If there’s one thing I’ve mastered over my years working remotely as a freelance writer, it’s the art of working from home. I’ve learned a lot about making the most of my space and situation. Many lessons, unfortunately, came the hard way.
But the good news is that you get to benefit from my mistakes, because I’m going to share my top working-from-home tips for productivity, space optimization, and overall success — both professionally and personally.
Due to the coronavirus, many more of us are now working remotely, and the trend shows no signs of stopping. No matter your state of mind or the size of your home, I’m here for you with some tried-and-true tips for working from home.
1. Create a dedicated workspace
This is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Just like you have a place where your body and mind know it’s time for sleep, you need to have a place where your body and mind know it’s time for work. And it’s perfectly fine if you don’t have an entire room that you can use as an office.
If you’re in an apartment or house where every room is occupied, you can put your desk in an area set off by curtains or a room divider. Consider using a nontraditional space like a closet or hallway. You can even reformat a bookshelf and turn it into a complete workstation with a small desk and shelving.
If you’re just getting started – or if you want to up your WFH game – ask yourself if you have what you need to create a functional office. It doesn’t require a ton of stuff, but here are some home office necessities you’ll want to have in place.
2. Declutter and clear the way for better focus
Nothing clutters the mind like, well, clutter. If you’re having trouble finding space for your workstation, or if it’s difficult for you to focus in a messy home, consider clearing out some furniture and home goods. Here’s a guide to declutter fast.
Selling or donating items is always a good practice, but there may be things you don’t want to part with, even though they’re not getting a lot of use. If that’s the case, consider renting a storage unit or portable container that gets delivered right to your driveway. This is a great solution for smaller homes and apartments that don’t have large storage areas like attics or basements. You may even be able to claim the cost of the container as a tax deduction.
3. Explore space-saving home office solutions
Think you don’t have enough space for a desk, shelves, drawers, and other office needs? Think again. There are creative ways you can make the most of your space and still have plenty of room for your supplies.
Consider using a floating console that can do double – or triple – duty as a desk, TV stand and bookshelf. Or try an L-shaped desk to make the most of that normally unused corner space. It might be a good time to consider the size of your office furniture, too. That large leather rolling chair may be taking up valuable real estate. Consider swapping it out for a sleek and stylish mid-century modern chair.
4. Set your work hours
Now that you have a workspace, it’s important that you not spend all of your time there. When you work from home, it’s easy to slip into the habit of waking up, pouring a cup of coffee, and sitting down at your desk to peruse emails. Hours later, you’re sitting in front of your computer, typing away responses in your pajamas with a cold cup of joe by your side. Sound familiar?
Decide when you want to start and stop working. This may be based on your company’s regular operating hours, or you may have more flexibility in your schedule. Of course, there will be times when deviation from the schedule is needed, but try to stick to the plan for sanity’s sake.
5. Get dressed
I can hear you groaning! I’m not saying you need to suit up or even wear pants with a real button and zipper (goodness knows I don’t). But it helps to have a routine to officially start your day.
You’ve got your workspace, you’ve set your hours, now give yourself time in the morning to have breakfast, watch the morning news, maybe do a light workout, and put on clothes that you didn’t sleep in the night before. Don’t worry – it can be business on top and sweatpants on bottom. I won’t tell anyone.
6. Take breaks
Less groaning now, I see. Breaks are something we all like the idea of, but they can be difficult to put into practice. I know how it goes – you’re having a productive morning, you’re in the groove – why stop to walk to the kitchen and get a glass of water? I’m not trying to kill your vibe, but if you deprive yourself of a respite, you’ll burn out by afternoon. Ever hit that 2:30 p.m. slump where no good ideas are forming and, if someone rolled a bed into the room, you could climb right in and fall asleep on the spot? Yeah, totally, me neither.
If you’re like me and have trouble walking away from the email siren call, have set break times in your daily schedule – maybe one around 10 a.m. and one around 3 p.m. A good way to commit to this is sending yourself a 10-minute meeting request. Take a short walk outside, do some yoga stretches, or stroll around your house with a cup of tea. Move away from the screens and let yourself wander. I promise you’ll come back to the table refreshed and with better ideas than when you left.
7. Consider a change of scenery
Walking from the bedroom to the kitchen to your desk isn’t the most thrilling morning commute. Working remotely means things can get stale quickly, and having a great workspace loses some of its greatness if you’re stuck in a rut. If your productivity is suffering, try working in a new area.
Sure, it’s good to have routine, and you know how much I love a functional home office, but occasionally I like a field trip. And, by field trip, I mean a good working and lounging session in my bed. Fortunately, The New York Times agrees. You’ll still need a start and stop time, a change of clothes, and a mess-free zone, but there’s no harm in adding some comfort to your day – especially when it’s cold and dreary outside. Go ahead. Enjoy.
If the problem is bigger than relocating to a new room, and you’re in a position where you can do your job from any city, have you considered a move? Working remotely is here to stay, according to recent studies, spurring many to reconsider where they live and play. If you’re looking to get more space for your money while still enjoying a city vibe, here’s a list of the top 10 affordable suburbs with a city feel.
8. Make regular adjustments
Improvement is a journey, not a destination. There’s always something you can move, tweak, or reconsider about your work-from-home situation to make it better.
Maybe that hallway office is too noisy. If that’s the case, try cleaning out a closet instead for some privacy. Find your space too bland and uninspiring? Bring in some small plants to spruce things up. Missing adult conversation? Find some time to call coworkers instead of sending an email. Even better, suggest you both take a walk while meeting. Zoom gets old fast.
Working from home, as many have now realized, has pros and cons. Just like working in an office building. But, with an open mind and some productivity hacks, you’ll find success in no time.
(Credit for photo featured at top: Samson Katt via Pexels)