I’m not going to start off this blog talking about how horrible the pandemic has been. We were all there, we all know how horrible quarantine was, and we all know that times have changed.
I originally wrote this blog several years ago when I first quit my job and began focusing on my business full-time. Back then, working from home was a “dream job” that many still didn’t have the flexibility to be able to do. Today, it’s part of the norm.
Love it or hate it, working from home can be a blessing. But if you aren’t careful, you can easily become distracted, such as cleaning, online shopping, social media, grabbing a coffee or snack, or any number of seemingly endless notifications on your phone or laptop.
However, if working from home is a way of life now, here are some tips that can help (and that actually work).
Work From Home Productivity Tips
1. Set up a permanent work space.
The first step is to designate an area of your home, apartment or studio specifically for work. And, yes, there are ways to claim a work area even if you are pressed for space.
What Worked For Me: My former office space was the smallest room in the house, and it was also the darkest and coldest (see picture to the right). I realized over time that this wasn’t the best space for me if I wanted to succeed in a work-from-home career.
In May 2018, I actually moved my home office into a larger, brighter space, and did some slight remodeling. I repainted the walls, added crown molding, and even upgraded the electrical outlets for more plug options, including plugs with USB ports.
What You Can Do: For those with a larger space, you can designate a room in your home or apartment as your “office”. I recommend a room with a door so you can shut out distractions as needed, especially if you spend a lot of time on the phone.
Some people believe that a work-from-home career is invasive because work will begin to consume and take over your home or personal life. I suppose this could be true, but only if you let it…
If you have a designated workspace, then commit to only working in this area during your set “business hours”. When you aren’t working, or you are ready to call it a day, shut the door and leave work behind you. This ALSO includes any work-related messages, emails, or other notifications you get on your phone…
2. Set and communicate boundaries.
One of the most frustrating things to experience while working from home is the distractions—and from those we love most—our partners, our spouses, our children, and our pets. Of course, we love them all, but we need to be able to get things done.
What Worked For Me: When I first started working from home years ago, my significant other and family members would constantly text me to run errands for them, make airport pick ups and drop offs, obnoxiously and incessantly ring the doorbell, blast into my office while I was on the phone or Zoom, or my favorite, “Hey, can you help me with this real quick?”
Just because I work from home doesn’t mean I’m sitting around doing nothing and occasionally checking email. I finally had to communicate that between the hours of 7am to 5pm, I was unavailable. I stopped answering my phone during work hours, shutting my office door, and saying “no” more often.
Yes, a part of me felt like a jerk, but I had to protect my work time. They eventually got the hint.
What You Can Do: If you’re struggling with managing constant interruptions, then it’s time to have a conversation with your own family. Communicate when and when you are not available. If you have children, you can tell them that you will do that fun thing with them during your break time.
3. Don’t work in your PJs.
I know, I know, this is one of the things that many people love most about working from home. And there are those days when you just don’t feel like being a human being.
I get it.
However, this can be one of the worst decisions you make for your productivity.
What Worked For Me: Even if I don’t have to leave the house, I set an alarm for 4:30-5:00 am, get up, stretch and exercise, drink a glass of water, get dressed, and shower, just like if I had to leave the house or go into the office for the day. Even though I’m just walking to the room down the hall, this routine allows me to fully wake up and mentally prepare for the day ahead.
What You Can Do: No, you don’t have to get up at the ass crack of dawn, especially if you aren’t a morning person, but you can set an alarm and get up and prepare yourself for the day just like you would if you had to leave for work or school. Not only will you feel refreshed, but did you also know that 72 percent of people have creative insights while in the shower?
4. Schedule your day.
It seems so basic, but one of the best things you can do to ensure that you are productive while working from home is to make a to-do list or keep a daily, weekly, or monthly planner, or even a digital calendar, like iCal or Google Calendar. Write down what you need to get done on a daily and weekly basis and key deadlines.
What Worked For Me: I work for about six to 10 clients per day. So, it is definitely a challenge to keep track of every client’s project, deadlines, and things that need to get done. Even though I have an awesome team to support me and help me manage our client production schedule, there are still days that are crazy and I struggle with keeping up with all of the things… I know that if I’m not careful or if I don’t take the time to plan and prioritize, things will get out of control and overwhelming very quickly.
The first thing I do every morning is make a list of the top three to five things I absolutely need to accomplish for the day. Then, I cross or check off the items or tasks as I complete them throughout the day.
I use Airtable to keep track of everything—from client projects to my grocery list. Over time, I loved the convenience and feasibility of using ONE tool for my entire life, and Airtable allows for that level of flexibility. I also built automations using the following tools and Zapier.
Gmail —> Google Sheets —> Airtable —> Google Calendar
An email comes into our “projects” Gmail account, the email automatically populates into a row into a Google Sheet, a row is created in our “Team Tasks Tracker” base in Airtable, an event is scheduled on my calendar for the next day.
What You Can Do: Find an app you like and use it. There are PLENTY of free productivity and task management apps out there. You can also use the traditional method and write down a to-do list on a piece of paper, or keep a planner.
5. Set a work schedule.
When you worked in an office, you had set hours (more or less), right? Then, the same can be implemented at home. Many people working from home these days have claimed that they can get more work done during the work day because they don’t have to worry about commuting time. While this is true, you also run the risk of working too long. And while working from home, it can be difficult to establish home versus work boundaries.
What worked for me. Set a work schedule for each day. For me, this is anywhere from 6am to 6pm. I schedule calls between the hours of 9-5pm, and that’s it. The time before and after is mine whether I want to prepare for the day, relax in front of Netflix, read, go for a run, or go to dance class, the time before and after the start and end of the work day is mine. Over the years I’ve grown very protective of “me” time, so much so that some days I actually schedule it on my calendar. You should, too.
