If you find yourself working from home for the first time, it can be overwhelming. I created my home office over a year ago, and remember how much I struggled in the early days to stay on task, stay focused, and actually get things done.
I remember how much I would rebel against myself — where should I sit, I feel hungry, do I want more coffee, maybe I should finish the laundry, etc.
Once I started to find a rhythm and routine for what was work-time and what was downtime, it became easier to stay focused and productive.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned to make working from home feel good, and less overwhelming.
1. Get ready for work every day
Wake up, brush your teeth, have your coffee, do your hair/makeup (or whatever it is you do before you leave for work) and put on work clothes (no pajamas in your home office!) This gives you the feeling of being a professional and actually getting your work done. There is no fine line between work clothes and a bathrobe — it’s very distinct.
2. Set your working hours
Just like you would in an office. After your morning routine, ensure that when you sit down at your desk it is truly time to work. And focus on the amount of time you will work for the day. No need to overdo it here, especially when there is so much going on in the world it’s understandable you may not be able to concentrate for as long as you would in the office — let that be okay.
Decide when you will begin and when you will end your day. Set clear expectation with your colleagues or teams. Changes in your workload may occur and cause you to work a bit more or less than anticipated, however you should have a pretty clear idea in mind if you day will end at 6 or 7 PM — and help others know when you are available to answer questions.
3. Take breaks often and as you need
If you need to get up from your desk for a short walk, to sit on the couch, or to make a coffee, do it. Don’t chain yourself to your desk, even in a real office you already know that doesn’t make you more productive, just more frustrated.
Give yourself 5 or 10 minute breaks whenever you need them, even if you want to load up the laundry or dishwasher, do it during a break (not during your work time), and be sure to set a time limit so that you do come back to your desk.
This has been an absolute life saver for me. On days when I can’t concentrate and still have a lot to do, I set a timer and follow the Pomodoro Technique — essentially it is 25 minutes of work with 5 minutes of a break in intervals of 4. If nothing else, you may get in about 2 full hours of concentrated work simply by blocking the noise and allowing your timer to do the work for you.
5. Have calls / catch ups / meetings with colleagues as you normally would
Just because you are working from home, doesn’t mean you should shut off from the rest of the world. Continue to meet with your colleagues. Have video chats as often as possible. Check in regularly. Express if you are feeling unable to concentrate or tired or overwhelmed. Your colleagues may very well be feeling it too and can provide support or humor to help you get through the day.
This also helps you stay connected to your peers and feel less like you are working in isolation and more like you are a part of a greater team working towards common goals.
6. Have virtual coffee
Ask colleagues, networking contacts, or even friends to have a virtual coffee catchup throughout the day. While you may not be meeting face-to-face this still allows you have needed social interaction and feel like you aren’t isolated at home. It also brings a much-needed break and lighter, fun social interaction throughout the day.
7. Eat regular meals!
I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t just graze mindlessly all day long, it will be hugely unsatisfying, and you may find yourself feeling aggravated by the end of the day. Have proper meals, as you would in an office. Have breakfast. Have lunch. Have dinner. Take the time for it, at least a half hour.
Don’t succumb to endless snacking of unhealthy or unsatisfying foods. Give your body the nourishment that it needs — it will help you stay focused and effective throughout the day — and keep you from bingeing at the end of the day when you haven’t had enough satisfying meals earlier on.
8. End your workday at a reasonable hour
When it’s time to call it quits for the day turn off your computer! Keep to the end of your workday. Don’t let it quietly slip to 8 or 9 PM just because you didn’t leave your desk. When you’ve decided that the day should end (as you would have done above in #2), make sure you turn off your work-related technology and enjoy the evening off to read, watch TV, or spend time with your family or loved ones.
9. Get a good night’s sleep
This seems like the advice for everything these days, and it holds true here as well. Often when you work from home you start to feel like “the rules” don’t apply. Your hours are off, your eating is off, your habits are off — there is no one external to enforce normalcy, and you may be tempted to just go completely wild.
But I promise you that it is more important than ever to give yourself a routine. Go to bed around the same time in the evening and make sure to get a solid 7 or 8 hours of sleep (or however much your body truly needs to feel well rested and ready to take on the day).
These are some of my essential ground rules for successfully working from home. Feel free to adapt them as they suit your situation and needs — and don’t forget, everyone faces similar struggles when they first start working remotely. We all need to feel connected to a larger community and having simple rituals like virtual coffee or video calls helps with that.
Even if you aren’t used to it, working from home can be deeply satisfying — giving you just enough freedom to move at your own pace, and the comfort of finding space for deep, concentrated work that can be so challenging in an office. Give yourself some basic ground rules and learn to enjoy the positive benefits.
Through coaching with Amanda, you will clarify your purpose & vision, and start to feel confident in your ability to inspire, engage, and lead others.
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