Here’s the irony: here I am writing an article on how to efficiently work home one day a week, when my thoughts are interrupted by my daughter screaming, “Mom, the puppy pooped on my bed!” So I go clean that up, and realize it’s almost noon and I haven’t cooked lunch. But I have a deadline, so I guess everyone’s eating microwave mac and cheese.
That’s work-at-home-life for you. It can get chaotic, and even overwhelming for someone who’s used to a quiet office setting. But if your company lets you work from home one day a week, here are some tips to stay productive, focused, and sane.
Keep your regular work hours—and make sure people respect them
Wake up at the same time, and stick to the same routine you would follow on the days you actually commute to the office. Tell your family or housemates your schedule.
It can be confusing for young kids, who can’t understand why you’re “ignoring” them when you’re at home. Explain to them that you’re still on the job, and set simple rules about when you’re available.
Set up a work area
Good for you if you have your own room! But if you don’t, look for a space that’s large enough for a desk. We’ve seen some really gorgeous (and honestly, brilliant) uses of small spaces: converted closet spaces, the empty space under the stairs. You can also get one of those beds where you sleep on the upper bunk, and the lower half has a table and shelving. If you see yourself working from home regularly, this is definitely worth the investment.
If you’re not ready to spend on furniture or home renovation, at least try to set up a work environment. Noise-cancelling headphones can help you tune out the noise. Store your office essentials and files in a small basket: bring it out when you’re ready to work, and then shove it back in the closet when you’re done. As much as possible, position your desk and chair in a way that you’re facing a wall—you won’t be distracted by people passing by.
Plan your day
Write a to-do list, and set the priority levels. Just in case there are distractions or delays, at least you know you were able to accomplish the most important tasks.
Aside from what you need to do, decide when you will do it. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re at home. From experience, I tend to be more efficient if I block off my day, and set mini-milestones. For example: write article from 9am to 11am. I set a timer at 10am, just to give myself a time check and remind myself that I only have one hour left.
Group your tasks
What time of the day do you usually have more energy and concentration, and have less distractions? That’s when you should do the very difficult tasks. Don’t waste those “golden hours” on repetitive, low-priority tasks.
Personally, I do anything that requires a lot of creativity and analysis in the morning, and then do “grunt work” like reading emails while taking my coffee after lunch. Work with your body clock.
Use your work-from-home day for “Deep Work”
The office setting has a lot of interruptions too: unexpected meetings, co-workers dropping by your cubicle. These can make it difficult to really focus on reports or any big task that requires deep thought and focused attention.
Grab that day you work from home as a chance to really roll up your sleeves and get into that task. Lock your door, turn off notifications, and don’t check your email. Of course, you need to notify your boss and co-workers. You may also want to set up your office email auto-reply so people understand if you don’t respond right away.
Even if you’re working from home, get out of those pajamas. Wear comfortable but stylish clothes, put on light makeup, brush your hair. At least you won’t panic if you need to turn on your camera during your Zoom call, and psychologically, you still feel like you’re at work.
Coordinate with your co-workers
Communication is even more important when you’re working remotely. Let them know which days you’ll be working from home, so you can plan ahead for the meetings, and finalize anything that needs your approval or input.
You may also need to assign someone who can represent you on the days you’re not there. For example, if a customer or client calls you, who will they direct them to? Who can answer questions about a project, or help them find a file that they need?
Save files in Google Drive
You need a document, but it’s saved on your office PC. Avoid the stress by saving all your documents in Google Drive or any similar cloud storage. You may also want to use Google Documents or Google Sheets, so you can share access with other members of your team.
Find out what your company’s policy or process is for break times. Some will be strict, and monitor your work hours. Others will be more flexible. Either way, you need to give yourself time to rest—and even eat on time!
Many people who work from home end up taking their lunch in the mid-afternoon, because they get so caught up with what they’re doing. That’s not healthy or productive: you need to eat in order to think. Setting a clear lunch break (and one short break each in the morning and afternoon) can help you stay on top of your game.
Ask for what you need
Will your company provide an Internet allowance? Will they provide you with a laptop, or other tools you may need like headphones? It won’t hurt to ask.
Work well, anywhere
Working from home is challenging, but it may be part of the New Normal. The pandemic forced many companies to work remotely. Even if quarantine restrictions are slowly lifting, they still need to limit the number of people in the office for social distancing.
It’s a huge adjustment, but with the right system and routine, you can be productive wherever you are.