How to Productively Work From Home

by Will Maclean
Originally Published: 
how to work from home
jeremy levine/flickr

More people than ever are working from home as freelancers or remote workers. But now, offices across the globe are implementing mandatory work from home policies in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This means a lot of people will be navigating a work-life balance from their home for the very first time. To make matters even more challenging, many of those people will be parents (whose kids may or may not also have to stay home). Whether you need help in stopping yourself from procrastinating or need advice on balancing work and kids, here are 11 tips to build a productive work from home routine in times of the Coronavirus.

1. Start

So: you’re working from home. But are you actually working? Or just finding ways not to? Procrastination is your enemy now, and it can be found everywhere. Be at your desk at a certain time, and do an hour’s solid work first thing. This will set you up for the rest of the day.

2. Get Your Sh*t Together

Do you have everything you really need? Sure, a home computer or laptop seems obvious, but have you installed all the right programs and software you’ll need to do your job as effectively as you would in the office? If this is an issue, do you need to take your work computer home? Make sure you have desktop alerts on and your office’s chosen video conference software installed so you can communicate effectively and manage assignments.

3. Have A Routine

This cuts against the grain of received wisdom that says working from home will be inspiringly free-form and semi-improvisational, a bit like the early work of Pink Floyd. This is a lie. Unless you impose structure and form to your day, it will be a meandering disappointment, a bit like the later work of Pink Floyd.

Rising, exercising, undertaking fixed work sessions, having coffee and lunch, and ceasing work should be almost ritualistic, and take place at set times each day. If you’re an office worker, these are all things you’d do already, so it’s time to apply your normal work routine to home.

Routine is good. Humans like routine. They impose it wherever they go, for the simple reason that it works. Besides, if you’re working from home as part of your company’s Coronavirus policy, you’re not just following your routine, but that of your boss.

4. Make Lists Of Things To Do

Dead simple—so simple, in fact, that some people think it’s beneath them. These people are wrong. Whether you’re assigned tasks by the week or by the day, write yourself a list with each day’s goals. Assign each task a priority and work though them in that order until they’re done.

5. Let The Kids Be

For some, working from home will include trying to get all the crap you need done to pay for your family’s existence alongside all of said family’s distractions. This might get even more real if more schools and daycares close as a result of the Coronavirus. Thankfully, there’s plenty of moms before you who’ve worked from home and have tips on how to best balance kids with work. Our favorite comes in the form of author-journalist Lyz Lenz’s incredible Twitter thread:

The best idea we’ve heard: Snack. Areas. You mean, we don’t have to interrupt our workday every five minutes to answer demands of juice and food? Okay, great! No more breathing into a paper bag for us.


6. Stay away from housework

Not unless you want to discover the sad fact that housework is, basically, endless. It’s also way more satisfying than sitting at a computer, because at the end of it, stuff in the actual physical universe gets done.

©Flickr/Jennifer Miller

Do not be fooled. Not everything that takes place during work hours is, by definition, work. Housework is not work, and neither, for that matter, are home improvement projects. They are distractions, plain and simple. It’s my belief that the Sistine Chapel Ceiling came about as a result of Michelangelo being commissioned by Pope Julius II to write a 500-word list article called “Renaissance Painting Dos and Don’ts”.

With this in mind, however…

7. Don’t completely give up on housework

Especially if you have a significant other who works in an office all day. Nothing will piss them off faster than coming through the door at 6:45 p.m. to see the washing-up undone, the breakfast things still littering the kitchen, and you still in your pajamas. Or not even in your pajamas. Do the housework that needs to be done to keep the place tidy and running smoothly, and no more.

8. Get Some Air

More than one freelancer I’ve met, myself included, has gone far too long without the contact of the outside world and experienced the “Poltergeist delusion.” Basically, this is the point of self-imposed hermitude when you start to suspect that, rather than being someone who works alone at home, a more logical explanation for what’s happening to you might be that you are, in fact, a poltergeist, haunting the home that used to be yours and mindlessly performing work-like actions for all eternity.

While the hysteria of a global pandemic is leaving many afraid to leave their homes, it’s not time to completely shut up shop yet. You’re still probably going to need to run errands and just like you would in the office, you’re still going to need to stretch those legs. Working from home keeps you safe in that it takes you away from the crowds of offices and public transport. It doesn’t mean you should never leave your house. Cabin fever won’t be long setting in, so a post-work walk might do you some good. Crank open some windows while you’re working, too, so you remember there’s still a whole world outside of your home’s walls.

9. Use The Internet Carefully

So: the sum total of information in the human realm, versus you. Who do you think will win? Damn right. Looking up anything on the Internet is to get sucked into a wormhole of nonsense, whereby 35 minutes have suddenly elapsed and you’re on some random Wikipedia page with no recollection whatsoever as to how you got there.

I call this the “Richard Marx” syndrome, after a protracted Internet search for God Knows What left me, for reasons lost to history, reading all—all—of the Wikipedia page for the 1991 hit “Hazard” by Richard Marx. At three in the morning.

10. Stop

Absolutely essential. Most people who work from home work long hours, and this is understandable as Oh God, the Guilt. But there has to come a point in the day—mine is 6 p.m.—after which no work gets done and the day is over. I am not exaggerating when I say that the down-tools moment is essential. If you don’t switch off—if there’s no clear boundary between work and not-work—these two zones of your life will start to contaminate each other. Set boundaries to prevent this from happening.

And one final thing: Enjoy it. It’s a huge responsibility, sure, but it’s also an adventure. You’ll learn more about yourself than you ever did working in an office.

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