Working from home is becoming increasingly common. With the explosion of cloud technology over the past decade, it’s easier than ever to communicate, collaborate, and be productive while working remotely.
During the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people found themselves working from home for the first time. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went so far as to tell employees that they could work from home permanently.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that working from home is significantly different than working in an office. You can’t take what you did at the office and simply transfer it to your home. New skills and routines are needed—a new approach to managing your teams during crisis, and managing your own work, too.
It’s like when Michael Jordan switched from the NBA to Major League Baseball. The things that allowed him to succeed at basketball didn’t totally transfer over to baseball. He needed a different toolset.
In this article, we’re going to provide you with 32 proven, time-tested tips for succeeding while working from home.
Let’s get started.
#1 - Set A Schedule And Stick To It
When you work from home, the boundaries between work and rest tend to get blurred. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself working too much and not taking enough time to rest.
Creating a daily schedule puts firm boundaries around your workday. You know when you’re going to start work, when you’ll take breaks, and when you’ll stop for the day. This allows you to get into a daily rhythm. You spend less time trying to decide what you’re going to do, which reduces the amount of decision fatigue you experience and increases productivity.
Make your schedule clear to your coworkers so that they know when you’re on and off the clock.
- Google Calendar allows you to create shared calendars so that people know what you’re doing on each day of the week.
- Calendly makes it simple to agree upon meeting times without sending dozens of emails back and forth.
#2 - Quit At Quitting Time
When you work in an office, you leave the building and go home at the end of the day, which puts a hard stop on your work. You don’t have this hard stop when you work from home. You may find yourself keeping an eye on your inbox or thinking about projects through the night, even though you’re technically done working for the day.
This is a sure recipe for burnout.
We already know that a majority (70%) of employees say their company needs to do more to prevent burnout. But you can do your part to prevent it, too.
At the end of the day, stop working completely. Close out browser tabs, shut your laptop, and tidy up your workspace so that it’s clean for the next morning. Then give all your attention to the remainder of your evening.
If you don’t have a hard and fast quitting time, work items will probably carry over into your rest time.
#3 - Get Dressed
One of the great advantages to working from home is that you don’t need to get dressed up. No suit and tie. No jacket and skirt. You can dress in clothes that are comfortable.
However, don’t work in your pajamas, as tempting as that may be. The old adage of “dress for success” has real merits. The simple act of getting dressed mentally prepares you to tackle the day. It creates a hard boundary between lounging in your PJs and work.
Additionally, what you wear has a significant effect on your self-perception. One study showed that wearing more formal attire made people feel like they had more authority and were more competent.
#4 - Communicate Expectations To Those Around You
Those at home with you (roommates, kids, etc.) need to know what you expect from them. They need to know when and where you’ll be working, and they need to respect your work time.
If you don’t establish these boundaries, all sorts of things will begin to impinge on your work time. A roommate needs a ride. A child wants you to play with them. As much as you’d like to do these things, you simply can’t while you’re working.
Author Glenn Fleishman recommends:
- Having a conversation with family or roommates so that they know how you’ll be working
- Sticking to a regular schedule so that everyone knows when you’re working
- Having some sort of sign or signal that you’re working (closed door, headphones, etc.)
#5 - Observe Routines
Most of us have routines and rituals that we perform before we start working. We drink coffee, exercise, read the headlines, etc. Going through these routines signals to our brains and bodies that it’s time to start working. They become habits and create mental “grooves” of sorts. These mental grooves make it easier to actually get started.
Additionally, routines have been demonstrated to improve sleep cycles, which consequently helps reduce stress and improve mental health.
As much as possible, try to create and observe similar routines when you work from home. Create a pre-work ritual that helps you get in the right headspace to be productive. Maybe that ritual involves drinking a cup of tea and going for a jog. Maybe it involves meditating using an app like Headspace or Calm.
The more you utilize routines, the easier it will be to get your workday started.
#6 - Take Regular Breaks
When you work from home, it’s easy to forget to take breaks. You just keep working, maybe even going so far as to eat lunch while working. This is a sure recipe for burnout and exhaustion.
Throughout the day, your body goes through multiple cycles of high and low energy called “ultradian rhythms”. These cycles occur every 90 - 120 minutes and play a large part in how productive you are. At the peak of a cycle, your energy is highest and at the trough its lowest.
The implication is that you’ll be most productive if you work with your body instead of against it. Focus on getting things done when energy levels are high and then give yourself space to recover.
Include regular breaks in your schedule and be sure to take them. Resist the temptation to just keep going. Your body and brain need to rest and recharge, and taking breaks allows this to happen.
