When people ask me about working at home they say things like “How do you stay focused?”, “I’d never get any work done,” and “Isn’t it lonely?”.
Working from home isn’t a huge change for me because I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that supports this for the past four years. I’m employed as a content manager for a software company. I also run an online business: Become a Writer Today.
I discovered long ago I accomplish more in less time by working from home and avoiding painful parts of the day like a long commute.
I’ve also worked in an open-plan office, and I’d never be able to make that switch again, even if it meant earning more money.
These are all challenges those new to home working will face over the next few weeks and ones I encountered too.
I also know many people prefer working, and being surrounded by their teammates and friends. It gives them energy. And this new way of working alone could represent a big change for you.
If it does, reframe what’s at stake: Working from home will keep you, your family and those where you live safe. If you’ve 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 by working from home than you can in an open-plan office. Albert Einstein had one of the most productive years of his life while home working.
The Four Skills Homeworkers Must Master
To work productively from home, consider how and when you work.
It’s as much about mindset as it is about systems and tools. That said, I’ve also included a list of resources that can help at the bottom of this article.
1. Creating a Self-Contained Workplace
The goal is to create a single 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 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. Instead, it’s far better to associate one place in your apartment or house with work.
If space is an issue, consider working at the kitchen table and putting away the laptop when done. Ear-plugs or noise-canceling headphones can help if you’re sharing a workspace with others. They’re probably not a good idea if you’ve small kids though!
2. The Art of Over-Communication
I learned long ago working from home means communicating early and often.
So, use all of the communication tools at your disposal. Check-in early and often with your boss, colleagues and team members using email, instant messaging and so on.
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 Rescue Time. That’s long enough to concentrate on a troublesome project, but not so long you’re disconnected from the office.
Plus, you’ll get a break from the rather grim stories making headlines this week.
3. Holding A Consistent Daily Routine
Normal working hours are your best friend.
Usually, I start my day at the same time around 09.00 after the kids leave the house for school.
I finish around 17.30, at the same time as other team members 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 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 almost always regretted that decision as it felt like work dragged on for hours longer than necessary.
I’m also planning on making some adjustments to that routine by rising earlier to start key projects and allowing for disruptions to planned meetings, phone calls and other deliverables. So it’s probably not a good idea to have a few beers or wine at nighttime as I’ll feel more sluggish in the morning.
Like many European countries, my kids are also 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 eighteen-month-old? My boss knows, most workers are in the same situation, and I’ll lower my expectations accordingly.
Far better to strive than to sit on the couch worrying.
4. Priming Productive States
Homeworkers can get a lot done because they’ve fewer distractions. You can accomplish even more if you prime yourself to enter a productive, or flow, state.
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.
Music can help. 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 and dabbing a drop on your wrist when you really need to concentrate.
Arguably, that’s a hack but a subtle trigger that it’s time to work goes a long way. I often leave prompts for myself in the form of sticky notes on my desk e.g. “Write 500 words about working from home.”
Don’t forget to remove distracting prompts too. That means putting away or turning off the radio, television, games consoles and possibly your phone. Yes, it’s important to keep up with the crisis, but not minute-by-minute.
These are extraordinary times.
Normally, I’d tell you working remotely means saying goodbye to the commute and a distracting open office. Right now, working from home is the healthiest thing you can do for your family, friends, and community.
The office isn’t going anywhere.
The 14 Working From Home Tools I Rely On:
- Slack for connecting with teammates and asking questions.
- Loom for providing feedback via video to others… it’s faster than typing email responses.
- Zoom or Microsoft Teams for video-conferencing calls and interviews. Some Irish friends are even using Zoom for video-conferencing parties!
- Rev for transcribing articles and interviews.
- Rescue Time for tracking how I spend my day. What gets measured, gets managed.
- Freedom for blocking the news and social media when I need to focus.
- An iPhone and AirPods for taking phone calls while walking around my kitchen or outside.
- Trello for managing my to-do lists, projects and collaborating with contractors. If you find it overwhelming, consider Todoist.
- Google Drive for accessing all my documents and files and sharing with others.
- Flowstate for concentrating on one project at a time, it’s a playlist of curated music sans lyrics.
- Brain.FM for resetting my mood when distracted.
- Waking Up or Primed Mind for meditating when I feel anxious about the news.
- Be Focused Pro… a Mac app for implementing the Pomodoro Technique.
- Forest…. an app that gamifies or rewards you for putting your phone away.