Working from home gives you the opportunity to create flexible schedules, avoid office distractions, envision a custom work environment, as well as waste no time commuting or being stuck in traffic.
But, a work-from-home arrangement also comes with its fair share of challenges – you may find it difficult to stick to a routine, or find the willpower to get started on that new project. If you live alone, working from home also means you’ll have less opportunity to socialize – after all, going to the company office at least implies you’ll see and talk to other people.
However, despite these challenges, there are ways you can make the most of your new work arrangement.
Summed up, here’s how to be productive working from home:
- Create an optimal, quiet work office/corner – complete with an ergonomic chair, suitable desk, as well as lots of light and greenery. For extra flair, don’t forget to secure a comfy sofa or a corner of your home you’ll use for that precious time of rest between assignments.
- Track the time you spend on all tasks and projects – in order to keep straightforward work data to send to your clients for checkups (and precise payment), or to simply keep track of your workload, and schedule your future tasks better.
- Follow a traditional business etiquette – dress like you would if you were going to a traditional office, define and stick to your work hours, and follow comfortable routines.
- Use communication and collaboration tools – to make sure you stay up to date with your clients and colleagues. So, an email account, Skype account, a chat system, project management tool, file sharer, online calendar, and remote control tool, should quickly become your new best friends.
- Find a cure to every home temptation and distraction – both of the online and offline varieties. Block Social Media during work hours. Cover the TV. Forget where you’ve left your phone until it’s time to leave your work for the day. If times become drastic, take a deep breath, and unplug your Internet – until you need it again. Block outside noise with headphones, keep your pets occupied with fun toys, and reschedule the ball game with friends for after work hours. You’ll be glad that you did once you’re enjoying a Saturday afternoon surrounded by loved ones, while knowing that all your work for that week is done.
- Take some time to rest and relax – to make sure you stay sane, healthy, and happy throughout your workday take breaks, pursue a creative hobby, and spend some time socializing in the evenings. You can even work outside from time to time, in a suitable place such as a co-working space or a neighborhood cafe.
Decide whether working from home is right for you
The first thing you need to understand is that not everyone is an ideal fit for working from home – you’ll need a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline to stick to your schedule, considering that there’s no supervisor keeping you accountable for your work.
Working alone from home can also be difficult for people who are used to socializing with colleagues throughout the workday.
So, before making the final decision, think it through – here are some questions you’d be best to ask yourself before settling on a work-from-home career:
What are your current work habits?
First, you’ll need to identify and weigh out your current work habits. To do so, you can take our quick quiz – just put checkmarks next to the statements that best describe you:
- How do you like to handle your brainstorming sessions?
- I like to form ideas by thinking about them on my own A
- I like to form ideas by discussing them with other people B
- How strictly do you keep to deadlines?
- I reach deadlines at all costs, even if I have to work all night A
- I usually reach deadlines as planned, but I sometimes ask for deadline extensions B
- Do you finish your work faster when you work in a team or alone?
- I believe I finish faster when I work alone A
- I believe I finish faster when I work with other people B
- How do you like to handle your work?
- I like to parse my work into larger focused chunks, separated by longer breaks A
- I like to work for a fixed time period, without taking notable breaks B
- Do you require praise for your work?
- I like to finish a task with flying colors, even if no comments on it A
- I like to be commended for my work by others B
- What is your opinion of office rules?
- I like to find creative solutions in my work, and not be constrained by strict rules A
- I like to work according to a precise set of rules, where expectations, deadlines, and requirements are clearly defined B
- How much do you enjoy sharing an office?
- I often find working in an office with other people distracting A
- I find that working in an office with other people stimulates my creativity and determination to work B
If most of your answers are marked with “A”, you’d most likely be quite happy and effective working from home. You’re more productive, creative, and focused when working alone, and the presence of other people is likely to disrupt this harmony.
But, if the majority of your answers are marked with “B”, then you’d most likely be better off if you were to work from the company office. You draw inspiration from others, and your productivity levels thrive best when you have someone to bounce your ideas off.
What is your choice of profession?
The choice of your profession also determines whether you’re a good fit for working from home – by proxy, some professions require constant face-to-face interaction for optimum business results, so having these people work from home would simply be inefficient.
For example, people working in sales representation often depend on face-to-face meetings to close business deals – they could phone their prospective clients, but meeting with them in person simply brings better results.
On the other hand, writing doesn’t require constant interaction with others – it’s actually the opposite, as frequent conversations would likely sidetrack writers from the points they’re trying to make in their content.
