I’m writing this from North Carolina where I’m hunkering down at home with my family.
Since I’ve worked from home for over ten years, my daily routine hasn’t been affected very much. Everything feels like normal until I read the news or hear my neighbor’s high school age son playing basketball in the driveway during school hours.
But maybe you’re like many of my friends and family members and suddenly find yourself working from home for the first time. It can be a big adjustment from working in an office, especially if you have kids at home too.
That’s why I’ve written this article for you.
I’m sharing several tips and strategies I’ve collected over the years that help me boost my productivity while working from home.
I hope they will help you too as we all adapt to this difficult situation we’re currently experiencing.
Let’s dive in.
1. Set up a dedicated workspace
I’ve found that one of the number one factors that’s helped me stay productive while working from home is having a dedicated workspace.
In the previous house I lived in, I had my desk in my bedroom. In my new home, I have a separate room for my office. I love this because it helps me separate my work from my personal life. It also is a much more professional environment for doing live video calls with my writing and web design clients (I like using Zoom for live calls).
If you don’t have a separate room you can set up as an office, here are three tips for making a productive work environment in the space you do have:
First, try to find a place that’s outside your bedroom, and especially avoid working from your bed in your pajamas. Sitting in bed will make you sluggish, wreck your productivity, and might also threaten your quality of sleep at night.
The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard observes, “Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.”
Of course, if you can’t find a private place in your home besides your bedroom, then you can set up a desk and chair in that room. Just make sure you’re not tempted to move to your bed and do your work there.
Second, pay attention to your posture. A desk and ergonomic chair is the optimal workspace, but even then you might need a laptop stand in order to work comfortably (I sometimes raise my laptop up on top of several books so I don’t have to bend my neck down to look at the screen).
If you don’t have a desk where you can work, be careful about sitting on your couch for hours. It’s much better to move your workspace around your house throughout the day.
In fact, I find that I don’t like working in one place for a long period of time.
I’ll start out in my office working on an intensive writing project that requires my full attention. Then I might move to the kitchen table to respond to emails. Afterward, I might work on less intensive projects while sitting on the couch in the living room, but I time myself when I sit there and make sure to get up when the timer goes off.
Third, if the only place in your house where you can work is in the living room in front of the TV, and you’re finding it difficult to focus because you usually use that room to relax, try to change the environment.
Usually, I work on my fiction projects in the evening when I’m tired and don’t want to sit at my desk. But I still want my brain to be focused. I love putting on ambient scenes on the TV of a fireplace crackling and the sound of rain falling outside.
You might prefer playing music. I wrote this article about the different writing rituals of famous authors that helped them get into a flow while they were working.
And for more tips on setting up an inspiring workspace, check out my article where I take a peek at the workspaces of several famous writers.
2. Create a Structure to Your Day With a Morning and Evening Routine
I’ve run into two challenges while working from home: One, it’s easy to procrastinate on getting started on your projects. And, two, it’s easy to get so caught up in working on your projects that you don’t stop until late into the night.
Creating a morning and evening routine is an efficient solution that will help create a structure to your day so you don’t become a workaholic (or lounge about the house all day).
I write up a schedule with the exact time I’ll wake up in the morning, what activities I’ll complete before breakfast (for example, reading the Bible, writing in my journal, exercising), then what time I’ll have breakfast, and, finally, the time that I officially have to get started on my workday.
Similarly, I have an evening routine. First, I have a set time for when I stop working on any business projects. Usually, this is around 5:00 since I like to spend my evenings working on my fiction writing. I also have a time for when I must shut down my computer completely so I’m not tempted to start working on a business project again late at night.
It’s critically important to decide on your working hours. If you’re living with family or roommates, you can tell them exactly when you’re working so they’ll know not to disturb you during that time.
Of course, your working hours might be completely different than mine. Maybe you like working on business projects in the evening and prefer to keep your afternoons for other activities. Or maybe you have kids and have to adapt your schedule to their activities.
Experiment until you find the solution that works best for your job, your personal life, and your productivity.
3. Make Schedules and Keep Track of Your Projects
Aside from your evening and morning routine, I also recommend creating specific schedules and to-do lists for your projects.
During your working hours, what will you be working on? You can time block this part of your schedule. For example, from 9am — 11am, you’re working on a copywriting project for a client. From 11am — 12:30pm, you’re replying to emails.
When creating your to-do list for the day, don’t make the list so long that it becomes overwhelming. A good medium is 3 to 5 tasks that you could reasonably complete during your working hours.
Make sure the tasks are specific. For example, I don’t write, “respond to emails”. Instead, I’ll write something like, “respond to emails from Harry, Larry, and Susan”.
The master list is where you write down everything that you need to accomplish. It could be a year-long list of projects or maybe it spans the upcoming three months. Then every night write up a separate to-do list for the next day, pinpointing which items on your master list are your top priorities.
