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How to be productive when you work from home

Home office setup

I’ve worked from home for over 5 years now. At first, I didn’t think I needed any of these tips. I was so excited to work from home. No commute. No traffic. No distractions. No freezing cold office. Doesn’t that sound great?

It was. Until it wasn’t. Working from home can be really hard. It can be hard to stay focused, be productive, and stay mentally and physically healthy. However, working from home can also be amazing and life-giving. Do you work from home? If you’re smart about your workspace, your time, and your focus you can change your work from home experience from impossibly difficult to incredibly productive.

Optimizing your workspace

Invest in quality office furniture

It’s tempting to work at your kitchen table and call that good. But it is so important to invest in quality office furniture that will support your body and your work schedule for the long-term. Trust me, I spent over a year working from the couch. It was comfy for a while, but the couch started to cause back aches and other problems.

Now, I have a 2-monitor setup, with a sit/stand desk (this one from IKEA is pretty affordable and works great) and a nice, ergonomic chair. I didn’t have to buy anything crazy expensive – but I invested enough to have a flexible work station.

Separate your workspace

I know it’s tempting to just work from your bed – it’s so comfy and no one knows, right? Well, that’s true, but working from bed is one of the worst choices you can make. It gives your brain absolutely no separation between sleep and work and you’ll most likely feel more tired all day. 

I’ve found that it’s important for me to create a completely separate workspace that I really don’t use apart from work. So when I sit down at my work desk, my brain is trained to go into productivity mode, and when I leave my desk at the end of the day or for a break, my brain has a much easier time transitioning into rest. This could mean a separate room, or just a corner of your home that is reserved for work.

Don’t worry if you have a small apartment or other space! I created a successful separate workspace in our 700 square foot, one-bedroom apartment. My workspace was small, but it was on it’s very own wall (in the living room). But, if you have kids or pets that like to hang out with you, having a door to your office space can be really helpful if that’s possible in your home.

Change it up

Even if you have an instagram-worthy home office setup, I think it’s important to change up the scenery every so often and get out of the house. Some days, even my nice office setup doesn’t get me motivated to be productive. That’s when I know I need to get out of the house, be around people, and work somewhere else – even for just a couple hours!

I love going to locally-owned coffee shops near me once every week or two. You could also choose a drop-in co-working space.

Optimizing your time

Set working hours

When working from home, it’s super easy to let your work bleed into your personal life. Without the commute “transition time,” your brain doesn’t always make the switch between work time and not-work time. Set normal working hours and stick to them. Turn off work notifications after your end time, and keep them off until the next day’s start time. I know it’s tempting to check work email or other communication during off-hours when it’s so available to you. But trust me – don’t do it and you (and your family) will be thankful.

Take breaks

When I first started working from home, I never took breaks. Like ever. I don’t know what it is about being at home, but if I took 5 minutes to leave my office and go outside or sit on the couch, I felt super guilty. But taking breaks has been shown to boost your productivity, not slow it down. I’ve found a pomodoro timer like Focus Keeper to be really helpful in alerting me to take breaks. So take breaks, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Optimizing your focus

Stay accountable

Just because no one can see your screen doesn’t mean you should be browsing social media, or watching a tv show while you work. Keep yourself from these sites during your work day. If self-motivation doesn’t work, there are some great apps and browser extensions out there like Cold Turkey that will block these sites for you.

Make a to-do list

Every morning before I start any tasks, I make a to-do list of every task I want to accomplish that day. My favorite to-do list app is Todoist. This app is simple, easy to use, and designed to motivate you to complete your goals. You can even set a daily task goal, and it celebrates your success when you achieve it. Even if your organization has its own task-tracking app, I find it helpful to create my own list of to-dos that are specifically for me and my day.

Get dressed

This may sound simple, but I’ve found that working in my pajamas just doesn’t work for me. I know it’s a typical work-from-home stereotype to work in your pajama pants (or no pants at all). But for me, I just don’t get as much done. I’ve found that if I get dressed, do my hair, and prepare for the day like I was going into the office, my work day is so much better. I also feel way less tired, which is a major plus!

Get up and move

Finally, moving around is so important when you’re working from home. When all your meetings are virtual, you don’t have a natural excuse to get up and move around. Yet regular movement is so essential for productivity and your health as well! I am definitely guilty of sitting down at my desk at home, and not moving for hours. Not healthy.

I started using a Fitbit watch to remind me to move every hour and take at least 250 steps. This motivates me to walk around for just a few minutes every hour. I’ve found, after getting up and moving, I come back to whatever I was working on with such a fresh perspective and a much higher motivation to keep working.

To summarize

To summarize, here are my tips to being productive (and happy) when you work from home:

  1. Optimize your workspace
    • Invest in quality office furniture
    • Separate your workspace
    • Change it up
  2. Optimize your time
    • Set working hours
    • Take breaks
  3. Optimize your focus
    • Stay accountable
    • Make a to-do list
    • Get dressed
    • Get up and move

I hope that this article helped you understand how you can be more productive when working from home, and motivates you to make some simple changes to make your work-from-home experience much more enjoyable too!

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