Tips for staying productive working from home

Tips for staying productive working from home

Bryan Dugan5 min read

The ability to work from home is a trained skill that takes time to master just like anything else. If there's one good thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon us (if you always wanted to work remote), is that it forced everyone, small agencies, to the corporate environment to test their entire staff to work from home.

For many people, this is a first time experience as many employees are used to working from an office. I've been a mostly remote employee for the last four years and below is a shortlist of things I have learned over the years while working from home that you can apply to your work from home lifestyle.

Have a designated room for work

This is one of the single most important things about starting to work from home. You need some sort of space that is designated for work only. Starting, working at your kitchen table or bedroom for a week or two might be fine. But it is by no means a long term solution

Avoid working from your bedroom at all costs. The room you work in will start being associated with work and you will find it hard to unwind at the end of the day. Here's a solution that worked for me when I first started working remotely before I had the spare bedroom. I had separated the bedroom space in half using a curtain hung up on a PVC pipe and had the room divided with an IKEA Kallax shelving unit. This way, while working, the bed and living area was never in plain sight. Out of sight, out of mind.

You don't always have to work from the office but try to keep most of your work there. Sometimes I like to work from the couch in the living room with the TV off or outside on the balcony if it's a nice day. But even for things like the couch, I bought a separate couch for the office for when I want to work in a more relaxed pose.

Get dressed and follow a daily routine

While working from home, one of the running jokes is that you can sit and work in your pajamas all day. I'll admit, this is fun for the first few days of working remote, however, like working from a kitchen table, it makes the days all sort of blend together. Instead, I have created a morning routine and take an hour for myself before I get to work.

Every morning before work, I'll wake up and attempt the Miracle Morning, shower, get dressed, and make a cup of coffee before walking to the office. Getting ready in the morning, makes me feel much better overall and ready to take on the workday.

Have a crutch word to let people you're about to talk in a meeting

Sometimes being the only person dialing in to a call with 10 employees that are in office, it can be tough to speak up and speak your mind. People tend to rely on some sort of visual cue to let others know you're about to talk. When working remotely, the visual cues that you're about to speak just don't exist. Even if you have your camera up, people likely aren't paying attention to it. Before I'm about to speak, I always use the word "so" to get everyone's attention. That filler word at the beginning of a sentence gives the rest of the room a brief moment to get their attention to the speakers and also help some latency issues.

Use your camera in meetings

During any meeting with co-workers, I'll always keep my camera up and going if it's a smaller meeting. If the meeting has more than 10 people in it, I will generally keep it off as it can become distracting.

Have a cool off period after work

As silly as it may sound, I save the last 10-15 minutes of my day for the "commute" home to wind down and relax after work. Before leaving my office for the day, I like to spend 10-15 minutes browsing news sites, listen to a podcast, or do whatever it is that helps me unwind after work. It helps to transition the brain from work to relax mode.

Take frequent breaks

After every hour or two, I like to get up and walk around for 15 minutes and do something that isn't in front of the screen to clear my mind and refocus. I might go and do some pushups, use a medicine ball, or do some stretches using a foam roller. It's also ok to take 15 minutes to do a load of dishes or start a load of laundry. Just don't make it the time to clean your entire house.

Don't feel bad about taking these short breaks. If you think about it, the time spent doing water cooler chat, or the normal day office distractions is likely longer than your breaks at home. If you're an in-office employee, also be sure to get up and stretch or go for a short walk every hour or two. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Talk with your significant other/kids

When many people start working from home, others start to see you as just being home, instead of working. They don't realize that them coming in and asking questions in the middle of the day can be a real distraction. Instead of just putting up with it, have a sit-down, and talk with the other people in your household. Politely let them know that when you're in the office, not to be bothered and set some sort of guidelines. Let them know if it's something non-urgent to send you a text message or to send you an Email then let them in when you're ready for a break.

Let others in your household know when you're in meetings

It's ok to have a few distractions throughout the day from loved ones but be sure to alert them when you're in deep work mode and cannot be distracted.

There are quite a few ways you can alert others that you cannot be bothered. I've heard things as clever as having a Phillips hue bulb sync with a calendar to turn on and change color to red when in a meeting. But for me, It's simple and effective enough to put a note on the door when I need to focus or am getting ready to jump on a call.

Schedule regular sync-up calls and status updates with your colleagues

Twice a week (Monday and Wednesday), my team of four and I would meet up virtually after lunch to talk about what our main goals for the week were. If your group is larger than 4-5 people, it may be a good idea to break it up into separate groups with similar goals then have the manager be in both calls. It helps keep everyone engaged with talking to each other. Also, feel free to create a water-cooler chat in Slack or MSTeams to talk about non-work related things.

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