For the past five years, I’ve been working a full-time job while running my business during the free hours of my evenings and weekends.
During those years, I had to get pretty darn good at working from home. After all, I was doing basically a full-time workload in just the few hours of spare time I had each day.
Then, at the end of February 2020, I quit my job to run my business full-time. I knew there would be a bit of an adjustment with working from home full-time. But I also figured I’d adjust pretty quickly.
Needless to say, things didn’t quite go as planned.
Right around the time my new life of self-employment hit, so did COVID-19 in the United States and the world started to shut down.
While I had already expected to be working from home, my husband was now unexpectedly joining me, as his office was forced to close down.
Even though I’ve been practicing working from home for years, the past month has definitely been a learning experience.
In this article, I’m sharing some of the best work-from-home tips. Some of these are ones that have been my go-to’s over the past five years, while others I’ve picked up just over the last month of Brandon and I working from home together.
Productivity Tips for Working From Home
Set up a devoted workspace
For my first few years of blogging, I would usually work from the couch while I had a television show or movie on in the background. To be honest, everything probably took about four times as long as it needed to.
Finally I learned just how important a devoted workspace was.
I’ve had a workspace set up in three different homes. In the home that I owned, I had a dedicated office. In the studio apartment, I set up a small dining table as an office. And how I have a desk set up in our apartment where I work.
We were thrown for a bit of a loop when Brandon also had to begin working from home in March and we only had one desk, which I was already using. We’ve now got him set up at the kitchen table with his three monitors.
The devoted workspace is super important for a few reasons. First of all, sitting down at a desk gets me in work mode. For some reason, it’s a lot easier for me to focus. I’m also a lot less tempted to turn on the TV when I’m not sitting on the couch right in front of it.
I knew that transitioning from being a full-time employee to being self-employed would be a huge switch, and I wanted to set myself up in every way possible for success.
Try to maintain a morning routine
When you work outside the home, you naturally figure out a morning routine that works for you, even if you’re always rushing through it to get out the door on time.
You wake up to your alarm and get yourself ready for work. Maybe you’re one of those people who has a cup of coffee and some breakfast. Then you grab your lunch and pack your bag before heading out the door.
But when you work from home, things are a little different. You don’t necessarily need to get ready. You can work in your pajamas and let’s be real, no one is going to notice if you’ve washed your hair or not.
As someone who is not a morning person at all, this has been the toughest part about working from home for me. It does help, however, that my husband has to get up and start work at a normal time of the morning.
If you’re struggling to get into work mode in the morning, try getting ready as you would if you were working outside the home. I’m not saying you need to put on makeup and style your hair (I definitely don’t), but try changing out of your PJs and having some semblance of a morning routine.
Set a rough schedule ahead of time
One thing I’ve learned about my work style is that I can spend a lot of time staring at my phone or going through my email inbox if I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be working on at any given time.
I’m not kidding when I say I could spend half my day this way.
One trick I’ve learned to help keep me on track is to map out a schedule for myself. I do this at least the day before, and I take all of my tasks and actually put them on my calendar.
At any given time, I can glance at my Google Calendar and see what I’m supposed to be working on next. Because it’s a digital calendar, I can also easily move things around if need be.
I like to use time blocking to help me map out my schedule. Time blocking is when you block off certain chunks of your day for certain work.
For me, time blocking is usually how I indicate when I’ll be working on freelance articles, when I’ll be working on content for my own business, and when I’ll be tackling smaller tasks such as edits and administrative work.
I’m not saying I stick to my schedule perfectly every day. But I am saying I’m a lot more likely to do so if I’ve actually planned a schedule.
Make sure you have the right tools
Working from home looks a little different for all of us right now. I’m a self-employed writer, so my computer and Google Docs are pretty darn close to the only tools I need.
But when I started doing this full-time, it became clear there a few extra tools could help to make my workday a lot more convenient (think like a second monitor, a keyboard and mouse, a laptop stand).
These days, there are also a lot more employees working from home. My husband still has meetings going on, as I’m sure many people working from home do.
For many of you, your employer will supply whatever tools are necessary for work. But it might also be the case that, as with me, a few extra things on your desk can help make your workday a heck of a lot easier.
Turn off phone notifications
I learned years ago that if I was going to effectively work a full-time job and run my own business on the side, I was going to have fewer distractions. And the biggest distraction by far for most of us is our phones.
The best thing I ever did for my focus was to turn off my phone notifications. I still get notifications for texts and phone calls, but that’s it.
And also there’s like three people I text regularly, so it’s not like my phone is blowing up all day — plus one of those people now works from home with me.
I started by turning off my social media notifications. Those are such an unnecessary distraction.
The harder one for me by far was my email notifications. And not only did I turn off the notifications, but I turned off that little bubble that tells me how many new emails I’ve got waiting for me.
Email is one of the things that can suck me in for way too long. When I worked a full-time job, I used to keep my inbox open all the time and constantly check in to read my new emails.
If you’re like most of us and are easily distracted by your phone, turn those notifications off!
Plan time for distractions ahead of time
Distractions like our phone might not be great for our focus when we’re working, but they’re pretty difficult to resist.
