Working at Home: 8 Tips to Stay Productive
Advice from a writer who has worked from home for the past 20 years
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Whether you’re working at home because of a new flex arrangement, minor illness or, let’s say, a pandemic (COVID-19 — you might have heard of it?), try these tips for staying healthy and productive:
1. Stick with a regular schedule. It may be tempting to sleep in late or stay up late working, but avoid these extremes. If you work your normal hours, your coworkers and clients know when they can reach you and you won’t slack off or burn out. Take time for your normal breaks and lunchtime, too. When your day is done, follow your normal protocol for availability as if you were still working from the office.
2. Get dressed. Especially if you don’t video conference, it’s tempting to stay in pajamas all day; however, the cozy duds send your brain the message that you’re not really working today. You might not dress up in a suit or heels while at home, but at least getting out of pajamas and dressing sets the right tone for the workday.
3. Communicate. You have to stay in touch for the tasks of your job, so choose the means that meets the needs of your audience and remains in compliance with company policy. Talk it over with your boss if it’s not working out well. That client who ignores email may be better reached on the phone. Respond promptly to others’ communication. A delay in the reply may make the other person assume that since you’re at home, you’re not as attuned to your work as when in the office. It’s also important to stay connected with coworkers socially. An occasional, non-work-related comment in a text, email or call can help you feel closer to your co-workers and not so isolated.
4. Minimize distractions. Working at home can make it easy to do a few household repairs or chores while “on the clock.” Discipline yourself to ignore the urge to start a load of laundry or fix that squeaky hinge until you are not working. (Writing down an after-work to-do list can help you make peace with these urges.) If possible, designate a room or at least a space in a room separate from the activity of the household. Set up a work area with all the resources, supplies and tools you need to work effectively. Let anyone else in your home know that during these hours, you’re working and anything that’s not an emergency will have to wait until you have a break. Once you’re accustomed to working at home, treat yourself to the pleasure of working from the back deck or other venue, as long as you’re productive.
5. Eat right. If you’re accustomed to grabbing lunch out, it may be inconvenient to go from your home office to the places you have patronized before. Perhaps cut back to a couple restaurant lunches a week or else find new places you like that are closer to your home office. Don’t let the lure of the fridge tempt you into grazing through the day. This may be a good opportunity to make healthful meal choices at home. Stock up on (or prepare yourself) some ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, yogurts, nuts, sandwich and salad fixings and low-sodium, vegetable-laden soup for easy lunches at home. Eat someplace away from your desk so it feels like a real break. Go outside, if possible.
6. Exercise. It isn’t just good for your body, but it helps you work better. If you liked to swing by the gym before work and now, you’re at home, you can still stay in shape. Get out and briskly walk or run when the weather’s nice. Look up home-based workouts on YouTube. Invest in some exercise equipment such as exercise bands, hand weights, elliptical machine or a treadmill. Performing some old-school stretches and calisthenic movements like calf raises, squats and jumping jacks can help you stay fit.
7. De-stress. Exercise helps with this, as does finding time each day to do an activity that helps you let go of stress. The transition to working at home can add extra stress to your life. Plus, when you work at home, it’s harder to shed stress because you don’t have that commute in which to decompress. Take time to do what helps you unwind, like the aforementioned exercise, light reading, talking with an upbeat friend, mindfulness or an enjoyable hobby that’s different from your work.
8. Enjoy yourself. Minimize the drawbacks of working at home by focusing on the advantages: no more commute, parking struggles or dealing with bad weather. You can pet your cat or dog anytime you like and wear your slippers all day if you want. All the time you had spent commuting you can use for something to nurture and improve yourself. For most home-based workers, the flexibility and time saved make the shift to home work a great arrangement.