If you’re starting to work from home or just got a remote position, you’re probably looking forward to not spending time on a frustrating commute and staying in your pajamas until noon. Enjoy that for the first day or two! But if you’re planning to work from home for an extended period of time — or permanently — there are a few ways to make sure you can be productive at your job while still enjoying the perks of not having to travel to an office.
What works best for remote workers will vary from person to person. I’ve worked remotely in some form or another for the past five years and have found a routine that works for me, but your mileage may vary — and that’s okay. I think the most important thing to remember is to find what helps you stay focused, while keeping your work separate from your home life.
Have a separate workspace
A separate workspace doesn’t have to be a dedicated office with a door that closes (which is often not an option in smaller living spaces). It should be an area that mentally prepares you for work mode, whether it’s a separate room, a small desk set up in a corner of the living room, or a laptop at the end of the kitchen table. Ideally, it would be a place you don’t go to relax, like your bedroom or your sofa, and a place that other members of your household know is designated for work.
If you find you’re most productive with a laptop on the sofa, then by all means, set up shop there. It may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what area of your home is most conducive to getting work done.
Establish a routine, including non-work hours
This was the hardest part for me to adapt to when I started working from home: with devices that allow bosses and clients to reach us constantly, you can end up working 24/7. Try to start work around the same time every day if you can, and schedule breaks (including meals) around the same time if possible. I would also advise not eating in your work area, but I can’t put myself up as a good example — all journalists tend to eat at our desks, even the remote ones.
Ideally, you should try to get some outdoor time once a day, to get coffee or walk the dog, so you don’t go too stir crazy.
Working remotely can feel isolating at times, so as part of your routine, try to interact with your co-workers regularly (yes, introverts, even you). Chatting over messaging apps like Slack (even just saying “Hello!” when you sign on in the morning) and holding meetings over Zoom or another video app are two quick and easy ways to stay in the loop. However you connect, don’t let email be the only way you interact with colleagues.
Finally — and this is the rule I violate most often — try to end work at the same time every day. Obviously, there will be times when a late deadline or project needs after-hours attention. But in most situations, a 10PM work email can wait until the following morning for a response.
Dress the part
Look, one of the biggest selling points of working from home is that you can wear what you want. This is true, and some days, especially if it’s miserable weather or you’re not feeling 100 percent, indulge a little and wear sweats and comfy socks. But to keep a sense of routine, try to get dressed and do it around the same time every day. This might sound a little odd, but I find that in addition to jeans and a comfortable shirt, wearing shoes (instead of slippers or just socks) helps me keep that sense of work vs. relaxation. I’m not talking about the most expensive shoes in your closet; sneakers, flip flops, or other comfortable footwear are just fine.
Know your body
I splurged on a good desk chair when I first started working from home, and you may find that’s a worthwhile expense; it’s hard to work if your back is bothering you or you’re not comfortable. Definitely make time to get up and walk away from your desk at regular intervals to stretch your legs (one colleague is a fan of regular breaks for a few sun salutations) and make sure your work area is well-lit so you don’t strain your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away from your screen and focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Don’t have kids
Ha, I jest. But in all seriousness, make sure everyone in your family (kids, parents, spouses, and anyone else with a key to the premises) knows that when you’re working you’re not available to help settle minor juice-box-related spats or engage in idle chitchat. Shared living spaces can get noisy, so if your workspace isn’t isolated from common areas, I strongly recommend getting some noise-canceling headphones to signal to others that you’re not to be disturbed and to avoid getting drawn into conversations that are going to distract you (shout out to my well-meaning husband who has a knack for this) while you’re on deadline.
If you’re going to try to do chores while you’re working from home, be realistic about what you can get done. Taking out the garbage or checking the mail are two ways to get away from your desk for a quick break, but it’s probably not practical to try to conquer that mountain of laundry all at once while you’re on the clock.
Another suggestion: don’t offer to be the on-call person for friends and neighbors. Of course you should help in emergencies, but if you’re always the go-to for package deliveries or to feed people’s pets “because you’re home anyway,” this can quickly become more time-consuming than is fair. Establish — and stick to — clear boundaries about when you are and aren’t available.
Get the tools you need
You’ll get a lot of advice about investing in various work tools, such as a standing desk or a separate work computer. If you have the resources to do this and think it will help you (and better still, if your company will reimburse you for these expenses), go for it. If your company is requiring you to work from home, find out what tools they’ll provide and what they’ll pay for.
In addition to the noise-canceling headphones, the only must-haves for my own work-from-home setup are a decent Wi-Fi connection, a computer that meets my needs (this will vary greatly depending on your job), and a reliable cellphone. But if you end up working from home long term, you’ll figure out what you need and what you can afford.