As someone who's worked from home for the past decade, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject.
But in the beginning? I really struggled with it.
Here's the story of my work-from-home evolution: I'm the creative director for the wedding website Here Comes The Guide. We're now a fully distributed team with women working remotely all across the country—but in the beginning, we had a little brick-and-mortar office based in sunny Berkeley California.
After proving myself in the office for a full year, I was granted the coveted opportunity to work from home one day per week. Yaaasssss! I went into the office Monday through Thursday, and celebrated the end of each week with a luxurious work-from-home Friday…
My first few Fridays at home felt fabulous. I enjoyed the lazy mornings, no commute, and stretching out on my couch with my laptop—snacks on hand and Bravo TV on in the background. Bliss!
What comes next will be no surprise: My Fridays were infinitely less productive than any other day of the week. I was getting about half as much done at home as I got done in the office. I was too comfy, too lackadaisical, too distracted. The Housewives arguing in the background and the 15,000 trips to the refrigerator weren't helping. I knew I had to get my butt in gear before my boss called me out—or worse, took away my glorious work-from-home day!
At that point, I realized I needed a strategy—and some Structure with a capital S. I learned that working from home isn't an innate ability; it's a skill that can be developed over time. And it's not for everyone! But if you're self disciplined, self motivated, and willing to set some boundaries, working from home can be the biggest blessing (especially when you become a parent!).
Here are my 11 biggest tips to productively work from home:
1. Get ready for your day
Yes, you're working from home—which means yoga pants are perfectly acceptable attire. But we don't want to roll out of bed and sit down to work without even brushing our teeth! Because we're adults here, and taking care of ourselves first will set the stage for a successful and productive day.
So have a morning routine in place and stick to it. Whether it's a speed-shower and coffee before schlepping your kids to school or a more relaxed morning yoga sesh, a consistent start to the day (which involves some sort of self care) will get it started on the right foot and get your mind right for the workday ahead.
2. Designate a work space
If at all possible, this shouldn't be your bed or couch. Ideally it will be an actual desk—or at least a table or counter away from high-traffic areas of your house. You need some separation from the chaos to mentally associate this space with work.
Even better if you can make your work space feel like an actual office! Get some cute office supplies, an aromatic candle, a Himalayan salt lamp, a motivating vision board, some framed photos, or whatever makes you happy. This is your sacred home office now. Where you kick ass and take names! Treat it as such.
3. Invest in technology
Don't rely on a janky dial-up internet connection or that super slow 5-year-old laptop—especially if you're going to be working from home regularly. Have a high-speed connection, a snappy computer, a cushy office chair, and a working mouse. Ask your company if they'll cover the cost of whatever's necessary for you to effectively work from home. Or if you work for yourself, save the receipts because these items may be a tax write-off.
4. Line up childcare
If I had a nickel for all the times I've heard, "Ohhh you work from home! How great that you can watch the kids while you work!" I'd be a millionaire. Insert stabby Jenna here.
If you have young kids, you'll need to have some sort of childcare in place. It is impossible to be your most productive work-from-home self while also caring for children. IMPOSSIBLE. Trust me. So please spare yourself the headache and set up some form of childcare—for at least a portion of your work day. This could mean the teenager down the street comes in for a couple of hours, or you have your kiddos in school or daycare while you work. Whatever it is, please give yourself the gift of outsourced childcare. Your work to-do list will thank you.
5. Limit distractions
Your kids aren't the only distractions here, amiright? Turn off the TV and throw the remote on top of the fridge. Put your phone in the other room. Padlock the refrigerator. Okay, these might seem like extreme measures, but until you're used to working from home the lure of all the comforts of home seems almost irresistible...Wait, you mean I can snuggle up in bed with my laptop and "work"? NO! This is not the way to work-from-home success. Treat work like work. You wouldn't binge watch episodes of 90 Day Fiancé in the office, right? So don't do it at home.
That being said, DO be sure to take breaks. Get away from your screen, take your dog for a walk in the fresh air, or get your blood pumping with a 7-minute workout. Taking these moments to relax and breathe will lead to more energy and better focus when you're head-down at your desk!
6. Set up some accountability
Since no one's looking over your shoulder in your home office, it can be a slippery slope down bad-habits hill. One way to combat this is with external accountability. Whether it's a virtual office where your coworkers can see your avatar online (we use Sococo at Here Comes The Guide), sending your boss daily email updates or quarterly goals, or setting up office hours with clients, being visible and answerable to others will keep you honest.
7. Embrace social interaction
Sometimes working from home can feel pretty isolated and lonely, so it's important to still feel connected—even if it's just virtually! Hop on a Zoom call for face-to-face meetings, set up a Skype consultation with a potential client, or participate in that fun Slack thread using alllll the emojis. You can even take daily walks with your favorite neighbor or start the morning with a group exercise class. Just because you work from home doesn't mean you're by yourself on a desert island, so make a concerted effort to connect.
8. Map out a daily plan
It really helps to set a loose schedule for your day. Block out time for your different projects, fit in an hour for the gym, and pencil in your lunch break. Otherwise, one hour of the day will begin flowing into the next, and by the end of your workday you won't feel like you got much done.
Structuring your day will lead to an overall feeling of accomplishment, because you'll know precisely how your time was spent. One of my favorite productivity hacks is to write out a "Top 3 Must-Get-Done" list each day. If I can tick off just those 3 tasks, I'll feel a sense of achievement no matter what.
9. Create boundaries
Set yourself up for success by establishing expectations and creating boundaries. Make it clear to your family members that your work hours are off limits. And no, you cannot make them a snack. The working-from-home line can be a blurry one, so close your office door or put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the back of your computer as a visual cue. (Hey, whatever works!)
Additionally, because you're the one working from home you may find that you'll become the "sacrificial lamb", if you will, when it comes to taking unexpected time off. For example, when one of the kids comes down with a fever at school, guess who picks them up? And when the dryer is on the fritz, guess who's dealing with the repair guy or gal? If you can't handle these potential interruptions, have a "just in case" plan (or person!) in place.
10. Be "on" or "off"
When you sign on for work in the morning, you're dedicated to a certain number of hours. And the same should be true for when you log off.
Honor the time with your family and don't answer the siren call of that little red work email notification. The work will always be there; so unless it's truly urgent, try to log off for realz at the end of each day—and don't let the line between "home" and "work" get too muddy. Yes you work from home, but that doesn't mean you can never get away from your job. You are responsible for drawing that line.
11. Take advantage of the benefits
Working from home comes with amazing perks! For example, phone meetings are the perfect time to fold laundry (it's a mindless task that actually helps me better focus on the call). And while you're making lunch you can also throw dinner into the slow cooker. And if you're having a particularly stressful day, why not take a bubble bath during your break? Although we don't want to intermix work + home too much, you can't deny that there are some really awesome benefits to working from home. So enjoy them!
I strongly believe that working from home is a skill that's honed over time. It took me a solid year to figure out how to be my most productive self in my little home office, and now? I'm a legit work-from-home ninja. Here's hoping some of these tips contribute to you getting your work-from-home ninja status, too!