Many of us got our first taste of working from home during COVID-19. Other folks—guys like me who write articles like this, for example—have been doing it much, much longer. Either way, far more people are currently working in remote or hybrid positions than before the pandemic, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Some are surprised to learn that it isn’t always easy.
Don’t get me wrong; working from home has plenty of advantages. You get to set your own schedule, control your work environment and skip the daily commute.
But there are drawbacks too. Remote work can be lonely and isolating, and it’s not unusual to face challenges when it comes to staying on track and maintaining a high level of productivity. From someone who’s been doing this for quite a while, these tips should to help you stay happy, productive and sane while working from home.
Develop a Morning Routine
Some of the best advice I ever got about working from home was “pretend you’re going to work.” That is to say, set a morning routine and stick to it, just like you would if you were driving to an office.
One of the reasons working from home can be challenging is that it gives us free reign to be lazy. Hitting the snooze a few times, lingering over a third cup of coffee and scrolling on your phone for an extra half hour is a lot easier when you don’t have to clock in. But a lax morning schedule is a huge potential time waster, and worse—it sets a tone that can be hard to shake off, potentially killing your productivity for the whole day.
None of this is to say that you need to force yourself to start work at the crack of dawn. If your routine involves waking up early, getting in a workout and eating breakfast before you start your day, that’s perfectly fine. But make that a routine that you stick to unless there’s a serious emergency.
Designate a Workspace
Most remote workers find that they get more done if there’s a part of the house that they can set aside to be their official workspace. If you actually have a home office in your house, that makes it pretty easy. If not, it can be a little more challenging.
But it’s important to choose a place where you can set up for work, enabling you to create a distinction between your “at home” time and your “at work” time. That could mean setting up your laptop at the kitchen counter or creating a makeshift office in the basement or garage. In any case, try to work from the same place every day. Stock it with any supplies or equipment you need, and think of it as your office.
Prepare Meals in Advance
There’s no vending machine down the hall when you work from home, and unless you live in a downtown area, there probably isn’t a restaurant or coffee shop right around the corner. Getting DoorDash every day will eat up a lot of money and make it all too easy to eat junk food, so what are you to do?
Try prepping meals for yourself on the weekends. Making meals in advance will help you eat full, healthy meals throughout the week without having to spend a ton of time cooking every day. This is also a great option if you have a bunch of people in your house who all like to eat different things at different times.
Work Out a Schedule With Your Family
A big problem with working from home is that the barriers between being at home and at work start to break down. If you don’t set boundaries, it can start to feel like you never get to leave the office, and at the same time feel like there’s no escape from your household family duties. That’s part of the reason why setting aside a designated workspace is important.
But it’s also important to have a conversation with your family about creating boundaries. There has to be a period of the day when it’s understood that you’re at work. This can be especially challenging if you have kids who aren’t at school, and even more so if you have a newborn or very young children. You and your significant other will have to develop a system to balance work responsibilities and child care.
Importantly, this is a two-way street. As much as you need work time, your family also needs you to be present when the work day is over. There has to be a time of day when the laptop is closed and the work phone is put on silent.
Give Yourself Breaks
Setting your own schedule is a double-edged sword. For some, staying productive is a challenge. Others have the opposite problem. It’s very easy to push yourself too hard all day long, which is a recipe for burnout.
So give yourself a break when you need one. Take time to eat lunch and give your eyes a break from all the screen time. It’s also great to get up and get some exercise periodically. Head outside and take a walk around the block and enjoy the fresh air. Giving yourself the freedom to take necessary breaks can actually improve your productivity in the long run.
Get Feedback on Your Work
How do you know whether you’re doing your job well if you don’t have a boss to let you know your work is good, or to give you a kick in the pants when needed? Working from home can sometimes feel like toiling in a vacuum. All your work simply goes into the void.
Fortunately, there are ways to stay connected with leaders and colleagues when working from home. Seeking out feedback on your work is a good way to help keep yourself on track and avoid losing sight of your goals. It also lets you know what you’re excelling at and where there’s room for improvement. Platforms like Zoom and MS Teams are also good for maintaining good working relationships with colleagues too, which can reduce feelings of isolation.
Limit Social Media Access
For things that crush productivity like social media. Whether your poison is scrolling endlessly on Instagram or getting sucked into a YouTube black hole, social media can potentially devour hours out of your day.
Let’s remember that these sites are specifically designed to keep you engaged, and there’s scientific evidence that they are both physically and psychologically addictive. Social media is the ultimate distraction, and limiting your access to it throughout your day will have a noticeable impact on your productivity.
Don’t Be Afraid to Change Things Up
Humans are not machines. As much as routine can be helpful for maintaining productivity, there’s a fine line between establishing a routine and getting stuck in a rut, and you’ll have to use your best judgment to know where you are. Some people thrive on routine more than others.
I know I said that designating a workspace is important, but sometimes changing it up can be beneficial. If you’re having a hard time getting work done in your chosen space, try another one. Maybe you’ll do better in another part of the house, or at a local coffee shop, library, or even outside in a park. You can take a wifi hotspot with you just about anywhere these days.