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7 Tips to Make “Working from Home” Work Better for You

April 3, 2020

There’s a whole workforce of service based business owners (like myself) who’ve been working from home for years. It’s taken many of us years to fall into a rhythm of working productively from home, some with kids around, some without. But eventually, after much trial and error, most of us find our stride and figure out the tricks of the trade required to make this whole remote-working-mom thing work.

So to you mamas (and not moms) who have been thrown into the remote workforce, not by choice, during the current global pandemic, please don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling to make this work.

Working from home has it’s perks, but things don’t always fall into place quickly, or easily.

So give yourself GRACE. And recognize that while some of us can totally rock the whole remote working lifestyle — working full time, parenting full time, and teaching full time… all at the same time no less… is damn near impossible. None of us are doing that well, no matter what we’re posting to Instagram.

While I can’t magically make everything go back to normal, I can share with you my favorite tips for working remotely that I’ve learned along the way.

7 Tried and True Tips for Working Remotely

Before I jump in, let me preface this by saying these are not directed at how to simultaneously support distance learning and homeschool, and these don’t even factor in how to manage your full time work schedule with full time parenting.

While this is the unfortunate and honest situation that so many of us are faced with right now, I’m focusing this round up of tips to simply working remotely.

That – in and of itself – is truly a learning curve. So let’s start there.

Wake Up, Get Up, Get Ready

Should I even bother including this one in my list? If you’ve ever talked to anyone or read anything about how to make working from home work, or how to be more productive while working remotely, I guarantee 9 out of 10 people told you to get up, shower, and get ready. It sounds too obvious, and it’s so overstated by everyone that it almost makes you want to ignore it even more, right? Well, yes, I agree. And yet it is SO FREAKING TRUE.

I cannot tell you how much of a difference it makes when I wake up and actually get out of bed – no snoozing – and get ready. I can tell you that my productivity absolutely sky rockets on days that I shower, put on real clothes (even if it’s leggings and a top) and perhaps just a bit of makeup.

I want to tell you it’s not true. I want to say it makes no difference. That you can stay in your pajamas and lounge on the couch and smell like who knows what and still have a rockstar day. And maybe you can?!

But for the large, large, large majority of us who have worked from home for many years now, the first and most important step to finding your rhythm as a remote worker and actually being productive is to wake up, get up, and get ready. Wake up at your normal time. Do not sleep in until 5 minutes before your first call. Shower even though you may not “see” anyone. Put on “real” clothes. Even if your definition of real clothes are leggings and a sweater. That’s real in my book!

Just do it. I promise you it makes a difference. A big, freaking, wildly productive difference.

Do Your Best to Work Normal Hours

When I took my first full-time remote job, I was one of only two employees in the entire company. We were an international company with offices in NYC and across Europe, and I was just one of two employees given the OK to work remotely full-time. I was also young and without kids and working my butt off to excel at work.

When you work from home it is so easy to wake up and start working as soon as you first pick up your phone at 6:10AM. And it’s just as easy to skip dinner and keep chugging away at work and suddenly look up and realize it’s 9:15PM and you’re still working away. A lot of people think that when you work from home it’s likely that you “don’t really work that much” and you goof off and slack, but the truth is, it’s actually a lot easier to blur the lines between work hours and non-work hours and accidentally find yourself working all-day-long. Literally, all day long.

So it’s important to try your best to maintain some sense of normal working hours. This isn’t to say you should never put in a few hours after the kids go to bed, or that waking up extra early to prep for a big meeting isn’t acceptable. That’s not at all my point. In fact, those early morning and late night hours are totally OK in my book! What’s more important to maintain are the other in between “breaks” that you would normally have if you worked in an office.

You know, like from when you wake up in the morning all the way until you commute and walk into work and leisurely make your way to your desk and sit down right before 9AM. When you work from home it’s OK and even beneficial to your sanity to keep a couple of chunks of your day as “not working” time.

It’s OK to officially start your day every day at 8AM (or 9AM, or 10:30AM… whatever works for your). And it’s absolutely okay to say the “workday” is over at 5:30 and reclaim your evening dinner, family, bedtime routine. Perhaps you commit to putting in a few more hours late at night, but I promise you that taking these in between breaks for “normal” things like your morning routine and dinner through evening period are important for your sanity.

Create a Morning Routine

Let’s talk more about morning routines. Establishing a few morning rituals and designing a morning routine that suits your needs is one of my absolute favorite, life changing habits. Whether you work full-time outside of the home, work remotely at home, or are a full time stay at home mom… morning routines are life changing.

