Like millions of Americans, there’s a good chance that at some point this year, you had to figure out how to work from home. Unfortunately, in most cases, there was no instruction manual. Even if it was only for a short time, the challenges of not working in an office are real. For many people, those challenges aren’t likely to change anytime soon.
I’ve worked remotely for years, and along the way, I’ve made enough mistakes to learn a few things that can help. With that in mind, here are nine tips that can help you be less stressed and more productive while working remotely:
1. Do something else first
One of the hardest things about working from your home is that home is also where you do everything else. That means you lose the separation between life and work that comes from physically leaving your home and commuting to work. That separation is actually important, as it allows you to prepare yourself for what you have ahead and switch between contexts.
To give yourself back some of that space, make it a point to do something else in the morning before you start work. That means don’t immediately start replying to emails. Instead, go for a walk, read a book, or make breakfast for your kids.
2. Define your space
Along the same lines of creating boundaries, create a specific workspace with all of the technology, tools, and resources you need to get work done. I know not everyone has an office in their home, but you should still set up a dedicated spot that you can always land. That doesn’t mean you can’t work at the kitchen table, on the couch, or even from the bed on occasion. It does mean that when you need to sign on to a Zoom meeting, you’ll have a place to go that isn’t in the middle of the kitchen.
3. Shut the door
There are times that you simply need to hunker down and focus on work. I highly recommend that, to the extent possible, your dedicated space have a door you can shut. This does two things: It helps eliminate distractions by creating an actual barrier between your work area and anything else that may be happening, and it sends a visual cue to anyone else who lives in your home that when the door is shut, it’s “work time.”
4. Turn off distractions
Of course, distractions outside your door aren’t the only things that can suck the productivity out of your day. Whether you work for a large company or you’re on your own, there’s a good chance that something you do involves collaborating with other people. Often those other people want to communicate with you via email, or Slack, or text message, or all of the above.
That’s fine, except, every time they do, every device on your desk chirps, buzzes, and lights up with banners to let you know that someone wants your attention. Give yourself permission to turn off notifications, especially if you’re trying to focus.
Pro tip: In addition to the handy “Do not disturb” feature on the iPhone, Android devices, or the Mac, many apps allow you to set priority contacts who can still get ahold of you, while muting all other notifications. That way if your spouse or partner needs to get ahold of you in an emergency, they can. Let’s be honest: Everyone else can wait.
5. Chunk your time
I recently interviewed a pair of entrepreneurs for the 29 Steps podcast, Jeff and Erin Youngren, and one of the things I appreciated the most was how they structure their day. They talked about how they create different blocks of time for different types of work. I totally agree.
I like to think of it as chunking your time. You might have a chunk in the morning for deep or focus work, and a chunk in the afternoon for dealing with administrative tasks and responding to email. The point isn’t to schedule every task, but to group like things into buckets and tackle them together.
6. Take breaks
Let’s face it, when you work from home, no one is going to come and tell you it’s time for a break. That means it’s up to you to build it into your routine. Don’t underestimate how important this is.
Research shows that working remotely can easily lead to burnout if you aren’t intentional about stepping away. Take the dog for a quick walk, or plan a lunch date with your spouse. Even making it a point to get up, stretch, and walk up and down the steps to loosen up your muscles can help.
7. Plan when to quit
Every morning, before you start working, set a time that you plan to quit for the day, and stick to it. When you work from home, it’s easy to just keep working. There’s always another email, or Slack message, or task to cross off. There’s always something else you could do.
That won’t make you more productive, and it isn’t healthy either. This is important. In fact, I’d argue it might be the most important thing you can do each day.
8. Rethink productivity
Resist the temptation to think about measuring your own productivity (or that of your team) by how many tasks you complete, and instead think about what you are accomplishing. Instead of looking at how many emails you sent, or how many Zoom meetings you attended, set a goal that relates to the work you contribute to your company. And, if you’re a manager, give your team the flexibility to work in a way that best balances their individual needs with those of the team.
9. Talk about your day
Finally, working remotely can be lonely. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to someone about what you accomplished. Even a quick, five-minute conversation with a spouse or roommate can help.
If you don’t have someone you can easily tell, send yourself an email. It might seem strange, but I’m serious. The act of writing it out helps you process your day and organize your thoughts. Plus, looking back at it later will motivate you since you’ll be able to see what you’ve accomplished.