In a rapidly changing world, a few surprises in your daily flow are expected. Whether you are starting a new position, or your current job is changing scenarios, you might have found yourself as a new work-from-home employee. While it can seem like a dream to wear your pajamas or work from bed at first, things can become unproductive quickly if you’re not properly managing your time.
Working remotely is more popular now than ever before. Technology has given us the opportunity to take workplaces we never thought possible. Do you want to work in your pajamas from your bed? Do you want to work on the beach while on vacation? Working remotely can make these things possible.
It seems like a dream to have opportunities like this, but in reality, it can become challenging quickly. While working from your pajamas or even on a beach seems luxurious, these are still experiences that you can’t do all the time. These beneficial scenarios can be reserved for sick days or times when you might not have much work, but for the most part, it’s best to stick to a structured schedule.
For someone who is used to working in an office, or just someone lacking motivation in general, working from home isn’t the dream many believe it to be.
Whether it’s barking dogs, energetic kids, or even another partner in the house working remotely that has you distracted, there are some saving graces. As a remote working newcomer, you don’t have to be afraid of your life being chaotic the entire time your home doubles as your office.
Through the actionable advice I go over in this article, you can be not only efficient, but happy as you navigate your new “office.” Everyone is different, and what methods work for you might not for someone else. Go at your own pace and remember the most important thing is that you are getting your work done as needed.
Working From Home
What does it mean to work remotely? Not all jobs can be done from the comfort of your home, but if the majority of your work takes place online, it’s easy to do so. Running your own business and working on the phone are also possible from the comfort of your home.
There are many benefits to consider when working remotely. You can create your own schedule, spend more time with kids or pets, and not have to worry about someone watching you like a hawk while you work. Even with these benefits, it’s easy to fall off track. One missed day of work can bleed into the next, and before you know it, you’re struggling after a couple of weeks.
There are three key elements you must remember as you navigate the remote working world. First and foremost, your setup is crucial. If you don’t have the proper space to work, it’s easy to become distracted and lose your focus. Even the color of the walls in your office could keep you from having full focus.
Productivity should be one of your main concerns. Rather than making work fit into your schedule, you should be creating a schedule based around your work. This way, you can be the most productive as possible, giving your focus and attention to completing your work.
Above all else, you have to manage your mental and physical health. If not, it can catch up to you and prevent you from having the ability to complete tasks as needed.
Remote Home Setup
How you set up your space will dramatically affect your ability to work. What you see and what you are surrounded with create the atmosphere for your brain to function. If it’s chaotic and filled with distractions, you’ll be lucky to be able to focus on anything at all. Take these key steps to make sure you have the most efficient environment possible.
Find a Dedicated Spot
Have a spot that you do nothing else but work in. Our brains get used to snapping into a certain mindset depending on the space that we are in. If you are sitting at a desk, you might be more efficient than sitting on the couch. When you create a space that you do nothing else but work in, your brain is more likely to snap in that mindset the moment you sit down on a chair.
Don’t work in bed. While it seems like a comfortable way to get things done, it can really destroy your focus. Your brain will associate the place with sleep, making it harder for you to keep your eyes open. You’ll also realize it’s harder to get a good night’s sleep because you’ve created a bridge between the two different modes. It’s bad for your back as well, and you can end up taking longer to get things done when you’re in the wrong position.
Don’t work at the kitchen table. The same thing goes for this place. If you’re used to eating and chatting while sitting down for dinner, you can have trouble concentrating. You might find that you’re only eating snacks when you should be working. Family members might also be walking by, causing further distraction.
Be cautious of your view. Sometimes sitting in front of a window might seem like a good way to entertain you. However, even watching a squirrel dart through the trees could keep you from concentrating.
Sit in a similar way to how you did at your office job if you’re transitioning into the work at home life. Having the same setup makes it easier for your brain to get used to this new work environment. If you have the same desk/chair layout, your brain will start to think it’s already at work.
Face your desk towards a wall and not towards the TV. You could try sitting in front of a window but track your time to see if your focus is going outside too often. Ideally, you should have a dedicated office if you have the space. If you do, make sure that you never do anything else here. Even gaming on your computer in the same space you work could be dangerous. It might be hard to resist opening up the game when you’re also working. If you have a desktop computer it’s hard to not game, internet surf, and do other things in the same place you work. Try at least changing up the mood, perhaps with different lighting or music when you go from work mode to relax mode.
