Working from home is a powerful skill. I’ve spent 10 years becoming an expert, and in 20 minutes you will be too.
Employees have a lot of fears about going remote. It’s a big step, even if you made the choice.
It comes with challenges you haven’t faced before.
You are physically apart from coworkers, support, and social opportunities.
Bosses might not notice how amazing you’ve been lately. You’ll miss the gossip, bonding, and promotions.
You might not get enough work done, with so many tempting distractions nearby.
You have all the freedom to do nothing and fail miserably.
Take solace from this. See the benefits instead.
You can have fewer distractions.
And don’t have to travel to work.
Plus, you have the freedom to achieve success and live the life you want.
Working from home gives you the chance to design every detail of your working life. As a result, you get to build systems that are more effective.
You get to make it fun.
The payoff for doing it well is more time, more flexibility, and a happier life.
Ok, so how do we make that happen?
We’re going to break down every area of your life. Your behaviors, habits, preferences, and your house.
You’re going to be organized, disciplined, proactive, and efficient.
Let’s start from the ground level: your home.
Working From Home: Create a Separate Workspace
Your home was probably not built for your private life and work. If you have an office or spare room, fantastic. If not, no bother.
We can make room.
There are two key principles for setting up your workspace:
1. Keep clear separation between workspaces and living areas
2. Only do work in the workspace, and only relax in the living areas
Maintain Separation Between Spaces
Maintain physical separation between spaces as boldly as you can. This is vital.
If there’s a spare room to use, put the things needed for work there. Remove the televisions, sofas, beds, exercise equipment and everything else unrelated to work.
If you have to work in a living space, that’s fine. We can work around it. Follow these steps:
- Choose a space: Ideally use a room you are less likely to relax in, like a dining room or the kitchen. This saves the living room for winding down. Do not try to work in the bedroom unless it is literally the only option. This is bad for productivity and your sleep
- Set up a work-station in the room: Get a desk, chair, office supplies, whatever you need. Put the chargers and cables you need in there too, so you’re not looking for them during work
- Point the chair and desk away from distractions. Having a different view is enough to create some separation between work and rest
- Use dividers, moveable walls, furniture, and doors to reinforce separation where possible. A couch can divide a space into two, or some tape on the floor
- At the end of the day, pack the work things up and return the space to its former state. This signifies that work is done, and lets you transition out of a working mindset for the night. Before you go to bed, set the room up for the next day’s work
Dedicated Spaces for Dedicated Tasks
As well as physical separation, do specific tasks in the same separate spaces each time.
Do not eat lunch at your desk. Never do work from the bed.
You need your brain to associate the space with the work it does in there.
Being in the work area means being at work.
Once you leave, you’re not at work, you’re relaxing.
Both matter – a lot.
Focus on applying these rules:
- Only work in workspaces
- Only relax and socialize in living spaces
- If you struggle to stay in the same space: save the most important, hardest work for your dedicated work area. Do errands and tedious tasks from somewhere else
- Avoid working in spaces other people regularly use. The kitchen bench is an obvious example. It will be distracting
OK, so you’ve got the space figured.
Time to furnish it.
Pay Close Attention to Ergonomics and Your Body
Anyone who has spent long periods working from home can confirm this advice:
Invest in a good chair. Raise your monitor or laptop screen.
Avoid combinations that cause you to slouch, bend your neck or angle your wrists. Keep your shoulders, waist, and legs in line.
You will work for longer, enjoy it more, and avoid injury.
Here are the ergonomic lessons I’ve learned:
- Device input matters. Watch for pain in your hands hurt from typing or pointing a cursor. Try a different keyboard, trackpad, and mouse. Address the problem immediately. See an occupational therapist
- Avoid holding a phone to your ear for hours. Use a headset, loudspeaker or headphones
- Ask your employer (if you have one) for the things you need. They spend a lot of money in offices preventing injury – they might do the same for remote workers
- Invest your money from the beginning. Waiting for an injury to come, and then rebuying things won’t save you any money
I’m not a doctor, but I treat repetitive strain by avoiding the repetition of things that cause pain.
Getting it right from the start will do that. Do some research, test options.
You will need to be able to sustain long work periods, this will help a lot.
Change is as Good as a Holiday
This is a powerful hack for me:
If I am struggling, I know I can always boost performance by changing my environment.
I work outside of the house as often as the tasks allow.
It ticks a lot of boxes: productivity, happiness, social activity, exercise, and stimulation.
