In the past year, COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. One of the biggest changes that COVID-19 inflicted was the “work-from-home mandate.” At some point, most everybody had to adjust their lives to meet the rewards and challenges of remote work.
But who doesn’t want to work from home in their bunny slippers and underwear, right?
While the idea of remote work may seem enchanting, creating the illusion of ease, working from home is no walk in the park (unless, of course, you set up your treadmill desk at the park, which is not advised).
Your pets suddenly became your colleagues and your two-year-old became the office manager. Working from home can be a huge drain on your productivity, causing the time needed to accomplish a project to actually increase.
If you want to maintain maximum productivity while working from home, you need to establish a healthy work-life balance. By strategically adopting these work-from-home recommendations, you will have the pleasure of watching your productivity double or even triple.
Related: Stop Telling Me I Need to Wake Up Early to Be Successful
1. Establish a work sanctuary
A “work sanctuary” is exactly what it sounds like: a specific place in your home where work is done.
Ideally, you would have a separate room that is considered to be your office. However, not everyone is lucky enough to have a home office. (Take the quarantined residents in their one-bedroom New York City apartment, for example!)
Even if you don’t have that extra office space in your home, you should do your best to create a “work sanctuary” space. This means picking a space that isn’t…
- Your bed
- Your couch
- Near your kids
- Near a TV or radio
- Frequently interrupted by the interaction with family members
If you don’t have a separate room, this might be a corner of your living room or kitchen. Ideally, when you work from home, you want to sit at a table or desk where the fewest distractions take place.
2. Turn off the news during work hours
According to statistics, remote work during COVID-19 has increased the amount of time that working professionals watch daytime TV by two hours and 10 minutes per week.
It makes sense that the increased amount of isolation or limited human interaction due to social distancing can cause the need to stay in-tune with events via radio or TV. However, these statistics show the increased time spent watching the news cuts into the professional work week.
Not only is the news a distraction that causes you to slack off in your work, but also it is unethical and unprofessional to use your company time to watch television. And if you’re your own boss, well, you’re sort of stealing from yourself! Binge-watching Netflix while filling out your lead gen spreadsheet may mean you’re not doing your best work.
3. Establish a daily routine
When conducting remote work, a major way to help increase productivity and eliminate distractions is to follow a daily schedule that you set for yourself. Here is a list of helpful workday activities that you can practice.
- Alarms. Set your morning alarms to get up at the same time each day in order to help your body subconsciously follow your daily routine.
- Hygiene. Brush your teeth and take a shower before you start your remote workday so that your body feels professional and clean—just like it would in the office.
- Devices. Other than your work phone, you want to silence any other devices. The last thing you need while working is getting those tempting little alerts, calendar reminders, social media notifications, or group texts from family members.
- Office hours. Make sure to create consistent remote “office hours” each day. Work during work hours, and don’t work outside of those hours. When you establish “office hours,” you establish boundaries that allow you to lead a more balanced life. Additionally, by “time blocking” your day, your productivity will skyrocket even if the number of hours you work decreases.
- Personal life. If you stay consistent with working only in your designated work hours, then you create a dependable schedule for your family members. You will regularly have time to spend with your family outside of work hours, which will create a mentally healthy and stable atmosphere in your home.
You can even mimic a morning commute by taking a bike ride or walk in the morning before sitting down at the computer. Establishing transitions between your “normal” life and work life helps keep the two areas separate.
By establishing a strict daily routine, you create a healthy work-life balance and increase your professional productivity.
4. Develop a schedule that takes advantage of your productive times
Working from home creates a unique environment where a working professional (most of the time) has the liberty to choose the hours in which they work, rather than having them dictated by a boss looking over their shoulder.
Your work hours do not need to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You are the boss, so pick a schedule that works for you. Maybe you want to schedule work time from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then again from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Whatever suits you, just write it down and stick to your schedule.
After identifying which hours are most productive in your day, keep in mind that breaks of exercise and movement are crucial to your physical and mental health as well as your work productivity.
