10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

I’ve been working from home for years now. While it took me too long to get good at it, I now have steady routines and habits in place to help keep me sane, present, and engaged in my work. Even still, I’ve had to reassess these routines and make some adjustments now that our whole family is “working” from home.

Because many people have just now switched to working from home and are fumbling to create new routines and habits, a few readers asked if I could share some of my tips. These aren’t offered as prescriptions, but as inspiration. You could try out some of these suggestions, then reassess and make your own adjustments. I hope these tips help you find some peace, productivity, and calm in your own work life.

My favorite work from home strategies

10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

1. Walk yourself to work.

My home office is only about ten steps away from my kitchen, which gives me almost zero transition time between my family life and my work life. (I don’t like these strict demarcations between the two either, but let’s just go with it.) And so a year or two ago I decided I’d walk myself to work.

I don’t really “go” anywhere—just around the block—but this 10-minute walk gives me time to transition into my work day. The important thing isn’t the walk itself—although the movement and fresh air sure don’t hurt—but the movement into a working frame of mind.

2. Put on pants. And maybe lipstick.

I’m not gonna lie: one of the advantages of working from home is that you can finish that important assignment in your pajamas, or your workout gear. I’ve done that (a lot).

But I know that for me, if I’m not wearing real clothes by 10am my body thinks I must have the flu. And if I don’t get dressed for the day before my work day starts, then I end up having to take a break to get ready—and I hate taking a timeout to get ready at 11am; it just doesn’t feel right. I’m happier when I do it first. (I will note that in my quarantine life, I totally count leggings as pants. Also cut-offs. They’re not pajamas, so it works.)

And the bang-for-the-buck on lipstick is unbeatable: when I take six seconds to swipe it on, I feel more put together. This little thing is often just for me, though I’ll be honest, I’ll ALWAYS wear lipstick for Zoom calls. I’ve been loyal to the same shades for years, and I’m also loving this bright red that a kind reader gave me.

3. Learn by doing.

Slack, Zoom, Asana … these tools were not in my repertoire a few years ago, and when my team asked me to start using them I mightily resisted. I didn’t know how to use them, and I didn’t want to learn.

If you’re working from home for the first time, you’re probably using tools you’ve never had to use before. It’s gonna feel weird at first—and that’s okay. You’ll get better, with practice.

I didn’t want to learn how to use new tools, either, but I slowly adjusted … and now I can’t imagine running my business without them.

10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

4. Find a routine.

When you establish a rhythm to your work days, you can focus on doing the work, not on how you’re going to do the work. I always tackle my biggest writing project first, check in with my team to see what everyone needs from me, and then move into more administrative and project-oriented tasks.

True confession: I build my days around my three-cups-a-day coffee schedule. I know when I’ll stop to make a new cup, and which tasks go with each. It works for me.

Speaking of coffee: routines and rituals are so important to the rhythms of my work day. I deep dive my own routines and rituals in my book Don’t Overthink It.

5. Get off the computer.

For my job, I’m required to be at my computer A LOT. Much of my work has to be done at my machine; there’s no way around it.

But I don’t want to spend all day with my eyes glued to a screen, and with my kids at home, I don’t want to spend all day holed up in my office by myself, either. That means I’m constantly on the lookout for device-free ways to do my work. Throughout the day you’ll find me sketching out essays on a legal pad, making notes on a giant post-it on the wall, and voxing my team while I fold the laundry.

We may work online, but that doesn’t mean I ALWAYS have to be at my machine.

10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

6. Eat lunch.

When you’re in the middle of a project, it’s easy to keep working instead of taking a time out to tend to your body’s needs.

But what’s good for the body is good for the brain. I simply won’t get any quality work done if I’m hungry. To keep the transition from work to lunch quick and easy, I eat the same thing for lunch every day. I know that for some, this might seem boring, odd, or impossible. But for me, it prevents decision fatigue and helps me stay focused on the project at hand.

If you want more variety but don’t want to spend time making lunch everyday, consider meal prepping on Sundays just like you would if you were packing lunches for the office each week.

7. You’re sitting more than you realize.

Because my home office is just ten steps from my kitchen, it’s easy to sit at the computer all day, then sit at the table for dinner, then sit on the sofa to read at night. All that sitting makes my body feel awful.

This is truer now than ever, now that I’m not running errands on foot or even walking to my car. When our Stay Home order first kicked in here, I almost immediately began to experience hip pain from too much sitting, which hurt both my body and my ego, because shouldn’t I be too young for that?

