Can people who work from home be productive? After all, there’s no one around to keep you on task, and there are plenty of homemade distractions to interfere with work time.
But many people who work from home say that not only can you be as productive as you would be in an office – you can actually get more done from home. No colleagues stopping by your desk to fill you in on the latest office gossip. No endless meetings with that one person who drones on and on. (I’ve noticed that videoconference meetings, where people are dialing in from all over the country, tend to stay focused and end on time).
You have to have the right personality for working from home, of course. A healthy dose of self-discipline and self-motivation definitely helps. And these tips – culled from conversations with my colleagues at Aha Media, expert advice and my own experience working from home for the past 8.5 years – can really bring your work-from-home (WFH) game to the next level:
1. Create a physical boundary.
Working from home experts talk about the benefits of creating a physical boundary for yourself. A dedicated home office or separate workspace signals to your brain: It’s time to buckle down and get stuff done. Having a separate physical space to do your work helps you get in The Zone.
2. Create a mental boundary.
But the physical space is only half the story. You have to adjust your mindset as well. When you begin your workday, act as if you are no longer “at home.” These hours are when the self-discipline comes in handy. You wouldn’t fold the laundry or go food shopping or wash the dishes or see what’s on Netflix if you were in an office, so don’t do those things in your home office, either.
3. Write down your goals for the day.
To help with the mental boundary, make a good old-fashioned list. Write down your work goals in order of priority – what you must get done, the stuff it would be nice to get done if there’s time and the things you can safely push off till tomorrow. List-making helps you prioritize your time and your workload.
You may find that it’s most efficient to do your goal-writing the night before. Take stock of your day and write down the top 3 to 5 goals that you need to get accomplished tomorrow. Now you’re set up for the following day and can maximize your work hours when you arrive at your “office.”
4. Set up a daily schedule.
When the day is a jumble of work-work and housework, it’s hard to do either efficiently. A daily schedule can keep you on task.
It’s reassuring and grounding to see a schedule laid out in front of you, to know what’s on tap for the day. And once you’ve listed your goals for the day (#3), you can build your schedule around them. (Make sure your schedule includes breaks for lunch and snacks, too!)
You don’t need a detailed schedule – just a rough outline of your day. (And my very own pro tip: Schedule a bit longer than you think you’ll actually need for each project. Then you’ll feel really on top of things when you finish with time to spare.)
5. Make your space pretty!
Artwork, family pictures, a little plant – all those touches can make your home office an inspiring place to work.
Some of the décor adorning the home offices of Aha Media team members includes framed essays, soft lighting, paintings, Etsy art, children’s lovingly crafted designs and a beautiful secondhand desk. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or time to make your workspace an enjoyable place to be.
6. Bye-bye, Wi-Fi.
I’ll be honest: My biggest distraction when I’m working is not Mt. Laundry or Lake O’ Dishes. It’s the one right here at the computer with me – social media. Those little Facebook pings are so tempting … how much time does it take, anyway, for a quick social media break?
But I know myself and my temptations. So when I’m working, I shut it all down. No Facebook, no pinging, no scrolling. (Unless I’ve scheduled a Facebook break in my schedule: See above.) Some people go even further by turning off Wi-Fi or heading to a Wi-Fi-free café. (Yes, they still exist!) Shut off email notifications, and while you’re at it, set your phone to Do Not Disturb so you won’t hear the texts. All that’s left is you, your work and your giant mug of coffee. (For more on that mug, see below.)
7. Get dressed.
On the one hand, isn’t the goal in life all PJs, all the time?
But on the other hand, what we wear affects how we work – and the research agrees. Researchers did one study in which participants had to solve cognitive tests while dressed either formally or casually. And they found that the people who wore formal business attire did better at abstract thinking, an important part of creativity and strategizing.
Simply getting dressed in the morning helps you transition out of “lazing about” mode into “productive worker” mode. (Whether you go all out for a suit and tie or heels and makeup, however, is up to you.)
8. Just say no!
(^ With apologies to millennials who may not get the reference.) Working from home doesn’t mean you need to be at everyone’s beck and call. You don’t need to volunteer for every classroom activity, be the family chauffeur or make yourself available for last-minute coffee dates. It’s OK – and even good practice – to say, “No, I’m not available, I’m working now.”
9. Say hi to your colleagues!
One of the downsides of working from home is that you can feel isolated. Although you save time by not chatting with colleagues, it can also feel lonely when it’s just you and your laptop all day, every day.
You can also miss out on valuable opportunities to brainstorm about a work challenge or bat around new ideas. So try to schedule some check-in time with your colleagues, even once a month, to chat about projects, ideas or any concerns. And do these meetings over video conference, where you can look at each other face-to-face.
Unless you have a magic wand to create instant silence around you, you may want to invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones.
I recently bought myself a pair – and they’re incredible. I can sit at my dining room table, with kids zooming all around me, the TV on, the neighbor’s kids playing basketball – and it’s like I’m in a cave in the deepest forest at the ends of the earth. I hear nothing, and neither do the colleagues or clients I’m talking to.
And one last thing that brings me great joy when working from home: This giant, beautiful coffee mug, a gift from my husband during his recent work trip to Las Vegas. Isn’t she amazing??
Want to join our team and work from home too? View our open positions and apply here.