“People working in an office don’t work for eight hours straight,” a former supervisor told me once. “They take breaks. Think about what your version of the office water cooler is and spend some time there everyday. Go for a walk, or take a yoga class. Step out for a cup of coffee. Call your mom or a friend.”
I worked from home for three and a half years when I was writing for a global health organization in Boston. Sometimes, especially at first, it was difficult to stay focused. But my supervisor’s advice helped a lot. I also adopted some habits over time that worked well for me, like working from a coffee shop once a week and changing out of my PJs before starting my day. There’s something about getting dressed (even if it’s just in yoga pants) that helps my brain transition from sleep to work.
We asked you all for your tried-and-true tips for working from home. Here’s what you had to say.
Set the scene and create boundaries with people and pets
Make sure you have a clean work environment. If the dishes, laundry and vacuuming need doing, it’s easy to “productively” procrastinate by doing these tasks instead of your work.
DON’T SWITCH ON THE TV. Take regular breaks, and while breaking do household chores. They become so boring it drives you back to that laptop.
— Kiwi Chloe
You know how they say not to nap in your bed because your mind is trained to treat it like a full night’s sleep? Assume the same for work. Don’t work where you eat, sleep or relax.
Find movement in your work day. Take a walk. Stretch. Take a dance break. And change work locations within your home — the couch, the kitchen table, your office desk. Listen to yourself and what feels like the most welcoming and productive space at any given moment.
Create a calm space. Work away from your mess. I always work at my dining room table downstairs because I can typically keep my downstairs really clean.
— Francesca, holistic wellness professional
Work like everyone is watching, because they probably are. Set up a desk. Find other humans to interact with. Take Vitamin D and invest in good lighting.
— KJ, 32, passionate marketer and beach bum stuck in perpetual existential crisis
Lock your cat in the other room. They are so snuggly! Who can work with that kind of distraction.
Close your office door so your boyfriend who also works from home knows he can’t just chat with you all day.
— Jennifer Thall
Don’t resist distractions, just structure them into your day (i.e., focus fully on a work task until a natural breaking point, then go put in a load of laundry).
Get a desk! Not a kitchen table, couch, coffee table, or anything other than a real desk. We aren’t all fortunate enough to start off with a home office, but we need to make something our consistent office. A place where our computer and work live. Otherwise, distractions will get the best of you.
— Chaela Ciongoli
Similar to putting on a game day jersey when playing sports, how you dress can make all the difference mentally. Get up and get dressed like you would for work. Keeping with the ritual of being professionally dressed while at home helps me get in the right mindset from the beginning.
— Isabel Longoria
Establish a routine that includes getting dressed and taking breaks
“Go through at least 75% of your usual morning routine — especially whatever your self-care deal is, like meditation or yoga — if you’re planning to start working at the usual time. (When I get up at 6:00 a.m. to work at 6:30 a.m., it’s generally noon before I hit the shower, haha!)
I’ve found it helpful to break up my day into two or three parts, with breaks scheduled in (this is a great time to go to the gym, go grocery shopping or just take a walk). It helps keep me motivated to stay on task.
Create a space conducive to creativity and productivity. Minimize distractions like TV and your phone. Set up a routine that brings you joy. For me, it’s morning TV, coffee and oatmeal for 45 minutes as a wake up, and then I dive into the heavy lifting of work.
Have a weekly routine. Pay attention to how you work your best. (I just found out my focus is awesome when I’m using a standing desk!) Have a ritual that says, “It’s time to get to work,” such as lighting a candle on your desk.
— Danielle Oaks
It took me a long time to be good at working from home, but once you hit your rhythm it’s amazingly efficient. Get up early, get dressed (like, in real clothes), and have a dedicated work-place that is comfortable and full of light. Take breaks throughout the day to do some task that you can check off your list — cleaning a few dishes, running a load of laundry, checking the mail, etc.
— Kate Vickery
Get dressed before noon, even if it’s leggings and a T-shirt (anything other than your pajamas!). Set a timer for breaks — i.e., work for an hour on something uninterrupted, then take a 15-minute break to take a walk or make a snack.
— Cat, professional athlete, marketer and entrepreneur
Shower and put real clothes on every day (bra is optional). Keep a snack stash, but try to eat something real for lunch if possible.
— Jennifer Thall
Tackle your work in sessions, with breaks for tea, dog walks and a home-cooked lunch.
Change your location if you’re not being productive. Move to a coffee shop or just take a 10-minute walk around the block.
You have to put on pants by 9:00 am.
Block off hours of time for yourself, and get up and stretch every once in a while.
Set goals and get organized
Create goals for the day, and check them off as you go. Get your workout done first or it may never get done.
Put your work hours on your calendar; schedule your time realistically and stick to it!
Record the hours that you actually work in your electronic calendar. This is also helpful if you are under contract at an hourly rate.
— Jennifer, 32, resisting the suburbs
Pick the right projects to do from home, i.e., writing-intensive and solitary activities like proposal writing, answering emails, conducting literature reviews, etc.
Trello. For so long, I refused to use digital platforms for organization, but the fact that I can log into my to-do lists from wherever I am and see what others on my team are working on is so helpful.
— Jacq Williams
+ + +
I’m going to leave the last word to Juggle reader Angela, who says, “We all think and work differently. What works for lady-boss Jane will rarely ring true for you. Figure out your tendencies and habits (good and bad), and make adjustments accordingly until you find what routine(s) work best for your personality.”
If you have favorite tips that we missed, let us know in the comments section below!