#7 - Create A Dedicated Workspace
Productivity is the result of habits, and numerous studies have shown that habits are the result of associations. We take action, observe the outcome, and then repeat that action if the outcome is good. The more we do this, the stronger the habit becomes.
When you enter your office or cubicle at work, you know that it’s time to be productive. It’s not time to stream movies or check social media. There is a direct association in your brain between your workspace and productivity.
Creating a dedicated workspace in your home can help you achieve similar levels of productivity. Having one spot where you always work creates an association in your brain between that spot and getting things done.
Your home workspace doesn’t have to be an entire room, it just needs to be a spot where you consistently work. It can be something as simple as a table in a corner. Pick a place where you enjoy spending time and then stick with it.
#8 - Make Your Workspace Comfortable
You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your workspace, so do your best to make it comfortable. If you hate being in your workspace, it will be hard to be productive.
Get a chair you like that supports good posture. Make sure the space is well lit, preferably with natural light. Light a candle to keep things smelling nice and maybe put up a few photos.
#9 - Get The Right Tools
If you’re going to be productive from home, you need to have the right tools for the job. Trying to get things done without the right tools will cause you a huge amount of frustration.
You may need to buy a laptop or tablet or some other tool. You also may need to invest in a faster internet connection if you’re going to be transferring a lot of files or remotely controlling a computer at work.
And don’t forget communication tools. You’re probably going to need to chat with your coworkers and collaborate on projects. Applications like Slack, Google Docs, Dropbox, and Loom can help you stay in sync with people.
#10 - Keep A Task List
When you work in an office, you’re constantly in contact with your boss, who helps you know what needs to be done when. When you work from home, that physical proximity is gone. You have an increased responsibility to identify important tasks and get them done.
Maintaining a task list can help you stay on task. Each day, before you start working, identify your three most important tasks. Work on your most important task first, and don’t move to something else until you’ve finished. Then go to your second most important task, and so on.
In his book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller writes:
Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life. Toppling dominoes is pretty straightforward. You line them up and tip over the first one...Highly successful people know this. So every day they line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls.
Using a task list helps you create the domino effect. It ensures that you get the most important things done every day, which leads to extraordinary results.
#11 - Do Important Work During Your Peak Periods
There are points during the day when you work more effectively. When you’re able to think most clearly and get things done most efficiently. Maybe you’re freshest first thing in the morning or after lunch. Or maybe you’re one of those rare birds who is at their best late at night.
As much as possible, work on your most important projects during your peak periods of productivity. If you’re freshest first thing in the morning, don’t waste that time on relatively trivial tasks like email. Focus your energies on the task that will have the biggest impact.
This is how author Stephen King produces best selling novels year after year. As Mason Curry notes in the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, King writes every day of the year starting at around 8:00 am, and he doesn’t stop until he reaches 2,000 words. Only then does he do less important things.
#12 - Don’t Multitask
When you’re working from home, it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of multitasking. One minute you’re working, the next you’re cleaning up the kitchen or straightening the living room.
This kills productivity. Time and again, research has shown that multitasking makes you far less efficient. The effort involved in switching back and forth between tasks requires more mental energy, increases the chances of error, and increases the amount of time it takes to complete tasks.
As much as possible, try to stay focused on a single task. Work in discrete blocks of time and focus on only one thing during each block (known as “time blocking”). Don’t let your attention be spread thin.
#13 - Use The Pomodoro Method For Productivity
The Pomodoro Method is a well-established technique that helps you work in focused bursts and then give your brain a break. It works like this:
- Identify your most important task.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on the task for 25 minutes (one Pomodoro session).
- Take a 5-minute break.
- After four Pomodoro sessions, take a 15-20 minute break.
Using this technique keeps you on task, helping you give focused energy to the things that are most important. It also keeps you from working too long without taking a break.
#14 - Block Out Distractions
There are unique distractions when you work from home. If you have kids or roommates, there may be a fair amount of noise. And if you don’t have an office where you can close the door, that noise will probably make it harder for you to get things done.
One relatively simple solution is to get noise-cancelling headphones and then listen to background music or ambient noise that won’t distract you. Some listening options to consider:
#15 - Block Time-Wasting Websites
Few things kill productivity like the internet. One minute you’re working away, the next you’re sucked into the black hole of Facebook.
If you have trouble resisting the allure of certain websites, consider using an application that will physically prevent you from accessing those websites. Freedom and Rescue Time both allow you to block specific websites for set periods of time.
Simply identify which sites you want to block, how long you want them blocked, and then enjoy distraction-free productivity.
