It’s been more than three years since I first set up my own business and started to work from home. There’s a part of me that can’t believe it’s been that long, but at the same time a part of me that feels like I’ve always done it. And a whole lot of me that knows I could never go back to working from an office instead of working from home!
Don’t get me wrong, there’s been a whole lot of ups and downs, changes and lessons. Working on your own means constantly re-evaluating things and trying to figure out ways to do things better. And learning how to work from home is no exception!
It’s funny for me to see the whole world suddenly plunged into embracing WFH life. When I was one of the few doing it, people would constantly be saying things to me like “Oh I don’t think I could ever work from home, I’d be bored / I’d never get anything done” or “Don’t you just end up watching TV all day?” Or “I would just stay in my PJs the whole time”.
But now that everyone’s in the same boat and being forced to try it, it’s been interesting for me to see how much people are getting into it. Plenty of people have realised they love this way of life, and I’m sure that a lot of businesses are going to see the benefits of having their employees go remote and work from home for cutting office costs once all this is over.
But, I get it. Especially at first, learning how to work from home can be tough.
I like to think that by now I’m a bit of a pro. Not only have I worked from home on my own for years, I’ve also travelled and worked as a digital nomad and had to deal with even more distractions (like being able to just go to the beach instead of getting anything done, or working in Bali where a lot of other people around you are just on holiday). But at this point, I’ve got pretty good at it. Working in bars where other people are out enjoying themselves, on all kinds of public transport, eating out alone with my laptop, or just from various locations in my house – over time, I’ve figured out the best ways to make work from home, well work.
And I think that’s the main thing I’ve learnt:
working from home is all about making it work for you.
We’re all different, and there’s no one set way to work from home. So I’ve put together my top tips and ways to figure out how to make the best of your work from home time. I hope it helps!
And a side note – remember that while you’re starting to work in a different way, you’re basically teaching yourself how to do it. It’s a learning process. Not everything will go to plan right away, some things won’t work. But don’t lose heart if you don’t instantly nail your routine and productivity on day one. It’s a process, but once you get there, I promise the sense of flow and achievement will be worth it!
Get up at the same time every day.
I know, I know. One of the perks of working from home is not having to set your alarm for the daily commute. BUT. There’s no quicker way to get your routine all out of whack before you’ve even started the day, than giving in to your urges to lay in, pressing snooze for the third time, or basing your get-up time on however you’re feeling that morning. Try your best to get up at the same time every day (you’ll still be able to wake up later than if you were still commuting) and use the extra time to set yourself up for the day with a killer morning routine….
Create a morning routine (and stick to it)
I know this is a classic “self-improvement” tip in probably every entrepreneurship or “how to win at life” book out there, but there’s a reason for that. It works. I genuinely think that my morning routine is the thing that makes the biggest difference to my day. When I don’t do it, you can bet that my whole day won’t work the same.
Your morning routine, again, is something that needs to be tailored specifically for you. The things that make me feel good in the morning won’t be the same for you, and vice versa. It will take some playing around with to figure out what works best but I’d suggest starting with this formula:
Get out of bed when you first wake up
(and don’t check your phone)
Make your morning drink of choice
Maybe you’re an early morning coffee person, maybe you just want water or juice. I make a hot water with lemon, ginger and turmeric.
Drink it slowly, sit somewhere outside if you can, or look out the window. And just do that. No reading or screens. Enjoy your drink and give your brain time to wake up and start processing the day.
If you can, meditate. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes, I promise you it will change the direction of your whole day.
If you need help, I recommend the Insight Timer app which has tons of guided meditations for different things (there’s plenty of morning/seize the day meditations to choose from!)
If meditation’s really not for you, then do something else that calms your mind. Read a few pages of whatever book you’re reading, or sit and listen to some brain-friendly music.
This doesn’t have to be a workout or a long exercise class. But find some way to get movement into your morning. Do some yoga, go for a jog, stretch, do some sit-ups, lift weights, or just put music on and dance around your living room. 30 mins of movement will get your energy going for the morning.
Have breakfast before you start work instead of eating in front of your emails. Do something screen-free like read, catch up on the news, listen to a podcast, or write a few pages in your journal.
Check your to-do list
If you didn’t already write your to-do list last night, now is the time to decide what you’re doing today. Make sure to prioritise, and keep the list down to as few points as you can. Be realistic about what you can fit in, you can always add more if you get all your tasks done. I like to split mine into morning/afternoon/evening to structure my day better, and do the right tasks at the right time for what my energy is good for at different times of the day (more on that later!)
Simple, but effective. I can promise you right now, you won’t be nearly as productive if you don’t shower and stay in your PJs all day. It must be a mindset thing. Getting ready will make you feel much more positive and much more accountable for the things you’ve got to do.
If you wake up and can tell you have less energy or it’s going to be harder today, get dressed up extra cute. Put makeup on, do your hair, whatever makes you feel sassy and ready to take on the world. Maybe wear lipstick while you sit in your living room? Anything helps.
Oh, and if you really need a productivity boost? Wear shoes. You’ll be surprised.
Work in shifts
Finally, we’re talking about actually working! If you’ve done your morning right, you’ll feel like you’ve already had a great day before you even sit down to work!
When it comes to working, give yourself set hours. Make sure you have set ‘work-time’s and ‘down-time’s in your head, and try not to ignore them. Having a finish time is essential, or you can easily end up half-working any hour that you’re awake.
