How to Stay in the Zone When You Work From Home
One of the sweetest deals I get out of my day job is the ability to work from home. I didn’t realize just how big a deal this was until I meagerly asked my boss early last year if I could work from home to go to Coachella.
“Yeah, of course. You don’t have to ask for permission!” Wait, what? Are you sure??
I’d never worked in an environment before where this was even an option, so obviously, I was nervous to start taking advantage of this “benefit.” I thought that maybe my coworkers would think I was being lazy, or hiding something, if I chose to work from home more often. But once I got over my reservations, I was HOOKED. Working from home has proven to be one of the biggest lifesavers for me–from both a work efficiency standpoint and a mental wellness standpoint. And I’m not alone. The amount of people who are able to work from home has increased 115% in the past 10 years, meaning that now more than ever, telecommuting is not only relevant, but also 100% without a doubt a respectable life choice, unlike my previously mentioned hesitations led me to believe.
But if there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that while working from home is a huge bonus and something I can absolutely no longer live without (sorry to anyone in the future who hires me!), it’s also SO easy to get sucked into a distraction vortex. When you’re working from home, suddenly your evening to-do list and the remote control sitting next to you on the couch (Harry Potter reruns usually play during the day, okay?) get that much more tempting. Obviously, as good as Daniel Radcliffe is, things like this can’t fly if you want to be successful as a work-from-home-er. So, over time and through trial and error, I started to really tune into the things that help me personally be on my A-game and stay focused throughout the work day. Coincidentally, these also happen to be the things that I am admittedly FAR from perfect at following through on, especially during a particularly stressful–or uneventful–work day. But, when I do do these 7 things, that’s when I feel like I’ve really made the best use of my time, and coincidentally, I also feel much less stressed out or overworked–which is ultimately is how you should feel when you’re able to take advantage of working from home. Right? Right.
7 Ways to Stay in the Zone When You Work From Home:
1. Sleep in (duh!), but ONLY for as much time as you’re saving on your commute
On my less-productive mornings, I’ll find myself sleeping in until the very second that I would have normally gotten to my desk (which, for the record, after you factor gym/coffee/get ready/and commute time, is an additional three hours and 20 minutes). Terrible, maybe. But don’t tell me that three hours of extra sleep on a weekday doesn’t sound tempting. You know you’d be lying.
As amazing as it sounds, I actually feel worse throughout the rest of the day if I overdo the sleeping in. When I skip my morning routine, the rest of the day just feels like a losing race to catch up on missed opportunities to be productive. That said, I know that one of the biggest perks of working from home is getting those extra moments in bed. We’re only human! So, my general rule of thumb is to let myself sleep in, but only for however long it’d typically take me to drive to work. For me, this means about 30-35 minutes of extra Z’s (or 45 minutes if we’re factoring in traffic…). That way, I reap the benefits, but I’ll still wake up early enough to work out, make coffee, and get my personal inbox cleaned up before my work day starts.
2. Make One To-Do List of Both Work and Non-Work Tasks
I’ve heard advice before that says you should keep your work and personal to-do list separate so that you give each facet of your day its undivided attention. This actually hasn’t worked out well for me, because my mind is always constantly stressing out about everything under the sun at all hours of the day, regardless of whether it’s work-related or not.
If you’re like me, and you’re constantly thinking about everything in your life that needs to get done, create a master to-do list every morning before you get into the swing of things–one that includes both work- and non-work tasks. Think about how many times you’ve sat at work mulling over what errands you need to run once you leave at the end of the day. Writing out one cohesive list of to-do’s helps you to clearly see that you’ve scheduled time to get everything done, and as a result, you’ll free up the headspace you’ve previously wasted stressing out trying to remember everything, and be able to use it to pay more attention to the tasks at hand. On any given day, my to-do list consists of everything from answering work emails and making reports to checking my social media, writing blog posts, and remembering to pay my bills. When I clearly map out every little task for both my work life and my personal life, I feel more at ease to tackle everything in an orderly way–a huge help when you’re working from home, where it’s so easy to get distracted by all the non-work things you want to get done!
3. Clean Up Your Space
I always find myself habitually cleaning up my apartment in the morning before I sit down at my computer to “go to work.” There’s definitely something to be said about how your environment affects your mood, because I find that when I clean up my space and create some semblance of order around me, I can think more clearly and be more efficient. Even if it just means taking 5 minutes to put away my laundry and make my bed, I already feel that much more ready to take on the rest of the day.
It also helps to have a dedicated workspace (not your bed), whether it’s your dining table, your desk, or the coffee shop down the street.
4. Maintain Your Morning Routine
Remember that thing I mentioned about limiting the time you sleep in? It’s crucial to how productive the rest of your day is, and it all boils down to maintaining your morning routine. If you typically wake up, brush your teeth, and catch up on latest on Twitter while sipping your morning coffee, this is the routine your brain associates with what it needs to get your work day started. If you just sleep till the last possible second, roll out of bed, schlump over to the couch in your PJs, and open your laptop, you’re more likely to be off to a rough start.
Now, let me caveat by saying that i’ve read a lot of articles about how you should be “getting dressed” when you work from home to help you feel like you’re headed to the office so you can trick your mind into being ready to get shit done, but I don’t think it needs to be that ridiculous. Who wants to put on pants and a bra when they’re not leaving the house?? I don’t prescribe to the belief that you need to get dressed, pack your work bag, and “commute” to your desk in the corner of your bedroom all so that you can feel like you’re gearing up for a productive day. What I do think you should do is just honor the little morning rituals that help you get your day started on the right foot, rather than shirking them altogether for a few extra hours of sleep.
5. Take A Break
I always forget to do this unless I purposely schedule something during my day, like a yoga class or a lunch meeting, but taking breaks are just as important when you work from home. If you don’t set these boundaries, it’s all too easy to find yourself getting caught up so deeply in your work that the next thing you know, it’s been 9+ hours and you haven’t gotten up to stretch even once. And don’t get me started about remembering to eat. It’s so easy to sink into your couch, put your work blinders on, and forget to take a breather. Set a calendar invite or Keep reminder if you have to, but definitely don’t skip out on regular breaks.
6. Check In Regularly
If you work for a company with a physical office, or even if you work with a community of other telecommuters, don’t forget to check in with your coworkers regularly for updates, feedback, and just to connect. If I don’t do this, I sometimes find myself getting so caught up in my own head and the tasks right in front of my face, and honestly, that can get really lonely. Checking in and having regular interactions with your coworkers is so important when you’re working from home. If you don’t have coworkers in the traditional sense, make the effort to check in regularly with other peers and mentors in your space, whether that means through something as simple as shooting the a quick Slack message or even organizing a coffee or happy hour to get together. Socializing is as crucial, if not more so, when you’re spending day-in and day-out working alone.
7. Have a Cutoff Time
There are so many days that I find myself working from home, thinking it’s going to be a chill day, and then, next thing I know, it’s 9 pm and I haven’t looked up from my laptop in almost 12 hours. Prevent this by trying to stick as closely to a consistent start and end time as possible. It’s not always realistic to stop working at the end of the day, especially if your to-do list isn’t finished and if you don’t have a rush hour commute to worry about. But if you disregard all of that and keep pushing on, you’ll find yourself working until almost midnight, with no personal time left to make dinner, watch TV, or read a book.
Working from home can be an absolute blessing, especially if you’re good at being self-sufficient and can hold yourself accountable without someone else breathing down your back. That said, it’s also all too easy to let the comfort of a working-from-home situation cause you to get lazy, or worse, work yourself to the ground. By treating your work-from-home day with a similar amount of structure and planning, you’ll be able to make it a sustainable hustle.