Is anybody else trying to channel that sweet work-from-home productivity lately, or is that just me? The funny thing is that I still find it challenging, even after doing it for quite some time.
I’ve done remote work in some capacity for over seven years now. And it is undoubtedly one of the most positive shifts I have experienced in my adult life. It has given me room to feel:
- Happier and more relaxed
- Closer and more connected to my family
- More on top of life outside work
And amid all this, I’ve still tapped into some of the most effective productivity of my working life. Work-from-home productivity is no joke. But that’s not to say that it’s been easy every step of the way — I didn’t just take my laptop over to the couch and instantly hit the productivity jackpot. I’ve had to learn many lessons.
Most notably, I’ve learned two things about work-from-home productivity:
- The greatest thing about working from home is that it gives you a ton of freedom.
- The hardest thing about working from home is that it gives you a ton of freedom.
Beyond this dichotomy, I’ve figured out more than a few tips and tricks to combat the challenges of work-from-home productivity while maximizing the benefits.
Whether you’ve been at it a few days, a few months, or half your friggin’ life, look through these top work-from-home productivity tips and see if there isn’t something to help you along your way.
1. Get Dressed
A day that starts well ends well. And when it comes to work-from-home productivity, a day that begins well is… a little hard to define. You have unique strengths and needs, and I can’t tell you exactly how to start your day. I can tell you this: you do need to start your day. Start it intentionally and consistently.
Rolling out of bed and into that first 9 am meeting can be quite the guilty thrill. But it gets old fast, and it wears away at your self-worth. So for mental peace and steady motivation, it is imperative to send signals to your brain, right from the start of the day, that you are serious about getting stuff done.
So get dressed. Take a shower. Have breakfast and do a yoga routine. The specifics don’t matter too much. What matters is that you wake up, put yourself together, and till the soil of your day for success.
2. Get Undressed
It is just as essential to end your workday right as it is to start it right.
One of the advantages of the traditional commuter workday is the part that goes like this:
- Anxiously wait for the clock to hit 5
- Sneak out before anyone else asks you to do something
- Hurry to your car to spend 45 minutes in traffic coming home
Okay, fine — clearly, all that stuff sucks, except for one thing. It makes for a clear boundary. At the end of that commute, when you finally get home and collapse on the couch, there is no ambiguity about whether your workday has ended. You may have some things still to do, but you are home. Work is over.
Well, all of us work-from-homies don’t have that advantage. So we need to create that boundary for ourselves. Fortunately, it can be a lot more lightweight than the example above.
Take a walk around the block. Change your clothes. Sit in your parked car and wave a fist at imagined asshats cutting you off. Once again, the specifics are up to you. But putting down the laptop isn’t enough. Especially if you also use that laptop for personal matters. Give yourself a means of “coming home” from work each day. Allow yourself to mentally hang up your hat and relax after a good day’s work.
3. Use Spaces Meaningfully
The area(s) where you work and how you set up your space greatly impact motivation and focus. If you count yourself among the lucky few who have a home office to work from, that’s great. However, for those who don’t, we have to get a bit more creative. In either case, it is good to identify where you spend most of your time working each day and set up that space to energize you and help you stay in work mode.
Whether you work in your kitchen, the living room, your back patio, or a coffee shop down the street, be intentional about your workstation. Keep the tools you’re likely to need for the job nearby – water bottle, notebook, phone charger, clown makeup, robo-spatula, whatever you rely on frequently. At the same time, do what you can to reduce distractions in this area. Or, choose a location that is prone to fewer distractions in the first place. Shape your workspace so that getting work done is easier and losing momentum is harder.
And finally, try to stick to the same area (or a small number of locations) to work in each day. Build up the association in your brain between that space and being ultra-productive.
4. Be the Manager
Whatever industry you work in and job you do, we all need accountability and oversight to do our best possible work. How we receive that accountability and oversight varies considerably based on the industry, who we work for, and our job levels. But for the sake of argument, I’m going to wrap them all up under the familiar title of a manager.
Working from home generally means a drastic reduction in the presence of your manager in the day-to-day of it. As a result, there is usually less oversight and accountability than in an environment surrounded by our peers. This position can be great for peace of mind and productivity, but we still need to acknowledge the value of having someone in that role.
