time for lunch, I hang out with my husband if he's home, or watch a show or read for fun if he's not.

Unless I'm in a crunch, I don't do work at my desk while eating, because I need a break just like any employee in an office.

Create and maintain a real workspace

My office is in a private room, and I'm fortunate to have the space for a large desk and just enough room for pacing when thinking or on calls.

But even if you work out of a small apartment, you can create a dedicated workspace, it just might need to be rearranged at the start and end of each day. Always put your computer, phone, papers, and coffee cup in the same place on your table and your workspace appears. Keep it as consistent as you can.

Learn to use lists and workflow management software

Even if you are a full-time employee of a company who just happens to work remotely, working from home puts much more of the burden on you to manage your projects and deadlines. And if you are self-employed, this is so much truer.

I have learned to create and maintain systems without which I would have no idea what to prioritize and when.

While you can use programs like Slack and Trello to organize your workload and coordinate with colleagues who also work remotely or work in an office, one of the best platforms is simply Google. Between Google's calendar, with its customizable reminders, and Google Drive, which allows you to access files from anywhere, Google software is a force multiplier when you are your own human resources team. And it's free at that.

Don't treat home like home

There are a million projects I could tackle around my home right now, from a clogged gutter to a blown bathroom light bulb to organizing the whole garage and then some, but here's the thing: I'm at work.

If you allow yourself to blur the line between home and work during work hours, you will quickly start to lose time as the home projects snowball on you. It has happened to me so many times in the past that I won't consider even a literal one-minute light bulb swap until the work day is done. I'm just sure I'd spot a scuff on the wall that needed painting or a wobbly shelf that needed tightening and end up going down the rabbit hole of home improvements losing my work day. 

Get some fresh air and, ideally, some exercise

Breaking up a work-from-home work day with fresh air and getting the blood moving (as at a gym) is essential for keeping your workdays low stress and even enjoyable.

Without the proximity of colleagues who can often offer respite from the grind of work, taking a walk or going for a run or bike ride are great ways to reinvigorate yourself. Or, like I do, you can use afternoon exercise to transition out of working: When I return to my house after my jog, the work day is over and I'm just home.


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