Working from home is something that takes getting used to.
How can you still stay productive (or even become more productive), keep a low stress-level, and even have fun at it?
Set up a work schedule, create work spots, stock up on office supplies, set a morning routine, set breaks, create work hygiene, stock up on pantry items, announce your work schedule to your family or household members, get fresh air, overcommunicate about work, create an ideal working atmosphere and ambience, and have an end of day routine.
1. Set up a work schedule
It’s easy to lose track of when you’re working and ‘life-ing’ when you’re at home almost 24/7.
If you don’t set up a schedule for when you work and when you rest and do other things, the lines get blurred very quickly and you risk burning out.
At the beginning of each week, plan your week, at least roughly. At the start of the day, the latest, plan when you will start to work and when you will call it EOD or the end of day, close of business, or whatever you prefer to call it.
Some people say that you need to keep the same schedule every day, but I beg to differ.
When working from home you need to be and you can also afford to be more flexible.
On an ideal day, you’ll be able to fit in and accomplish all the things you set out to do in your work life as well as in your private life.
There may be exceptions of course for those kinds of jobs where your boss needs you to clock in and out at an exact time. But for the rest, you have a lot of flexibility that you should use.
Let’s say for example that on Mondays you schedule your workday to start at 9:00 a.m. and finish at 5:00 p.m. But on Tuesdays, because you want to spend some more time with your kids in the morning, you start your workday at 11 a.m. and you finish at 7 p.m.
There will be certain combinations that can work best for your life, and allow you to work at optimal times. In the end, isn’t work about the value you produce as opposed to the time you spend on it?
These times when you work from home may also be an excellent opportunity to prove to your boss(es) that you can work independently, and flexibly without being constantly monitored. If you fail to do so, however, the opposite could happen.
Any way you choose to schedule your workday, it is important to plan it. Identify all the building blocks, the things you want to do and need to do so that at the end of the day you can call it a successful day.
Then plot out those blocks across the day. Identify optimal time slots to complete each work block.
2. Create work spots
Ideally, you and I would have a dedicated home office in which to work. Far from all distractions, set up perfectly to our taste and needs.
Unfortunately, that is not the case – at least not for me at the moment!
If you happen to live in a smaller space as I do at this time, together with other people who are also vying for the couch or the seat at the kitchen table, then you need to get creative.
Identify several work spots within your space. Even though you live in a one-bedroom apartment or a studio apartment, there will always be ways to create work spots.
Here are a few: The couch, a chair by the window sill, the kitchen table, the seat at the kitchen island, the living room desk, and so on.
Identify which spot works best for doing your work and stick to it.
As the frequency of video calls during these times might also increase, also pick a spot where you will have all your video calls. A spot with a nice – meaning relatively neat and maintenance-free – background with good lighting. This eliminates the need to look for a spot each time someone calls you.
You might identify 2 work spots you want to work at. Perhaps one works better for drafting and writing while another works better for video editing, and so on.
The important thing is, that you don’t keep moving your work station around, because what that will contribute to mixing up work and life even further.
While it might be difficult to reserve one space for just one function (e.g using the kitchen table just for eating and not working), it is good to limit the function of each space.
E.g. use the bed for sleeping and leisure reading only. Make it a no-work zone. Use the kitchen table for eating and working, but do only either one at any time. Use the couch for writing your novel, but don’t do office work on it, and so on.
That way it is possible, even within a tiny room, to create a sense of separation.
Also, don’t hesitate to move around your furniture. That desk doesn’t have to be there in the middle of the room. Perhaps that’s the best spot from an aesthetic point of view, but it might not be the best spot to do your work.
If moving it up to the window where you get more light and even a whiff of fresh air from the open window, then go ahead and do it.
I even have a small narrow laptop table which I move around depending on what I’m working on. This method creates even more work spots.
Separating work spots is crucial. The moment you mix up everything, you will feel like you never have a break from work.
3. Stock up on Office Supplies
We will be working from home for who knows how long. And amazon delivery is not getting any faster these days.
That’s why it’s a good idea to stock up on office supplies. Paper, pens, printer toner, etc. You don’t want to be in the middle of printing or copying documents just to realize that you’re out of toner.
