Working from home may seem like fun, but it takes a lot of discipline. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a lot of people into this position without notice or training. Employees accustomed to an office setting have been forced to learn as they go, and not everyone has adapted well.
Lately, I’ve spoken to a lot of friends about this, some of which reached out to me for tips on how to work from home effectively. As someone who has spent several years working from home, I know that it’s not always easy to focus in that environment.
But you can work effectively outside the office. It just takes the right setting and the right approach. If you’re struggling to work from home, try these ten best practices.
Dedicate yourself to a morning routine
You may feel tempted to sleep in when your commute is reduced from one room to another, but your mind isn’t going to be “work ready” if you roll out of bed and straight into a computer chair. Instead, set your alarm and wake up early enough to complete a morning routine that works for you.
Your routine could be as simple as breakfast with the family, drinking your coffee while reading the news, or engaging in morning meditation, yoga, or exercise. Whatever it is that kicks your day into gear, make it a priority. If you need ideas, check out Forbes’ article on The Morning Habits of Highly Successful People.
Engaging in a morning routine will clear the “fog” from your brain and help you kickoff the workday with a sharp mind.
Set a Firm Schedule
I can’t stress this enough: set and keep a firm schedule. If you’re used to working 9am to 5pm, stick to it. Start and end your day on time – no excuses. Keeping a strict schedule forces you to complete tasks within a specific time window, which encourages productivity and reinforces a healthy work-life balance.
Dress for the Occasion
It may feel weird dressing in your work clothes only to stay in the house, but it helps solidify the work mindset. If you don’t believe me, just try it. Get up and get dressed like you’re going into the office, then see how you feel when you sit down to work. It may not be as comfy as pajamas, but hey – you’re not trying to nap!
Find a closed-door space
Whether you have kids, kittens or just a spouse that wants attention, it’s important that you carve out a place of solitude where you can work. Whenever possible, find a private space where you can close the door. Not only does this discourage interruption, but it also helps suppress noises that may otherwise be distracting.
If a closed door isn’t enough, sit down and have a conversation with your spouse and kids about the importance of lending you privacy during work hours. Or – if you’re like me and you have pets who don’t respect a closed door – make an energetic playtime part of your morning routine. They’ll be less likely to beg for attention if they’re too tired to do so.
Log out of and mute your distractions
Get off of Facebook. Shut down Twitter. Mute your chat windows. While these may seem like brief, harmless distractions, those bite-sized moments add up. In fact, time-tracking app RescueTime reported that people spend an average of 3 hours and 14 minutes on their phone per day. That’s not including what you do on your computer.
Let that sink in for a moment. How much time are you losing on social media or chat applications each day? Consider not only the time spent but also how it disrupts your focus. Each time you return to a task after engaging in a social distraction, you have to reorient yourself to the task at hand.
Do yourself a favor and just dodge the distractions completely by logging out and making your workspace solely for work. Your boss will thank you when your productivity levels rise!
Use ambient sound to help with the silence
Silence has always been one of my biggest challenges when working from home. It’s great for awhile, but then I would find myself feeling groggy from the lack of stimuli. Spotify became my go-to, but songs with lyrics made it difficult to focus while writing.
Eventually, I settled on instrumental music and ambient sounds. However, if you need to feel like other people are around and can focus with talking in the background, try a podcast or turn on the news. It will simulate a social environment that helps you stay alert as you work.
Take walking breaks
As a writer, I have to set alarms when I work reminding me to get up and move around or take lunch. Otherwise, I get lost in the task at hand. Schedule in mandatory breaks for yourself. Get outside and walk around or do a chore or two around the house. These 10-minute breaks will get your blood circulating and help you stay focused throughout the day.
Don’t forget your lunch break
Sometimes it’s easy to feel guilty when you walk away from your computer while working from home. Even though at work you take lunch breaks, sometimes people worry that they may be AFK (away from the keyboard) when their boss pings them or miss an urgent email.
Relax. You’re entitled to a lunch break. If being absent from your desk causes you anxiety, let your boss know when you’re taking a lunch break or set it on your calendar.
Communicate throughout the day
It’s easy to find yourself sucked into a silo when you work at home. However, it’s extremely important to stay connected with your coworkers and your boss when you don’t see each other every day. Make it a point each morning to touch base with coworkers via email or your work’s preferred messenger service.
Consider it a virtual morning SCRUM meeting or water cooler conversation. Even if it’s just to say “good morning,” that engagement helps you stay connected and on the radar of your teammates.
Leave the house
The days will bleed into weeks sometimes when you work from home. Don’t forget to come up for air. I aim to leave the house at least once a day, even if it’s just for my daily run.
In normal times, I would recommend that people set lunch or dinner dates with friends to ensure they engage in social interaction outside of their computer screen. However, with coronavirus leaving many of us in self-quarantine, getting outside for a bit of fresh air may be all we can do.
Just remember: self-care is important. Make time for it. Apply best practices to your daily routine and remind yourself that this is only temporary.
Life will return to its original programming soon enough.