Even if you’re not a morning person, creating the perfect morning routine sets the tone for your entire day and can help start your day off on the right foot, every day.

So maybe your usual morning routine is something like this: Perhaps you do a 5 minute meditation session, followed by a 7 minute workout in your basement, then read your daily devotional while your pot of coffee brews, and drink your first cup of coffee while skimming the New York Times. (Hint: there’s absolutely no right or wrong answer as to what your routine looks like, the key is just having one!).

That’s your normal morning routine. But when you work remotely from your home, I think it’s important to also create a work-based “morning routine.” This may take 2 minutes or 20 minutes – it doesn’t matter.

The idea is to create a set of simple rituals that tell your brain “okay, work is about to start.” Think With Google refers to these as “work triggers”.

Think of the last office job you had. Maybe you rode the subway every day, or perhaps you took the same 17 minute drive following the exact same route every single day for 5 years. You parked your car in the same parking lot, walked one block to your go-to coffee shop. You ordered the same coffee and bagel toasted with cream cheese and then walked 2 more blocks to your office. You took the same elevator up 4 flights to your office floor, swiped in, dropped off your lunch in the employee kitchen and then talked to your favorite coworker for a good 5 minutes before turning on your computer.

That’s a routine. A set of rituals – whether that’s what you’d call them or not – that you did every single day, day in and day out. A routine that told your body and your brain to gear up for a long day at work. These steps triggered your brain to get ready for the work day.

Fortunately, working from home doesn’t require the same commute. Perks of working remotely! But your brain may still require the same messaging each day that it’s work time baby!

A simple work-related morning routine that works for me looks like: pouring a fresh cup of coffee, and gathering my things: my phone, planner, laptop, clipboard and notepad, favorite pen. Walking into my office and turning on my essential oil diffuser. Turning on my computer and plugging in my phone. While my computer boots up I pull out my daily planner page and review the top priorities and to dos that I wrote down yesterday before signing off. I set my favorite timer to give myself 10 minutes of clearing personal inbox items, social media notifications and scrolling and then ding ding ding, it’s work time.

Your morning routines might look completely different, and that’s okay. The idea is simply to create some routine, that you can practice daily to tell yourself when it’s time to officially start working.

Go a Little Overboard With Your Calendar

I’m not suggesting you tell your entire company when you play to go to the bathroom each morning. But hear me out, okay? When you work in a physical office with other people, it’s easy for everyone to know who is where, and when. Everyone sees when each team member arrives in the morning, you know who is at their desk and who isn’t, you know when so and so has gone on his lunch break. You also know if your desk neighbor left early this afternoon – whether you know the reason or not.

When you are working remotely, it’s easy for everyone to assume you’re just always working. Or at least always available. And while that in and of itself is a huge benefit to having a remote workforce, it’s also a little tough to transition directly to that mode of operation.

So trying being a little overboard with your calendar.

Start by setting up Google’s working hours and availability. Then (depending on how transparent and close your team is), block out the chunks of each day that you’re taking back for your time. Block off with a simple “Busy” each morning from 6-8:30AM. Just because Karen likes to wake up at 4:30AM doesn’t mean she needs to be hitting you up on chat at 6AM. At the other end of the day, block off with a simple “Busy” your end of day, dinner, evening routine. You don’t need to block it off until bed time (unless you’re committed to not working at night), but marking yourself as clearly busy from 5:30-7:30PM is a quick and easy way to reclaim your evenings and share your boundaries with your coworkers. They’re not mind readers, and chances are they don’t have a live stream into your Nest cam. Hopefully not at least.

You can (and should) also block off your lunch time, and if you find yourself able to benefit from the flexibilities of working from home by doing things like a random run to the post office or grocery store mid day, try making a block on your calendar. This isn’t to deceive your coworkers, it’s to be transparent, and help support your work/life balance.

I also do this when I need “heads down” time for a long period of time. If you have a huge deck that needs to be done, go ahead and block off 3 hours on your calendar this afternoon. If your colleagues see your calendar as open, there’s a good chance they’ll take advantage of the time to schedule a check in, add a last minute meeting to the calendars, or just bombard you with the latest Bachelor gossip in your direct Slack chat. A block on your calendar doesn’t actually prevent the chats and messages from coming in, but it does lessen them right away because we all have a tendency to bother someone less if we see their calendar is busy.

Designate an Actual Working Space

I recognize the privilege in me suggesting this. I am fortunate to have a home with space for me to create a designated working space in a separate closed off room. But even if that’s not your reality, I encourage you to designate an actual working space.