Also, try to find out beforehand from your company what items you can get reimbursed. Most companies have a budget for their employees to spend on necessary office supplies and you better make use of that. If you everything it can amount to quite a lot, and you don’t want to put an additional strain on your finances.
In addition to office supplies also think about investing in simple work furniture, such as a better office chair or an additional small desk, if you need more space to spread out your things.
It could even be things as simple as some chair pads to make your seating more comfortable. Or a desk lamp, if you want to work at night.
4. Start a morning routine (if you haven’t)
You don’t need to go for a one-hour jog or put on a business suit. Having a routine doesn’t require anything elaborate.
All you need to do every morning is go through some simple fixed steps that signal to yourself and your brain that ‘Now it’s time to start working’
Several things among many things that are part of my morning routine are to get a cup of coffee, do planks brush, and brush my teeth.
The most useful thing though is to change clothes. Get out of those pajamas and into something else. It doesn’t need to be a shirt or a blazer. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy – the point is to not continue wearing your sleepwear but to get into something else.
By changing into something else you will kind of shift into a different mode. From a more sleepy and perhaps a bit more lazy mood into working- mode.
The other benefit of changing your clothes is that when you’re working from home sometimes you get these unannounced conference calls – you know what I mean – so what you want to avoid is that someone suddenly calls you, perhaps your boss or colleague, and you are still in your pajamas. Then you scramble and try to find something to wear.
Changing into different clothes, even just a fresh t-shirt or a nice hoodie will make you feel more ready for work.
5. Set breaks
Do you ever forget to take breaks?
I’ve been spending a lot of time at home working on my youtube channel and my blog and I know exactly what it’s like to forget taking breaks.
Sometimes people find it’s hard to get started but once they’re in the flow, working on something, it can get really hard to get out of it.
I experience this, especially when doing video editing. I enjoy the process and often lose track of time. Edit something here, make small improvements there, review it, edit again, and before I know four hours have passed and my hand and arms feel stiff and hurt.
That’s when I know, at the latest, that I need a break. But by then it’s too late.
That is why it’s so important to decide in advance when you will take a break. If you don’t, then chances are that it might not happen at all.
Set a timer on your phone or kitchen timer. Or stick a post-it on your computer. Ask someone in the family to call you for lunch. Use whatever method works best for you.
Important is that you take those breaks. Decide how long that break needs to be. For certain types of tasks, 5-10 minute breaks are enough. For others, a 1-hour break is warranted to regain energy and clarity.
I always take a lunch break. Admittedly, not at the same hour every day, but I make it a point to take a minimum of 20-minute lunch break, followed by a brief walk outside (on most days!) to get my mind going again and prevent myself from getting sleepy. And it works!
6. Create work hygiene
And here I don’t mean washing your hands or using sanitizer, although you should also do that.
What I mean here is that you need to have a clear separation between work life and your private life.
There is this thing called work-life integration, and I do believe it works for some people. It might sound counterintuitive, but to integrate these two things, life and work, smoothly, first you need to be able to separate these.
If you have established clear boundaries for work and life, then you’ll be able to combine and integrate them more flexibly.
When working from home, there is a really big temptation to work all the time.
Of course, some people are the exact opposite, who do not work at all when they’re working from home. But I believe that the majority of people think that they need to be working all the time.
Some people wake up at 5 a.m. 6 a.m. and they think that they need to be on it right away and then they work their way through all the way until 8 or 9 pm.
In the long-term, it will burn you out.
You need to set times when you are off work. And this is much more than a break. A break might be just 10 minutes, 15 minutes up to an hour.
But what I mean is that you need to set hours during which you are completely off from work.
For some people, the day could end after 5:00 p.m. At that time they just turn off their message messaging app and don’t check their emails anymore that day.
Others may prefer to start working at 8:00 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. and then stay away from work for three hours. During this time they might take a walk with their dog, play with their kids or spend some time with their spouse, or do whatever it is that they want to do.
What is optimal will be different for every person, but it is important to have time away from work. Each person will have an optimal amount of time during which they need to rest and during which they will be able to work productively.
If they go over that limit, they will be just spending more time not really doing anything.
7. Stock up on pantry items
If previously you’ve been working in an office where you have free lowing coffee from sophisticated coffee machines, and a variety of snacks and drinks available, then this might be something that you’ll miss now.
Perhaps your fridge is mostly empty and often find yourself not having anything to eat or snack.