Related: How to Maintain Motivation in 3 Simple Steps
5. Move regularly
When you work from home, no boss is standing over your shoulder telling you to “get to work.” But for some reason, remote workers take far fewer breaks than when they work in a corporate setting.
According to the American Cancer Society, “prolonged sitting”—defined as six or more hours per day—results in a 19% higher death rate compared to sitting for only three hours at a time.
Their studies have shown that the time you spend sitting negatively impacts your immune system as well as the hormone levels of your body.
If you don’t have time to squeeze in a full workout during the day, that’s okay. Short breaks are important, too. Here is a list of ideas to include movement throughout your daily routine.
- Walk or stand during lunch while you are eating
- Stretch or exercise for 10 minutes
- Take a walk around your neighborhood
- Use the furthest bathroom in your house, especially if you have to climb stairs
- Stand and fold laundry while watching TV—after office hours, of course
Additionally, while it may seem that breaks interrupt a person’s workflow and decrease productivity, the opposite is actually true. Studies show that workers who take regular breaks actually accomplish more and produce better results.
So, take regular breaks—at least five minutes each hour—to walk, eat a nutritious snack, stretch, or just breathe deeply. The regular refreshing of your mind will have dramatic effects on your life and on your work.
In addition to moving regularly, pay attention to your posture. Hours of sitting can cause joint and muscle pain. Proper posture will nip that in the bud.
7. Choose productivity tools that work for you
One of the best things about transitioning to remote work is that you are introduced to a plethora of apps and tools designed to increase your professional productivity.
Here are some popular tools and apps that will help you while you work from home.
These tools will help you stay on task and are essential for maintaining a productive, professional home office.
8. Communicate with family and coworkers
One of the most difficult tasks when transitioning to remote work is maintaining a healthy professional and personal balance throughout the workweek. Let’s discuss two strategies you should keep in mind.
Avoiding work creep
In addition to taking movement breaks throughout the day, once your established work hours have finished, you must mentally disconnect yourself from your work.
There are several activities that can help you unwind at the end of your day.
- Listening to music
- Watching TV
- Playing a game with family members
- Reading to your kids
These activities have proven to help you cognitively and emotionally disconnect from the pressures of the office. You need to actively communicate with your family members in your out-of-office hours in order to rejuvenate yourself for the next workday and help strengthen your family bond.
Establish professional ground rules
Regarding your professional workweek, you need to come up with ground rules to help you stay accountable, productive, and on task.
Here are some ideas you may like to implement into your ground rules.
- Regularly meet with your work team via Zoom, Skype, or another video conferencing platform.
- Set up a weekly check-in meeting with your boss or your co-workers.
- Set specific expectations for your communication with clients and office staff.
- Ensure your availability to your team during your predetermined home-office hours.
- Immediately nip communication breakdown in the bud.
By following your professional ground rules, you are ensuring a successful and well-managed workweek.
To summarize: Avoiding work creep and setting professional ground rules helps you maintain a healthy balance between your role in the home and your role as an employee.
9. Use headphones
COVID-19 has presented unique challenges to parents working from home. Not only are you learning a new way of working, but you also have to deal with children learning, playing, and fighting.
Not only can your pets, significant other, or children be distracting, they can also become the unwanted background sounds for virtual work meetings. Unfortunately, computer microphones can pick up just about anything, which can signal unprofessionalism on your part.
The solution to these problems of distraction and embarrassing background noise is so simple that it can be overlooked.
The best option is to choose a pair of headphones with a microphone and noise cancellation technology. No matter your needs or requirements, the Wirecutter’s headphone category probably has a pick for you.
Work from home tips: one last thought
Finally, understand that when you work from home, it’s very easy to get involved in what Cal Newport calls “shallow work” rather than “deep work.”
In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal separates most of what we do each day as either “shallow,” when little substance is accomplished but work is still happening, and “deep,” when the most important tasks are knocked out.
Very little of what we do during the day is likely “deep work,” but this is the kind of work that matters the most. When you work from home, make every effort to avoid shallow work and spend more time diving deep into your most important tasks—the things that truly move your business forward.
These work from home tips will guarantee you a productive, healthy, and successful remote workweek.