When you tell people that you work from home, the first reaction is usually one of jealousy. It must be so great, people say, to be able to sit on the couch in your pajamas all day. And it is great. But it's also terrible, sometimes, when you're battling a million distractions or feeling wonky because you haven't seen another human being all day. If you find yourself, by choice or by chance, working from home, here are some of my best tips for staying productive — and keeping your sanity.
I spent the last two and a half years working from home, and gradually worked out what worked for me and what didn't. Of course, your mileage may vary, depending on your situation and your personality — so think of these as jumping off points for planning your perfect day.
1. Stick to a consistent schedule.
For a lot of people, working from home means having the freedom to make your own schedule — which often turns into working all the time. Sticking to a consistent schedule for work every day will mean you have the freedom to spend the rest of the day not working. So even if it may be tempting to take a three-hour nap or hit the grocery store when there are zero other people there, try to treat your at-home working hours as seriously as you would hours spent in an office.
2. Designate a particular place for work.
Even if your home is too small to have a separate office, you can still find a spot (a desk or even a corner of the dining table) that is specifically for working. This will tell your brain, whenever you are in said spot: "I am at work now." More importantly, it will tell your brain, whenever you are not in said spot: "I am not at work now." This will keep you from slowly growing to loathe your whole house. (Ok, so I did break this every once in a while and work from the couch, but having a work desk still helped me tremendously.)
3. Keep your house clean.
I've never been much of a cleaner, but when I started working from home, I suddenly found, to my great surprise, that one of my biggest distractions was cleaning the house. I'd go to the sink to drop off my cereal bowl, spot some dirty dishes from the night before, and then before I knew it I had spent half an hour deep-cleaning the kitchen. Having a clean house before you start work will mean much less distractions — and a much more relaxing environment.
4. Wear real clothes.
This particular point is hotly debated — I know some folks who claim they can be perfectly productive while wearing pajamas all day. And one of the things I loved about working from home was not having to stress about what to wear every morning. But I found that, after a few hours lounging in my pjs, I just started to feel really oafish and lazy — even if I was getting a lot done. So I made it my goal every day to put on real clothes by around 10 AM every day. (Ok, more like noon.)
5. Get up and move.
In an office, you're forced to do a bit of moving around — walking to the water cooler or the bathroom or down the street to grab a bite to eat. Not so for the telecommuter: everything you need is at your desk, or a few steps away in the kitchen. So it's important to make extra effort to get up and move every now and then. Sometimes when I didn't have the time to talk a walk around the block, I'd get up and do a few jumping jacks — it may feel stupid at first, but it's a great way to get your blood flowing. Moving around keeps you healthier, and is a nice break for your brain, too.
6. Know when to get out of the house.
This was the single hardest thing for me. Not the house cleaning or the discipline or the jumping jacks, but the loneliness. Working from home is tough on an extrovert — after a whole day spent with only yourself for company, you can start to feel a little blah. I developed an afternoon routine of going to a coffee shop to work, just when i started to feel the insanity kicking in. It was a nice change of pace, and laboring alongside other work-from-home types helped me feel like I wasn't alone in the universe.
7. Never, ever work in bed.
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Working in a place that should be for sleeping = bad work, and bad sleep. Just don't do it.