Not everybody has the luxury of having multiple rooms in their home, so maybe your kitchen table is the only option. While not ideal, you can still make it work. Transform the space to make it feel like an office. Lay out all of your papers and essential tools for the day. Turn off distractions and close the blinds or any doors to make the space feel more enclosed. See if you can schedule times to work in this space without distractions, meaning any family members only come around in emergencies. You could ask for at least an hour of no noise and no traffic in these spaces, making it easier to focus on your work.
The most important thing to remember is to pick one singular spot to work, transform this in a way that makes you comfortable, and don’t do any other activities in this space. Don’t eat, watch TV, sit on your phone, or conduct any other activities that pull your focus. The more dedicated your mind to this space, the easier it is for you to snap into the right headspace.
Treat it Like Regular Work
Keep your routines the same. If you wake up, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, and leave the house for work by 8 A.M. do the same thing. Working from home might mean you get to sleep in a little later, and that’s fine to take advantage of. However, keep these morning routines in place and simply do them later. For example, your commute might be an hour and it takes about a half an hour to work through your morning routine. Use the hour of the commute to sleep in but keep those motions of eating/getting dressed in place. Don’t just roll out of bed and start working, thinking you’ll get your coffee or breakfast later on. Be ready to work and to commit yourself fully by completing things beforehand.
Get dressed! While it’s nice to stay in your pajamas, you still want to get dressed, comb your hair, and prep for the day. You don’t have to put on a suit, but change out of your pajamas into a new outfit. Try to at least put on something you could be comfortable wearing to the grocery store, or at least answering a video call in from your boss. This way, you’re giving your mindset that reminder to shift into work mode rather than wanting to crawl back into bed.
Don’t eat all day long. Schedule in regular times for meals and snacks. If you don’t, it’s easy to always have to have a snack right there. Don’t eat where you work either. Some days you might be rushed and have to eat a sandwich while you watch a presentation, but unless it’s an emergency, take a lunch break. Do this in a new place to resist the urge to want a snack by your computer all day long.
Put your phone away. Of course, if your phone is essential for your work, keep it on you. But other than that, put it away to make sure you resist the urge to check it constantly. You might not be able to see your friends’ Snapchat or Instagram posts when you were at the office with your boss able to see what you’re doing. However, when you’re at home you can check each new notification! With this also comes the desire to open up other apps and check in on things that you forgot about. Schedule in specific times to check your phone, like during lunch or bathroom breaks.
Avoid Mental and Physical Clutter
Any physical object that is in front of you can take some of your attention away. Whether it is a large object, like an unfinished home improvement project, or small bits of clutter like unread books, these can pull your focus. Even if you aren’t actively thinking about how you need to get these things done, your subconscious mind still takes energy to visually analyze your setting. You are still preoccupying the back of your mind with all the things that you need to give time to in the future.
This can keep you stressed out and trigger deeper thoughts. If you have to look at the unfinished wood floor, you might start to think about all of the projects you’ve failed to complete. Ruminating on these moments might make you feel like a failure and take a hit at your self-esteem.
Do your best to keep the space organized to give your brain less to process. You want to cultivate an area where your brain has no option but to focus on everything in front of it, and that should only be the tasks that need to be completed. Even if you can’t physically clean them up, at least covering them up or storing things in a closet can ensure you won’t be visually pulled from what you should be focused on.
Even if you and a partner aren’t doing the same work, having someone else there with you can make you more productive. It makes you feel like you are at the office when you can hear someone else typing away or making phone calls. Someone else can also hold you accountable and even be there for support when you might get stuck. When you’re working from home it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out or wondering what others are doing. Since your phone is right there, it’s easy to text a bunch of people as needed. Sometimes you might even feel lonely and just want to chat quickly. A working buddy is a good way to make sure this doesn’t keep you from being productive.
Remember communication can be harder when you’re working from home. Some people might schedule themselves to work at night while you’re ready to get started at the crack of dawn. Try to keep communication as digital as possible and schedule calls or meetings ahead of time to make sure everyone will be available.
Create an Efficient Schedule
Schedule your day before it starts. The best method to do this is to create a loose structure of what your days will look like before the week starts, either on Friday of the previous week or Sunday before getting started. Then at the end of your workday, you can make a more detailed outline of your schedule, including times if necessary. Keep your schedules looser but structured to account for anything unexpected. Keep in mind you still have to have a structure to ensure you’re staying on track.