Though I’ve long been aware of the hazards of too much sitting, now I’m more mindful than ever of moving my body throughout the day. That means taking conscious breaks to walk around the block or up and down the stairs. I’m checking messages and taking calls outside. I sometimes work at my kitchen counter, which doubles as a makeshift “standing desk.” I’m doing yoga for the first time in a few years.

10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

8. Build hard stops into your day.

When I first dabbled in working from home after my first son was born, my dad warned me: once you start working from home, he said, your work is always right there calling your name. That’s why firm boundaries are so important. You don’t necessarily have to work a regular 9 to 5 day, but I do recommend building hard stops into your day. Otherwise it’s easy to be always working, or thinking about work.

Plus, you really do need time to relax with your family, chat with friends on a Google Hangout, or simply go to bed early. Lately, my hard stop has been the nightly 5 o’clock update from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. It keeps me informed and gives me something to look forward to.

9. Take advantage.

Working from home has its challenges, sure. But it also has some serious perks. Take advantage of them! Work outside on the front porch on a beautiful day, take a short walk to mull over a problem, load up your desk with your favorite plants, put dinner in the oven while taking a call, work with your dog curled up at your feet. These pockets of joy are there for the taking. Look for them.

10. Take care.

Even if you’ve been working from home for years, like I have, these are tough times. If you’re having a hard time focusing, if you’re working at a slower pace than usual, if your attention span is suffering, or if your typical routine has been thrown off, know that all these things are normal.

Stick to the fundamentals: brush your teeth, eat healthy food, move your body, and be gentle with yourself. You might have some really productive days followed by some much-needed days of rest. That’s okay.

We’re all trying to do our best in these strange times. We may not feel like we’ve reached a “new normal” (I sure don’t), but if we take simple steps to care for ourselves and those around us, we will feel a little bit better each day. 

I love hearing about other people’s habits and routines. Do you have any advice to add for those working from home? Have you found any new WFH tips and tricks in this time of social isolation? Please share in the comments.

PS: 15 books for new routines and fresh starts, plus these 15 books to help you achieve New Year’s resolutions are also great resources for new WFH habits.

10 work from home tips to help you stay present and productive

21 comments | Comment

21 comments

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  1. Lori says:

    I take a 3pm tea break every day. If it’s a super busy work day, I’ll read something that is related to a project. If it’s a little more calm, I’ll take my tea outside with a book related to work so that while I’m relaxing I’m also learning. Since my husband and son are home as well, I try to have something sweet to eat to go with our tea as a special treat. It gives us all a break and something to look forward to.

  2. Victoria says:

    I am still fumbling through working from home. I am on week #3. Thank you for all these tips. I am a very organized routine-orientated person so this was really helpful. Honestly, I’m just proud that I have been able to get my work done and done well, take care of myself and my senior mom. But I do thrive on goals, so my new goal is to make a schedule and incorporate pleasant routines that fit my natural rhythm at home. Best of luck and health to everyone! Elbow tap, Victoria

  3. Angela in NC says:

    I have worked from home for ten years. Routines are important. I set an alarm every morning. I take a shower and get dressed. I make a to-do list the night before so I feel focused and on-task during the day. I schedule exercise time every day. I try to take a lunch break every day.

  4. I don’t really “work” at home because I’ve been retired for several years; however, I found these suggestions to be good for me because I do tend to sit at my computer a lot writing emails, doing my own writing projects, reading articles on the computer. I have a question, though. Should we be scared to death of Zoom? I’ve heard/read so much about the dangers of the program, and I belong to two Zoom groups right now. Both are the paid kind, but I’m wondering if even that kind is safe. Any ideas? Thanks in advance!

    • Christy says:

      My husband is in IT and says Zoom is not a good idea. Lots of folks believe that Zoom is a hackers dream. It seems like every event I see (and lots of my children’s school meetings) are on Zoom. Skype is a better option and there are plenty of others that have better protection. Also, if you do Zoom, make sure you log out and completely close out of the app when finished or it will continue running.

      • Susan says:

        Zoom now has a password on all meetings. Problem solved.
        All the hackers can do is join the meeting and eavesdrop, see files being shared with participants, or be inappropriate.
        With the password, and for sensitve folks/children, a “waiting room” can allow the Leader to only allow welcome guests to the meeting.

