It’s a truth I’ll acknowledge loud and proud: I am nothing without a routine. My morning routine helps me transition into the day. With journaling, a walk, and an energizing breakfast in place, I can step into my work tasks with ease. At night, I dismiss my to-do list and quiet my mind and body for a restful snooze. But my work from home routine? Well, that’s proven to be a bit more of a challenge.
Like many, when March 2020 hit, I was expecting only a brief break from the office. I wasn’t anticipating remote work to become my new way of life. While I love the privilege of a 10-second commute and more flexibility to incorporate healthy habits into my day, finding a work-life balance has become all the more elusive. And as a result, creating a work from home routine that keeps distractions at bay is all the more important.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
Work From Home Tips to Boost Productivity
Over the past few years, it’s taken a lot of learning, patience, and flexibility to arrive at a work from home routine that feels stable and secure. And though everyone’s situations differ, and our at-home workplace might boast a different décor, I’ve discovered a few widely-applicable work from home tips that I’m confident anyone can weave into their daily routine.
The following guidance is intended to help you increase time management and design a work schedule that supports you best. While it may be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day and knock out a few emails from the comfort of your couch, I’m here to advise: don’t. Expect to boost alertness, motivation, and productivity with habits that let you take on your daily schedule with grace, energy, and an appetite for uninterrupted focus and flow.
Ideas to Add to Your Work From Home Routine
1. Identify the Top Three Things You Need to Accomplish
As someone who’s trying to release her perfectionist tendencies and let go of the need to people please, the idea of not checking off everything from my to-do list came with a little added anxiety. But approaching my day with unrealistic expectations only set me up for failure. Staring down a 28-point task list where everything feels like a priority is a foolproof recipe for stress combined with an unproductive outcome.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the more intentionality you bring to your to-do list, the more effective you are as an employee. These days, my master to-do list may reach far and wide, but I keep things focused by numbering the top three things that have to get done and can get done. In fact, this is a habit I’ve started doing at the end of my work day. In my planner, I take stock of what was accomplished today and what needs to be prioritized tomorrow. This way, I have a clear idea of where things left off and can tackle those immediately.
2. Knock Out a Few Easy Wins
This tip falls in tandem with the first. After identifying the three things I have to accomplish the next day, I always like to throw in a few tasks I know I can complete in 30 minutes or less that I’ll do for an extra boost of confidence. While I’ve always been told to knock out the hard stuff first, I find that jumping straight into something that I won’t see the finish line of for a few hours can feel like a slog. What’s more, it slows down my pace.
By taking on a few easy wins and knocking them out alongside the harder stuff, you get that positive reinforcement that can keep things rolling until *poof* your to-dos are complete.
3. Practice Taking Actual Breaks
I don’t know about your relationship with work, but I definitely used to have a problem with taking breaks. I’d feel guilty for getting a little fresh air or sitting down to lunch without my computer nearby. And if my Slack messages chimed without the sender receiving an immediate response, you can bet my anxiety signals were sounding off.
PSA: We’re not robots. We’re humans with an energy and output threshold that needs replenishing throughout the day. Ever notice how the longer you sit in your chair, the less you feel your own butt? Yep, your brain’s falling asleep, too.
Effective, inspired work isn’t only the result of diligence, but stepping away every so often. Just as life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, neither does our productivity.
My work thrives when I break for a walk outside or stop for a conversation with my partner. To make sure this happens on the reg (and that you don’t go several hours without looking up for lunch), build in a few regular breaks throughout the day. An easy way to structure this is with mid-morning, lunchtime, and afternoon pauses. And your Apple Watch is telling the truth—it’s important to get up and step away from your desk at least once every hour.
4. Prep Your Meals in Advance
I’m a fan of making as few decisions as possible during my workday. (And OK, every day). Decision fatigue is real, y’all, and the more choices we subject ourselves to, the more difficult it becomes to choose what serves us best.
Enter: meal prepping. There’s a certain joy and comfort that comes with knowing your fridge is fully stocked with all the components for healthy, satiating meals. I make a few jars of overnight oats for an easy grab-and-go morning meal, and I love roasting veggies and cooking grains in advance for endlessly customizable lunch bowls.
Take some time on the weekend to plan out meals for the week ahead and do your grocery shopping in advance. (Be sure to avoid the Sunday rush.) And I can’t emphasize it enough: Step away from your computer when lunchtime hits.
5. Design an Inspiring Workspace
I’m grateful to have never been subjected to the depressingly drab cubicles that were once ubiquitous in workspaces across America. And while I certainly have never needed a ping pong table or free-flowing kombucha to keep me motivated at work, there are a few creature comforts that make the workday all the more enjoyable.
My home office boasts a faux sheepskin rug that I keep draped over my office chair for added comfort. Beyond that, I like my accessories to match and bring me a spark of aesthetic pleasure when I use them. Function and form fit my space best.
And for times when I’m on the road, my top priority is crafting a comfortable spot on the fly. There are a few easy ways to achieve this that almost any space can accommodate. I always make sure to keep a cute, seasonal candle in my bag when I’m traveling and I even take my current vision board with me for an added boost of inspiration. From there, so long as my trusty notebook and pens are within reach, I’m a happy worker. Oh, and I’m never without my favorite mug.
6. Set and Communicate Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries is one of the best things you can do to maintain a productive flow. Whether it’s with a partner, family members, roommates, or kids, let them know when you need to be left alone for either deep work or meetings. I’d recommend communicating this verbally to start. Then, if available, go to a separate room with the door closed for an added physical boundary.
Along with taking regular breaks throughout the day, it’s important to let your coworkers know when you’ll need to hop offline and when they shouldn’t expect a response from you. We all have lives beyond our work. While we’re thankfully in a place where most people understand that, they can’t respect your boundaries if they don’t know what you need.
7. Make Time for Movement
I’m a strong believer that working out shouldn’t be overwhelming. Personally, I’ve noticed that when I seek out the forms of movement that feel good, I’m more likely to commit. In fact, I’ve found movement to be one of the best resources for keeping my mental health in check and to help me steer clear of burnout.
Spend a little time reflecting on what supportive movement looks and feels like for you. Perhaps that’s a quick walk in the morning, afternoon, and evening to create natural breaks and bookends to your day. Or, maybe it’s pressing play to a yoga, pilates, or another online workout program that lets you tune in to your body. Whatever route you choose, ensure it’s one that honors your body, mind, and bandwidth. When you do this, movement can become the ultimate form of self-care.
8. Reduce Distractions
Notifications, countless tabs, household chores, and the allure of a YouTube rabbit hole. Remote workers know it well: when work and your personal life happen in the same place, it can be difficult to get any of it done. With a deadline looming—and dishes and laundry to be done—I prioritize the former and head to one of my favorite local coffee shops so I can sit down (earbuds in) and focus. Though work-from-home life saves us the interruptions from colleagues dropping by your desk, it’s important to keep other distractions at bay.
I set an alarm telling me that I have to focus on a certain task for that allotted period of time. When the time is up, I can look away, stretch my body, and yes—maybe check my inbox. It’s a helpful reminder that I can focus on anything for five minutes, and I’m always surprised by how much I get done during that time.
And if you didn’t perfect your work-from-home routine today? Don’t worry, tomorrow is a new opportunity for a productive, focused start.
This post was originally published on September 12, 2022, and has since been updated.