When that isn’t an option, I move furniture around.
Move the desk to a different side of the wall. Rearrange ornaments. Get a new pen. Sit in the garden. Swap your desktop background.
You will learn what works for you, your routine, and when to add variation.
You Have Full Control, So Make Space Work For You
If a setup works for you, it’s good.
No one’s going to stop you from playing heavy metal music and reading in the bathroom. Well, your neighbors might try, but it won’t be because it wasn’t effective.
It’s exciting to have this freedom and control.
You get to design a space that is just for you.
Focus on your success and enjoyment.
Working From Home: Get the Tools You Need to be Effective
Having the right furniture is the beginning. Now you need some tools.
This is not the time to be making compromises.
People worry that they won’t have the resources to be effective at home. They fear their productivity and effectiveness will suffer.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Get the things that are essential for your work. Ask your employer if you can, or buy them.
The outcomes will justify the investment. You will save time, hassle, and money.
Essential tools include:
- A computer – Mac or PC. Depending on your work, a tablet might do the job
- A smartphone – communication is going to be vital. So is keeping yourself organized. Whether you do either of these on a larger machine or not, you’re going to have a phone
Think about how much time you’ll use a device for, and what tasks. Purchase accordingly.
These are things that get overlooked:
- Noise-canceling headphones – these give you extra control over your experience. They’re great if you can’t control the people near it
- Upgraded wifi connection – downtime costs a loss, and small gains add up. Look into improving your internet, now that your work depends on it
- Extra, bigger monitors – so much time is saved by having all of the windows and apps open that I need for a project
- Another work phone – to keep your private life separate
You are going to build systems and routines that let you reach your goals. And so, you better know what they are.
Working From Home: Understand Your Goals and Objectives
With no one watching, it’s really easy to walk around in circles all day. The result won’t just be lost productivity, you’ll become demotivated.
Instead: clearly outline your objectives.
Setting career goals connect the work you do today with the success you are chasing. The goals guide what to work on, and how to prioritize.
If you work in a team, setting goals will be done as a team.
For solo workers, be extra clear on your direction. You need goals to stay motivated.
Here’s a quick guide to setting goals:
- Pick 3 things you want to achieve in a year
- Set 6-month objectives for each goal
- Identify projects or tasks to finish in one month. They must be relevant to the goals
- Select tasks to complete this week from each project
- Review progress often and realign your work
From this, you can plan your days. And therefore focus on tasks that matter.
Write your goals down, digitally or on paper. Keep them on show in your workspace. You need reminding, and it’ll help you focus on the important work.
It’ll help you feel some control in the endless freedom too.
On that note: you must have a routine.
Organize Your Life and Work At Home
Whether we like to accept it or not, structure is important. Human brains need order. Without it, we fall into idleness and erratic results.
Organizing time has two important categories:
- Establishing Routine
- Creating Schedules
The first is about designing a consistent life structure.
The second is putting plans into that structure.
Make Yourself Stick to a Routine
You need to build positive habits.
This means repeating behaviors that move you closer to your goals. And it happens through routine.
Your brain will quickly adopt patterns of work, and go with the flow. This is how you achieve Deep Work and great results.
It’s even possible to be effective on cue, by creating triggers. This happens when an action triggers the behavior that follows.
If your morning includes breakfast, exercise, yoga, shower and then starting work: That’s the routine. Always shower after yoga practice, and then get straight to work.
Starting work will be easier, and you’ll perform better.
A routine is the foundation for success, a schedule makes it productive.
Scheduling Work At Home: Have a Plan for Every Workday
Establishing the routine comes first because it gives you a framework. The next step is to fill it in.
I have studied the best time management techniques, so I’ll summarise some tips here for working at home:
You must know which tasks are important. They are the things that bring you closer to your goals. Prioritize them.
Give important projects and tasks time in your schedule.
Have a task for every work session, ideally something you can complete in each interval.
The point of this is to make sure you don’t create pointless work or fail to prioritize. Both of these waste time.