Not only that, but also split your time into chunks. Factor in lunch breaks and regular breaks so that you’re not sitting or staring at a screen for too long.
A great tip for productivity is to set yourself a timer for these chunks or tasks. It gives you that sense of accountability, competition and (if you’re anything like me) feeling like you’re working to a deadline can work wonders for how much you get done!
I’d recommend trying 30 mins or 60 mins per task, and giving yourself a breather in between each chunk to get up and walk around, change location (if you’re like me and like to change your scenery) or make a cup of tea.
The other element of this is to figure out which hours work best for you. Pay attention to your energy – there will be times when you are great at focusing and have loads of drive, times when you’re more likely to stare at a screen and get nothing done, times when your brain needs creativity or a screen break, or times when you’re better at doing admin tasks.
Schedule your work day and your task list around what works for you and your energy.
If there’s a time in the day where you know you’re not very productive, have your break then. I often take mine in the middle of the afternoon (3-5pm) and work during some of the evening instead just because I know my brain functions better in the mornings and evenings!
When you are working for a chunk of time, look at it like a power hour. I’ve just started having 3 hours in the morning that is the only time of day I work on my business work. It means I’m so much more focused and plough through my to-do list because I want to finish it all in that time – much more effective than sitting all day at my desk procrastinating over the same tasks and never getting time to do the other things I want to do with my day!
Work in environments that make you feel good
It’s good advice to make sure that your work space and “home space” are different, even when they’re both in your home. I’d avoid working from bed as much as possible (unless you find that really works for you – in practice, for me it only verrrrrry occasionally does).
It can help to create a divide between when you’re getting ready and working – maybe take a 10 minute walk before you sit down to work, so that when you arrive back in your house to start your work day it’s now “work” instead of “home”
Create yourself a nice work space. I like to make sure my environment is tidy, I have a little area to work in the isn’t cluttered, and that it’s somewhere that makes me feel calm but productive. I also like to move around – it’s a great way to re-focus if your energy is ebbing.
I’m lucky that I live somewhere I can work outside when the weather in nice. I’d recommend getting outside if you can – and if you can’t work outside, take walks outside or sit in the sun for a few minutes when you’re taking your breaks.
Test out the different areas of your house and see which ones feel the best or make you the most productive. Make sure you can sit somewhere with good posture and good seating or you’ll get uncomfortable fast.
Hone your routine
Once you get to know the things that work, get to work on honing them. Prep your meals and snacks as much as you can (you’d be amazed how much time you can waste by making food). Have a fixed bank of things that are your go-tos to do: the places you work in, the things you eat and drink, the things you do for exercise or what you do on your breaks, even the things you wear. You’ll save so much time that would have been spent making decisions on what to do otherwise! It’ll help you fit more different activities into your day.
Mix it up
If possible, try to create variety in your day that will keep you motivated and productive. Move work spots every couple of hours, or when you switch to a different kind of task. For example, I work indoors when I’m doing my business work in the morning, then let myself sit outside in the sunshine when I’m writing and it’s less impotent for me to be squinting at my computer screen! Try and mix sitting and standing while you work if you can (and if you have a high counter to work on!)
Even more important – switch up the kind of work or activities that you’re doing. Try and include some tasks every day that can be done off-screen – writing, brainstorming, or planning that can be done on paper to give your brain (and eyes!) a laptop-break.
Try and mix up admin work or emails with creative time; this helps your brain stay active and – if you’re anything like me – keeps you way more interested in what you’re doing. You’ll also have more drive to be productive in your time chunks if you know the next chunk will be bringing you something different to do!
Within your days, you can also mix things in and out so that you feel like every day is different. I do yoga one morning, then run the next, or on my lunch break do a workout one day, and meditate and stretch the next. Just to make sure I don’t feel like each day is monotonously the same (and doing different things for my body which is always good!)
Make it work for you
Be flexible. Know that you can make changes in your day that vary from what you had planned for your routine, especially at the start. Your energy and attention will be different every day. Honour that. If it’s not working, do something different. It’s about working in a way that works for you. If you lose focus, do something else – get up, move, take a meditation break, go sit somewhere else. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and build your routine around that.
In traditional work, we’ve always been taught we must do things a certain way in order to get them done – that we have to work 9-5, sit at our desk all day, take only one lunch break. But working from home is your chance to change that. Maybe you’ll find that the old way does work the best for you, but chances are, you won’t.
It’s okay to do things differently, and you’ll probably find that you can be more effective at what you do by changing things up.
It’s a learning experience into learning more about yourself, and finding the best way for you to function.
And just to let you know – when I first started working for myself, I constantly felt like someone was about to come and tell me off for “not doing things properly” or because I was taking a break in the middle of the day. So if you feel that, it’s normal.
This is your opportunity to look at things in a different way – to realise that getting your work done the best you can doesn’t necessarily mean sitting and working for hours – as long as you get done what you need to do, it’s up to you how you do it! And it’s your experiment to figure out the best (and the most enjoyable) ways to do that!
If this time of our lives is your first experience working from home, then good luck! I would love to hear about your experience with it and any tips you’ve learned along the way!
Visit me on instagram for more WFH life, and send me a message if you want to know more, or have your own wisdom to share!