What you can do. Communicate your working hours to your supervisor and your team. The clearer you communicate this, and the more you stick to your working hours, the more you will stick to your schedule, and the more others will respect you for it.
6. Plan and prioritize.
One of the most common reasons people get overwhelmed is a lack of prioritization. When you structure your day based on the top 3 to 5 priorities, suddenly that giant to-do list seems a LOT more manageable.
So. Start there. Make a list of goals and priorities that you want to accomplish for the day. Then, plan on how you will get those things done.
What Worked For Me: As you saw in my previous point, I make lists, a daily planner, and automation to help me plan and prioritize each day and week. Maybe that’s overkill, but it works. At the beginning of each day and week, I know exactly what I want to accomplish.
What You Can Do: Only make a to-do list of what you know you can realistically complete each day. This means that you might have to learn how long certain tasks take. I recommend using a time clock app, which helps you keep track of how much time you spend doing certain tasks. There are a ton of apps available, many of which are free.
Over time, you will learn how long certain tasks take, so you have a better understanding of what you can realistically accomplish in a day.
7. Take a break.
It might seem counterproductive to take a break, but research has shown that taking short, five-minute breaks can increase productivity and creativity levels.
What Worked For Me: I admit it… I really had to work at this one. On back-to-back meeting days, and an endless list of things to do, taking a break seems out of the question.
However, I have made it a point to schedule breaks throughout the day. And I don’t mean a break like switching the laundry or emptying the dishwasher, I mean taking a walk around the block or the backyard, or getting up and doing 10 to 15 minutes of stretches. The point is to get up, get away from my phone and computer, and give my brain a rest.
What You Can Do: Schedule at least two, 10- to 15-minute breaks throughout the day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon, or whatever works best for your schedule. Use your “break time” to move around and get away from your screens.
naturally boosts endorphins, which increase happiness, enjoyment, and interest levels, all of which are important for maximizing productivity, creativity, and motivation. Sure, it might suck to think, “ugh, I really don’t feel like exercising,” but try to remember how great you always feel after.
What Worked For Me: Because I’m a morning person by nature, I found that getting up early and exercising (my favorite is going for a run) sets the tone for my entire day. It allows me to wake up, get my blood and oxygen flowing, and take some time for myself before the day even begins. I also find that my best ideas come to me during exercise, which is one reason why I have grown to love it and depend on it for my success.
What You Can Do: If your day allows, take a lunch break and go for a walk, go to the gym, or do some stretching. Your body—and your mind—will thank you for it.
9. Eat healthy.
Another work from home reality is that we have full reins to the kitchen, anytime we want. So, when it’s time for lunch or a snack break, we often go to the usual snacks, such as soda, chips, cookies or leftover pizza. When we work in an office, we are at the mercy of whatever is available in the cafeteria or whatever lunch we brought from home.
In fact, I’ve had a handful of people tell me about their work from home careers, claiming that they have gained weight when they thought they would lose it. I’m willing to bet that in most cases it’s because they resort to snacking a lot more often.
What Worked For Me: To be honest, I’m not much of a snacker anymore. When I was forced to adjust my activity levels and diet some years ago, I cut out unnecessary snacks, sweets, carbs, and dairy. Yes, I still eat these things, but sparingly. I make a meal plan each week, so I more or less know what I plan to eat and when (with some flexibility, of course).
What You Can Do: Research has actually shown that eating fruits and vegetables has a direct link to productivity levels. If you are an avid snacker, then make it a point to make yourself a healthy lunch, just as you would if you had to go into an office, or avoid buying unhealthy snacks altogether. Over time, you will “teach” your brain and your body to “want” what you give it rather than crave the bad stuff.
But don’t forget to reward yourself! If you are a sweet or salty snacker, then reward yourself with one of your favorite snacks on Friday after a long, productive week.
10. Get off social media.
Okay, raise your hand. Who is sick of negativity and news on Facebook?
Seriously—this is one of the biggest productivity killers. My advice? Get off social media. I mean it. Make it a point to put away your phone for specific periods throughout the day. I’m willing to bet you will feel more productive, focused, and relaxed if you do.
What Worked For Me: As a business owner, it is REALLY easy to be permanently glued and attached to your phone. I know, because I used to be one of these people. However, over time, it got old. I got sick of social media. I got sick of text messages. I got sick of crap marketing phone calls. My phone also got in the way of getting things done.
I am also one of those people that needs my phone for business. Although I rely mostly on video calls with clients through my laptop, I also use regular voice calls through my phone. I’ve gotten in the habit to ignore my phone when it dings, buzzes, or rings. I also mute text messages and social media notifications.
After a certain hour of the day, I will catch up on all messages, calls, and notifications from the day. But I also set a time limit for doing this. I don’t pick up my phone during dinner, and after 7pm, I put it on “do not disturb” altogether. I REFUSE to let my phone run my life.
What You Can Do: If you need to really buckle down, focus, and crank out some work, then put your phone on silent, turn it off, or put it in another room altogether. If accepting calls is part of your business, then adjust your voicemail to say that you check calls and voicemails during certain points of the day.
11. Remember, you’re the boss.
Regardless of whether you work for a company, a freelancer, or run your own business, remember, when working from home and in your own workspace, you are the boss. This simple mindset shift will not only transform, but drastically improve your work experience.
A Healthy Body is a Healthy Mind
You can tell yourself that you can sit with your laptop in front of the TV and still get things done, but you would really just be lying to yourself. In fact, it will probably take you twice as long to get something done than it normally would, because you aren’t 100 percent focused.
I have been working from home regularly and consistently for almost 8 years—long before the pandemic—and I have found that these productivity hacks work for a lot of people. You might have to figure out what works best for you, but this is a good place to start.