Entrepreneur’sNew Year’s Guide
At the end of every working day, I turn the sign on my home office door from “open” to “closed,” and then walk down the hall and go fix myself dinner.
I have worked from home for nearly 15 years now. And now, due to the health crisis, I’m less alone in that experience than ever before. While working from home can sound idyllic — cue the visions of working in pajamas all day long — it has its own unique challenges that are sometimes hard to anticipate.
There are two big challenges for most people who work from home.
One is staying productive.
The other is not letting your work take over your entire life.
In the 15 years that I’ve worked from home, I’ve developed an arsenal of 10 hacks that helps me conquer both of these challenges… most of the time. I’ve taught these hacks to many other people in my consulting practice, and they just work!
No system is perfect, but I find that these strategies help be extremely productive working from home while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Guard your time
There is a strange thing that happens when people find out that you don’t go into the office every day. They start to invite you to stuff during the day when you are supposed to be working.
I’ve met a few people that can truly live a flexible lifestyle and not have set work hours, but most people who work from home need to make sure they aren’t saying yes to things that eat into their work time.
Live by your calendar
This ties into the last tip, but is slightly different. Schedule everything on your calendar. I use Google calendar, but you can use Apple Calendar, Outlook calendar, etc. Heck, I know a few people who still use pen and paper calendars.
The key is to block out time for whatever you have on your schedule. If you are working from 8 to 5 with an hour for lunch, put that in.If you are working out 3 times a week, put that in.
Letting your calendar determine what you are doing at any particular time takes a lot of decision making off your shoulders and makes most people far more productive.
Even though I’m self-employed and own my own business, I still have a boss: my calendar.
Get out of your house
When you work from home getting out of your house can often seem like just too much effort. The errands you would usually run on the way home from the office often get put off.
But getting out of your house is important for most people to keep their productivity levels up.
Take a walk. Sit on your porch with your laptop and get some sun. Do something that you enjoy outside of the four walls of your home.
Delineate home time and work time
In the intro to this article, I talked about the sign I have on the door of my home office. It says “open” on one side and “closed” on the other. When I’m working I set it to open and when I’m not I set it to closed. You can get an open/closed sign at the local office store. As silly as this sounds… it really works if you commit to yourself that you will not work once the sign says closed.
When you work from home it’s easy to want to look productive and to let your work time bleed into your home life. But the next thing you know you’re burning the midnight oil, wondering where the day went.
Working from home, I’ve found I’m much more productive and happy when I have clear boundaries between work life and home life.
Focus on the task at hand
This one took me a long time to master. When you work at home your environment can be much more distracting than when you work at an office. If you want to enjoy your work and not be stressed out all the time, it’s important to focus on the task you are doing and then move onto something else.
Focus is a skill that can be learned and it is one that is well worth learning.
Get website blocking software
Most people who work from home work on their computers. It’s very tempting to want to quickly check Facebook, watch a YouTube video, or read a quick news story. Before you know it that quick check turns into 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or more. Of course, this doesn’t help you get work done, impress your boss, or make you money.
If you are routinely drawn to browsing the web instead of working, then you should seriously consider getting one of the many website blocking programs that are on the market. There are many extensions for Chrome that work well. I personally like StayFocused for its flexibility.
Get dressed for real
While working in your PJs all day is the fantasy that many people dream about, the reality is that for most people I know, getting dressed as if you are going to work can help a great deal with being in the right frame of mind to work.
I find that if I look presentable I work harder and smarter than if I’m sitting around in pajamas.
Track your time
It’s VERY easy to waste time when you are working from home. One thing that really helps is using a time tracking app. I’ve found that the simple act of recording the amount of time you spend on every task can help add an element of accountability to where you’re spending your time and help you be far more productive.
I like the Toggle chrome extension. It’s easy to use and gets the job done.
Get up and move
Slouching over a monitor all day is terrible for your back and your body. Most people do better if they take a few minutes every few hours to take a short walk or squeeze in a quick chore around the house.
If you’re using a productivity system like the Pomodoro Technique then this is automatically built into your schedule. I also have my Apple Watch remind me to stand up and take a break ten minutes before every hour.
Take time for joy
Make sure when you are scheduling your calendar that you include things in it that bring you joy. That might be cooking a nice dinner, doing a craft project, or visiting with the ones you love.
All work and no play is no good for anyone. Scheduling in joy will give you something to look forward to and help recharge your batteries so you can be productive when you get back to work.
As I mentioned earlier, the calendar is my boss; luckily my boss demands that I do things that bring me joy.
Whether you’ve been working from home for years or, like many people, are still adjusting to working from home any of these tips can help you be more productive, create work-life boundaries when working from home, and take time to enjoy life. Try one, two, or all ten and see which ones work for you.
Working from home is not all it’s cracked up to be (AKA spending all day in pajamas and sleeping in: two things that I can tell you from personal experience are not reality). When I moved to California almost a year ago, it meant leaving behind my beloved friends on The Everygirl team in Chicago, our pretty office space, and a dope snack drawer to work from home full time.
Besides just personally missing my coworkers that I also count as some of my best friends and greatest career idols (if we’re being honest, I also miss the office snacks), I had to learn a lot about holding myself accountable and staying productive so that I feel like I’m making my bosses and team proud from miles (and states) away.
