The physical world is shutting down with businesses telling (forcing) their employees to work from home until the Coronavirus pandemic has passed.
But working from home is very different from the usual office environment.
As a freelance consultant, I’ve been working from home since 2003.
Since then, I’ve lived in three countries over two continents and, became a dad to boot. All while working from home.
So, how can you be productive when working from home?
Here are my 17 tips on being productive while working at home.
Have A Solid Morning Routine
Don’t just saunter to your home office chair, plonk yourself down and start typing on the keyboard or checking emails.
You are setting yourself up for a crappy day if you do that.
Have a morning routine that psychs up your body and engages your brain to get ready for doing some work.
Do your morning jog, X-Box or YouTube workout followed by a nice hot shower.
Sit down at the table and have your freshly brewed coffee and vegemite on toast (Tom Hanks – go easy there, buddy).
Take the kids to school and wash up the breakfast dishes.
Ok, all done. Now it’s work time.
Maintain Regular Working Hours
In general maintaining, a schedule is good for productivity regardless of where you are and what activity you are doing.
At home, this is doubly so!
There are huge distractions at home, compared with an office environment, so prepare a plan and schedule time to get work done.
You don’t have to go all crazy with spreadsheets and plan down to the second – don’t do that!
Give yourself some time to complete the big tasks of the day.
Set your core working hours, 10 am until 3 pm, for instance, that works with you and your family life – don’t forget to pick the kids up from school! (if schools are still open).
Having a schedule also allows you to communicate when you are available to colleagues, clients and customers.
Designate A Workspace Area
Even at home, you need to specify a work area.
Ideally, you can convert a spare room to be your office.
If you have a door, close it to stop distractions, to define your workspace boundary and to give you privacy.
Not everyone has a spare room to convert into an office, so be creative.
You can use the dining room table, the kitchen bench or the corner of the living room.
Setting a designated workspace area engages your brain into work mode when you are there and also sets a boundary telling others around you not to disturb.
Set Ground Rules For Those Around You
Talking about other people, you should set some ground rules that they have to abide by when you are working.
If you don’t set some rules, you can hardly be cross with them when they walk into your office area, turn on the TV, invite friends round to watch the footy etc. when you are trying to hit your deadlines.
Don’t go all draconian on them though – you don’t want to add tension into your home and work environment.
Some example ground rules may be:
- Mummy isn’t to be disturbed while the door is closed.
- Wait until mummy is off the phone/zoom before you ask a question.
- You can watch TV but make sure the volume isn’t too loud.
- If you have friends round, please play in your bedroom until after 4 pm.
- It’s your responsibility to take Spot walkies when you get back from school.
Adults should have no problem obeying these rules, and small children may take a while to get to grips with the idea. They can’t adapt to change as quickly as adults can.
Have Activities At Hand For The Kids
Kids and working from home?
Don’t worry; it can be done.
Preparation is vital when dealing with kids, especially young kids, and working from home.
You are going to need some uninterrupted time for phone calls, video calls and to concentrate on completing tasks.
Create activity areas in your home and set them up during your morning routine.
- A play area with their favourite toys and play mat
- A craft station with materials such as paper, crayons, scissors, playdoh – maybe avoid paints!
- An educational area with printouts to practise tracing letters, counting numbers, word searches, colouring in with numbers
- A reading nook with different books from the library each day
- The iPad – not that I endorse adding to a kids screen time, but it can be a useful distraction if all else fails and you have an essential customer to deal with
Schedule Regular Break Times
If you are an employee working remotely, know your company’s break policy and adhere to that.
When you are planning your workload for the next day, make sure you mix quick tasks with longer tasks so you can take a fast five or 10-minute break between them to gather your thoughts.
Leave your designated work area during a break – your body and mind can then relax now that they are out of the work zone.
And, if you need to go to the loo – go to the loo!
Remember To Walk Around And Stand Up
Sitting down all day is tedious and can make your butt sore!
When you take a call, get up and walk around your workspace.
Maybe look out the window while talking, to give your brain something else to look at other than a screen.
Animate yourself when on the phone or video call – wave your arms and hands around.
