When people ask me about working at home they say things like “Isn’t it lonely?” or “I’d never get any work done,” and “What working from home tips do you have?”
I didn’t find remote working during 2020 a huge change.
Over the years, I’ve worked several jobs as a freelance writer, journalist, and copywriter from my modest house in the Irish suburbs. These days, I also run Become a Writer Today from a home office on the first floor of my house an hour outside Dublin.
- Working From Home Versus the Office
- Working From Home Tips and Tricks
- 1. Create a Self-Contained Workplace
- 2. Master The Art of Over-Communication
- 3. Hold a Consistent Daily Routine
- 4. Prime Productive and Creative States
- 5. Avoid Mixing Work and Personal Time
- 6. Schedule Regular Check-Ins With Your Clients or Boss
- 7. Use Instant Messaging Appropriately
- How to Be Productive At Home
Working From Home Versus the Office
I discovered long ago I can accomplish more in less time in my house while avoiding painful parts of the day like a long commute.
I’ve also worked in dreary open-plan offices, and I’d never be able to make that switch again, even if it meant earning more money.
A classic introvert, I found conversations about plans for the weekend, bad dates and the weather distracting and a little stressful.
That said, working from home can get lonely. These are challenges those new to home working are facing right now. I encountered them too when I started freelance writing at home.
Although I’m an introvert, many people, including writers, prefer working while surrounded by their teammates and friends.
Some writers also like taking a laptop to the coffee shop where they can write without interruption in the company of other people. This way of working, gives them energy and staves off feelings of loneliness.
These days, working alone for hours could present a big change.
If it does, reframe what’s at stake. Learning how to work from home will keep you, family members, and friends safe. If you have a chance to leave the office for a few weeks, take it.
Next, look at the opportunity…
If you’re engaged in any type of deep or creative work, you’ll accomplish more via remote working than in an open-plan office. Albert Einstein had one of the most productive years of his life while home working.
Working From Home Tips and Tricks
To work productively from home, consider how and when you work. Make sure you set ground rules. Mindset is more important than tools or a to-do list. That said, I’ve also included a list of resources below that can help.
1. Create a Self-Contained Workplace
The goal is to create one place in your home that you associate with work rather than having no hard boundaries between your personal and professional life.
When I started working from home for the first time, I didn’t pay much attention to where I worked in my house. That was fine for a few weeks. Work was spilled out all over my house: the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom.
I’d lie on the couch with my laptop and check email or respond to requests. I wrote articles in the kitchen, living room and even while sitting up in bed. I couldn’t switch off properly on Friday or Saturday evenings when I was lying on the same couch.
The worst place to work from home is the bedroom, as your sleep will suffer.
If space is an issue, consider using the kitchen table and putting away the laptop when you have finished. Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help if you’re sharing a workspace with others. You can write without interruption even if you’re living space is noisy.
These noise blockers probably are not a good idea if you’ve got small kids though!
My choice of headphones is the Sony Noise Canceling Headphones WH1000XM3.
2. Master The Art of Over-Communication
I learned long ago working from home means communicating early and often.
So use all of the communication tools for work at your disposal. Check-in early and often with your boss, colleagues, editor or freelance writing clients using email, instant messaging, and so on. Let them know what you’re focusing on, how long you’ll be offline, and when they can expect a big deliverable.
I also like using Loom because it enables me to record short video responses instead of typing out lengthy emails. People begin to associate these videos with who I am, and they remember what I’m doing. Zoom is another good tool for video conferencing calls and interviews.
That said, there’s a fine line between checking in and responding to every notification, ding, and email instantly.
You can disable internet access for 30 or 60 minutes using apps like Freedom or RescueTime. That’s long enough to concentrate on a troublesome project but not so long you’re disconnected from the office or clients.
3. Hold a Consistent Daily Routine
Whether you’re freelance writing or engaged in other work at home, normal hours are your best friend.
Usually, I start my day at the same time about 09.00 after the kids leave the house for school. I finish about 17.30, at the same time as other team members who are both remote and office-based. I try to leave work behind at the end of the day rather than checking email on my phone at dinner or while watching TV shows on Netflix that night.
Occasionally, I’ve taken a longer lunch break or time off in the afternoon and promised myself I’d catch up on work that evening. I’ve almost always regretted that decision as it felt like work dragged on for hours longer than necessary.
At the start of the coronavirus crisis, I adjusted that routine by rising earlier to start key projects and allowing for disruptions to planned meetings, a video call and other deliverables.