The Best Principles for Routine and Scheduling
- Get up early, start work early. Do both at the same time every day
- A morning routine is key – set triggers for your brain that great work is about to happen. Consistency and repetition are key
- Make starting work easy – have everything you need set up and ready for you to begin
- Plan breaks – it’s easy to work for too long without a break and wear yourself out. This isn’t good in the long run
- Use interval timers – set a short-timer and focus. Avoid all distractions until the time is up. Take a break and go again
- Figure out when you are most productive in the day. Ensure all distractions and tedious tasks are not scheduled in that window
- Do the disruptive, repetitive, easier tasks after your most productive period
- Plan your day the night before. Don’t waste time in the morning figuring out what you are going to do
- Avoid multitasking – try to finish tasks in the session you start them. If not, go for satisfying progress. It’s more efficient and feels more productive
- Schedule movement and eating. These are as important as your work. They need to happen every day if you are going to be effective
- Batch similar tasks together for efficiency. Do invoicing, email, and tedious tasks together rather than spreading them out. It’s way more efficient, and won’t distract the hard stuff
Should You Break Your Routine When Working From Home?
Don’t get me wrong, the option to break your routine is one of the huge joys of working from home. If you want to take a morning off once in a while and make it up later, nothing will stop you.
Nothing will stop you from not making it up later.
So don’t do it often. Not until the routine is set, and your brain has it locked in.
Obviously you won’t be perfect from the start. Don’t give up on a whole day just because you were an hour behind in the morning.
Getting something done is always better than nothing.
Be kind to yourself, and work at it.
Working From Home: Maintain Your Task Management System
However complex, every task management system needs one thing:
You have to know what tasks need doing, all the time. Failing this isn’t pretty – unless you like chaos and delays.
I check the state of my projects and tasks every Friday. From there I make sure the work I’m doing is relevant to my goals, and schedule tasks for next week.
This is also a good chance to see whether you are finishing things on schedule.
If you need to work on task management, choose one of the 3 levels below.
Level 1: The Classical To-Do List
The first is a pretty simple to-do app: it’s called ‘Things’
Any to-do app, notebook or text file will be fine, but this one works for me:
‘Things’ lets you quickly enter tasks with natural language. I like that it’s easy to set a task for today, another specific date or ‘Anytime’.
It also has just enough complexity for me. I can separate my work tasks from personal lists (like grocery items).
If you want an even simpler option, you can use the notes from your computer or phone.
Or go analog and use pen and paper.
Level 2: The ‘Project Management’ System
Having all of your tasks recorded is one step, but it’s hard to keep them in order.
Add an extra level of organization: Arrange every task into ‘projects’.
The idea is to have categories to group tasks. Trello is a service that offers this function. It works by using ‘boards’, to separate projects and categories of tasks.
As tasks on the board get done, they move along the board from lists of ‘To-Do’, to ‘Doing and then ‘Done’.
Use whatever labels you like, but this lets you visualize progress, and see what is holding things up.
Now you can easily prioritize and stay on top of every project.
Level 3: Getting Things Done
Finally, ‘Getting Things Done’ is a system that has proven effective for a lot of people.
For hardcore enthusiasts, check out ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Living’.
It’s a heavy system that requires a lot of set up. When you’re trying to hack extra productivity, this level of detail and structure can be great.
In short, there are two ideas for everyone:
- Giving tasks context: know when and where something can be completed
- Connecting tasks in a sequence to complete them: do things in order, and only worry about the ‘next’ task
There’s no point worrying about work projects when you are at the supermarket.
When you’re working on a project, you only need to know the task that needs completing next.
By organizing tasks by context, you focus on only things you can control here and now.
And, looking only at what you can do next makes big projects less daunting.
Feel free to get a nerdy about it as you like.
Using any system for task management is better than none, so personalize your own.
I hope you have half as much fun playing around as I do.
Communication Tips for Working From Home
This is another common concern for people starting remote work. You must communicate effectively with co-workers, clients, and everyone else.
Your performance and career will suffer if this isn’t managed well.
There’s no need to fail.
Technology makes working from home possible. Written, verbal, and video interaction is constantly available and easy to use.
The reality is that text can easily be interpreted incorrectly. Missing out on facial cues and body language causes issues.
The best approach is to communicate more often, with more detail. And use platforms that suit the conversation. Don’t be scared to make a call.
When in doubt, over-communicate.
Communication ideas when working from home:
- Schedule regular ‘touch-points’ in the day. Check-in with coworkers, confirming who is doing what. This stops workers from suddenly feeling isolated and unsupported. As a bonus, it also gives accountability and deadlines
- Be aware of risks with the communication platform you are using. Don’t rely on short emails communicating nuance. Be clear, and friendly
- Conversely, presume positive intent from everyone else. If a message seems sarcastic or sharp, give the benefit of the doubt
- Ask for clarification, rather than letting problems or confusion build-up
- Choose a moderator for conference calls. They can make sure everyone is involved, and things stay on track
- ‘Clock on’ early by contributing to group discussions as soon as you start work. It shows everyone that you are present and available
- Routinely confirm which tasks each collaborator is responsible for. Without being in the same office, it’s easy to duplicate effort or miss something entirely. When in doubt, check
Maintain Your Social and Professional Roles
This brings me to one of the most prominent worries for people beginning to work from home: being left out.
