If you’re one of the millions of workers who started working from home during the pandemic, you might have initially found it a fun opportunity to work in your PJs and have some more autonomy. While working from home has its perks, staying focused to actually get work done can be a challenge without the traditional office environment, community, or support of the workplace. If you want to learn how to be productive working from home, here are 10 tips for working remotely.
1. Figure out a schedule that works for your family
If you have a family at home, working from home can come with some challenges. You may be taking care of children and dropping them off at school, managing mealtimes, and more. Discuss a schedule with your family that can help you manage work and life. You can review shared responsibilities and have a shared calendar to delegate tasks and times to try and make work more manageable.
2. Schedule office hours in advance
If you’re trying to figure out how to stay productive at home, one of the best tips for working remotely is to schedule office hours in advance. In line with the first tip, you want to create a schedule with your family and then have specific hours or days you’re available for meetings, phone calls, etc.
Being available at all times can be distracting and take you away from your important work. Having set hours or days to take calls and meetings can help you get things done and mentally shift to other tasks.
3. Have a dedicated workspace
If you want to know how to be productive working from home, the key is to have a dedicated workspace only for working.
The first few times you work from bed or the couch can be fun, like you’re getting away with something. But after a while, there can be a disconnect between your mind and your body. Working from bed or the couch tells your body it’s time to relax, which can create resistance in your mind when it’s time to get down to work.
That’s why having a dedicated workspace is key. Even if it’s a small table or desk, having your own area that is just for work can help provide a cue that it’s time to work. It can also make it easier to “turn off” when you’re done with work.
4. Establish a morning routine to ease into work
When you work from home, the boundaries between work and life can become blurred. You might feel like you need to rush to your computer right after you wake up or check your email right away. Here’s a tip: don’t. Learning how to stay productive at home requires that you have some boundaries and create a routine that works for you.
Establish a morning routine that prioritizes your mental health and lets you ease into work at the appropriate time. Depending on your work, you may or may not still be working from “9 to 5”. Regardless of the hours you’re keeping, doing something in the morning for you and creating a specific cue to start working can help.
For example, you could drink a glass of water, shower, read for 15 minutes and meditate for 5 minutes. When you have your cup of coffee and open your laptop after that, you’re primed to work. Establishing a routine can make sure you’re still taking time for yourself while also easing into work.
5. Write down your top three tasks for the next day
Have you ever sat down at your desk and wondered, “What should I work on today?” and feel like there’s so much going on you don’t know where to start? Or perhaps you’ve worked all day and wondered “What did I even get done today?!”
Working from home can be a time warp, so you want to make sure you’re getting your most important tasks done. After each day of work, write down your top three most important tasks for the next day. If you don’t get them all done, carry one over to the next day. But try to keep it to three important things. That can make your tasks manageable and help keep you focused and not get stuck doing busy work like emails.
6. Carve out regular breaks
Working from home can save you time and money because you no longer have commuting time. But that doesn’t mean you should work more and it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take breaks.
It can seem counterintuitive, but taking breaks will actually make you more productive. You’re a human being with a finite amount of energy and mental capacity. Imagine a cell phone that isn’t charged. If your phone is at 10% battery, you’re not going to commit to a long phone call. Why would you do that if that’s how you’re feeling energy-wise?
Research has shown that staying focused for 52 minutes and taking a break for 17 minutes can help boost productivity. You could employ the Pomodoro Technique, which is when you work for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break.
Something that helps me is using FocusMate, a virtual coworking program where you connect with someone for a 50-minute work session. I then take a ten minute break and start again. I typically schedule three sessions back-to-back before taking a longer break.
7. Cut out the distractions
We’ve all been there. You think you’re going to check your email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok “really quick”. Then an hour later you find yourself watching cat videos or reading about celebrity gossip, or worse “doomscrolling” about the four different global crises going on simultaneously. Ack!
Sadly, we can’t rely on our own internal motivation and willpower. You can block distracting sites such as social media using Self Control for Macs or Freedom. You can also use RescueTime, which tracks where you’re really spending time on your computer. It’s basically like a time budget that shows where you’re actually spending your time.
8. Check your email 2-3x a day
Sometimes email can feel like playing a game of digital ping pong with no winners. While it’s easy to keep your email open at all times and stay on top of what’s coming in, it can be seriously distracting when you’re trying to get actual work done.
Of course, email is part of nearly everyone’s job in some way, but it’s likely not their core task. So instead of keeping your email open all day and being in a reactive state every time you get a notification, try to check your email only two to three times a day. Consider 10am, 1pm, and 4pm so you have solid blocks of time to get other work done.
9. Talk to your employer about ergonomic equipment
The good thing about working at an office is that it has all the equipment and supplies you need to work comfortably.
At home that might not be the case. If you’re struggling with wrist pain or it’s difficult to work on your laptop, ask your employer to see if it’s possible to get ergonomic equipment that can help your comfort and productivity. You may need an ergonomic mouse, chair, a special monitor or printer. Whatever would make working at home easier for you, ask your employer about it.
10. Meal prep in advance
When you work at an office it’s easy to stop at the local coffee shop or diner to get a bite for lunch or breakfast. When you work from home, you don’t have that option. So you may resort to either going hungry or get distracted by cooking and cleaning for too long.
To help combat that, try meal prepping ahead of time. For example, you can choose each Sunday to make lunches for the week. Perhaps you make burrito bowls or salads. Whatever your fancy is, make it in bulk ahead of time and eat it throughout the week. Need some inspo? Here are 20+ meal prep options from Delish.com.
Learning how to be productive working from home can take some adjustment and practice. Using these 10 tips for working remotely, you can aim for a better work-life balance while prioritizing your important work.
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Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.