Forget about the lousy managers who want to ride you like a mule, punish your every misstep, and ultimately take all the credit. Focus instead on the managers who support you, make problems disappear, and offer you accountability to help you stay on track. Channel that manager. “Be your own boss” is not a euphemism for “don’t have a boss.” Keep yourself on track, check in with yourself, and give yourself the support and accountability you need.
5. Watch TV (No, Seriously.)
We’ve talked about some of the work-from-home productivity challenges that come with the freedom of that setting. But remember, that same freedom is also one of the biggest positives. No one is suggesting that you over-organize and regiment your day until it becomes the same rigid stressful thing that working in-office used to be.
It’s okay, even beneficial, to take advantage of the freedom and flexibility you get when you’re in charge of your workspace. You’re not limited to the least-common-denominator workday that is most productive for an average member of a particular workforce. Instead, you can build a workday that is most productive and satisfying for you. For me and many others, that often includes a bit of TV while working.
If you’re working on something that doesn’t take a lot of focus and simply needs to get done, try putting a show on in the background. It’s a great way to relax and feel more at home while completing important work. And it doesn’t have to be TV; you can also:
- Play loud dance music
- Take snack breaks at weird times
- Do a midday workout
- Wear whatever spooky Halloween costume you want to work
Take strategic advantage of your freedom. Keep building a positive, productive association with the workplace, and you’ll quickly find your happiness and output soaring.
6. Curate Your Input
There are points in the workday where a little indulgence in something like TV can boost productivity. But even when indulging in the freedoms of home, it’s still important to be intentional about it.
Think about the input your senses receive from your surroundings – the sights, sounds, smells, and even the temperature. Are all of these things creating the working environment you need right now? Or are they distracting you and pulling you away?
TV, music, and podcasts are all media that can help you focus or become a distraction. It all depends on where you are in your day and what impact that particular content has on you. Likewise, a cluttered field of view — like a messy room or window overlooking a busy street — can constantly pull you out of the zone. Even a slightly too hot or cold space can make it hard to sit comfortably and stay alert while doing productive work. It is all about the balance between freedom and structure.
Once again, there is no correct answer for everyone, but there are right questions. Questions like, “what kind of mood do I want to be in right now?” and, “is this the right environment for me to get my work done?” As with all things, intentionality is critical.
7. Keep a Schedule
We’ve already touched on this above, but it bears repeating: If you want to maximize your work-from-home productivity, you need to create (and stick to) a schedule for yourself.
I know that forcing a schedule on yourself can sound scary, rigid, and awful. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t even have to really be a schedule, in the strictest sense of the word. All you need is an agenda — a plan for your day so that you know what you expect to fit into it and what probably won’t make the cut. Some of these things will be habits and routines you repeat daily, while others may be unique to the current week or day. And by the way, your schedule should always include uplifting breaks.
Having a plan for your day from the get-go keeps things moving throughout the day and reduces the need for decision-making. Of course, other things will undoubtedly come up during the day. But if they’re not urgent and not on the schedule, you don’t need to worry about them today.
8. Track Your Objectives
It can also be a huge help to keep track of the objectives you’re targeting. For some, this is a physical, paper to-do list. Others may prefer Trello or other full-service planning tools. For me, it’s a constantly evolving Google Doc that I call my “work notebook.”
However you track your objectives, the important thing is that you keep a written record of your intentions somewhere. This technique helps in three key ways:
- It pushes you to think intentionally about the work you want to accomplish and create a contract with yourself to do so.
- Once you start working, you will have a roadmap to check back with and ensure you stay on track.
- You will also now have a clear list of what fits into your schedule, so you can more clearly see what does not and shift away from those things.
Keeping a written list of your objectives is about identifying your goals. Use this agenda to stay on track and hold yourself accountable (see #5).
9. Use Helpful Tools
It is crucial in any pursuit to respect the tools you need for the job. Every trade has its tools, and those who care for theirs have a far better time doing their jobs.
And for the work from homies out here, there may be additional tools that could help you with some of the challenges we face as telecommuters. There are tons of digital tools like timers and calendars (see #7); project planners and list applications (see #8); and browser extensions to block ads, social media apps, notifications, and all manner of other digital distractions(see #6).
There are also physical tools to consider for work-from-home productivity. Work-specific productivity timers, noise-blocking headphones, or ergonomics equipment, to name a few. Shiny new tools should not be any of our first attempts at improving work-from-home productivity. It is always better to get your mindset, routines, and environment working for you before you start looking to buy solutions. But if you’re already working on all that stuff, and a desk timer seems like the next step for you, then get after it.