The fear is that by not being physically present, your personal life and career will suffer.
That doesn’t need to be the case.
Here’s how you can stay in the loop:
- ‘Show up to meetings’ – participate actively and enthusiastically. Make sure you’re not forgotten
- Suggest face to face events like conferences, meetups, and retreats
- Know the expectations. Confirm them. When you are expected to be available and working, you must be. Demonstrate reliability
- Use the freedom to improve your performance – no one is going to overlook employees who provide huge value
- Maintain informal, social communication channels. Have a Slack channel or group message that is for casual discussion. Think of it as a virtual water cooler
- Make the effort to stay in touch with coworkers. Make the choice to not lose touch, and keep track of relationships you want to sustain
- Use the opportunity to build a larger social and professional network. Reach out to others working from home, and people in your area. There’s a whole world of people who also want to stay connected
There is no reason for remote work to limit your career. It’s an important skill to master. It actually proves you are adaptable and effective.
You just have to be proactive.
Next up: staying healthy to stay effective.
How Remote Workers Stay Healthy and Happy
Working from home demands you care for your body, mind and personal life. You will not perform well if this fails.
We’ve already covered some great tips, like a good workspace set and taking breaks.
Doing these is a great start.
And doubling down further is well worth the effort, I promise.
I’ve put together this list of tips for staying healthy and happy whilst working from home:
- Prioritize your health. Schedule exercise, schedule meals, schedule rest. It’s compulsory
- Get out of the workspace (Go outside, ideally). Firstly, it will involve movement, which is important. Secondly, your mental health needs it
- Take days off. It’s so easy to see every hour of every day as an opportunity to get more done. It might work for one week, but you won’t sustain it. Schedule downtime
- Eat well. Take in protein and vegetables every day. Put meals on your schedule if you might forget
- Avoid idle snacking. With the kitchen so close, and fewer people there to see, it’s easy to mindlessly snack all day. Even if it’s lettuce, this probably won’t help your work
- Be kind to yourself. You have permission to be unproductive occasionally. There is no benefit to beating yourself up
- Start journaling. There are lots of approaches, but the verdict is in – journaling works. Take time every day to reflect on your goals, what worked well, what didn’t. Make note of how you feel. Plan improvement
Don’t Compromise Your Health
You need your body to work. You need it to live.
So you can’t compromise on health for the sake of work, not in the long term.
Issues that arise when working from home are negative cycles.
Procrastination, anxiety, loneliness: they all feed on the problem and get worse.
You need to prevent what you can, stop issues quickly, and stay on track.
As with other areas, the key is consistency.
And consistency leads to the most powerful asset you can add: good habits.
Productive Habits for Successful Remote Work
Systems make working from home easier:
Being productive will become automated behavior. Do the right things straight away, until they just happen.
Once you lock in good habits, this is all a piece of cake.
I’ve summarised the most important rules that build positive habits:
- Start as early as possible, at the same time every day
- You should still ‘go to work’. Prepare yourself and enter the workspace ready to get started each day
- Dress well. I’m not suggesting you wear your best suit to the spare room. But showering and wearing nice close triggers productivity and positive intent. Wearing shoes makes you feel more engaged
- Create barriers to distractions, until you forget all about them. Leave unnecessary devices in other rooms. Close the workspace door if you are sharing the house. Position yourself away from distracting views. Make it harder to lose focus, and easier to stay on track
- Plan out tomorrow’s tasks today. Have a clear picture of the actions to get things started. You don’t want to start the day by figuring out what you should do
- Stick to your space and task separation areas at all times
If you achieve all of these, you’re on track for excellent results.
Having got ourselves in order, it’s time to deal with the elephants in the room:
Distractions, and people who cause them.
How To Share the Home Workspace with Others
Working from home with others is a challenge.
Whether it’s children, a partner, or housemates, everyone has their own priorities. You need to find ways to align them.
By sharing the home, you lose the benefit of complete control.
Aim to minimize impacts of everyone doing their own thing, without upsetting anyone.
