Working from home. Telecommuting. Remoting in. Whatever you call it, powering up the laptop to tackle tasks from your couch, dining table, or home office has become the new normal, even for those who would never have considered working from home before.
While it sounds like a homebody’s dream — stand-up meetings in sweatpants, anyone? — it’s not always easy to set your own schedule. You’ll want to avoid getting sucked into doing a load of laundry, taking the dog out for a long walk, or falling into a Netflix void as, when there’s no one looking over your shoulder, it’s easy to get off course.
While it’s fine to have a cheat day now and then, it’s not okay to let that build up over time. That’s why having a work schedule — and sticking to it — is crucial. Working at home brings business and personal aspects of life together under one roof. As a result, it is easy to get distracted when trying to complete business tasks until you are able to separate business and personal.
It takes time to get serious about work at home if you’ve never done it before. Working at home is an exercise in learning about yourself. To help you get there faster, here are ten helpful tips to stay focused when you’re working from home.
1. Have a dedicated workspace.
Whether you have a sprawling home office or a nook in your kitchen, it’s important to have a dedicated office. Even urban dwellers with limited square footage should carve out a spot that’s just for work.
It’s easy to sit with a laptop on your couch, but your posture and ergonomics won’t be right, and it’s often in close proximity to a TV, which is an obvious distraction. Much like your bed should be reserved for sleeping, your workspace should be for working.
2. Stay off social media.
Is there any rabbit hole more tempting than social media? A quick scroll on Instagram can turn into a major time suck, but there are ways to avoid temptation.
One of our favorite productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called Stay Focusd. When working from home, Facebook and Twitter and a myriad of other social media sites can be a major distraction.
StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10-minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.
3. Dress for success.
While there’s no need for a three-piece suit or a pencil skirt and heels when you’re not leaving your home, there’s a happy medium for getting dressed in the morning.
We are creatures of habit, and it’s vital to have good habits. Sure, sitting in your pajamas will be comfortable, but can you really be in a professional mindset with PJs on? It’s not really about how you look that’s important; it’s about setting a professional mindset.
Wear what’s comfortable for you. But having a morning routine — meaning brushing your teeth and changing out of your pajamas — is crucial, even if you’re just switching to yoga pants.
4. Set boundaries.
It’s a common misconception that remote work means you’re hardly working. When a friend invites you for a mid-afternoon movie break or a long lunch, it can be tough to get across that you have to put in your hours, too.
Most people don’t realize you work from home unless you tell them. By saying when you’re available rather than waiting for people to tell you when they can meet, you’re in the driver seat of your time.
Working from home isn’t a disadvantage, so don’t make excuses for it. You are available when you’re available whether you’re in the office or not. Remember you have to train people how to treat you and your work time.
5. Avoid procrastination.
If you think it’s tempting to procrastinate at the office, it’s even worse at home, where there are more distractions.
It’s easy to put things off to later in the day or first thing tomorrow morning because you are not bound by office hours. However, this causes stress as you can easily push yourself tight against a deadline, and if something unexpected happens — like your internet goes down, you get sick, or a family member gets sick — you could miss the deadline, which may have grave consequences for your job.
6. Save household chores for later.
It’s tempting to run the dishwasher while you work or take a break to vacuum, but doing so can interrupt your flow and focus.
Just like everything else, set aside a certain amount of time each day to do this — do not casually mix it into your routine.
7. Create a schedule.
Your calendar should work the way you do. That means if you’re a Type A and love to have every minute planned, go ahead and fill up your day, even penciling in break times. If you’re more of a to-do list follower, write up a game plan and cross things off as you go.
If you prefer to go with the flow, there’s no need to over-schedule yourself — but have an idea of what you want to accomplish each day to make sure you stay on task. And regardless of your style, make sure the way your day is scheduled is a reflection of your natural energy.
8. Take an exercise break.
Scheduling a sweat session into your workday is a good idea as long as you plan it right.
Your physical health is more at risk than you realize when working from home. Even those who sit in an office cubicle still tend to walk a mile or so throughout the day, to their car, out to lunch, and so on.
While most gyms are still closed right now due to COVID-19, and your movement in general may be limited by coronavirus restrictions you should still make an effort to stay fit.
Plus, taking an exercise break provides a brain boost. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee, a quick workout – maybe via an app if you need guidance – can get those endorphins flowing and deliver a natural burst of energy.
9. Automate as much as you can.
Technology makes a great administrative assistant! Some of the things you can do include scheduling alerts for important tasks and appointments, building email rules to filter out unimportant messages during business hours, using software that finds mistakes in your code or content for you, pre-scheduling emails and even using different ringtones for different people so you know when you don’t have to answer your phone.
10. Know when to clock out.
The most common mistake is thinking that by working at home you have more time to work and better work-life balance. Work is work, regardless of where you do and how much you love it. It needs to get done. And, you also need a personal life. When you don’t actually have a physical barrier between the two, such as a geographical distance between your office and home, it can be easy to work lots of hours, leaving less downtime for family and friends.
It can be tempting to squeeze in something after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon, but when it feels like you’re working all the time, that can quickly lead to burnout. That’s why you should stick to a predetermined set of work hours and maximize your workdays so that you can enjoy your time off and feel refreshed and ready to clock back in on Monday morning.