Rather than allow myself to be distracted by my phone at all times, I try to plan ahead when I’m going to let myself give in to the distraction.
For example, I might tell myself that I can’t pick up my phone while I’m writing an article, but that I’ll let myself scroll Instagram for a bit once I’m done.
I find that it’s a lot easier to resist the distraction when I’m working if I know I have time planned for it later in the day.
I also try to plan my other distractions ahead as well. For example, I might decide that I’ll finish my client work for the day, then clean the kitchen and throw in some laundry while I listen to a podcast.
Commit to certain work hours
When I worked at my full-time job, the hours weren’t all that flexible. Sure, I could come in half an hour later and stay half an hour later when I wanted to, but it was pretty much a Monday-Friday 9-5 job.
Now that I’m self-employed, I kind of see what a blessing that is. You see, it taught me to get used to working during certain hours.
My desk is literally in my living room right now. It would be so easy to quickly sit down to do work stuff in the evenings. Plus I’m used to working on my business nights and weekends, so that’s just second nature right now.
But for the most part, my husband and I try to stick to regular work hours. It’s made a little easier that he has a job where he still has to work pretty normal hours.
Even though we’re both home together 24/7 and could theoretically work anytime, it helps a lot to separate work from life and have our nights and weekends free from work.
Create time for physical activity
One thing that’s been a bit shocking about working from home is how little I move throughout the day. When I worked full-time, I would have a walk of about a block and a half from my car to the building.
Plus I would also burn steps walking to the bathroom, walking to the meetings, and just walking when I needed to get away from my desk. I would easily walk thousands of steps without actually making an effort to move my body.
Now my desk is 20 steps away from my bed and from the bathroom. It’s 10 steps away from the kitchen. Literally the only part of my day that requires more steps than that is taking the dog out.
What I’m saying is that if I didn’t make a genuine effort to move my body, I could easily walk fewer than 1,000 steps in a day.
Luckily spring is here and the weather has been a lot nicer. Brandon, the dog, and I have been able to get out every day for a three to five-mile walk. I’ve also been making time for yoga and pilates in the evenings.
I know that physical activity might be more challenging for some people right now. Maybe you used to go to the gym and now it’s closed. Or maybe you’ve not got kids at home during the time you used to work out.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. A walk outside counts as exercise. Even if you can’t do the workouts you’re used to, there’s still the opportunity to get moving.
Know your working from home weaknesses
Once you’ve been working from home for a while, you’ll be able to identify what your work-from-home weaknesses are.
Maybe you can’t resist having the TV on in the background while you work. Or maybe you’re one of those people who can’t see the dishes in the sink or the pile of laundry without handling it right away.
I’m not saying those things are bad, but that are the things that are going to distract you from your work during the day.
Once you know what your work-from-home weaknesses are, you know what you need to do to prevent them from distracting you too much. That might mean setting up your workspace in a room without a TV or making time in the morning before work for some light cleaning.
Plan social interactions into your calendar
Under normal circumstances, working from home can be a bit isolating. Especially if you’re used to working in an office with lots of other people and friends like I was.
That isolation is taken to a whole new level right now with everyone having to stay home to prevent further spread of COVID.
That part has been tough. Even though Brandon and I are home together (which I’m SO grateful for) and we live with my brother, it’s still really hard not to see friends and family that we normally would.
Because of that, we’ve still been making an effort to get some social interaction into our lives. We’ve been able to do video chats with friends and family that we would otherwise be seeing in person, and it’s been really good for all of us.
Even once this time has passed, I know I’ll still prioritize making time to see friends and family, and when I can see them in person, I’ll appreciate that time even more!
Remember that days off are still okay
The concept of taking a vacation day or a sick day when you work from home seems a bit strange. After all, you’re already home. But if you need it, don’t talk yourself out of it!
Even people who work from home get sick. And sure, it might be easier to rationalize working when you aren’t going to be around other people.
I don’t know about you, but my brain gets so foggy when I’m sick. I have a hard time focusing and I honestly don’t know if the work I’m turning in is good or not. I’d rather just take the sick day and know that I’m turning in really high-quality work.
And as for vacation days, everyone needs a break sometimes. That doesn’t change when you’re working from home. If those perks are available to you, use them!
Listen, it can be easy to get caught up in the challenging parts of working from home. This is especially true if you didn’t choose to work from home but are being forced to because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
I’ve found that practicing some gratitude is the best way to fight back against these thoughts.
First of all, I chose this lifestyle. And one of the reasons I did it because of the incredible amount of freedom that comes with it. I wanted to design my own lifestyle and this work allows me to do that.
Second, and more importantly, if you’re working from home right now, it means you still have a job. Millions of people have lost their jobs in the past month and many more are going to.
Please remember that it could be so much worse than having to work from home. When you think about how grateful you are for that, it will be a lot harder to complain about it.
Working from home is a huge adjustment. Even though I’ve been running my business from home for years, I knew that the transition from a few hours on nights and weekends to full-time was going to take some work.
The adjustment might be even tougher if you didn’t plan to or want to be working from home. Hopefully, these tips will help to make the transition a bit easier for you!