Organize the tasks on your daily to-do list according to importance and complete them in order. Begin with the items that are your “Most Important Tasks”. You should try to tackle the MITs first thing in the morning before moving on to the other tasks. It becomes more difficult to complete them the longer and longer you put them off.
Depending on what kind of projects you’re working on, you might find it helpful to devote an entire day to working on one project, rather than switching your focus between multiple projects. For example, I might devote Mondays and Tuesdays to writing blog posts, Wednesdays and Thursdays to working on client projects, etc.
In this article, I wrote about the journaling method I use to boost my productivity and keep track of all of my projects.
4. Limit Distractions and Take Breaks
In today’s world, multitasking has become such an acceptable part of our daily life that it’s a tough habit to break. As we work on a project, we might stop every few minutes or so to check a text on our phone or a notification from Facebook or Instagram.
However, our brains can’t focus on a handful of tasks all at the same time. Instead, the brain has to scramble to switch its focus every time we start doing something different.
When we’re multitasking while working on an article or any kind of writing project, that means that our brains only have a matter of seconds to jump back and forth as we check Facebook, then write a few lines, then quickly check our email, write a few more lines, then check our text messages, then return to our writing project.
According to this Wall Street Journal article,
It takes more than 25 minutes on average to resume a task after being interrupted.
It takes an additional 15 minutes to regain the same intense focus or flow as before the interruption.
That’s forty entire minutes, and that doesn’t even take into consideration multiple interruptions.
In order to prevent multitasking, I keep my phone in another room while I’m working. Sometimes I need to access Facebook for my work, but I’ve installed an extension in Chrome that disables the feed. This means that I can only read notifications or visit people’s profiles directly.
It’s called Newsfeed Eradicator (it displays an inspirational quote in place of the feed).
Additionally, I often use noise-canceling headphones and listen to music to drown out distractions from my surroundings.
I also use the Pomodoro technique to sharpen my focus while working on projects. I’ve written more about it here.
Essentially, you set a timer for twenty-five minutes during which time you work on your project. Then you take a short five-minute break. Those breaks allow your brain a little bit of time to reenergize but still keep you in the flow.
When I’ve been working for about an hour and made good progress, I’ll reward myself with a longer break and might allow myself to check social media or watch a YouTube video. I’ll time this, though, so I don’t take too much time away from the other work I need to do.
5. Stay Healthy
Working from home all day can be harmful to your physical and mental health if you don’t take the necessary precautions.
As I mentioned before, you need to pay attention to where you’re working. Sitting on a couch all day long can lead to neck and back pain. And that’s not helpful for your productivity at all.
Even if you’re careful to have good posture while working, it’s still not healthy to sit for hours. Get up from your desk, stretch, and move around during your breaks.
I go for a 30-minute walk outside when the weather is warm. In the wintertime, I like to go for 10-minute walks on a treadmill in my house throughout the day.
I also lift weights and have a stretching routine. My family set up a little gym in our garage where I can lift weights. But if you don’t have access to a gym, you might like to try bodyweight exercises. Here’s a 7-minute bodyweight workout. (Of course, make sure to check with your doctor before beginning any vigorous exercise plan.)
Another danger is skipping meals because you get so busy working. Or you might end up binging on unhealthy foods because you’re working right next to the kitchen.
Here are some ways to combat that: prepare your lunch the night before. Maybe make a big dinner so you have leftovers you can quickly reheat for lunch the next day. Create a meal plan for the week. Stock up on healthy snacks.
You also might experience eye strain if you’re staring at a screen for hours on end. The blue light from computer screens can also disrupt your sleep. To combat this, you might be able to download an app on your computer that changes the tint of your screen at nighttime.
I bought a pair of blue light blocking glasses that I wear in the evening and sometimes throughout the day too. (I also wear them to watch TV in the evening.) Here’s an article I wrote all about blue light and about the glasses I bought.
Finally, working from home can feel confining if you live alone or if your spouse, family members, or roommates work outside the home. You don’t have colleagues to talk to and bounce ideas off of.
With everyone isolating now, you’re probably resigned to staying at home. But, in the future, you might find you like working at a coffee shop once a week (or more often) to get out of the house and experience a different environment.
Or maybe you try to be more proactive about making sure to meet up with friends. Right now, this could mean a video call.
I love the flexibility that working from home provides. If you’re working for yourself, you have complete control over your schedule and when you accomplish certain tasks.
But you do need to be disciplined and establish processes that will help you get your work done and also make sure you’re keeping your brain and body healthy.
I wish you all the best with your projects and hope these strategies will help you.
Do you work from home? Have you discovered another strategy that helps you stay productive that we can add to this list? Be sure to share it in the comments.
And if you enjoyed this post, please share it on social media or with a friend who you think will find it helpful too.