Working from home can be a great opportunity that finally allows you to work just how you want to … or it can be a disaster. Having worked from home for over a decade and running a 100% remote-team, I have learned a few lessons. Here are my 15 productivity tips for working from home without losing your sanity.
Whether you’re just starting telecommuting or you’re switching to a work-from-home career, these fifteen tips will help you boost your productivity and enjoy a great work/life balance.
1. Get Your Space Set Up
When you’re starting out, it may sound like a good idea to work from your bedroom, but don’t do it!
You’ll be distracted and will have an impossible time shutting off work which is terrible for work/life balance.
Ideally, you want a dedicated room for your home office (trust me, you’ll thank me for this advice). That may well be an impossible luxury for you – if so, think about other spaces that might work.
Perhaps you could fit a small desk in your den area? Try anything except for your bedroom.
2. Start Work at a Fixed Time
When you work from home, it’s all too easy to linger a little longer over breakfast, or to get a few chores cleared before you sit down to begin … only to find that you’ve wasted half the morning (and that you end up working late into the night).
Give yourself a fixed time to begin and treat it just as seriously as you would if you were going into the office.
You might choose to start much earlier than a “normal” working day – perhaps beginning at 7am, but finishing at 3pm, if that works out okay for your boss, teammates, or clients.
3. Have a “Getting Started” Routine
What’s the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk? Maybe you check emails, read the news, look at what’s happening on social media … some or all of which might be relevant to your work, but definitely not mission-critical.
To get off to a good start, find a consistent routine that works for you. For instance, you might begin by sitting quietly for a few minutes to clear your thoughts, then you jot down three key things you want to accomplish during the day. It needn’t be a complicated routine – but if you follow it every single day, you’ll find yourself quickly getting into “work mode”.
4. Wear Headphones
Whether or not you like to listen to music while you work, if there’s anyone else at home, try putting headphones on. People are much less likely to strike up a conversation if you look like you can’t hear them!
Music or ambient noise (try noisli) is also a great way to drown out any intrusive noise around you. If you’ve got a roommate who also works from home, or young kids who are at home with your spouse or a nanny, simply cranking up the volume can help you avoid getting distracted.
5. Big Rocks First
When you plan your day (which I strongly recommend), put in the big rocks first. That means scheduling in major tasks then fitting smaller ones around the edges – rather than starting off with three hours of clearing email and filing papers.
You might find the Pomodoro technique helpful here, working in 25 minute chunks with 5 minute breaks after each. You could, for instance, do three Pomodoros on an important task then spend one Pomodoro clearing your email backlog. Set a timer – you might be surprised just how much you can get done in 25 minutes.
6. Take Scheduled Breaks
In the office, you may have specific scheduled breaks – or you may simply be in the habit of grabbing a coffee with a bunch of colleagues mid-morning and going out for lunch with a couple of friends.
At home, it’s easy to end up working for hours without taking a break at all … and that’s not good for you or your work.
Instead, give yourself specific times for breaks and set these in advance. You’ll find you actually get more done because you’ll naturally speed up when you know you’ve got a break coming – and you’ll feel refreshed and ready to work when you get back from a break.
7. Don’t Become a Hermit
Unless you truly love your own company, you’ll probably find that working at home is a bit lonely at times. If you’re an extrovert, then this could be a real challenge for you. Some people really thrive on the buzz of a busy office.
There’s no need to spend your whole workday closeted in silence. Look for ways to interact with other people (ideally face to face, not just on the phone or via social media). For instance, you could:
- Get out and work in a coffee shop.
- Meet up with a colleague (or a personal friend) for lunch.
- Take scheduled breaks with a family member or roommate who also works from home.
- Arrange to be in the office once or twice a week – you may have to do this anyway!
- Make an effort to meet clients face-to-face, perhaps at their offices.
- Head out to the gym during your lunch break.
- Tweak your work hours, so you can take part in midday groups locally, then catch up with work in the evening.
