The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. A worldwide pandemic has forced many businesses to close and office employees who have never worked remotely before are now suddenly switching to teleworking from home.
Perhaps you’re new to working from home, or perhaps you’ve been working from home for some time now. Either way, I have tips to help you get your work done while working remotely. It’s important to set up your home workplace and your mindset for success.
I’ve been working from home full time since 2018 as an attorney, and I’ve been creating content and making money online as a freelance writer and blogger since 2008. I’ve learned a lot about the best ways to eliminate distractions when working from home.
Today I’m sharing my top tips for being productive when working from home!
#1 Designate a Dedicated Workspace
My first tip for being productive when working from home is to designate a dedicated workspace in your home! I know you’ve seen pictures of people leisurely lounging in the bed or on the beach while working on a laptop, but the reality is that you’ll probably be most productive working at a desk or table where you have everything you need at your fingertips.
If you’re lucky, you can set up a spare room in your home for your home office. But, if you don’t have an entire room to spare, set up your desk or workspace in a quiet corner in your home that preferably has a door that you can use to close off noise from your family and pets.
When I had a large home, I had a room that I dedicated to my home office. Unfortunately, it was right off of the game room and I could hear noise. So, I ended up moving my desk to my bedroom where it was quiet. Now, I live in an apartment and I have my home office set up in a nook in my bedroom.
You can also use a closet, a corner in a room in your home, the kitchen counter, or a dining room table. Wherever you set up your workspace, make sure that your family understands that they have to keep the noise down and not disturb you while you are working. It preferable that you have a sitting or standing desk, but if you don’t have a desk, use a table or the kitchen counter where you can actually set up your laptop to work.
You should have all of your work supplies set up near your dedicated workspace. My essentials are my laptop, screens, keyboard, mouse, mousepad, docking station with extra USB hubs, my notepad, and daily task planner. At the very least, you should have your laptop, a mouse connected by USB or Bluetooth, and a notebook for taking notes.
If you need to communicate with people via telephone, you will also need your cell phone, or a phone VIOP phone provided by your employer. You can also use a headset to make it easier to talk on the phone you type.
Make sure that you have all of these essential items set aside near your designated workspace so that you can be ready to work.
#2 Create a Daily Work Schedule
My next step is to create a daily work schedule. If you work for an employer, then set the same work times that you would work if you were in an office, and dedicate that time to working. Explain to your family that even though you are at home, you must work from 8am to 5pm or whatever time you work schedule is.
This can be really hard for your family to understand, especially if you have a spouse or small children. They may think that “since you’re home” you can stop and work on house chores or run errands, but you need to dedicate your work time to working.
There is some flexibility to do the occasional chore, or run a load of laundry, but you should be spending your time on your work tasks and not doing house chores and running errands. When you take time away from your work to do these tasks, it adds up to lost productivity time.
I wake up and shower each day, get dressed in comfy clothes, make myself a cup of coffee and sometimes breakfast, then I sit down and work for the entire morning, just as I would if I worked in an office. I try my best to remember to take a dedicated lunch break, where I make myself lunch, run out to grab something to eat, and get up to stretch and take a walk.
Then, after lunch, it’s right back to work for several hours. I keep myself on the same schedule that I would be on if I was in an office. This ensures that I get the same amount of work or more done than I would as if I was commuting to work in an office.
Even if you are working for yourself, I still recommend set work times. This will ensure that your clients and customers know when they can reach you, and you know when to “turn off” your working brain and give yourself a break.
I transition from my workday to being “off” by going outside to take a walk and get some fresh air. If I don’t take this time to transition to being off of work, I find myself sitting at my desk working long hours without a break. This leads to fatigue the next day. It’s best to set times for when you work, and when you’re done working for the day.
#3 Set Up Your Communication Systems
My third tip is to set up your communication systems. When you work from home, you can’t just walk over to the next cubicle to speak with your co-worker or set up in-person meetings. You need to plan for ways to communicate with your teammates and clients.
My best tool for communicating when working from home is a high-speed internet connection! If you have a regular internet connection, try to upgrade to a high-speed connection. These can be pricey, but they will make it much faster to upload and download files, run programs, and use an internet-connect phone.
The primary ways that I communicate with people when working from home are email, phone, and Skype. You will need home access to your business email as a primary means of communication. You will also need either your cell phone or preferably a dedicated business line with a VoIP phone.
A VoIP phone is a Voice Over Internet Protocol Phone. Basically, you plug your phone into a modem and it works just like a regular phone. You can dial landlines and accept calls. You may want to invest in a headset to help you talk on the phone while you type. Just make sure that the headset you choose is compatible with your VoIP phone.
Skype is useful for phone calls via the Internet, chatting, and as a replacement for in-person meetings. I’m not the biggest fan of Skype, but it can be a very useful tool for communication when you are working from home.
In addition to sharing messages and calls, you also need a way to send secure communications. Make sure your email and other systems are set up to protect sensitive information.
For team meetings and trainings, you can use telephone conferencing lines where many people can call in. You can also use services like Go to Webinar and Zoom to have meetings and trainings with clients and multiple team members.
Your needs will vary based on the type of work that you do, and whatever your employer recommends or requires. My number one reminder here is to make sure that your communications are as secure as possible.
To recap, at minimum, you need a business email address and a phone in order to communicate effectively when you’re working from home.