Whether working from home is the norm for you, or “work from home” is simply a catchy Fifth Harmony song because you’re an office girl when we’re not social distancing, here are nine tips to help you impress your boss, even while working from home.
1. Get dressed before you start work
I am so not recommending you put on your work trousers and a blazer (unless you have a Zoom meeting, in which case, a blazer might be wise), and I personally hard pass on jeans while staying at home. However, don’t stay in your pajamas all day. Changing into something else before you start your workday (even if that “something” is just as comfy and cozy as your favorite PJs) sets the tone. Perfect your work-from-home uniform, or change into leggings and a sports bra if you’re planning on working out at some point during the day. Bonus: being already dressed will make it easier to work out at the end of a long day when all you want to do is watch Netflix.
2. Keep up your normal morning routine
A tempting factor about working from home might be to set your alarm for two minutes before starting and roll over in bed to open your laptop. Tempting, yes, but productive? Not so much. Instead, think about the factors of your usual morning routine that you enjoy the most or made you feel the best throughout the day.
Did you love listening to motivating podcasts on your way to work? Wake up early enough to listen to an episode as you take a walk around the block or fold clean laundry before your workday starts. Did you look forward to catching up on the news while you ate breakfast before heading off to work? Make sure you’re giving yourself time to make and enjoy breakfast before starting your day. Would a pre-work workout give you energy? Fit in movement before you sit down at your laptop. Try to fit in morning skincare, chug a big glass of water, and do whatever else is crucial for you to feel your best during the day before your workday starts.
3. Stay out of the bedroom
We can’t all be lucky enough to have an at-home office at our disposal, but give yourself a designated space that’s your new “office,” no matter how much room you have (FYI, I live in a tiny studio apartment, and if I can do it, you can do it!). Set up your laptop at the kitchen table or clear the clutter off of the coffee table and give yourself room to make an office space by your couch if you prefer to be more comfortable. No matter what, do not work on your bed. The bed is for sleep (and sex!) only. Working in bed will make you tired, and can even train your brain to associate bed with stress rather than relaxation.
4. Schedule “coffee chats” every week
If you miss the buzz and collaboration in an office environment, it’s common to feel disconnected, or even feel less overall motivation, while you’re at home. If you’re used to going on a coffee break with your work wife to brainstorm a project, or love chats around the water cooler that kept in you in the loop of what your coworkers are up to, schedule virtual “coffee chats” at least once a week with a coworker to exchange ideas, catch up on projects, or just reignite motivation. If you have a relationship with your boss, reach out to ask questions. They’ll appreciate the extra effort, and you’ll feel connected to your work environment while being isolated.
5. Prioritize accountability
To truly impress your boss, show them that you hold yourself accountable, even without structure like the office environment. For example, set deadlines and micro-deadlines (or deadlines to finish smaller pieces of one task). Don’t waste time, and record every task you do throughout the day (including five minutes of Instagram scrolling here and there or sitting down to pet your dog). Having an understanding of how you spend every minute of your day will help you identify when (and how) you’re wasting time. Some breaks (like petting your dog) might be a necessary break to refocus, but scrolling through social media might just be a waste of time.
6. Keep a notepad and pen by you at all times
One of my favorite perks of working from home is that when I’m alone, more ideas pop into my head than if I’m at the office and focused on other things (like the box of donuts calling my name). Make sure you keep a notepad and a pen by you at all times so that you can immediately scribble an idea that pops into your head or jot down notes if you get an unexpected call from your boss or a coworker. You may think that typing out ideas and notes on a Google Doc would be just as beneficial, but never underestimate the power of putting pen to paper.
7. Know when you’re most productive
If your work-from-home hours are flexible, this means that you get to work during the hours that you work best. Not everyone is most productive during the 9-5 window, so consider which hours of the day you have the most energy and concentration. Maybe you’re most productive in the early mornings, so you work from 7am-3pm, or your best creativity comes in the evenings, so you work from 12pm-8pm.
However, this also means that your work time is just for that: work. Take breaks when you need them (more on that below), but don’t get distracted by personal to-dos like your laundry or hanging art on the wall. Make sure you stick to a schedule (don’t get distracted or lazy by the flexibility), and communicate with your team what times they’ll be able to reach you.
8. Time batch your emails
Hack your brain into focusing by time batching tasks. For example, get your mind ready for the day by emptying your inbox first thing. Getting your inbox down to zero (or as close as possible!) is like decluttering for your mind. After your batched time to answer emails, resist the urge to check your inbox again throughout the day to help you focus more on each task at hand (rather than feeling scatterbrained from multitasking). If you do need to check email multiple times throughout the day, try scheduling about 30 minutes of emails first thing in the day, and 30 minutes of emailing at the end. You’ll be much more productive than if you checked sporadically throughout your work time.
9. Practice workday self-care
Sometimes working from home can feel stressful and can even cause burnout due to isolation, feelings of unmanageable workload, or lack of connection with the rest of your team. Make sure you’re practicing workday self-care every day, so you’re able to show up as your best self, even in this new normal. Listen to background music that makes you focused and energized (I’m biased, but I love our Office Playlist on Spotify or the Ratatouille soundtrack TBH), diffuse essential oils or light a candle, and take breaks when you need them (that means no lunch in front of the computer screen).