Not all of those will work for everyone, but I bet there are at least one or two things on that list you could put in place during your workweek.
8. Set Boundaries for Friends and Family
If your family and friends aren’t used to you working from home (which is often the case), they may think that you’re free for them to drop in or phone at any time.
It’s easy to put up with this for a week or a month – only to find it’s become a firm habit for them.
Set clear boundaries from the start – if it’s too late, don’t worry, just let people know what your boundaries are moving forward.
For instance, you might explain that you avoid taking personal calls during your workday unless it’s an emergency. If people want to meet for coffee or lunch, then explain that you have a busy work schedule, and you need several days advance notice.
9. Figure Out Your Childcare
While working from home can make childcare easier, you’ll still need someone to take care of your kids while you’re working. It’s unrealistic to imagine that you can simply sit at the kitchen table and focus on work while children are playing around your feet.
It’s not fair on them, and you’re going to struggle to get your best work done.
If you and your spouse share the childcare, get very clear about who’s “on duty” at any given time.
Just because you’re at home, you’re not necessarily available. Otherwise, you may want to consider day care, a nanny, or (for older kids) a competent teenager who can play with the kids while you’re on hand for any emergencies.
10. Get Comfortable
It might seem like a small thing, but an uncomfortable workspace isn’t exactly going to encourage you to sit down and work!
Make sure your chair and desk are both comfortable for you to work in for long periods, and adjust your monitor and keyboard height if necessary.
In your office, there may well have been someone (or a whole team) responsible for this – at home, it rests on you.
Take advantage of working at home to set up your work environment to suit you as best as it can.
Think about lighting, being warm/cool enough, having water and snacks to hand, and having posters, photos of your kids, flowers, or whatever decor makes you happy.
11. Keep Colleagues in the Loop
While getting your head down and working intensely on important projects is obviously good for the team, if no-one knows what you’re doing, it can lead to a whole host of problems – including duplicated efforts or pure resentment when others may think you’re not doing your work.
A quick email once or twice a day can be enough to keep everyone up-to-date with what you’re doing.
12. Work Fewer Hours
This one might be a bit controversial … but presumably your boss cares more about your results rather than how many hours you spend sitting at your desk. You may well find that you’re considerably more efficient when working from home because you don’t have to deal with all the interruptions and distractions of an office environment.
If you previously worked a 40 hour week, can you cut it down to 38 – while keeping up the same output or increasing it? You might find you can go even further: take a look at my post on how I effectively added an extra five hours to my day.
13. Allow Plenty of Margin
Even when you work from home, interruptions are going to happen – your computer stops working, your kid gets sick, or a colleague needs to talk to you on the phone for ages.
Make sure your schedule isn’t packed so tight that anything unexpected causes havoc.
Don’t assume that because a particular task takes six hours, you’ll have it done in a single workday. Tell your client it’ll take two days, then, if all goes to plan, delight them by turning the work in early!
14. Have a “Shut Down” Routine
At the end of the day, follow a consistent “shut down” routine (like the reverse of your “getting started” routine). Otherwise, it’s easy for work to drag on and on … until you finally drop everything in a rush, only to struggle to pick up where you left off the next day.
Your shut down routine might include things like tidying off your desk, shutting down your computer (or at least any work-related programs), and jotting down a list of any tasks to finish the following day.
15. Enjoy Your Personal Time
Finally … enjoy your non-work time! Working from home shouldn’t mean that work eats into every moment of your life.
Be firm about when you don’t work (e.g. at weekends).
If you’re working both efficiently and effectively during your workday, then you shouldn’t feel at all guilty about setting work completely aside in the evenings. If you find you need to work outside your intended hours, then keep a time log for a few days to see whether you’re inadvertently losing time in the middle of the day.
Do you work from home, either full-time or some of the time? What helps you stay focused, productive, and happy? Share your best tips in the comments below.
Also let’s connect on Twitter @syedbalkhi where I share tons of useful tips.