Stock up on your favorite snacks and drinks. E.g. coffee, tea, milk, almond milk, or whatever you need to create your perfect kind of coffee or matcha latte. Also snacks – have your favorite chocolates or even better fruits available.
Then, anytime when you feel that you need a break and your blood sugar level is low, you just need to walk over to the kitchen and you have your bananas, apples, pears, etc. ready.
This will not only boost your energy level while working from home but also make the whole process more fun.
8. Announce your work schedule to your family
Everyone in the same household plays an important role in supporting each other in working from home.
If you need some quiet time to work on some papers or something that needs high concentration, let the others know, that e.g. from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm you need quiet time. Ask them to help you by keeping the noise level down.
Or if you have kids, you can get them to stay occupied with something specific during those 2 hours (something that will actually last for two hours!) such as a difficult puzzle.
If you have a video call scheduled every morning at 10 am, then it’s a really good idea to announce that to everyone. Tell everyone in your household about that call. That way you can avoid a situation where you’re in the middle of the video call and people crossing behind your back.
9. Get fresh air
Apart from taking a break, it’s useful to get fresh air. Go out of your room, office, house, and breathe in some fresh air.
You don’t necessarily notice it but after a while inside, after 3 or 4 hours it can get very stuffy, and the oxygen level might also be quite low.
I notice that once I’ve spent more than four or five hours inside I lose a bit of my concentration and feel a bit foggy. Then what I do is simply step out, sometimes even just for five or ten minutes. I just
walk around a bit and feel so much more refreshed afterward.
10. Over-communicate during work
When working at the office you get to meet people face-to-face. It is often much easier to communicate certain things. Including what you’re trying to do, what you need from the other person, to collaborate and work things out.
But once everyone is at home and working remotely it might be a tad more difficult to communicate, especially if some of the people are not used to it yet.
There is a heightened potential for miscommunication misunderstandings to happen, e.g. about responsibilities, work status, etc. To avoid this, it’s important to be proactive and communicate clearly.
Take some time to talk to your colleague or chat with them to clarify things. For more complicated tasks, the phone or video calls always beat chatting. Be clear on what you’re doing, what you’re trying to accomplish and need, your timelines, your challenges, etc.
Risk overcommunicating. Sometimes you might feel a bit weird because you’re spelling out everything. But it’s better not to assume things and keep to yourself, but put it out there and communicate.
11. Create the ideal working atmosphere
Think of all the things that could make your working from home experience even better. How can you make it less stressful and more fun?
Perhaps you might benefit from a pair of headphones so you can cancel out the noise from outside? If a small expense can affect a significant change in how you work and how productive you can be, then it will be worth it.
Think about how you can use music to create the working ambiance that you need. What kind of music gets you into a working-mode?
I have different kinds of music and playlists that I listen to depending on what I’m doing.
Also, consider lighting. If you feel that you’re not getting enough sunlight then you might just want to move your desk over closer to the window.
The important thing here is to try to create a nice ambiance and conducive working atmosphere, at a low cost.
Don’t feel like you’re just stuck to your work desk. At your office in an office building, you might have a lot of constraints in designing your workspace.
But now that you’re working from home, you can design it however you like. Get a bit creative and set up your workspace in a way that makes it fun, relaxing, and comfortable to work at.
12. End of day routine
This is even more important than the morning routine, I would say.
You need to have a routine that signifies that it’s the end of the day.
There has to be a time when you shut down your laptop or log out of your work email or sign out of your messenger (or put the status on away.
Whatever it is you do, you need traffic lights that signal to yourself:
“Okay, today I’ve finished all the things that I had set out to do. Tomorrow is another day and if there are things that I couldn’t finish today for legitimate reasons, I will note it down and will assign it another day. But today I’ve done my work. And now it’s time to chill.”
When you’re working at your company’s office it’s much easier to have a clear closing or an end of day routine. Usually, this entails shutting down your computer or your laptop, put aside papers, documents, get out of the building and go home.
Perhaps after that, some people might still contact you, but your brain already registered that you don’t need to be on high alert anymore because it’s after office hours.
But if you’re at home and you leave everything on and you’re still in work mode then it’s really difficult to shut down. And if you never shut down, in the long term it will affect you mentally and physically.