So, before making your choice, consider whether constant social interaction would benefit your work results or not.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Despite popular beliefs, being an introvert or extrovert has little to do with how shy or outgoing you are – it has more to do with how other people affect your energy levels.
And, as your energy levels directly impact your productivity levels, being an introvert or extrovert directly impacts how productive you can be while working alone from home:
- Extroverts feel the best when they’re surrounded with people – they gain energy and re-charge their batteries by interacting with others. Being alone for longer periods of time drains their energy.
- Introverts, on the other hand, lose energy when they’re surrounded by larger crowds of people for a longer time. They re-charge best by spending time alone.
So, if you feel that the constant presence of other people drains your energy, you’re more likely to be fully comfortable and productive while working alone in a home setting.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that extroverts should never work from home. They should, however, make sure they socialize throughout the day, to keep their energy levels (and productivity levels) optimal.
But, despite this clear division, most people actually fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes – they’re called ambiverts. These ambiverts sometimes recharge by spending time with people, and sometimes by spending time alone. They don’t find the constant presence of other people uncomfortable, but it can get tiresome for them after a while. If you’re an ambivert, you probably already know whether you usually feel like the presence of other people drains or fulfills you – for you, it would be best to equally divide your schedule between working from home and working at the office.
In a nutshell, if your work habits, your choice of profession, and your placing on the introversion-extroversion scale permit and encourage such a work arrangement, you should make the extra effort to work from home, as it really makes you more productive. Here’s how you can best maximize this productivity:
Create an optimal home office
Once you’ve decided that working from home is a great fit for you, creating a dedicated workstation should be the next item on your quest to optimum productivity.
Sure, you could work from your bed (there really isn’t anyone stopping you, is it?) – but, mixing sleep and work, and keeping your laptop next to your pillow every night will disrupt your sleeping habits. You’ll stop viewing your bed as a place for rest, and may even suffer from insomnia – after all, it’s not a pleasant feeling knowing that you may be woken up by an email at any time during the night.
So, here’s what you need to do in order to create a productive home office:
Find a quiet place
You’ll need peace and quiet if you want to focus on your work – so, it’s best that you choose the most isolated place in your home to create a work corner or full-fledged office.
If circumstances permit, choose a separate room to furnish and equip for work – if possible, this should be a room located the furthest from the street where you can easily be distracted by dense traffic or neighbors mowing the lawn.
However, if you live in a tiny apartment, you’ll have to be more creative – so, pick any available, suitable corner of your living room, bedroom, or even kitchen, to install your dedicated workstation.
If the construction laws of your country allow it, you can even make your apartment balcony into a separate, private space, by encompassing it with glass walls. As an alternative for apartments with a little more extra space, you can also buy a work booth.
Whatever you do, make sure to always somehow parse your work area from the rest of your apartment, at least with a couch or another piece of furniture – this way, you’ll signal yourself that you should be working while there.
Considering that the available corners of your apartment aren’t necessarily the quietest ones, you’ll also need to invest in a reliable pair of headphones, to block distracting sounds. While wearing said headphones you can listen to the right kind of popular music that can boost productivity, or rely on an online noise generator.
Invest in the right desk
Your desk is the most important element of your workspace – and you’ll be spending a lot of time with it, so choose wisely.
For a larger workstation, choose a sturdy desk, preferably with drawers, so you’ll have a place to keep the documents you often need close at hand.
There’s been much debate lately over the usefulness of the popular standing desks, i.e. desks where you stand rather than sit while working, and whether they make you healthier (and thus more productive) than regular desks – but, neither sitting for 8 hours nor standing that long can ever be good for you.
So, it’s best that you choose either a traditional desk (and invest extra effort to plan breaks for exercising or short walks), or a standing desk you can convert to a traditional one when you want to.
Again, if you live in a tiny apartment, you’ll need to put some extra work into making a suitable choice – you’ll have a fair share of options, but you need to remember that your work desk should be small in order not to clutter your apartment even further.
So, choose a demilune desk just large enough to support your laptop, and place it against a blank wall, to save space.
Or, choose a folding spacebox table that mounts on your wall – such a table can serve as both a storage place for your work material and a flat surface to place a laptop on while working.
You can even buy a desk that serves a dual function in your household – for example, choose a small desk that can serve as both your work desk and nightstand, and place it next to your bed. Or, place a hall desk in your entryway, and use it both for work and a place to store your keys.
If you have more room at home, you can even install a desk system, like a desk integrated with a shelf or bookcase, one you can place in the living area.
Invest in the right chair
Once you’ve picked out the right desk, it’s time you also find a suitable chair – one comfortable enough to help you maintain good posture during the long hours of work, but not so comfortable that it lulls you to sleep every time you feel drowsy.