  5. Amapola says:

    I have to manage between three very different tasks each day. I devote the first part of the morning to writing, move on to the more mechanical things, and then in the afternoon I check with students. That helps me to use my most productive hours for the intellectual work. Although I have experience working from home, now that is full-time I decided to bring my ergonomic chair from the office and now I’m much more comfortable.

  6. Christine says:

    I, too, work at a computer all day, so I set my timer to work for 45-50 minutes and then get up and move around for 10-15 minutes for each hour I am working. My moving around can be housework, or walking on the treadmill, dancing, or taking the dog for a walk. I just try and move for at least 10 minutes every hour. I have severe arthritis in my back, so this helps a lot!

  7. Janna says:

    My hips are older than yours (I am 52), and I have found yoga to be helpful, as well. I stumbled upon the Yoga with Adriene YouTube this channel this week. I am no expert, but I recommend checking it out for your hip issues, if you don’t know about her channel already. There are many flows for specific areas – I did low back/hamstring and shoulders/upper body yesterday, and they were so helpful! I feel your (hip) pain! 😉

  8. Kimberly Fox says:

    I babysit kids, so I am used to being at home. What I am not used to is having my son home from college a 1 1/2 months early and having my husband home as well. The kids I watch are teachers kids, and since school is now online, the kids I watch are at home with their parents. So my routine has changed drastically. I do make sure that I get up and move ( walk the dogs…A LOT) and I am reading a ton of galleys right now. I keep myself sane, by getting up and immediately take a shower and put my makeup on. It makes me feel like I am somewhat in control.

  9. Kelly in SF says:

    It has been a hard transition for me, because my husband and I are also supervising our school age children’s classwork while trying to work at home. The noise/interruptions don’t stop, and I crave a routine but can’t quite get there with my gang, even if we go over our ideal day in the AM.

    My job is more time intensive & time sensitive than my husband’s (transportation and logistics – we help keep the stores stocked!) I’ve been starting work at 6am, getting some good time in, then with all the interruptions and regular conference calls, I don’t finish up until 9pm! And that’s with no “break” for a walk or to make myself a healthy lunch, and with my husband cooking dinner. I’m struggling so hard right now.

  10. Michelle says:

    I have found being home that I am not drinking as much water as I usually do. So I filled up the water bottle that I usually bring to work and leave on my counter top desk. Having the bottle out is a good reminder to hydrate. I am also finding that standing to work makes me feel less tied to sitting all day. I am moving around more and am getting small tasks done around the house. I loved reading your tips!

  11. Megan says:

    Great tips as we all adjust! I have dedicated my laptop for work only and use my phone for personal stuff like social media, checking the news, chatting with friends. This helps me stay focused and productive on my work, and keeps work from taking over all of my time. When the laptop is closed at the end of the work day it’s a cue for my mind to shift to family life. By turning email notifications off on my phone it also eliminates my need to read and respond to everything immediately.

  12. Sabiha says:

    Thank you for these fabulous tips! I’m just getting used to this new normal. I only worked from home on Fridays, so having to do this every day and with kids in the house is definitely challenging. I definitely subscribe to the routine of showering and getting dressed before starting the day. It puts me in the right mindset.

  13. This is all fantastic advice, Anne! I’ve found my biggest struggle working from home (which, like you, I’ve done on and off for a long time) is convincing others (friends, family, etc.) that I am actually “at work”. It took me a long time to learn how to say “I can’t talk right now, I’m working”, so my top tip for others transitioning into work-from-home arrangements is to start practicing early, and don’t be afraid to say “no”!

  14. Lexie says:

    I’ve only been working from home for 2 weeks and decided to try to keep a normal routine. I get up just a 1/2 hour later, get my workout in, shower, get dressed (usually sweats though), and do my hair. It makes me feel like I’m going to work and gets me in the working mindset. I still take my lunch hour and try to get outside as much as possible.

  15. Sarah says:

    I’ve been working from home for a few weeks now and it’s a bigger transition than I expected. My husband is also working from home, and we take turns being “on duty” for our six month old son. When you are on duty you can fully focus on work, when you are off duty you have to juggle the baby with work. We split the day in half this way and try to schedule meetings accordingly. We live in a one bedroom apartment, so our dining room table is also our office. One thing that helps is clearing off my work space and putting everything away at the end of the day, and setting it up again the next morning to start a new work day.

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