How to successfully work from home is a popular topic given the current health and social climate caused by COVID-19. I have worked from home for over twelve years, so my day-to-day has not significantly changed as a result of this global pandemic, but I recognize that for many this is a new experience.
Working from home has challenges. I choose to keep firm boundaries between work and life responsibilities (I’m terrible at multitasking, so I do better when I just focus on one thing at a time), but a quick walk to the coffee pot and I’m suddenly distracted by all the house things. Laundry, dishes, meal prep, crumbs on the floor, vacuuming, etc.
And then there’s the comfort factor. A comfy couch, cozy blankets, Netflix, and a cup of tea are always calling my name around 2pm. And they’re right there! If I’m not careful, productivity slows to a crawl.
Here are a 10 tips I’ve learned over the years to successfully work from home.
1. Get ready for your day, every day (aka, don’t work in pjs)
There’s an interesting study from the Kellogg School of Management that analyzes the effect that certain clothes have on those who wear them. If you roll out of bed in your pjs and immediately start working, it may result in slower, lower quality work. So I always get dressed.
I’ve found it an invaluable practice to actually take the time shower, dress, and do my makeup when working from home. I don’t spend the same time and effort as when I meet a client or attend a networking event, but my at-home beauty routine is less than 3 minutes, so I have no excuses.
2. Start with fresh air
Some days I go for an early morning walk around the block, some days I sit on my front steps while drinking my coffee, and some days I merely open a window for a few seconds. It doesn’t seem to matter how I receive it, but there is something cleansing and energizing about fresh morning air— particularly if you live and work within the same four walls.
I began this practice during my battles with postpartum depression, and it has a significant impact on how I show up for my day.
3. Block schedule
Working from home often means self-directed work… or at least more self-directed chunks of time. Michael Hyatt frequently encourages his readers to plan out their time, because “if you don’t have a plan for your day, someone else will.” Without the constraints of in-person meetings and colleague interactions, tasks quickly run together. Block scheduling is simply looking at your tasks for the day, and scheduling out time for each of those tasks. Kat Schmoyer has a helpful breakdown on her blog!
4. Define and separate work and rest zones
My home office spaces have looked different over the years. When I first moved to Capitol Hill I shared a 800-square-foot, two-bedroom house, so had my “office” in my bedroom. Our first apartment post-marriage had a desk set up in a corner of the living room. My current office is beautiful and I adore it, but it is in a windowless room in our basement. Needless to say, creativity is always required when it comes to my work spaces, as well as how I structure my time and manage my mindset regarding work.
Not everyone has the luxury of a home office, but it certainly helps focus and productivity to create some sort of zones to separate work from leisure activities. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate setup, or even a distinct space. Something as simple as “I work on this couch cushion, and I watch Netflix on that couch cushion” can helpfully separate work from rest.
Perhaps this means going for a walk or a run at the beginning or end of your day. Perhaps it means you join me in at-home workout programs. Perhaps you merely use your FitBit, Apple Watch, or a timer on your phone to make sure you stand up and move every hour.
If you use the Pomodoro Technique, use your “rest time” for a quick set of crunches, squats, or pushups… or just take a lap around your workspace. My physical therapist says “motion is lotion.” Moving you body reengages your brain!
Most days I work in workout gear— I exercise at home in the afternoons, and dressing for my day right away gives me purpose and focus, and makes me feel strong. And it keeps me from skipping out on leg day.
6. Maintain consistent morning and evening schedules
Every person is different when it comes to their peak productivity. There are numerous studies that show that early risers are generally more successful people, overall (Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Insider, they all say the same thing). And there are just as many studies that show that late nighters tend to be more creative (here, here, here, here, and here). I don’t think it really matters if you get up early or late, but I do think consistency is king. Having set hours for sleeping and rising, starting work and ending it, gives structure to my day and allowed me to drive my schedule, instead of feeling like I’m always chasing hours.
I also find it helpful to maintain consistent mealtimes. Nothing throws off your focus and energy capacity as a hangry body and tired brain combined. Fuel your brain by fueling your body. And drink water!!
7. Make smart use of the first hours of your day
Don’t start your day in your inbox. As Michael Hyatt says, “Email is someone else’s to-do list for you.” Use the most fresh and creative hours of your day on things that move the flywheel and save the less mentally-taxing work for later in the day.
8. Utilize Deep Work methods
If you have any kind of thought work to do, or a series of tasks that require more focus, close off access to yourself. Multitasking is a myth that lies to us, convincing us of productivity while simultaneously wreaking havoc on our task lists. Close those extra tabs, log out of email, and turn your cell phone on airplane mode. I even turn off wifi if I need extra focus!
My brain can’t create words while processing words, so if I’m writing— blog posts, emails, IG captions, anything at all— I listen to classical music (usually Bach cello suites). I can’t listen to an audiobook, podcast, or music with words while attempting to produce words. My brain simply can’t process both at the same time.
9. Implement a shutdown ritual
I first heard about the concept of a shutdown ritual from Cal Newport. He literally speaks the words “Shutdown” at the end of his workday, just before closing his computer. Brendon Burchard has a ritual he implements when transitioning from one sphere of focus to another. Michael Hyatt has a shutdown ritual written into his Full Focus Planner.
The point of shutdown ritual is to send a signal to our brains and our bodies that we are finished with work, and can transition into rest. This is a vitally important key to rest and while-life wellness.
10. Once you shutdown, stay closed
It’s so easy for life to spill into work, and for work to spill into life, especially if you deeply enjoy work as I do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing— but boundaries are important. Just because we can work more doesn’t mean we should. I work to live, I don’t want to live to work. Having a set time to end each day helps me to better manage my work hours, and produces freedom and joy that comes with a well-balanced life.
Branding Portraits by Abby Grace Photography