It’s best that you choose a movable ergonomic chair, to secure proper back support, one with a full-back, and plenty of adjustable options, including adjustable armrests, as well as height and recline settings.
The seat pan should curve down and offer comfortable lumbar support – for good measure, it should also be soft and contoured.
And, perhaps most importantly, you should replace your chair every 5 years, or as soon as you notice it’s worn out and no longer fulfills its functions properly.
Now, if you work in a small apartment, you probably think that high-tech chairs with lots of beneficial options are out of the question. But, all the listed elements that make the perfect desk chair came in smaller sizes too, so make your pick.
Once you select your desk chair with all the right adjustable features, don’t let them go to waste – adjust your chair properly yourself:
- Don’t make it too high or too low – Your computer should sit at an eye level, or a little below your eye level. You should also be able to comfortably place your feet on the floor or chair rest, preferably at an angle of 90 degrees. To adjust the height of your chair properly, stand up and measure it to your own height – make sure the seat pan is positioned a little below your knee caps.
- Adjust the armrests properly – Don’t place them so low that you need to hunch in order to place your arms there. But, don’t also make so high that you can’t get close enough to the desk.
In the end, a perfectly adjusted ergonomic chair will ensure you feel comfortable enough to work full-hours anytime.
Create effective lighting
You shouldn’t light your home office like you’re planning to interrogate someone, but dim lighting won’t do you any favor either.
During the day, it’s best that you keep the window shutters open (or maybe even the window itself, if you live in a less crowded street) to let the natural light in.
However, if your client work dictates you mostly work at night, you should invest in reliable LED lamps, which emit a light that’s the closest to natural lighting – you can even try a LED sun, which mimics the qualities of natural lighting.
In any case, optimal lighting will help keep you alert and focused longer.
Plants are a welcome addition to any space, and by adding a plant in your home office you’ll even reduce stress that usually comes with any work environment.
According to a Washington State University research, the presence of plants reduces your blood pressure levels, and helps reduce stress. The same research also showed that having plants in the office helps increase your attentiveness.
Plants also help clean your air and help it get rid of pollutants – and it’s only logical that air void of dust mites, carbon monoxide and mold is better for your productivity.
Plants are also known to reduce noise levels – if you place a plant on a hard surface, such as a hardwood floor, it will absorb at least some of the distracting noises that plague you during the day.
Secure a comfy place for rest
While you’re too busy arranging greenery or buying ergonomic chairs and sturdy desks with drawers, it’s easy to forget that your home shouldn’t just be an office, but a place to relax and rest during break time. So, it’s important that you also secure a comfortable chair or sofa, for those quiet moments of rest between configuring a difficult code for the website you’re working on and moving on to your next assignment.
If your office is a separate room, a sofa next to a floor lamp and a bookshelf is an effective choice – this way, you’ll be able to stretch yourself during breaks while reading a chapter from your favorite book, for good measure.
If you live in a tiny apartment, you can place a couple of comfortable pillows next to a window and use this spot for mindful meditation – you can even place a scented candle at hand’s reach to your meditation spot.
In any case, having a dedicated place for rest near or within your dedicated workstation makes sure you feel more comfortable during work hours – and all because you’ll know that there’s a place you can quickly go and relax when stressed over a demanding assignment at any time.
Track your time
Tracking the time you spend at work is an important tactic in making sure you carry out your assignments – you’ll get a comprehensive view of the tasks you’ve finished so far, a breakdown of the exact time it took you to finish them, and you’ll gain an understanding of the tasks you still have left to finish in the future.
Plus, a timer ticking in the background serves as a subtle reminder that you should focus on your work and finish it before too much time elapses.
Moreover, considering that you’re working from home, you’ll need to provide precise and easily readable data on the work you accomplish each day – either for your in-house supervisor or your freelance clients who’ll want regular updates on their projects.
You’ll also need this data as proof that you’ve finished your daily norm while working from home, so that the accounting department within your company can manage your precise work hours for payroll.
On the other hand, If you’re a freelancer, you’ll still need to provide precise data on the work you’ve accomplished, in order to:
- maintain a trustworthy relationship with the client, and keep them up to date
- provide the exact amount the client needs to pay you via a payment method
When it comes to standout features within a time tracker app, you’ll also need:
- The option to define multiple hourly rates, for projects and other aspects of the project you need to bill differently
- Timesheets for manual data entry of the time you’ve spent on a project so far
- The option to add multiple projects, project-related tasks, and clients (either for one or multiple projects)
- Tags to sort and organize your work
- Bulk edits to delete and change multiple time entries at once
- The option to integrate with your other business apps and track the time you spend on them every day
- Reports to analyze your elapsed time and work done
- Exporting options (PDF, XLSX, CSV ) and the option to save reports, to send to clients
Clockify pro tip
For a time tracker that ticks all the listed features, try out our free time tracker Clockify by signing up here.