“Actual” working space most important refers to a chair of some sort and a hard tabletop/working surface. It’s tempting to slouch on your couch all day or lay in bed with your laptop burning your legs for endless hours. But your body will not appreciate this after a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days or weeks.

Whether it’s a makeshift desk or your kitchen table, do your body and productivity a favor and put your computer on a real hard surface. Sit in a firm, ergonomically correct chair. Have your feet on the ground.

While it might seem like a treat to cozy up on the couch and multitask during a meeting with CNN on in the background, this is not long term comfortable (or safe). For real.

Splurge on Some Workspace Accessories

I recognize this is a time of dire financial instability for so many people in the world. It is for our family too. So while this section might come off insensitive or blind to the reality of our 2020 coronavirus situation, it’s something I believe truly helps for those of us who are getting ready to launch our own work-from-home business, or gearing up for any other long term remote working situation.

If you get behind my suggestion to designate a single, separate space to become your new “office” at home, step two to making your new remote working set up actually work is making it comfortable. If working from home is a short term only gig, then you might not be in a rush to buy a new desk, office chair, and external monitor. That’s fine!

But if you’re in this for the long haul, I say go head and splurge on a handful of workspace accessories that will help make your setup more comfortable.

If you do a quick Google search for basic ergonomic principles, you’re likely going to be surprised at how bad your current workspace is setup. You can learn the hard way, and suffer through this sitting situation for months and years only to pay the physical toll down the line. Or you can learn now and try to course correct quickly.

For your physical comfort and safety, consider buying a laptop riser or laptop stand, and a separate keyboard and mouse.

And while we’re on the topic of physical safety and comfort, no matter where you work, you may even want to give this posture training app a try! It’s small, discrete, and so freaking cool.

Another physical item I highly suggest trying is a laptop “lap desk”. Yes, I first and foremost recommend working at a designated, hard top surface. But let’s be honest, we all relax on the couch or comfy chair once in awhile. These laptop desks may seem totally unnecessary, right? Wrong. One day you’ll reason how red your upper thighs are from having your hot laptop sitting on your legs for a little bit too long and seriously regret not having something like this sooner.

Okay, and a few more fun accessories to make your new remote workspace work better:

  • Amazing headphones, something wireless with bluetooth, or just go straight for the Airpods and thank me later. It’s nice to be able to roam around your office, or run to the kitchen without dragging your phone and laptop along.
  • My husband and I both have extra large dry erase boards mounted in our home offices. This is our favorite dry erase board, because it’s nice looking and wall mounted and not your traditional white plastic kind. We actually have the super super super large one that fills your entire wall, but measure ahead and pick the size that fits best for your space.
  • And if you know anything about who I am and how I function, you won’t be at all surprised to hear me tell you that a fun daily planner notepad never hurt anyone’s motivation or productivity.

Don’t Skip Lunch, or Bathroom Breaks

Writing this one down feels almost as obvious as the first suggestion to get yourself showered and dressed each day! If you haven’t yet tried working from home over a sustained period of time, this might sound like a joke. I mean, how can you not remember to eat? Who in the world forgets to go pee?

Remote workers everywhere, that’s who.

I can’t explain why it’s so easy for people working from home to get completely sucked into their workspace and somehow become figuratively glued to their computer for hours on end. It just happens. Over and over again. If you’re in a flow, that’s one thing. Go for it, friend. Keep on chugging.

But most of the time, most days, I think it’s critical to your personal self-care, your mental sanity, and your working world productivity to build in plenty of breaks. A 2 minute walk around the house. A 15 minute break mid morning to go to the bathroom, refill your water glass, grab a healthy snack. Actually block off your lunch time on your calendar. Yup, I mean it. Actually put a 30, 45, or 60 minute hold on your calendar everyday. This will help hold you accountable to, you know, nourish your body with more than just coffee, and it also helps protect your boundaries of work/life balance. Plus, when you work from home, unless you have a livestream into your workspace, your remote colleagues don’t know when you are or aren’t physically sitting at your desk! When you share visible calendars, and they see you have a time blocked off, they’ll be less likely to ping, chat, message, email, nudge, ask, bug you during this time.

One more thing about lunch? Use this time to eat somewhere other than your designated workspace.

When I worked at agencies in NYC it was common for me to eat lunch at my desk and work through lunch time. This is not the time for that. When you spend 24/7 at your home. When you eat, sleep, work, play, lounge all in the same place. It’s helpful (and somewhat of a treat) to really be present in each block of time. When you’re working? Work away. When it’s break time? Go outside and get the mail. When it’s lunch time? Sit down at the table and just eat. No phones, no computers.

Like that? Try these:

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