How to Work from Home Effectively: Insider Secrets & Top Tips
Working from home sounds like it’s going to be more fun than working in the office. Or, if not fun, at least easier and better. After all, you don’t have to worry about morning traffic, paying for parking, or even just the prospect of waking up early enough to achieve all the above.
Except, there are far more distractions when you’re at home. And there’s no one around to keep you accountable. Sure, some jobs will monitor your computer to make sure you’re working when you’re supposed to.
But if you’re a freelancer, you’re only accountable to yourself—and deadlines. Nothing can motivate a serious freelancer like a deadline.
Developing a successful working-from-home routine is like developing a habit: you’ve got to stick to it until it becomes engrained in you. Which takes discipline and routine.
Here are some secrets and tips to help you turn your work-from-home routine into a daily habit.
Develop a morning routine
Depending on the kind of person you are, you may already have a morning routine during the work week. Or, you may have been a roll out of bed, have a shower and go straight to work kind of person.
It’s important to have a morning routine that you stick to. If you keep this part of your day consistent it can make it easier to anchor the rest of the day around it.
For example, after you wake up you might read a book, or the news, or whatever your preference is, and then exercise, shower, eat, and then look at what work needs to be done that day.
You might only work sporadically through a day because of deadlines and daily life happenings. But a morning routine will help to ground you and make you better focused for the day ahead.
Don’t work in your pyjamas
There’s always that picture in your head, the one of you working from home, lounging around in your pyjamas. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, getting dressed is a good way to signal to your brain that you’ve finished sleeping and are ready for the day.
Out of the PJ’s and dressed for work, equals Go Time!
Starting early can help you be more productive. Your morning routine should conclude with you starting work. Don’t take too long for breakfast, and ideally don’t watch any tv either. Breakfast shouldn’t go on for more than 45 minutes.
Ideally you want to start working between 8 and 9. The sooner you get stuck into a project, the easier it is to get the ball rolling on your day. Once you’ve built up momentum, the easier it hopefully becomes, to keep going.
Act like you’re in the office
Ideally part of your morning routine involves leaving the house. Fresh air and sunlight are good for you, but so too is leaving the house in the morning. When you come back you can be a little better prepared for your day.
Whatever routine you had in the office try and replicate that at home. So, if the first thing you do in the morning at work is turn your computer on and then go make tea or coffee. Do that.
Wear clothes you could almost get away with wearing at work, so at least you’re closer to that mindset of going to work.
Browsers like Google Chrome let you set up different accounts. Each account with their own bookmark toolbar. Having one for your work email and one for your personal account is a good way of distinguishing between using your laptop for personal reasons and for work.
If you take your breaks at certain times when you’re in the office, mimic those timings at home. Recreating that routine is a great way to help be as productive as possible while at home.
Clear a space that’s just for work
Even if your desk is in your bedroom, when you’re working from home it’s important to turn your desk into a work-only space. Or carve out a space at home that is just for work.
You want to do this to help you differentiate between being at home and being at work. It can also help to get you in the mindset of work and minimise the distractions.
Make an overly-ambitious list
When planning your day, think about what you can achieve, and then add a little more on top of this. The plan here is not to overwhelm yourself, but rather to motivate you to get as much done as possible.
You’ll get a lot done because you’ll be pushing yourself to tick items off your list. And while you won’t get them all done, you’ll finish the day with a solid list of completed items—at least, that’s the goal.
Sometimes, this can just mean figuring out everything you need to get done today. If that list seems manageable, add an extra item or two from the next day’s list. If you don’t get them done it’s fine, but if you do, then you’ll manage to stay a little ahead of your to-do list.
Banking all of those small wins and improvements is important. Especially for those days when it feels impossible to concentrate.
Work in chunks of time
Some people will just simply work better if they stick to the schedule they had at the office. Start in the morning, work through to lunch and then carry on to the finish.
Others though, will work better in chunks of time. They might work three or four hours in the morning, take a long lunch break, work through to dinner and then stop. Or they may work in short two- or three-hour bursts.
The important thing is to find what works for you. If you’re an employee, you may not have a choice. You likely have to work 9 to 5, unless your employer offers flexi-time.
If you’re a freelancer who works to deadlines rather than hours per day, as long as you meet deadlines, how and when you work doesn’t matter so much. As long as you find something that works for you and stick to it. That is what’s important.
Although, there’s no reason why you can’t do a 9-to-5 one day, and then the next day change it up and work sporadically. Again, as long as you get the work done effectively and efficiently—the how of it, is a deeply subjective thing.
If you know you don’t have the discipline to work in chunks of time. Then don’t try it. Do what works for you, and if what works for you is a very regimented clock each work day, then that’s the best way to work for you.
Background noise is good for concentration
Background music is ideal. Something without lyrics like film or game soundtracks can be quite good. Video game soundtracks are all about helping you focus on a particular moment in a game, so it makes sense to try this while you work.
Different people have different preferences. For some, music played loudly helps them focus and concentrate on the task at hand. For others, it’s got to be gentle music played quietly to help them stay calm and focused.
You will know what vibes with you best when you’re working.
The other thing that can work is TV played quietly in the background. Something educational like a documentary, or perhaps a movie or TV show you know so well it has the same effect as unobtrusive background noise.
Working from home can be a lonely business. With Google Hangouts and video calling, it’s quite easy to connect with colleagues and friends. I say friends because if you’re a freelancer it’s quite possible you don’t have colleagues. So it’s important to stay in touch with friends on lunch breaks so you’re not stuck inside your own work-related thoughts uninterrupted for too long.
Talking with friends and family on your lunch break can also reenergise you, make you a little happier, and so you won’t mind—so much—returning to work to finish the day.
If you do work for a company, messaging and video calls are a good way to check in with each other and remind you of what you’re working towards. It also makes it easier to get help quickly and not struggle on a project.
How to work from home effectively
Working from home isn’t easy. Even when you’ve built up solid routines and habits. You have to keep working at it every day and continually find ways to motivate yourself.
But it can be rewarding. And better for your health. And cheaper.
Since most of us have to work from home during the Coronavirus pandemic, this has gone from something that only remote workers and freelancers do, to something that everyone who can, must now do.
Working from home requires a certain temperament, discipline and willingness to ignore distractions so you can get on with it.
Not everyone is cut out for this. This is key to why successfully freelancing is so difficult. You’ve got to have the discipline and will-power to ignore the distractions of being at home and get on with the job at hand.
You can develop this discipline; you can create the habit of successfully working from home. It starts with making and sustaining a morning routine. After that, it’s figuring out what works best for you and applying that every day you work.