Act like you would in an office
Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow the same business etiquette you would in a traditional office – for such a purpose, dressing for the occasion, defining your work hours, and following beneficial daily routines is key:
Dress for work
Working from bed in your pajamas the entire day is a possibility when you’re working from home – but it’s counterproductive to staying productive with your work.
So, get out of your bed for work and dress like you would if you were going to a regular company office.
This way, you’ll send a signal to your body that it’s time to enter work mode – a work mode that brings higher focus and better results.
Define your work hours
Working all day (just because you technically can) is no better than slacking off for hours – so, define a time frame for work you’ll stick to.
If you work freelance or your company is also mostly remote with flexible work hours (but with a fixed time-per-day norm), your schedule doesn’t have to be as strict as in a regular office.
If you’d rather work for 4 hours in the morning, take a longer break to run some errands around noon, and then continue working from 2 pm to 6 pm in the afternoon, you can. But, you should refrain from working outside these work hours.
When defining your work time, you should also identify your personal most productive time for work, i.e. your Biological Prime Time. In the end, perhaps you’ll conclude that you’re most efficient when you start working around noon instead of the earliest hours of the morning (remember, what’s good for Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey doesn’t have to be good for you).
Follow a routine
Having a routine is crucial for work – and, it may be even more important when you’re working from home, because you often have no one but yourself to keep you accountable.
So make an effort to establish morning, work, evening, and bedtime routines:
8:00 am – 8:15 am Get up and do some quick exercises
8:15 am – 8:30 am Take a shower
8:30 am – 9:00 am Have some breakfast and listen to a motivational podcast
9:00 am – 9:30 am Write a to-do list for what you need to finish by the end of the day, and create a schedule you’ll follow
9:30 am – 12:00 pm Pick your most important and most urgent task and work on it first
12:00 am – 1:00 pm Go to a lunch break
1:00 pm – 5:15 pm Continue working on your to-do list
5:15 pm – 5:30 pm Gradually ease out of your workday – unless something unexpected and urgent arises, always end your workday at the same time
*Extra tips for your work routine:
- Track time you spend on each separate task
- Work in pre-scheduled intervals – The Pomodoro time management technique proposes you parse your workload in 25-minute work sessions separated by 5-minute breaks, and then set a timer to make sure you stick to the routine
- Take regular breaks to recharge your energy
- Have a healthy snack when you’re hungry
- Be realistic when making your daily to-do lists
- Work on improving your overall time management skills
5:30 pm – 6:00 pm Have dinner
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm Spend some time with your family or go out for a movie with friends
8:30 pm – 9:30 pm Relax and unwind – read a chapter of an interesting book or work on a creative hobby (you can even enroll in a class or club in your neighborhood)
9:30 pm – 10:00 pm Take a shower and get ready for bed
10:00 pm – 10:15 pm Be in bed by this time – read your favorite book or listen to some soothing music to lull yourself to sleep
This is just an example for your daily routines – you can use it as guidelines, and then track the time you spend on your routines, to test out your estimates and make changes if needed.
Clockify pro tip
Want to learn how real people overcome common work-from-home challenges and build their routines? Read our interview with 15 inspiring remote workers around the world.
Use communication and collaboration tools
When you’re working from home, you won’t be able to stroll down to your colleague’s desk anytime you need to consult about that new feature you’re currently working on. So, the key to effective collaboration falls on tools – skype, email, and specialized communication and collaboration tools.
In gist, you’ll need:
- an efficient file sharer (such as OneDrive)
- a communication tool with chat options (such as Slack)
- a project management tool (such as Trello or Asana)
- a calendar with reminders for team meetings and assignments (such as Google Calendar)
That’s enough for a start, but you can also install a tool for remote control (such as TeamViewer) when you need help from tech-support.
And, most importantly, you’ll need to react in a timely manner to messages and requests from your colleagues – so, keep an eye on your tools as you work, and always respond to chat messages and calls at your earliest convenience. This way, you’ll build a good relationship with your remote team and make sure all problems with the project are solved as quickly as possible.
