How to build daily work-from-home habits
Key tips for creating a productive and effective WFH routine, workspace and lifestyle.
Gone are the days of commuting to work in traffic jams, or squeezing into that crowded subway car. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, over 40% of the U.S. workforce and over 60% of the U.K. workforce are working from home. About 25% of the workforce in France is working from home, up from 3% in 2017.
Chances are, you’re working from home too. While many embrace remote work, others find it more difficult. You may be struggling to create routine, organize your home office, or adapt to the loneliness that often occurs from remote work.
But there are specific actions you can take to build effective work-from-home routines. Utilizing them will guide you towards increased productivity and workplace satisfaction. It can take some purposeful planning and organization to start, so follow these key steps to build the right remote work habits.
1. Perfect your workspace
Working from home might mean your home office is actually just a corner of the living room. Whatever space you may have (a full room, corner or desk), make it your own. Separate this space from areas where you relax, socialize, eat, or sleep.
Do whatever it takes to make this dedicated space a comfortable working place. Invest in a supportive chair, a large screen, a standing desk, or whatever makes your office feel like yours. Personalize your space with items you love, like picture frames or plants.
If you can, choose an office space near a window. Natural light makes people happier — and it will help to properly see your computer. Investing in a good desk lamp is also a must.
Creating the right workspace also means investing in tech. Forming a functional space is just as important as comfort and aesthetics. Having a pair of bluetooth, noise cancelling headphones is essential. You may also need a microphone or ring lamp if you’re on virtual calls or remote meetings. Getting a VPN may be necessary if security is a concern.
Finally, once you’ve created your perfect home office, work there. Fight the urge to work from your bed or the sofa.
2. Structure your day with routine
Whether you’re a morning person or not, it’s important to create a routine. Your routine needs to be realistic, making it something you can easily stick with. After all, the best way to form a recurring habit is to make sure it’s something feasible, then repeat it.
Whether you’re a freelancer or full time employee, create a general timetable for your day and stick to it. Try to wake up, eat, and work around the same times each day. Consider doing the more important tasks during hours of the day when you’re most productive. For most people, this may mean a morning routine, but it really depends on your personality and work style. Leave emails, calls, and less-important tasks for afternoon, or whenever you’ve finished the more pressing tasks.
Set alarms if need be when it’s time to switch tasks or change gears. If a particular routine just isn’t working for you, change it up. Once you find a routine that works, stick to it.
3. Minimize distractions
Distractions can come in many forms. From Slack pings to social media to your own children crying, it can be hard to focus at home. Setting up the right home office space can help, but there are other things you can do.
Put your phone on silent if possible, or at least turn the screen away from you during key periods so you won’t be distracted from messages while trying to work.
Consider white noise to help you focus. Many apps offer different white noise options or music to help you concentrate. This is helpful to block out distractions you can’t control, like road construction, noisy neighbors, or traffic sounds.
4. Make to-do lists
Having a list of exactly what you need to do each workday will increase productivity and ensure you don’t forget about any key tasks or top priorities. Usually, putting the most important tasks first to get those done faster is a good plan (this helps you avoid procrastination). But, your list should depend on how you’re structuring your day and when you’re most productive. Some people prefer handwritten lists; others prefer digital.
You can also create a list at the end of the day for the following day. It doesn’t even have to be a full list — just a few key tasks you really want to accomplish tomorrow. Then, you’ll start the next day more focused with a plan already in place.
5. Get dressed
We know how tempting it is to work in your pajamas. But don’t. Dressing the part is always a good way to start the day right, prepare you for productivity, and get you into work mode.
And don’t even think about doing that Zoom call if you aren’t fully dressed. Just trust us on this one. You never know when things might go awry, and you want to maintain a professional appearance in front of your co-workers, boss, and employees.
6. Take breaks and stay social
Taking breaks when working from home is important if you want to keep your productivity high, not lose focus, and boost creativity.
Some people prefer to take a 20/30-minute break every few hours, while others benefit more from taking 5/10-minute resets once an hour. You can set an alarm, or simply take a break while you find yourself losing focus.
Stretch your legs, have tea or coffee, get some fresh air, take a power nap, or listen to your favorite podcast — anything to detach your mind from work. This will ensure you’ll return to your desk refreshed and ready to continue.
When it’s time for a lunch break, prioritize social interaction. A check in with others will help if working from home is making you feel isolated. This is especially important if you live alone or work for yourself.
Consider connecting physically, or with a phone call. Sometimes, only having digital interactions (with friends or co-workers) can actually increase loneliness. So try to meet in person, or pick up the phone.
7. Create boundaries
Not working on your sofa or in bed means you’re already setting boundaries: work is for your workspace. This is important for your mental health, and will also help you to work more efficiently.
But still, if you find yourself working longer and longer hours at home, you should set limits to avoid work creep. Work creep is when work slowly erodes into your personal life and upsets your work-life balance. You can avoid this happening by following the below tips.
- Take the time you spent commuting and dedicate it to an activity you love (vs. working more).
- Don’t turn your laptop back on post-work hours.
- Shut your computer off at a specific time each day.
- Pause Slack notifications and ignore emails during non-work hours.
8. Avoid Slack and Zoom burnout with effective scheduling
If possible, try not to schedule more than a few video meetings per day. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and it comes from the mind trying harder to process visual cues and non-verbal signs via video, which is much harder to do than in-person. If your day is full of video calls, try to space them out in order to take breaks in between. Or, consider a good, old- fashioned phone call instead.
Creating boundaries for Slack will also help. Turn off your notifications after a certain time, and mute them if you’re working on something important. At minimum, turn off or down the sound, so you won’t be constantly distracted by annoying pings all day.
9. Set expectations with family members (or roommates)
Juggling professional and family responsibilities has never been easy for working parents. But for remote workers, it may be even more difficult. Even those with roommates may struggle when working from home.
The key is communication. Work with your partner, babysitter, parents, roommates, etc. to create a schedule or set ground rules. If both you and your partner are working from home, set up a system that allows you each to work when you’re most productive while still balancing other family or at-home responsibilities.
Make sure your office space is quiet or set apart from young children’s play spaces, and if you have teens, discuss expectations about if, how, or when they can enter your office space. With roommates, set noise expectations and discuss how to best utilize shared workspaces.
Your work-from-home habits will soon come naturally
Working from home has its pros and its cons, but if you learn some daily habits to stay productive, it can be a positive professional experience. Remote work is likely here to stay, so the sooner you can perfect that home office and form these WFH work habits for success, the better.
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