Whether you have a traditional job in an office or own your own work-at-home business, working from home productively is an important life, career and business skill. Telecommute and partial telecommute positions have been on the rise for years, but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many people are having to adjust to working from home when they were used to working from an office. In this post, I’m going to share with you some work from home best practices that I’ve learned from research, talking to others and from more than a decade of personal experience.
Many of the tips I’m about to share I learned the hard way. I have ADD, so maintaining focus and productivity while at home – especially during the years where I shared my space with an abusive husband – came with a lot of challenges. But I’ve jumped those hurdles and developed some ways to manage the numerous distractions that come with working from home. Perhaps, I’ll save you from jumping some of these hurdles.
Apply the C.A.R.M.A. Code to Working from Home
The C.A.R.M.A. Code is a set of “keys to success” in life and business, and they can easily be applied to working at home successfully.
There is no one-size-fits-all guide to working remotely effectively. You have to experiment with the tips provided in this post, as well as other you learn from Internet research, friendly advice, and possibly even books.
Some advice will work for you just as described. Some will work with some customization to your personality or situation. And some just plain won’t work. But you won’t know if you don’t try and apply your creativity to develop solutions that work for you.
This ties into creativity. You need to find telecommute tools and techniques that you can easily use. Don’t use methods and software just because I or someone else says they work. Try them out. Make sure they work well with your personality, situation, goals and technical know-how.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We all have our strengths, as well as areas that we’ll never be great at. So why be inauthentic and try — or bluff — anyway?
Especially in these times of social distancing, it is important to nurture your relationships. Talk to people on the phone. Set up Skype or Zoom calls. Interact with people via social media. Don’t isolate yourself so much that you become a hermit.
You need this not only for your sanity, but also because you may need your network for help, assistance, pointers, and more. Maintaining healthy relationships is never more important than when you work from home.
Working from home requires a different, yet similar mindset to working outside the home. To be productive, you’ll have to be your own accountability partner in many areas. And you’ll need to make yourself take the steps you need for self-care. I’ll go into these ideas a bit more later.
Have you noticed that there is a common word used in the phrases “work from home” and “work remotely”? Yep, the keyword here is “work.” You need to actually take action to get things done!
You’ll need to:
- Set and maintain a workable schedule
- Take breaks
- Answer emails
- Talk to people
- Accomplish tasks
- Maintain balance
These are all actions. And they don’t involve sitting on the couch watching TV and eating bonbons! They are all goal-oriented actions. More on this later, too.
Self-Management for Telecommuters
Before you sit down at your computer to accomplish your work, you need to make sure that you set up a good environment in which to work. Here are some tips for creating space—both mentally and physically—for being productive while working at home.
Set a Schedule – and Stick to It
When do you work your best? Are you a morning person? Or do you find you are your most productive in the afternoon? Create a schedule that consistently has you working on your most mind-intensive tasks during your best mentally focused time of day.
For example, when I first started working from home, I tried to set a schedule similar to what I had at work. Start at 9 am and end at 6 pm. However, I found that that was less effective for me. I was more likely to start late, or dilly dally in the morning.
However, after a night of insomnia, I decided to give up on going back to sleep and start working sometime between 5 am and 6 am. I had the most productive day! I was amazed. I’ve found that if I focus on tasks that require me to be my best during the hours of 6 am to 10 am, I will get more done.
Also, set times when you will walk away from your computer. You need to take breaks and you need to have an “end of day” time. I like taking an hour for lunch. I relax, catch up on my binge-watching show du jour, and stop thinking about work. And, I always end my day sometime between 5 and 6 pm. This assures that I have quality time to spend with my husband, something that is very important in the “Relationship” area of the C.A.R.M.A. Code.
Get Dressed for Work
In my webinar about acts of self-kindness, I talked about the importance of making your bed in the morning. This small act is a psychological trigger that not only can help you feel more organized and together in the morning but much more comfortable when you go to bed at night.
Getting dressed for work, even you aren’t leaving the house is a similar psychological trigger. The act of self-grooming — taking a shower, putting on decent clothes, etc. — improves your sense of self-confidence and can actually help you be more productive.