#16 - Respond To Messages In Batches
In an effort to prove that you’re working diligently and being productive, you may be tempted to immediately answer every message you receive. Your inbox dings, you stop what you’re doing, and you fire back a response.
And while this impulse is understandable, it will make you extremely unproductive and distracted. It’s hard to get much momentum when you’re constantly sidetracked by messages.
A much more effective solution is to respond to messages in batches. Set aside blocks of time every day when you will go through and reply to all your emails and chats. If your supervisor is concerned about this approach, explain that you’re trying to be more productive and give them your phone number so they can call you if something truly urgent comes up.
#17 - Get Outside
When you work from home, you’re inside more than normal. You don’t have a commute and you probably have fewer meetings to attend. If you’re not careful, you can spend all your time inside, which is bad for morale and for your health.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of being outside. It contributes to:
- Reduced stress
- Improved immunity
- Increased focus
- Better mental health
- Improved short term memory
- And much more
Additionally, being outdoors increases the amount of vitamin D in your body, which is essential. Approximately 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.
Try to get outside your house every day. Go for a walk. Read in a coffee shop. Grab drinks with friends. It may seem counterintuitive, but getting away from where you work will actually make you more productive.
#18 - Take Sick Days, Even While Working From Home
Americans, in particular, seem to have a particular aversion to taking sick days. In a culture of constant productivity, taking a sick day can seem like weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you don’t take sick days, you may actually prolong your illness since your body can’t heal. This was demonstrated during the 2016 presidential election when Hilary Clinton almost physically collapsed due to pneumonia. Unable to rest, a cough morphed into something much more serious.
The moral of the story? Take care of yourself.
If you’re sick, take time off to rest and recuperate. Don’t try to power through. Don’t try to get stuff done while laying in bed. Let your body fully recover. Your work will probably be subpar anyway. Cut yourself a break.
#19 - Eat Healthy
When you’re working from home, your pantry is never more than a few steps away. There’s a huge temptation to mindlessly snack, which can quickly turn into additional pounds.
There are a number of specific strategies you can employ to help you eat healthy at home:
- Set specific times when you will snack and stick to those times rigidly
- Stock up on healthy snacks that satisfy cravings but don’t add to the waistline
- Prepare meals and snacks the night before so that you’re not tempted to just grab whatever is in front of you
- Keep a water bottle close by to ensure that you’re hydrated
- Use the “Healthy Plate Method” to help with portion control
- Use an app like MyFitnessPal to help you track the calories you consume
#20 - Exercise
Few things improve productivity like exercise. It clears your head, improves your energy, and lifts your mood. A recent study by Briston University evaluated the immediate impact of exercise on productivity, with employees comparing days they exercised versus days they didn’t.
On the days they worked out, the employees experienced higher levels of concentration, managed their time more effectively, and felt significantly more motivation.
The implications are clear. If you want to be productive while working from home, make exercise a part of your day.
Go for a walk or jog. If the weather is bad, download a workout app like Nike Training Club. Consistently exercising will make the experience of working from home significantly better.
#21 - Connect With People
Loneliness is an occupational hazard when it comes to working from home. You can’t casually chat with coworkers about sports or the latest movie you saw and many meetings happen virtually with video chat. It’s easy to become very isolated very quickly.
Prolonged loneliness and isolation can lead to a variety of health problems, including:
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive impairment
- Heart disease
- And more
For the sake of both your physical and mental health make an effort to connect with people a few times per week. Go to lunch with a friend or grab coffee with a neighbor.
If circumstances such as the COVID-19 crisis prevent you from connecting with people in person, take advantage of the many communication tools now available to us:
Though virtual connection can never take the place of face-to-face interaction, it can be helpful for a period of time in keeping a healthy work culture alive.
#22 - Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication becomes even more important when you’re not working in an office. You’re not getting regular face time with your supervisor and coworkers and things can easily get lost in strings of emails and messages. You need to say things more than once.
Tell your boss and coworkers your schedule. Let them know when you complete a task. Make it clear when you’re taking vacation days. Communicate the same message via chat, email, video conference, etc.
It’s better to over communicate than under communicate. Under communication leads to misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and a lot of frustration.
#23 - Keep Written Messages Positive
Tone and body language are lost when communicating digitally. People can’t see your face or hear your voice. It’s really easy for people to interpret your words in a negative way even if you didn’t intend any negative connotations.
Writing in Inc., Jacquelyn Smith says:
...tone is easy to misconstrue without the context you'd get from vocal cues and facial expressions. Accordingly, it's easy to come off as more abrupt that you might have intended --you meant "straightforward," they read "angry and curt."...For best results, avoid using unequivocally negative words ("failure," "wrong," or "neglected"), and always say "please" and "thank you.
