Millions of Americans are asking how to work from home for the first time in their lives because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeping the globe. As someone who has mastered how to work from home over the past 10 years, I’ve got it down pat. Here are my 10 rules for working from home and actually getting work done. Major caveat: if you’re also homeschooling your children like I am, consider these 10 rules as what to aim for on an ideal day.
10 Rules for Working From Home
- Laundry can wait. However you procrastinate, force yourself to focus on work once you’ve clocked in. This is so hard! But when working from home, procrastination can take the form of otherwise productive tasks, like tidying, baking, organizing, and yes, doing the laundry. I know this firsthand because I used to “take a break” by starting a load of laundry or finishing up my breakfast dishes. Before I knew it, a half-hour had slipped by and I still wasn’t working. Now, I limit all personal or family tasks to before or after my paid work time. My rule of thumb is if you’re supposed to be working, even doing the laundry counts as procrastinating.
- Dedicate work time. In an ideal world, I recommend dedicating specific hours each day to doing your paid work. Your boss may already dictate this for you. But if not, set your work start and stop time, including at least a 30-minute lunch break, to support your own work-from-home rhythm. If you are also homeschooling, then it’s going to be difficult to observe strict working hours and minimize interruptions. We’re all doing our best. If you can dedicate work time, it will be easier to get started and to observe a healthy separation between your personal and professional life. The rest of us will be working after bedtime to keep up.
- Remove distractions. The less your personal life is visually present in your workspace, the easier it will be to focus on your paid work responsibilities. (See exceptions above re: homeschooling). Removing distractions will help you “get in the zone.” Surround yourself with the tools of your trade—a printer, office supplies, or professional certificates you’ve received. And if you can, move your impromptu office into a room where you can close the door.
- Talk to other people. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you are in solitary confinement. Reach out and talk to your colleagues and other professionals in your field. When I first started working from home, I would take my laptop to the Santa Monica Public Library just so I could speak to another human, in the form of librarians, who are quite possibly the kindest people on earth. But that’s a topic for another day. Stay connected to your colleagues, management team, and work-related associates.
- Establish boundaries. It took my family years to understand that even though I work from home, I was not available at 11:30 am on a Tuesday to chat. I was at work! When you work from home, you still have to get all the work done. I’m still a bit sensitive about this because it took so many years for my family to respect my working hours. Do your best to gently let them know that you’ll return their Marco Polo video message or voicemail after you clock out.
- Take a lunch break. A lunch break provides structure to your day, a chance for your brain to relax its focus, and fuel to reenergize your creative juices to create awesome content marketing (oh wait, that’s just us). My favorite lunch is a salad with boiled eggs because it’s light enough that I don’t get sleepy, and healthy enough to wash away any guilt over my afternoon chocolate break. Healthy and chocolate? The best of both worlds.
- Take a walk. Feeling as flat as day-old beer? Fresh air and movement is a sure-fire way to swirl up new ideas and gain a bigger perspective. At the least, your body will thank you. Side note: Author Judy Blume once shared with me her secret cure for writer’s block (yes! I got to ask Judy Blume one question as part of a story I was writing for the New Jersey Star-Ledger when I was a reporter). Blume’s secret cure is this: take a bike ride. She and many other experts agree that physical movement literally gets our creative juices flowing.
- Get a second screen. If you can afford it and expect to work from home for the long-term, consider investing in a second screen (e.g. a separate monitor from your laptop). It’s widely accepted that a second screen will increase productivity by 20-30%. It also eases frustration because you can SEE everything at once. After years of having multiple screens, I get snarly every time I am confined to my 13-inch laptop screen. You don’t need to spend big bucks, either. I’ve been perfectly happy with my under-$200 Dell monitors.
- Dress the part. It is awesome to be able to work in my pjs. And sometimes I do. But I have noticed that the days I take care of my personal appearance, I take myself and my work more seriously. And if I have a client call, I know that dressing the part will boost my confidence while talking business.
- Call it quits. I love my job and by Sunday evening I often feel twinklings of joy that tomorrow is a workday. And that’s because I have not done a smidge of work all weekend (though in the era of COVID-19 I have been breaking this rule consistently!). In “normal” times, to be able to focus on your paid work during the week and maybe even enjoy it, you gotta check out during off-hours and the weekend. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.