Schedule Time to Check Your Email
It can be quite enticing to check your email every time something pops into your inbox, but this distraction reduces your productivity and can actually reduce your I.Q.!
That said, you still want to keep on top of important messages, so schedule times that you’ll take a break and check your email. In general, I check my email 3-4 times a day:
- In the morning, after I’ve completed my first most important task.
- Just before my lunch break.
- About mid-afternoon when I experience a slump and need to give my brain a rest.
- Just before shutting down in the evening.
Of course, if I’m working on something where keeping on top of my email is important, I’ll check more often. But I no longer check just because the alert sound went off. Some people go a step further and turn off the alert sound.
Establish a Morning Routine
How you start your workday sets the tone for the rest of the day, so develop a mourning routine that starts you off on the right foot. My morning routine goes something like this:
- Check my daily to-do list and complete one or two important tasks.
- Eat breakfast.
- Take a show and dress for the day.
- Go through my email.
- Work on the next important task.
Sometimes this schedule is disrupted due to meetings or errands or other things that are beyond my control. And, I’ve found that on those days where my routine is disrupted, I’m less productive. So I know from experience how important this routine is.
Create An Environment that Is Conducive to Productively Working from Home
Once you’ve got your self-management in order, it is time to create an environment that supports you in being a productive virtual worker.
Decide on a Dedicated Workspace
Having a dedicated workspace helps with more than just your taxes. It also helps you be more productive because all the things you need to do your work are in one place. Depending on your particular situation, this can be a 100% dedicated space, like a spare room or a desk in the corner of a room. Or it can be space that you need to set up and take down every day (not optimal, but sometimes unavoidable.) If the latter is your situation, invest in a plastic box or crate where you can keep all your work stuff together, making it easier to set up and takedown.
Once you’ve got your dedicated workspace, don’t tie yourself to it. Sometimes, you’ll need a change of scenery for mental clarity. Some people like to move to another room. Others will go to a library or café. When I need to read or edit, I like to sit in my comfy chair in the living room.
Set Guidelines with Those You Share Space With
If you’re single and live alone, this isn’t something you’ll have to deal with. But if you have roommates, children, or a significant other who is home during your work hours, you will need to set guidelines so they don’t disrupt your workflow. What these guidelines are will be different for any given person’s situation, but here are two areas that you will want to consider having them fore:
- When you can be interrupted
- When you need the house to be quite
For example, my husband knows not to bother me during my morning work hours, for that’s when I’m concentrating the most. We break for lunch together, so we catch up on things that come up then. In addition, if he does need to interrupt me, he asks permission first. And I do the same for him.
Integrate Work and Life Tasks
For me, Monday is laundry day. Therefore, I work in doing the laundry in between tasks. This helps me get my important household chore done and makes me take regular movement breaks. Win, win in my book!
Are there things you need to get done around the house? Why not schedule them into your day, alternating business work with life work. Things get done and you break up computer time, which is better for your health overall.
Make Sure You Have the Right Tools
There are a number of tools you may need to work effectively from home. Here are some of the most common ones:
- A laptop: This lets you take work with you wherever you need to take it. Most of the time, it will be in your dedicated workspace, but you can take it to a client meeting, café or library – or even the living room – when you want to. Another option is to have a stationary computer and a tablet, from which you can access important things, such as your email, when on the move.
- Virtual communication software and devices: I use Skype and Zoom for virtual meetings. A cell phone is a must, as well. These let you communicate with others in real-time. And having video conferencing capability adds in the facetime that can be critical for some work, as well as your sanity.
- A strong Internet connection: None of the above will work without it!
Other tools that are helpful for collaboration include:
- Google Suite: This suite of applications, very similar to Microsoft Office Suite, empowers online collaboration in real-time and is easy to track.
- Slack or Trello: These are project management tools that help teams work and communicate virtually.
There are others, but what I’ve listed above should get you started.
How can I work remotely effectively? Develop a plan and then work the plan. The tips for working remotely I’ve provided in this post are a great start.
My final piece of advice: Do your best. Learn as you go. And take time off when you need to. Don’t work when you’re sick and take time to smell the roses and interact with your fellow humans.
Follow this advice you’ll not only survive working remotely, you even have some fun, too!
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