how to stay productive when you work from home

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
If you haven't heard me talk about this before, I truly don't know how, but I do work from home at least 75 percent of the time, when I'm not traveling to our various newsrooms. My boss is centered in Austin, Texas, and the other members of our team are in Vermont, D.C., Fort Worth... a little bit of everywhere.

I work from the comfort of my home and my laptop, and now that I'm going on a year with McClatchy, I can say that I am almost an expert at productively working from home. It's the productively that I struggle with from time to time.

But I've gathered some tips and advice and some of my own mistakes and learning experiences here, in case you've suddenly wandered into an opportunity that allows you to work from home.

Set a morning routine and stick to it. I don't advocate for waking up early if that's not your jam, but I do think that everyone should have a routine that they stick to whenever they're working, regardless of when they choose to wake up and start their day. Know what your routine is and keep it going from day to day. It will get you in the right state of mind to start your day. Most people have the time it takes them to get ready for work plus their morning commute to prepare, but if you work from home, you don't.

Actually get ready. Don't think that working from home means you can work in your pajamas. I mean, you can, but I don't recommend it. I spend a lot of time on Google Hangouts so that's one reason why I can't just lay around like a hot mess all day, but you will actually feel like an adult with a job if you dress like an adult with a job. I don't do my hair and put on makeup every day, but I do get dressed in clothes I'd wear if I was working in our newsroom.

Set boundaries. You'll want to know what your supervisor expects of you, hour-wise, and then you want to stick to those hours. If your workday ends at 6, end your workday at six and start your personal life clock. Spend time with loved ones, cook dinner, read a book – do not work. I am the worst about this. It's really tough when you work from home to not just make the argument that you can (and should) work anytime you can.

Have multiple places to work. Everyone and their brother says, "Have a desk!" OK, listen. I work in a handful of different places in our apartment: 1) my desk, 2) our dining room table, 3) our couch, and 4) my chair on the patio. I can be productive in all four of those spots, although I do prefer to do different kinds of work in these spots. So, if I'm on a Google Hangout, I tend to sit at the dining room table or my desk; if I really need to get work done, I'll be at my desk in the office. At the beginning of my day and as my day is winding down, I tend to work on the couch. And I move outside when I get cold. You can be productive when you're sitting on your couch. The difference is, are you laying down with a blanket or are you sitting comfortably with your laptop achieving the same goals you were achieving at your desk?

Resist the urge to multitask. Don't try to participate in a Google Hangout and start a load of laundry. Don't work on a spreadsheet while you empty the dishwasher. There's no way to avoid doing some house chores while you work at home, but if you try to be everything at once, you will end up getting nothing done properly. Dedicate time during your day to get your house chores done, but don't try to be superwoman.

Take regular mini breaks. A mini break for me can be taking Theo outside for a walk or starting a load of laundry or tidying up the kitchen or making a snack. I try to take a mini break once every hour or 90 minutes (No more than 5-10 minutes at a time.) and then two to three longer breaks throughout the day.

Put your phone on silent or keep it in another room. Especially when I'm sitting at my desk or the dining room table, this is a necessity. For one, I hate the sound of my phone vibrating against a hard surface.  But because you can get pretty much every notification you need on a computer these days, especially if you are using a Mac, there is no reason to have your phone on you too. I put my phone into Do Not Disturb mode and put it to the side. Periodically, I'll pick it up to check it for anything I might have missed, but my phone calls, important emails, Slack messages and texts come through on my laptop, where it's easier to monitor them without derailing my productivity entirely.

Leave the house. Seriously. Once a day, you need to actually leave your house. Leave your neighborhood. Leave. Go away. When I first moved in with Patrick in January, we both would work from home all day, cook dinner together in the evening and then sit on the couch and watch TV. Very quickly, we were absolutely miserable. Theo has kept us a little busier but I still always make an effort to leave the house at least once a day, whether it's for a grocery run or a trip to grab Starbucks or a Coke at McDonalds. Usually I have errands or things I want to do that pull me out of the house, but when I don't, I make myself leave anyway. The pressure is lower for me to eat out so I don't mind smaller expenses like that here and there.

Keep food in the house. Our house is well-stocked with lunch meat and cheese, bread, milk, eggs, cereal, snack foods – everything I could ever want to eat, unless I have a very specific craving. Keeping food in the kitchen is huge. If you have no groceries, you're going to feel the pressure to leave and grab lunch out of the house; while I advocate for leaving the house once a day, I don't advocate doing it right at lunchtime, which is a really productive time for me. I also don't advocate trying to work hungry. Keep food on hand and never work hungry.


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Do you work from home? What do you love about it or hate about it? What are your tips? And if you don't work from home, what keeps you productive in your office or workplace? 


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