I avoid having more than one beer at nighttime during the week as I’ll feel more sluggish after waking up early.
Like students in many European countries, my kids are schooling from home for the next month or two.
I expect this will mean a less productive day for everyone, and that’s ok. Did I mention we have an 18-month-old? I’ll lower my expectations accordingly.
When crafting your ideal work from home routine, remember to factor in time for breaks, lunch away from the desk, naps and walks. Remote work doesn’t mean spending the entire day on video calls.
4. Prime Productive and Creative States
You can get a lot done as a homeworker thanks to fewer distractions than a busy office, but if you’re struggling, consider priming a flow state.
That’s simply a state where, according to psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, all sense of time and effort fades away.
Ask yourself, “What are the most important tasks I need to accomplish today?” Then write your next action on a sticky note.
Attach it to your monitor or keyboard, so you can get right to work. Don a pair of noise-canceling headphones or listen to ambient music and work on that task and nothing else for at least 90 minutes.
I often leave prompts for myself in the form of sticky notes on my desk e.g., “Write 500 words about remote work.”
Music can help prime creative states while working remotely. The writer Stephen King blares AC/DC and heavy metal music when he’s writing novels at home in Maine. This approach helps him enter a state of creative flow faster.
In Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferriss recommends keeping geranium oil handy and dabbing a drop on your wrist when you really need to concentrate.
Remember to remove distracting prompts too. That means putting away or turning off the radio, television, game consoles and possibly your phone.
Bonus tip: The app Primed Mind can help trigger these states at will.
5. Avoid Mixing Work and Personal Time
Some homeworkers have the luxury of starting and finishing at times that suit family life.
That said, avoiding adherence to work and personal routine is a mistake. Otherwise, you could find yourself playing catchup at night or on the weekend.
I acquired this tip the hard way. I had to spend a long, sunny bank holiday weekend writing a long feature article about printers. The article was due on Monday morning, but I’d procrastinated about this freelance writing commission all week.
If you’re a new homeworker, review your calendar for the week ahead and allocate time for work, personal life and creative time. Check what lies ahead every morning.
Jill Felska, director of people and culture at Limelight Health, told me,
“When people begin working remotely, they tend to want to prove that they’re actually working by responding to everything immediately. This allows no one to get actual heads-down work done because they’re concerned with making sure their boss knows they’re working instead of focusing on important tasks.”
“Creating these parameters and telling them [your manager] why you’ve created them is one way to quash this behavior before it starts. When you trust people to do their work, that’s when the respect comes back to you.”
6. Schedule Regular Check-Ins With Your Clients or Boss
In an office job, a manager can drop by someone’s desk and see if they need help. They can also gather a team and check that everyone is clear about progress toward a quarterly goal or objective. Remote managers must balance these check-ins with giving their teams enough time and space to work effectively.
Wen-Wen Lam, CEO and founder of corporate travel booking platform NexTravel, offered these tips,
“Video chats are also a great way to help teams keep work moving. During sessions, it’s important that team leaders communicate clear goals to team members so that everyone stays on track and isn’t confused by what is expected of them as they work remotely—and then follow up—as they normally would via email.”
“As with virtual happy hours and trivia games, it is important to schedule these more frequently than you would in a traditional work environment. That way, you can ensure employees have what they need to accomplish their goals.”
7. Use Instant Messaging Appropriately
A freelance writer or entrepreneur can check in with their teams early and often using video conferences or video chat and instant-messaging tools.
These new inboxes can easily distract or overwhelm a home worker. Effective managers provide their teams with enough time and space to get work done, alongside guidance about appropriate response times.
“While instant messaging platforms like Slack can be a great tool for team members to use to communicate quickly and efficiently, some important things do end up getting missed, especially during peak productivity hours of the day,” Lam says.
“Employees should be sure to communicate any activities that are important or immediate versus casual or not important so as to make the most out of using instant messaging channels.”
If your team members are in different time zones, hand off parts of your work come the end of the day, like a relay race.
How to Be Productive At Home
Pick one to three tasks to focus on each day and work through those first thing. Reduce distractions, and always ask “What needs to be done next and by whom?”
Remember, personal and professional routines change from month to month and year-to-year. Make sure you adjust accordingly.
Instead of holding onto what worked in the past, consider when you’re most creative and productive and when you like to switch off. Like for many remote workers, the choice is yours.
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