Having spent most of my professional career working remotely (six years, to be exact), I’ve gotten quite used to that work-from-home life. And over the course of this time, I’ve often been asked, “How do you stay focused and productive while working from home?”
The answer is simple.
For many, the biggest challenge in transitioning to a work-from-home position is a lack of structure and routine that typically exists within the rhythms of an office environment. Instead, it’s up to you to create a structured work environment that caters to your personality and lifestyle needs.
By following these seven simple tips, I’ve been able to stay focused and productive throughout the workday … no matter where my “office” is (including sub-300-square-foot apartments and cramped extended-stay hotel rooms). And now you can do the same!
1. Set a Start and End Time for Your Workday
When you’re only walking 10 feet or so to go to “the office,” it’s particularly easy for your personal life to physically (and mentally) blend into your work life … and vice versa. A simple solution to help prevent this is to set a start and end time for your workday—whether that schedule is determined by your employer or yourself. If the latter, consider coordinating your work hours with those of your coworkers and clients for an added sense of connectivity and availability when people may need your help the most. One obvious exception to this rule is when you need to work overtime or outside of your usual “working hours” to meet a particular deadline.
2. Get “Ready” For Work
While this may not be the case for everyone (kudos to those of you who can work in your PJs), I find that “getting ready” for work makes me feel substantially more productive overall. Every morning, I wake up, brew a pot of coffee, and get dressed—even to the extent of putting on shoes (or socks)—before sitting down at my desk. This simple act adds an important level of separation between work and home life.
3. Have a Designated Workspace
Whether it’s a home office, a desk in the middle of your living room, or a section of the kitchen counter, having a designated workspace helps you mentally get in the zone and stay focused throughout the day. Unless it’s where you are most productive, I recommend avoiding the bedroom (particularly the bed) as a workspace. It becomes all too tempting to want to crawl under the covers and take a nap or binge watch a streaming series, especially at the end of a busy week.
4. Schedule Breaks Throughout the Day
In addition to setting aside time for lunch, schedule microbreaks throughout the workday to physically and mentally recharge (as time permits, of course)—take a lap around the house, call up a coworker for a chat, catch up on social media, do a few yoga stretches, etc.
5. Avoid Tackling Personal Tasks
One major distraction people face when working from home is the urge to tackle personal tasks – cleaning those dirty dishes sitting in the sink, running a load of laundry, tidying up the living room … you name it. As tempting as it can be, hold off on personal, non-work-related tasks until after the “workday” is done. Before going to bed in the evening, tidy up any spaces in your home that you’ll be able to see from your designated workspace so you’re not tempted during working hours.
6. Awaken Your Senses Through Sound and Scent
Research suggests that ambient background noise can improve focus and maintain energy throughout the workday. As soon as I sit down to work, I turn on one of my favorite rotational Pandora “work” stations (I highly recommend Chill Out, Downtempo, and Electronic Ambient). Instrumental music—with no lyrics—is especially good when working on projects that require a lot of creative or strategic thinking. On the flip side, podcasts or music with lyrics can help you complete more mundane tasks.
If you find yourself missing the hustle and bustle of office life, YouTube has several videos of office ambient noise you can listen to. Here are a few to get you started:
Did you know that aromatic scents can impact your mood, concentration, and energy levels? When I’m overwhelmed or begin feeling that afternoon slump sink in, I’ll usually light my favorite candle or incense to regain a sense of calm and focus … AND my home smells amazing in the process!
7. Take Advantage of Technology to Avoid Feeling Alone
As an introvert, I can easily spend hours by myself and be perfectly content. But I know that’s not the case for everyone.
If you’re more of an extrovert and fuel your creative energy off interactions with others, take advantage of chat messaging platforms like Slack to converse with coworkers throughout the day. Slack even offers a video call feature, so you can have face-to-face conversations with up to 15 people at a time (and even more with the paid plan).
By following these simple tips, you’ll be able to stay focused and productive while working from home!
This article first appeared in O’Dwyer’s; reprinted with permission.