Schedule in moments for breaks. While it might not seem necessary, breaks are important to help you keep chugging along. You can’t be expected to work for 4 hours straight. The most you should work at a time is 90 minutes. Give yourself 5- or 10-minute breaks throughout the day, and make sure to have at least 30 in the middle of the day for lunch.
Schedule time to look at your phone, too. Rather than just having it and freely checking it all the time, decide when you will look at it. This way you won’t lose 10 or 20 minutes at a time because you’re glued to the screen.
Schedule moments where you physically move your body. You should do some light stretches or just go for a quick walk to get your body moving. It’s not good for your health to sit for long periods of time, so don’t force yourself to do this. Even getting up and jumping a couple times throughout your day could be enough to keep you focused.
Stick to the schedule as best as you can but remember one of the perks of working from home is being flexible.
“Clock out” at the end of the day. Since most of us are still only getting paid for a specific set of hours, you have to remember to clock yourself out. Give yourself a goal time to be done for the day, and then a cut-off time. You can hope to be finished by 5 P.M., but then make sure by 6 P.M. you don’t allow yourself to work anymore or else you could end up overworking yourself. It’s easy to let work and home life constantly blend together if you’re not cutting yourself off. This can leave you feeling stressed out and always thinking about your job rather than yourself.
How to Be Productive at Home
Being a remote worker might seem like you’d be less productive. There are so many distractions. This can be a time in your life when you’re actually more productive. One of the advantages of your flexibility is that you can come up with the most productive schedule possible based on your needs and strengths.
Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Everybody is different which means we all work differently as well. What are you good at, and in what areas could you improve? When you can understand the ways you work best, you get a better idea of when your peak productivity moments are.
All of us are different types of workers. Some people are better at communicating and others would rather work independently on their own. Since you will be working from home, you are going to be your own manager. Therefore, it is your duty to recognize what you are best at. At the same time, you have to become more aware of the things that you aren’t so great at. Maybe you aren’t good at reading and editing on your own. Maybe it’s creating schedules that you have trouble with. By picking out what you are good and bad at, you’ll then be able to create more efficient schedules. If you know that you’re terrible at task A, but good at task B, you would put each of those in a different time slot. Task A would be better completed if you are working at those more productive moments. Task B might be something you save for those unproductive times like Friday afternoons when you simply want to rush through your work.
By knowing what you excel at and what needs more effort, it’s easier to accommodate an individual layout for how you’re going to be completing tasks.
Create Small Goals and Milestones
Create smaller goals throughout your day and week, then have larger milestones that you try to achieve quarterly or monthly.
These small goals might be to get a certain amount of work done. Maybe you want to get better feedback. Whatever these smaller milestones are, have at least one a day. Even if it’s something like cleaning out your office space, that’s a fine goal to have. At the end of the week, once you’ve accomplished these goals, you’ll feel better.
By giving yourself little things to be proud of along the way, it continues to boost your productivity. You can’t work if you feel regretful, stressed out, or like you aren’t doing enough. It’s hard to focus when you’re constantly anxious about the things you could or couldn’t do. If you are not successful, and feel like a failure, then you can end up acting in that way, potentially sabotaging yourself again in the future.
Have these minor moments of reward and give yourself actual prizes. Maybe you decide to order out for dinner instead of making something at home. Perhaps you decide to binge watch your favorite show instead of catching up on a side project. Give these little rewards to consistently remind yourself that you are a good worker and efficient. It creates productivity because it’s the little boost needed to get through the next task.
Don’t Try to Multitask
Doing two things at once seems like the best way to knock things out as quickly as possible.
Every time you multitask, you’re giving 50% of your focus to those two different things. If you focus 100% on something, it can be done quicker than when you elongate it over a period of time. You can multitask for subconscious activities and minor things that don’t require 100% of your attention as is. For example, doing dishes while you watch TV is fine, as the dishes are more passive activities you do with your hands.
However, if they are tasks that you do need to be very focused on, they should be completed individually.
If you don’t believe that this is true, then try tracking your time on two different days. Come up with two similar tasks. On day one, do the tasks at the same time, and track how long it takes you to finish them. On day two, dedicate a timeslot to each task. You might discover that these two tasks take you three hours on the first day, but only one hour each on the second day.