When communicating over email or chat, work hard to keep things light and positive. Maybe thrown in a joke or your favorite GIF where appropriate. Little things like this go a long way in helping you maintain good relationships with your coworkers.
#24 - Clean Up For Video Calls
A big advantage of working from home is that you can wear comfortable clothes. However, you still want to look professional during video calls.
Like it or not, your appearance is directly tied to your success. Research suggests that the way a person looks plays a really significant role in career advancement. As much as possible, try to look good when interacting with other employees, even if it’s just during a video all.
Don’t wear a ratty t-shirt and have your hair going all over the place. Put on a decent shirt, comb your hair, shave, etc. Make it clear that you really do care about the work you’re doing.
#25 - Use A VPN
Whenever you use a wifi network that you don’t own, like at a coffee shop or library, you should use a VPN. A VPN gives you a secure internet connection, ensuring that someone doesn’t steal important company information. The last thing you want is to have a security breach, and a VPN helps prevent that.
Some effective VPN apps are:
#26 - Get Educated
Training and skill development programs often happen in the office, and you may miss out on these if you work from home. If this is the case, ask for whatever training you think will help you do your job better. This can be anything from online courses to conferences to books.
There are a number of online platforms that provide in-depth training on a variety of subjects, including:
If you don’t intentionally seek out training, your skills may languish, which could cost you promotions and salary bumps.
#27 - Resolve Problems With Phone Calls
If you sense a problem starting to arise, don’t try to solve it via email or chat. Misunderstandings are common with these methods of communication and things can quickly get worse.
To navigate conflicts, hop on the phone or a video chat and have a conversation with anyone involved.
Kevin Hart, SVP and Managing Director at EMA Boston, says:
Holding people accountable or having a fierce conversation is best done in person. It gives you better understanding of tonality and allows you to observe body language. Also, there’s more room for two-way communication. We encourage face-to-face meetings to resolve conflicts. If that is not possible, a phone conversation is the next preferred way to determine how to move forward.
#28 - Ask For Feedback
Your boss may be hesitant about you working from home, especially in the beginning. They might worry that you won’t be as productive or that you’ll spend work time watching videos on YouTube. Yes, there are performance management systems that organizations use to check in on employees from time to time, but you still need ways to get more immediate feedback on a short-term basis.
One way to set your boss at ease is to ask for feedback on how they think it’s going. Ask them what they think is working and what isn’t. Take notes on the feedback and assure your boss that you really do want to be as efficient as possible. This can keep small problems from becoming much bigger ones.
Also, let your supervisor know of any unique challenges you’re facing that you don’t encounter in the office. Are you encountering any bottlenecks? Are there any tools you need? This kind of open dialogue will keep things running smoothly.
#29 - Get Clear On Company Policies
Your company probably has specific policies and guidelines related to working from home, and in some cases the crisis has been a catalyst, prompting companies to upheave and shift their policies in an entirely new direction. New policies could include everything from what hours you need to be available to what you’re allowed to use your company laptop for.
Make sure you’re crystal clear on these. Knowing exactly what your company expects from you can help you avoid misunderstandings. It also ensures that you and your supervisor are on the same page. If you have questions regarding certain policies, get clarity as soon as possible.
#30 - Hold Yourself Accountable
Self-accountability and self-motivation are hugely important when working from home. No one is looking over your shoulder ensuring that you get everything done. Temptations and distractions surround you. You need to hold yourself accountable for getting work done.
You also need to maintain a high level of motivation. In a normal office environment, there are “feedback loops” in place to help you stay motivated. You perform a task, talk to your supervisor or coworkers about it, and get feedback on your performance (if you use a performance management tool for this, it's all the easier to check. This feedback then motivates you to perform at a higher level.
These feedback loops tend to be less present when working from home. You’ll only be successful if you maintain high levels of self-motivation.
#31 - Experiment
It may take you some time to figure what works best for you when it comes to working from home. Don’t expect everything to fall neatly into place right at the beginning. You’ll need to find what works best for you and your style of working.
Feel free to experiment with your schedule, workspace, task list, management tools, routine, etc. The beauty of working from home is that you have the freedom to change these things. You can optimize your working day for maximum productivity.
#32 - Be Kind To Yourself
It takes time to get used to working at home. It’s a new work environment that requires new skills. It will take time for you to find your groove. Some days will be less productive than other days, and that’s okay.
Show yourself compassion. Give yourself time and space to get acclimated. Over time, things will get easier. Until then, be kind to yourself.