#4 Organize and Track Your Tasks
One of my most important tips for working from home is to organize and track your tasks. When you are working from home, you won’t have a boss looking over your shoulder to make sure that you are getting your work done, but you will still be accountable for completing the work assigned to you.
I manage my work by organizing and tracking my tasks daily. There are a few different ways that you can do this.
You can use a good old fashioned notepad to make notes, write down tasks, and check them off as they are completed. This works, but it can be hard to track tasks that take more than one day to complete or projects that are ongoing.
You can use an electronic task manager like Asana. I personally don’t use these, but I’ve read good things about how they are useful, especially for managing a team working on individual tasks for one project.
You can also use a project management notebook. This is my favorite way to track my tasks. My project management notebook has separate sections or taking notes, checking off tasks, noting phone calls, and setting priorities for the day.
Whichever method you choose, make sure that when you sit down to work at your desk, you are writing down what you need to do for the day, and tracking what you have done, who you’ve talked to, and notes from any meetings!
It’s especially important to track your tasks if you don’t normally work from home because your boss may ask you to show that you are actually being productive while you are working from home. It’s helpful for my work because I’m able to show clients what work I’m completing on their projects.
This also helps you track whether you are actually being productive during the day. You may feel like you’re getting work done when you’re sitting at your desk, but having a record of tasks completed helps you measure your productivity, and having a record of what you need to do helps you plan your work days and workweeks.
#5 Eliminate Time Wasters and Distractions
If you are tracking your tasks and you find that you are not as productive as you need to be, it’s important to eliminate time wasters and distractions! Here are some common ways that people become distracted when working from home, and ways to eliminate those distractions.
Family Members and Children
If you have family members and children at home, it’s important to let them know when your work hours are and to ask them not to interrupt you while you are working. Normally, I recommend making arrangements for childcare and entertainment for your children during your work hours.
If your children are out of school due to school closures, you may have to designate time to assist them or have them work nearby so that you can keep an eye on them. In that case, set “school time” to correlate with your work time, and plan tasks for them to work and stay busy.
Ask any other adults in your home to assist with managing children, and also has them to keep the noise level down and be considerate of your work hours. If you are not under strict orders to work from home or stay home, you can consider working at a local co-working space to help eliminate distractions from family members at home.
Social Media and Web Surfing
When you work from home, much of your time is spend online. You might stop working to do a quick search or hop on social media. These “quick breaks” can lead to hours wasted searching online or browsing on social media. In order to remain productive when you work from home, you need to stop taking these social media and web surfing breaks.
One way to manage this is to use the “Pomodoro” method where you spend a set amount of time focused on working, and then take short breaks where you can check your personal email or social media etc. For example, you can spend 50 minutes of focused working time, then take a quick ten 10-minute break.
To keep yourself on track, use a timer. Once that timer goes off and your break is over, get right back to work. You don’t have to use these breaks to stay online. You can also get up and take a walk or take a break to get some coffee or fresh air.
Doing Chores and Running Errands
It can be very tempting to do household chores or run out the house for a “quick” errand during your work hours. As tempting as it is, it’s important to limit or completely eliminate this time away from your work. Imagine if you were at an office and you couldn’t do these tasks during the work day, how would you get them done?
Most likely you would do them after work, or on the weekends, only occasionally taking time away from the workday. Treat your time working from home the same way! One benefit of working from home is that you don’t have to commute, so that will leave more time before and after work to take care of household chores.
Boredom and Cabin Fever
When you initially begin working from home, it’s exciting and new, and you’ll be busy trying to figure out how to make it work. But, once you settle into your routine, you may become bored from lack of social interaction.
It can be especially difficult to adjust to working from home if the change to remote work happen suddenly or due to unfortunate circumstances. It’s important to keep your spirits up and to keep yourself motivated.
One way that I keep myself motivated is to listen to uplifting music. When I get a case of cabin fever (restlessness) I step away from my desk for a few minutes to take a walk in my home, or outside in the fresh air. I also take advantage of my lunch break to step away from the keyboard.
If you can get out of the house, you can balance your time at home with time meeting up with friends and family, or going to social events. If you’re working at home due to a quarantine, this isn’t possible. But, you can stay connected via telephone and video chats. You can also give yourself a mental break from work by not watching or doing anything work-related during your off hours.
Difficult Work Tasks and Projects
One other way that people waste time when working from home is by avoiding difficult tasks and projects. When you work in an office space, it’s easy to turn to your co-worker or supervisor to ask for help with tasks and projects. You may also be used to working on teams a lot. But, at home, you might get stuck on a difficult task or project.
To avoid wasting time, one strategy I use is to simply reach out for help. Shoot an email or make a phone call to talk through difficult situations. Make sure that you pack your patience because your co-worker or boss may not have the time to get back with you right away.
In the meantime, keep working through your to-do list of tasks so that you can be productive while you’re waiting for help. In addition to being patient with others, it’s also important to be patient with yourself. Switching to working from home is a big adjustment and you may need time to get used to it.
Making It All Work
Overall, working from home is an incredible opportunity to get away from the stress of a traditional office environment, spend less time commuting, and enjoy the comforts of home. But, it only works if you can maintain your productivity. If you follow these simple suggestions, you will reap all of the benefits of working remotely from home.