Deal with most common home distractions
So, you’re tracking all the time you spend working, going on regular breaks, and enjoying your new home office – but, unless you’re superhuman, you’ll also need to resist the temptation of a few common home distractions:
The TV 📺
When you’re working at home, it’s much easier to sneak in an hour of Netflix any time, which can even easier turn to a binge marathon of the newest season of your favorite TV show. And, in no time, you find that you’ve wasted an entire day.
How to deal with?
When choosing a room for your office, make sure it’s the one without a TV set with a surround sound cinema system in it.
If you only have room for a corner for work in your apartment, make sure you cover your TV during work hours.
Or, simply hide the remote or take out its batteries – you can put everything back in place once you’re done working for that day.
Social Media 👥
Yes, Social Media is probably your biggest obstacle on the road to carrying out your work as planned. You’ll say it’s just a 5-minute check-up, but, without even realizing, you may find that you’ve just spent 30 minutes browsing your Facebook feed in search of your favorite holiday pic from 2016. Naturally, you try to get your focus back on, but it takes you another 30 minutes to get yourself fully immersed in work again.
How to deal with?
Your best option is to completely avoid Social Media during work hours – of course, this is much easier said than done, and it involves beating your own instincts to procrastinate.
So, when sheer willpower won’t do, you can simply unplug the internet – you won’t be tempted to check Social Media, and you’ll also suppress the urge to browse the Web in search of the newest celebrity gossip or an original Commodore 64 for sale.
Of course, this method only applies if you don’t need the Internet to carry out your work activities – but, if you’re a blogger who constantly needs to gather data for a blog post you’re writing, it’s best that you use a Website Blocker to stay on the safe side.
Your phone 📱
You can use your phone to browse your Social Media feeds, watch YouTube videos, text your friends, and make international calls – but, by doing so during work hours you’ll waste a lot of precious time.
How to deal with?
You can turn your phone off, for starters – but, the best advice to follow in this case is: “Out of sight, out of mind”. So, put your phone in another room (preferably, one you can lock), and forget it exists until after hours.
Loved ones interrupting you 👪
One of the upsides of working from home is that you’ll be able to spend more time with your family – the downside is that your family will often assume you are free to listen to their requests and problems, just because you’re technically at home.
How to deal with?
If the problem is sporadic, with friends and family popping up to your home office at the beginning, only to stop doing so once it becomes clear that you’re busy with work during certain hours, don’t worry about it.
But, if the problem persists after these first few days, then you should illustrate your workday to your friends and family a little better:
- explain that there’s no real difference between traditional job arrangements and working from home (apart from the location)
- be clear about your obligations and your work hours
- ask your loved ones not to interrupt you during this time – just like they wouldn’t just barge in on you at work while you’re at a meeting in a high-tech conference room
In the end, explain that you’ll be free to socialize with them or run some errands for them once your workday officially ends.
Pets interrupting you 🐶
You can explain it to your loved ones that they shouldn’t interrupt you during work hours (unless there’s an emergency) – but, you can’t really explain it to your pets, considering that they can’t understand what deadlines and schedules really are.
How to deal with?
Make sure your pet has plenty of water and food during your work time – you can refill their bowls when needed, but it would be best if your pet were to get accustomed to seeing you less during certain hours.
If your pet is used to getting a lot of attention from you, it’s likely that they’ll bark, meow, squeal, and try to get your attention in any (most likely adorable) way possible – but, don’t fall for it, at least most of the time. You can however, dedicate some of your work breaks to having fun with your furry friend – as a great addition, you can even buy them some new toys to keep them occupied enough.
Make an effort to socialize
If you’re working full-time from home, you’ll need to invest extra effort to socialize with people – especially if you live alone.
As previously discussed at length, having a dedicated, streamlined workstation is crucial for your productivity and focus at work – but, that doesn’t mean you should confine yourself to it every time you need to write an email or finish any other task.
On the contrary, being alone for too long isn’t good for your health, and can’t be good for your productivity.
So, pick a day of the week (or a couple of hours) when you’ll do most of your work outside your home office – for example, go to a cafe, a nearby park, or try a local co-working space. You’ll feel better being surrounded by people for some time, and you’ll likely find someone to chat with during breaks.
Considering that the number of people working from home is on the increase, perhaps you’ll find that some of your friends and acquaintances also work from home – if convenient, you can even make an arrangement with them to have lunch breaks together a couple of days per week. This way, you’ll still enjoy all the benefits of telecommuting, but now coupled with a more traditional practice of going to lunch with “colleagues”.
Summing it all up…
In the end, if you follow this advice, you’ll cultivate a productive and efficient work environment in your home, and enjoy all the benefits that working from home brings.