Working from home brings its own unique challenges, since home tends to be a personal space where we go to relax, decompress, and live our lives beyond the workplace. The people who work from home successfully are the ones who figured out how to set boundaries between their work lives and their personal ones, enabling them to be productive in their own time and space.
So whether you’re working from home due to COVID-19 or because this has become the home base for your small business, you’ll need to adjust some routines and establish others in order to make the transition to a home office, a successful one.
Here are 7 tips to help you keep up your productivity while working from home:
Establish a consistent morning routine that sets the tone for your day
Start your day in a consistent way, because how you spend your morning sets the scene for the rest of the day! If you’re on your phone scrolling through social media or the news first thing when you wake up, it’s easy to get overwhelmed before you’ve even started anything. Take care of you first! Exercise, shower, eat a healthy breakfast, and get dressed as if you were going into the office like usual – this will help you get in the mindset for a productive day, even if the day’s outfit is a home lounge version of your usual office wear. If you need accountability, make other people a part of your morning ritual. For example, sign up for a virtual fitness class each morning or schedule a morning phone call with a parent or sibling to check in while you do a morning walk.
Work in a space that’s set up for you
Having a workspace that’s set apart from the rest of your home is a visual reminder that you’re here to be productive. If, like so many of us, you don’t have a separate room to use as your office, you can still create a dedicated workspace. A corner desk that’s used just for work will do, and so will clearing off a table or countertop and placing your supplies there during the hours you’re working, then packing them up again when your workday is done. What’s important is that you have these physical reminders that your work life is separate from your personal life, even though both are now taking place in the same space. The key is being able to enter and leave your workspace, even in small ways, because this will help you transition into a work mindset as well.
Set boundaries and ground rules for work hours
Much like it helps to have a dedicated workspace, it also helps to have shared expectations about what work hours will look like while you’re working from home. If you live alone, setting boundaries might be a little simpler. Tell yourself that you can’t visit your bedroom or the couch during working hours, in order to avoid distractions, and don’t schedule personal calls or deliveries that require signatures during your work time.
If you’re sharing your home with roommates, pets, or family members – particularly young children – then you will need to set additional boundaries and some ground rules as well. It helps if pets are secured or quiet during calls to avoid noises barking in the background (although sometimes people are happy to see cute, well-behaved furry friends during meetings too!). If possible, close a door and use signage like “Call in session” while making important calls or attending webinars so that others know not to disturb you during these times, and use a headset to cut down on noise from your end of the call. Most importantly, talk with everyone in the household to set some rules about your workspace, working hours, and work conversations, so that everyone is able to accomplish what they need to during the day.
Plan out your day and your week; make a schedule for the important things!
While it’s always possible to get distracted from your work, or engrossed in a tiny detail when there are bigger fish to fry, working from home can make these challenges even more difficult to overcome. Planning things out will help you get a sense of what needs to be done and when. At the beginning of the week, for example, set aside time to check your calendar and create reminders for all upcoming calls and meetings (including extra time for tech setup on your own end for the times when you’re running things). Create a to-do list for each day, and for the week overall. Schedule time for breaks (lunch, exercise, meditation, clearing your own head), and don’t short-change yourself during these blocks: always take the full time to rest and recharge.
Document projects and track your progress
The flip side of having a to-do list, schedule, and calendar is making sure that you actually use these tools to guide and track your progress! When creating your schedule for the week, make sure that you note which items on it are essential, which are important, and which are smaller or can otherwise wait. Keep a list of your current projects and the steps needed to accomplish them, and at the end of each day and each week, document which parts you’ve finished. Highlight deadlines, and make sure that you meet them.
For extra accountability, keep a blank notecard on your workspace and note when you start and end a particular task each day: this will show you exactly how long you’ve spent on each item, and where you might be spending too much time on little things instead of focusing on the big picture.
Set expectations for yourself and communicate with others
While working from home, it’s easy to slip into worries that you aren’t doing enough. To counter this kind of stress, be clear with yourself, your business partners, and your customers. Be candid with yourself about what it’s realistic to expect, and be clear with others about these expectations. Set up a schedule send feature in your inbox so that even if you write a late night email, the recipient gets it first thing in the morning. If people know you’ll send and respond to email late into the evening, you create a work culture for yourself and your team where this becomes an expectation. If things change on a major project, reach out to those that this change will affect, and be honest about what they can expect moving forward. Keep an eye on your inbox, and use the “flag” and “follow up” tools to keep track of what’s important, but make sure to clear and file away emails as you finish up with them.
Finding an accountability buddy can also be helpful! Keeping in contact with someone else who’s working from home and facing similar challenges can help you see things with a clearer eye, and keep you accountable to important milestones more than you might be able to do by yourself.
A special note here: if you’re working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you are probably dealing with childcare, homeschooling, and other additional responsibilities on top of the many frightening things that we’re all hearing about in the news on a daily basis. Be kind to yourself, and realize that you’re doing the best you can in adverse circumstances. Forgive yourself if you aren’t able to meet your usual standards, and resolve to do the best you can each day.
Take time for you, and reward yourself for your accomplishments!
Working from home means juggling many different responsibilities and distractions alone. As the sole office occupant, it’s even more important than usual to take time for yourself. Take the time to transition into your workday, and back out of it again when you’re done. Don’t wake up to your inbox. Don’t work in your bedroom. At the end of the day, complete tasks that trigger an end of day mindset, like cleaning down your office desk, creating a to-do list for the next day, turning off the lights and closing the door to the office, and taking a walk. Also, throughout the day, make sure that you stretch, hydrate, and adjust your posture. I have a friend who takes walks for her phone meetings or zoom calls where she is participating as a listener and doesn’t need to take notes. Give yourself breaks outdoors if possible so that you can soak up some sunshine and fresh air, and stretch your legs. As the sole office occupant, it’s even more important to make sure you celebrate yourself and your accomplishments, even if this is as simple as a single Friday night drink in your living room after completing a big project!
It will take some time to get used to working from home, but following these 7 tips can help you make the most of the move!
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