Working from home is a change that no one accustomed to the traditional 9 to 5 office job can prepare for. However, with many thrust into a newly remote lifestyle, people have had to figure out how to maintain their level of productivity without the separation of work and home.
As someone who has worked remotely for years, I will be the first to recommend it, however I also both understand and endure the same challenges as everyone else. Working from home is a process of experimentation, for both you and the company you work for to figure out.
For a remote employee, you have to convince your brain to be in work mode in a location that is meant for comfort and rest. Your talkative coworkers have been replaced with housemates on a different schedule, and the water cooler you once took a break at is now just your kitchen.
So how can you still be productive while working from home?
With a little compassion for the trial and error process, and a few changes to your lifestyle, you can become a productive home worker. There is a system that works, as is evident by the companies deciding to allow their employees to permanently work from home, you just have to find it.
Remember that you are in control. So take advantage of this time to reevaluate your work ethic and set your own rules.
Productivity is not born out of chaos, therefore your first step to getting back on track is to provide structure for yourself. This can come in many forms but the most basic things to focus on are:
The benefit to working from home is that your commute time has been eliminated. This means extra time for sleep and breakfast. The pitfall here is taking too much time to get started. By setting a start time for yourself, you won’t push work off until the afternoon.
Just as important as starting work is knowing when to stop. There is no doubt that you could keep working after hours and get more accomplished, but a schedule without an end will make it more complicated to separate your work and home lives. Even though you are working and living in the same location, you must treat it as if you’re in the office. You wouldn’t stay there all night would you?
Task and to-do lists are also helpful reminders to stay on track. I use the free online program Asana to create lists, set deadlines and assign tasks. You can write down what you need to accomplish during the day, for the whole week, or set even longer term goals for yourself.
Setting a dedicated time for phone calls and video meetings is always a way to increase productivity. Experts recommend taking meetings later in the day, once you’ve already hit a groove in your work, so that you can accomplish more during the mornings.
Wearing sweatpants is comfortable, but you may not feel like you’re in work-mode without some form of getting ready. The simple task of getting dressed in the morning will put you in the mindset to work harder. I call it business casual casual. You can ditch the heels for now, but at the very least change out of your pajamas before you start your work day.
Dressing up your home office is just as important as dressing up yourself. If you can, set up a dedicated workspace away from the locations in your house associated with sleep and lounging. This will train your brain to “go into work” even if it’s only a few steps away.
If allowed, change up your location every so often to give yourself a break. This could be different places around your house, outside or even in a public place if you are able to work there privately.
Distractions are the all too familiar neighbor of the remote worker. A noisy roommate, a pet, the TV, Instagram, the sight of dirty dishes in the sink, anything can keep you from staying on task. Try your best to minimize distractions by communicating with other people in your house, blocking the use of websites you can’t get enough of and taking breaks when you need to.
In the times where distractions are getting the best of you, step away from the screen, eat a snack or interact with someone. Letting yourself indulge in a little distraction here or there will make it easier to overcome them because they will no longer be thought of as completely off limits.
In the last three months, around 34% of the US workforce has transitioned to working from home. The big takeaway here is that you are not alone. Everyone is facing uncertain changes in their daily routine. Chances are you have a friend or family member in a similar situation. Use this to your advantage. Hold each other accountable while you’re working by checking in, adhering to deadlines and communicating struggles when you have them.
Sharing the weight of change makes it easier to accept it. Plus, having someone hold you accountable makes it a lot harder to flake.
These tips on work productivity can be applied to your everyday routine outside of work as well. Giving yourself time to focus and creating a space that encourages this will help you achieve goals outside of work. You may have more time to work on house projects, or treat yourself to a reward at the end of a long work week.
Overcoming the challenges of working from home will help you see that you can be productive anywhere. It’s a mental game, and one that needs to be tended to every step of the way.
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