Multitasking is our brain’s way of trying to alleviate some of our anxiety. If you’re feeling rushed or are behind on work, it can be a way to make you feel like you’re being more productive. Don’t let your brain fall for these tricks and remember you could actually be splitting your focus along the way.
Practice Mindfulness and Use Affirmations
When you’re at home, there are endless distractions. You might think about the dishes that you need to do, the laundry that needs folded, or maybe the dog won’t stop bothering you with their toy.
Mindfulness as a way to keep you in the present instead of worrying about the, “I should do this” or the, “I could do that” thought patterns.
Rather than letting yourself get connected and distracted by each little thing that falls into your lap, you can close your eyes, take a breath, and put yourself back in the center of your work. Mindfulness is simply becoming aware of your surroundings. To be mindful, pick out physical objects in the room to pay attention to.
Become aware of the things that are surrounding you and how you might exist in this space now. A simple mindfulness activity is to pick out one item for each of your senses. This would include something that you can smell or taste or touch. You can also identify objects of a certain color. This simple act helps to clear out your brain momentarily so you can think to yourself, okay, I have to get back to work. You can also have a physical mindful object to continue to pull you in.
This might be something like a note card that reminds you to just keep working. You can also include affirmations around your house, so when you are feeling distracted you can repeat the affirmation. Say the word out loud and hear how it comes out of your mouth to keep you motivated and mindful. Affirmations are simple truths and statements that help to reaffirm an idea in your head. For example, I can do this, I am productive, I am the best, and I am intelligent, are all different types of affirmations.
Remember Something is Better than Nothing
If you can’t do the task in front of you, at least try something else. Your time should be used, even if it’s not used directly on what you were hoping for in that moment.
For example, maybe you wanted to write a 10-page paper in a day. After four hours, you’ve barely managed to write a sentence. In this situation, the worst possible scenario is that you do nothing at all. Instead, see if there is another task you were going to do later and swap out the time. For example, maybe you wanted to write between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. It’s almost 2 and you haven’t written a single word. Maybe you planned to work out and do dishes between 4 and 6. Do those things now and come back to writing later. You can’t always force yourself to get into the right mindset, so the swap could be what’s needed to actually get something done. Wasting your time is always worse than just giving in to another task at the moment.
Staying Mentally and Physically Fit
It’s important that you remain both mentally and physically strong. Each of these areas of your body will require nourishment and care. Just like you have to rest your muscles in between moments of exercise, you have to give your brain these same periods. There are four corners to your health. These include your stress management, diet, sleep patterns, and exercise. When it comes to managing your health overall, remember the tips in the next few sections.
Get the Best Sleep Possible
Sleep is important because it is your brain’s time to reset. Every night when you go to sleep your brain enters different stages. At first, you are in a simple state of restfulness where your mind is drifting away. These are moments where you might have dreams that interact with reality.
The second stage gets you a little deeper and more restful, which is usually where you’ll start to dream, and the third stage is when you reach that deep and heavy sleep. This only comes after about 90 minutes and you cycle through the stages multiple times throughout the night. In order to reach that deep state, you have to give yourself the ability to be completely relaxed.
Even when you are sleeping, you can be distracted. Having the TV on, bright lights, and even your phone vibrating could keep you up. Though you might not fully wake up to read the texts, your brain can still hear them going off if your phone is beeping all night. Make sure that you stick to the same schedule every night. Our bodies have certain rhythms and patterns they are in. When you have specific time to dedicate to sleep each night, it’s easier for your mind to get into that deep sleep because that’s what it’s used to doing. As a remote worker it’s easy to sleep when you want, but you could be doing damage to your body if you’re not careful.
Give yourself a resting period before you go to bed each night. There should be about 30 minutes of zero screen time and relaxation before your scheduled time to fall asleep.
Everybody should get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, which means you need to be in bed 30 minutes before that. If you have to wake up at 7am, don’t get into bed right away at 12am, because you’re not giving yourself that time to rest.
Instead, if you have to wake up by 7, 11:30 is the latest you will want to get into bed to make sure that you can fully de-stress and become calm before falling asleep. In this period of restfulness, do not sit on your phone. You can have a specific book you might want to read, and you can try some light yoga and breathing exercises. However, give yourself this time and don’t have bright screens that keep your mind stimulated.
Choose ‘Brain’ Food
Having proper health is all about good nutrition. This involves choosing foods specifically to help you be healthier. Choose mind-focused foods that enhance your brain power. This includes highly fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel, or salmon.