I find the best approach to be honesty and compromise. Try these strategies:
- Set very clear expectations and ground rules. Agree on times when others will be quiet, and when you will be quiet. Decide who uses which spaces and when
- Seek solutions that don’t impact others, like noise-canceling headphones
- Try to align work sessions and breaks. Everyone will benefit from better work conditions. And you can enjoy some company before and after
- Ask for help. This is a big one. Tell the people you live with what you need. They can’t make it easier for you if they don’t know how
Co-living happily and productively is a big step.
The final hurdle is overcoming your own temptations.
Strategies For Managing Distractions At Home
Houses are set up to be enjoyed (hopefully). There’s a lot of temptation in a couch, a Netflix account, and other humans to socialize with.
By applying the workspace principles above, you will avoid most distractions. But you also need to be strict and proactive.
Focus on creating positive habits and reinforce barriers.
The idea is to improve over time, build up momentum, and keep the ball rolling for as long as possible.
This is how I make that happen.
1. Do Distracting Work in Batches (Later in the Day)
Email is the main example here. If you allow notifications all morning, the important work will suffer. Leave messages for your less productive times.
If you worry about missing something big, suggest people call you in an emergency.
2. Control the Sound in Your Space
I use specific sounds for specific tasks.
There’s a whole field of science around focus music.
I can’t listen to music with lyrics while I read, so I play nature sounds.
I write to instrumental music. Cafes sound recordings are for editing or creative tasks.
Tedious chores are better with podcasts.
This gives you another powerful trigger and makes work more enjoyable.
3. Separate Work and Personal Chores
Don’t do household jobs during the workday.
Of course, put the washing on and work while it spins (it’s a great interval timer). On the other hand, your workday is not the time to arrange the spice rack.
Always maintain the separation between work and home life.
Otherwise, you end up trying to multitask, which is not effective.
4. Limit Access to Social Media Devices
If social media is not your job, limit which devices the apps live on, and leave them in another room.
You’ll be less distracted if you have to visit another room to refresh the feed. When you do, it feels pretty ridiculous. It also shows just how distracted you have been.
And with that, we’ve covered everything you need to work successfully from home.
Before you go, I’ve squeezed the key tips into one pretty powerful checklist (You’re welcome).
Working From Home: The Ultimate Checklist for Successful Remote Work
1. Create Your Ideal Workspace
- Create a separate workspace that is only for work
- Maintain the divide between work areas and living space – both physically and with tasks
- Avoid working in spaces used by others
- Get out of the house at least once per day
- Invest in ergonomic and comfortable furniture for your workspace
- Get the tools you need to do your work
- Treat any pain or discomfort immediately
- Change your environment if you get restless
2. Organize Your Life and Work At Home
- Set clear long and short term goals – keep them visible from your desk.
- Establish a daily routine and stick to it.
- Start as early as possible, at the same time every day.
- Create a schedule for the week, with tasks for each day.
- Make getting started as easy as possible – set up the space the night before and have your tasks scheduled.
- Use interval working periods to break days into manageable chunks of effort.
- Figure out your most productive times and avoid all distractions and tedious work during them.
- Do the disruptive and repetitive tasks in the least productive part of your day.
- Avoid multitasking – it’s a trap.
- Always schedule breaks, eating, and exercise.
- Have a task management system and keep it updated.
3. Communication When Working From Home
- Schedule daily ‘touch-points’ with coworkers to track everyone’s progress
- Be very clear and careful with written communication to avoid being misinterpreted
- Always give the benefit of the doubt with written communication from others
- Use technology like video calls to enrich communication
- When in doubt, ask coworkers and collaborators for clarification
- Make the effort to stay in touch with coworkers, and discuss personal lives outside of work times
- Be active in meetings, and available to others during expected hours
4. Stay Healthy and Productive
- Take days off each week, and use sick days when needed
- Eat well and exercise often – take care of your body
- Practice mindfulness daily
- Schedule socialization and human interaction
- Work on compromises with people sharing the space so everyone can use and enjoy it
- Dress well to avoid getting too relaxed or complacent
- Create barriers to distraction by isolating from others and leave social media devices in a different room
- Play sounds that help you stay focussed and motivated
And finally, one last piece of advice from a veteran of the Working From Home lifestyle…
Make Working From Home Work For You
I’ve given you everything that I have learned. Take it all, and focus on what works for you.
Face the challenges of your home and your personality. Persist and be very kind to yourself.
This is a big change.
And if you put in the effort, a very successful change.