Consider installing a stand-up, sit-down desk.
Join Virtual Communities
Working from home can be very lonely, regardless of others in your home.
You will also miss out on just bouncing ideas off work colleagues.
If you are working remotely as an employee, make sure you are logged into the company tools that allow you to communicate with your work colleagues.
Use tools like Slack or Skype to chat with friends and business colleagues or to engage with your community members.
You can find supportive community groups on Facebook; however, you need to be pretty strong-willed not to get sucked into checking your friends’ statuses, posts, lunch pictures and cat memes.
Limit Social Networks
Unless using social networks is part of the primary service you provide your customers, you need to limit your exposure to them.
Schedule in two or three short “social network checks” a day if you need to engage in group posts.
Social networks can turn even the very disciplined of us into mindless drooling cat-meme loving zombies.
Check Email At Set Times
Everyone has to use email, and it’s still the primary business communication tool.
Along with social networks, it is easy to spend hours lost in looking and sorting through emails.
Set yourself a schedule for when to check and respond to incoming emails.
Defer non-urgent email for later on in the day or week.
Tools like Boomerang for Gmail allow you to set a reminder on emails and bounce them back to the inbox after a number of days.
Ask Employers For Help
If you are an employee working remotely at home for a company, don’t forget to ask for assistance.
They may be able to help financially with setting up your work area such as ergonomic chairs, monitors, keyboards and footrests, for example.
You may also be eligible for claiming back expenses for phone and internet usage.
If your employer has an HR department, you can talk with them about avoiding and dealing with back pain, RSI and even mental health issues.
Use A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
If the company you are employed by has a VPN, use it to connect in with their network services securely.
Purchase and use a VPN when dealing with client work if security and privacy are essential to your business.
Needless to say, when you are out and about working in a cafe or public space you will need to connect to them using a VPN; otherwise, you leave yourself and the data on your laptop open to hackers.
I have happily been using Buffered VPN for many years now.
Check them out at https://buffered.com/ (not an affiliate link).
Have A Separate Work Phone Number
I purchased a Skype number a few years ago and have it forwarding to my mobile.
The phone number I give out on my website and to new business leads is my Skype number.
I can turn it on/off, specify forwarding times and have calls directed to an answering service if I’m on holiday or just don’t want to talk.
Other alternatives are to purchase a separate sim card and pop that in during your core working hours if you need that separation from work and private life.
Get Some Face Time
It’s essential to be able to chat with somebody face-to-face.
You just can’t convey emotion in emails or chat channels, and there’s something just comforting about seeing another person’s face smiling back at you.
The WordPress community that I’m involved in has a regular Thursday “Happy Hour” zoom chat.
People can jump-in if they have some spare time and just spend some fun free time chilling out with other humans.
Don’t Forget To Take Sick Leave
Yes, you work from home, and yes, you will get sick sometimes.
You need to spend the time recovering away from the work environment.
Plus, nobody wants to see and talk with a red-eyed, snotty-nosed, coughing, hacking, sniffling, sneezing version of you.
Schedule Time To Do Household Chores
Many of you working from home will be single parents or primary carers.
Nobody else is going to look after the household chores so build it into your schedule if you need to.
I have set days and times where I get household stuff done, mostly because I want to keep my weekends free for family time.
Set aside a day of the week when toilets have to be cleaned, washing is put on, hung out, and floors are vacuumed etc.
Finish The Day By Preparing For The Next One
I like to spend fifteen or 20 minutes at the end of my core working hours to prepare for the following working day.
Take a few minutes to review what you have accomplished today and what big items still need to be completed and when.
Update your to-do-list and order it by date, so you know what’s coming up next.
Just like your morning routine, consider this part of your end-of-day routine.
Say goodbye to everyone and log out of apps and services.
Shut down the PC and do ten minutes of meditation or Tai Chi to relax the mind and body.
Then, step out of your work area, say hi to the kids, put your chefs’ hat on and start to make dinner.
Work is over; you are now mum, dad, hubby, wife, partner, you again!
Let me know your best tips for getting shiz done while working at home in the comments below.