Working from home is both challenging and rewarding. There are fewer distractions, more flexibility, and no commute. Yay to no commute! It’s also healthier with fewer germs and better food. On the other hand, it requires discipline, can be isolating and it’s harder to separate home and work life. As a writer, I’ve learned how to cultivate a healthy work-at-home life. Here are my tips about how to work from home, be productive and stay sane. That last part is really important.
Get up and out of bed.
Preferably at the same time every day. Resist the urge to check your email in bed. One email leads to another and before you know it you’re still in your pajamas at noon and that video-chat is in five minutes. Don’t be that person who looks like they just rolled out of bed….because they did.
Make the bed.
It’s an easy psychological boost of accomplishment first thing in the morning. We could all use that before the day humbles us yet again. But for now, I made my bed. I rock.
Start each day mindfully.
Without the scramble to get out the door and on the road, there is more time to ease into the day. First thing in the morning, I pray, write today’s affirmations in my journal, open all the blinds and look out the window. I really try to be present in the first 30 minutes before I take on the world’s challenges.
Think about starting your day with a mindful ritual. Can you have that first cup of coffee thoughtfully and fully present in that moment? A zombie-like stare out the window is okay too.
You’re going to be sitting a big part of the day; your body will thank you for being active. Your mind will thank you for releasing those feel-good endorphins and getting those synapses firing. It’s science. It’s groovy.
I have learned that on the days that I don’t exercise in order to “be more productive” I am no more productive. When I make exercise a priority I produce the same amount of work in a shorter amount of time because I’m more focused. And nicer. Groovy.
Now, I do some form of exercise every morning either at home, by taking a walk or attending a class. As much as possible I hold that time sacred, scheduling meetings and calls before or after exercise.
Take a shower and get dressed in real clothes.
If no one is going to see me, athleisure clothes are okay, but pajamas are not. When I wear real clothes my mind says “it’s time to be productive.” When I wear pajamas my brain says “Netflix and chill.” I also fix my hair and wear a real bra. We all need things to ground us in reality. These are mine.
Have a dedicated place to work.
Ideally, this is a place that you don’t use any other time, like a home office, but it can be the dining table. If it’s the dining room table, set it up like an office with all your supplies at the ready. And clear it away when it’s time to eat dinner. Wherever you work, try to make that space intentional. A desk is best, but a table is better than the sofa. See above Netflix and chill.
If the bedroom is the only option, don’t work in bed. If the bed is the only piece of furniture in the room, make the bed. Do whatever you can to mentally distinguish working from relaxing. Experts say the bedroom should only be used for sleeping and sex. And you can’t do either while you work. Unless of course, that is your work. Then I stand corrected.
Make your workspace aesthetically pleasing.
My home office is a lovely space – but it’s also the gym, the after school homework room, where my husband works at night and an extension of the laundry room. At the start of every day, I straighten the pillows on the sofa, put away any weights or yoga mats, move the drying bras into the bedroom and scrub away all traces of my family.
What can you do to make your workspace great? Can you add funny or inspirational photos, artwork or a candle? What makes you happy and in turn productive in that space? Just keeping it neat can go a long way.
Plan your day and create a to-do list.
After reading emails, I create a to-do list for the day. I use an app called Things that I update constantly so when I open it each morning there is a list already waiting for me to edit. Sometimes it’s an inspiration, sometimes it’s overwhelming. That’s work. That’s life.
If I have several different tasks to do in a day, instead of switching back and forth from phone calls to emails to writing to spreadsheets or whatever, I try to use batching. As much as possible, I tackle similar tasks in the same time block.
Work when you’re most productive.
Obviously, if you have scheduled calls and video chats this will dictate your day, but if you are working independently create a schedule around your most productive times.
I’m most productive from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm so that’s when I do work that requires concentration and creativity. Outside of those times, I will do more rote tasks like return emails and phone calls and do research. If you know me, do not call me between 10:00 am – 3:00 pm! I won’t answer but will feel bad about it and now I’m in the pantry looking for candy that I don’t have.
Create rituals and habits.
Before I sit at my desk I make a matcha latte in my pink Yeti cup, turn on music, and light a scented candle. Sometimes I will work in the living room for a change of scenery, but I bring these elements with me. These signals tell my brain “time to work.”
Maybe it’s using your favorite coffee mug, playing a particular music playlist or ritualistically tapping out the theme song to Pinky and The Brain. Whatever it takes.
Not for me. I’m easily distracted and sucked in. Instead, I listen to music. Depending on my mood and what I’m doing, I listen to classical, jazz or lo-fi playlists on Apple Music or Spotify – music without words. If my tasks don’t require too much concentration I’ll listen to old school hip-hop, 80’s pop, current radio or the Cocktails and Crooners playlist on Apple Music. It’s bouncy upbeat music with words, but not my jams. I might tap my foot but I’m safe from break dancing and pop-locking. Focus.
Take a break.
At regular intervals take a break to stretch, walk around, pet your dog, or drink water. If possible, eat lunch in a different part of the house and don’t work while you eat.
I eat lunch in the kitchen and read, watch an episode of a tv show, or catch up with a friend or family member (in person, text or on social media) for a few minutes (don’t’ call me, I’ll call you). A few times a week I leave the house to grab lunch or an afternoon tea for a little distraction.
Set specific times to check email and social media.
Unless your work entails constantly being available, set specific times to check email and social media threads. It’s more productive to not switch your focus every 5 minutes. The latest TMZ headline can wait until lunch.
Mix it up.
While working from home it’s crucial to be consistent and disciplined, but it’s also fun (and necessary) to mix it up. On a nice day, take your work outside. Go for a walk during a phone call. Work in a coffee shop.
Twice a week I write outside of my house to interact with people and have a change of scenery. As much as I love me, I can be a bit too much and need a break from me. At least that’s what the office gossip says. She’s so catty!
Working from home it’s easy to keep working and working and working….and become less and less productive. Our brain needs other activities to recharge and refresh. Quit work at around the same time every day and do other things: connect with family and friends, go for a walk, cook a healthy meal, read a book, watch a movie or tv show, be creative with your hands, learn a new hobby or skill, work on that side-hustle.
Or do absolutely nothing at all.
P.S. Want to make my matcha latte? Here’s the recipe. Need a mindful start to your morning? Try meditation and the mindfulness journal TAP IN: A Daily Practice for a More Creative, Focused and Joyful Life.