Omega three fatty acid foods are rich in the vitamins and minerals needed to boost your brain’s energy. Inflammation can also cause mind fog, lethargy, and a lack of mental concentration. For this reason, you should choose antioxidant foods such as berries or leafy greens like spinach. Choose tea and coffee to help stimulate your brain but remember too much sugar can lead to mental crashes. Your brain’s main energy is carbohydrates, which means that healthy whole grains like oatmeal or wheat bread can give your brain the energy needed to stay mentally focused. You’re not just feeding your stomach when you choose what to eat, but you’re also feeding your brain.
Never Forget About Hydration
Sitting behind a desk all day doesn’t seem like the most thirst-inducing activity. It’s easy to go hours without drinking water because you can zone out so easily.
Everybody needs to drink eight 8-oz glasses of water every single day. There’s a good chance that you are not doing that already, but you especially should strive to go beyond just this.
Water is so important because it helps make us feel more energized. Before you do anything else in the morning, drink a glass of water. Don’t stand there and chug it but instead take small sips and breaks in between to let your body process this.
You might find that having a cup of water before you do anything else in the morning gives you more energy than your cup of coffee. Make sure you have water with you all day long. It’s important to not have snacks at your desk to resist constant eating, but you should encourage constant drinking. Keep a water bottle with you and remember that room temperature water is ideal for your body to process. Ice water and any flavors or fruit infusion you might add are fine, as long as you are getting the right hydration throughout your entire day. Remember you can also eat water through highly juicy foods like watermelon or celery.
Try Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can be included with physical activity and even mindfulness to help give you mental clarity. By focusing on your breathing, you’re giving your brain the chance to reset itself before getting back to work. Breathing exercises are great to do when you are feeling stressed out, or even while you have those 5- or 10-minute breaks. One simple breathing exercise is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you do this, count up from one to 10 when you breathe in. When you breathe out, countdown. Go at your own pace and put your hand on your belly to feel the air come in and out. By doing this you are giving your brain the chance to be focused on yourself, clearing out any stress that might be consuming your thoughts.
Another breathing exercise is to alternate the nostrils that you breathe in and out. You can also try breathing in through your nose, holding it for a second, and then breathing out through your nose as hard as you can. Any one of these exercises can help your brain feel better. You’ll realize after doing one of these that you almost get a high that helps to decrease your stress and improve your mood. The more that you do this throughout the day, the more likely you are to feel better all the time.
Make Time for Physical Movement
Everyone should strive to get 30 minutes of physical activity every day. When you are creating your schedule, ensure that you are allotting the time for this.
You might not be able to get 30 minutes every day, but you should make sure you get an hour or more to make up for that lost time each week. Physical exercise is important for your brain and for your body; it helps to ensure that you are focused on energizing and staying physically fit. Try out different exercises first to see what you feel comfortable with. Not everybody succeeds on a treadmill. You might instead do yoga, karate, or take a dance class. Boxing, basketball, and other sports are also great ways to keep you not only involved with your health, but potentially with your community. Physical exercise helps to reset your brain and decrease stress. It makes it easier to work out any physical pain that might also keep you from being totally focused on your work. Not everybody has to be an Olympic athlete, but we all should strive to at least go for 20-minute walks throughout the week. Make exercise work for you rather than trying to fit into the mold of what you think exercise should look like for everybody.
Give yourself small milestones and remember that even working out for five minutes is better than not working out at all.
Working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you let time slip away from you it can be hard to get it back. The tasks we have to do don’t always go away, so don’t expect them to automatically.
Most of us know the work that has to get done, so it’s not a matter of what to do. The real issue is putting the effort into focus. When you’re not in the right headspace, it’s hard for your mind to go towards completing tasks at hand.
This is why it’s essential we create a “work only” space. Physically locating your body in a productive environment will translate mentally.
Focus on your health and taking care of your body. What you put in your body and how much you move it plays a huge role in your ability to concentrate on tasks that need completed. At the end of the day, all that matters is that we’re getting work done! How it’s completed doesn’t always matter, just the fact that it is completed. This is the freedom of working remotely. Your boss won’t know the difference if you completed a task in your underwear or if you did it all while wearing your finest suit. You will know the difference, and not paying attention to these minor details can only set you back. Focus on what works for your efficiency and find your own rhythm. With the right habits and tricks, you can really make remotely working work for you.