This article covers my best tips for working from home that I have tried and tested over the years.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020 and the world went into lockdown leading to millions of people having to work from home, I thought I was prepared. I have worked from home for years. How hard can this be? But I have learned a great deal in the past year and must admit I wasn’t as wise as I thought I was.
Sure I had learned a lot of good habits that help you when you’re working from home, to get through the social isolation, and to avoid the dreaded sitting disease but I have made some massive improvements and wanted to share what’s working for me.
Keep in mind though, what works for me might not work for you, but hopefully just trying a few of these tips and implementing them will make a positive difference for you.
Table of Contents
Set a Routine
If you set a routine it’s a lot easier to stick to create boundaries. Finding that work-life balance means you need to know when it is a good time to work and when it is a good time to shut off.
This doesn’t mean you should work 9-5 if that doesn’t work for you though. Many people I know prefer to work in different ways like starting at 11 am and working until 7 pm or working in intervals.
The most important part of your routine is your morning routine and how you wake yourself up and warm your brain up.
My routine starts with reading a few articles that interest me or checking the news while I have a cup of tea and breakfast. On a good day, I get on the exercise bike or if it’s not too cold I will take my actual bike outside for some fresh air.
I typically don’t take any meetings in the morning because I want my brain to be fully warmed up and prefer to work on other tasks for the first few hours.
Try a few things for yourself, see which system works for you, and go from there.
Here are some things to plan out:
- Set your working hours.
- Use a tool like Asana or an alternative to plan your week out
- Prepare your workspace
- Don’t forget to take breaks
- Make sure to tell your clients and colleagues which times you are available to communicate and if they send emails or call outside of these hours you will respond to them at your earliest convenience in the morning.
Of course, if you are working remotely for an employer you might not have the luxury of flexible working times but if you do I recommend you experiment with it and find out what works best for you. When you have found the best routine for you, stick with it.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Setting up a dedicated workspace is essential. Sure if you are doing it on a temporary basis feel free to work in your living room with your laptop on your ironing board but if you plan to work from home long-term or for any extended periods this isn’t going to cut it.
Even if money is tight right now, you can put together a pretty affordable workspace without needing all of the fancy trappings like a modern and expensive desk. I use a cheap IKEA desk and a standing desk converter but more about that in a moment.
Find yourself somewhere you can sit and stand in an ergonomic position with minimal distractions (depending on your self-discipline).
Ergonomics is an important aspect of your productivity and long-term health. Take it from someone who has worked with a laptop all over the world in some of the least comfortable situations imaginable, it’s a pain in the neck, literally!
I would probably be over 6ft tall if it wasn’t for all the slouching and neck bending I have done over the years looking at a laptop that’s perched on the end of a bed or a low coffee table.
Keep your workspace ready to go at any time and keep it clutter-free. A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind! It might have worked for Twain, Einstein, and Steve Jobs but it doesn’t work for most people.
Standing desks are all the rage in the tech world but they haven’t yet penetrated the home office with the same gusto! Most people are still working all day while sitting and while the fancy all in one standing desks are cost-prohibitive, you don’t have to shell out a fortune to have a standing desk.
My standing desk is actually a standing desk converter. This sits on top of the desk I already own and allows it to act as a standing desk and only costs around $100-150 instead of several hundred or even a thousand dollars plus.
It’s not good to work standing all day either as it can put too much strain on your joints but switching between 20 or 30 minutes of sitting and then the same amount of time standing can go a long way to improving your health, keeping you productive and protecting you from sitting disease.
Power tip: Get a standing mat to go with your standing desk. This will take the pressure off your joints and allow you to work for longer periods while standing. They are actually really nice to stand on and I saw a friend had one in their kitchen for doing the washing up so adapted it to my work set up.
Exercise Bike Desk
One step up from a standing desk? An exercise bike with a desk attached. This is a new addition for me but already I am seeing massive benefits from being able to be more active during my workday, especially on those days where I hardly get a chance to take a break or when the weather is too bad to go for a walk or a bike ride.
I have only had the exercise bike for a few months but I am using it several times a day most weekdays while doing work that is less intensive like reading emails, catching up on affiliate reports, and doing some research.
I am also trying to stick to a routine of riding the bike every time I am watching tutorial videos and video courses as it prevents me from getting distracted and I’m getting healthier at the same time.
Most exercise bikes should do the job if you can get it close enough to your standing desk or if you can remove the handlebars but I figured this was worth testing and so far I’m more than satisfied.
I also keep some weights in my office and a pull-up bar on one of the doorways so I use it every time I walk past. Obsessive? Maybe, but I always find putting things in your line of sight a good way to form good habits.
Sunlight and Vitamin D3 (and D2 but to a lesser extent)
Working indoors can be a silent killer to your health. First, you have to contend with sitting disease then it’s a lack of Vitamin D3. Even if you work outdoors as far north of the Equator as the UK you are probably Vitamin D deficient in the winter so taking a supplement is an important way to maintain your physical and mental health.
Most of the time I will take a good multivitamin for men in my age group but I’m pretty good with eating healthy food and taking a multivitamin might be overkill so I will often skip a day or two and take a D3 supplement on those days instead because there’s no way I am getting enough naturally working indoors all day.
It’s no coincidence that you have your Eureka moments while taking a quiet walk or having a shower!
It’s because this break time where your brain is otherwise unoccupied allows your mind to wander while it also sorts through all of the information you have been processing, subconsciously erasing things that aren’t important to free up space to store the valuable insights and help you connect the dots.
Doing so allows you to think more clearly and is the reason why you often think of the solution after-the-fact when you are away from your computer or notepad.
So don’t feel guilty about taking breaks, having a shower, or even a mid-day nap. There’s a reason silicon valley firms like Google and Facebook installed sleeping pods at the office. Science yall!
If you are experiencing burnout or feeling the blues, make sure to check in with family and friends. Don’t keep it to yourself, it’s totally normal and a part of life. Never be afraid to ask for help.
Vocal Warm-Ups for Zoom
Sitting at home and not using your voice for hours at a time can make you sound groggy and like you just rolled out of bed so before I take the first Zoom call of the day or if I have genuinely just rolled out of bed I will sing a song like Mr. Sandman to flex my vocal cords and warm them up.
I started using Mr. Sandman because my music teacher at school used to make us all sing it at the start of class to warm up our vocal cords. I think he said something about it using enough range or bass for you fully warm up but I guess I just like the song. It was a long time ago.
I sing it in a very low tone and I’m terrible, but I don’t care, nobody ever has to hear me.
Give it try for yourself, and feel free to switch to a song you prefer if “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream…” isn’t doing it for you.
This might be more of a benefit that helps certain types of work more than others but I’m far more productive when I am working on a two-screen setup.
When I’m designing I am working on one screen while referring to sources of inspiration on the other or sometimes I might have code up on one screen and a website preview on the other.
Depending on the kind of work you do this will have a varying impact on your productivity but for some this really is a power-tip.
Going outside benefits you in a few ways. Fresh air, a chance to top up your vitamin D (assuming it’s daytime), exercise and it allows you to take a mental break so you can digest everything you have read and thought about in the previous few hours.
These breaks are key to avoiding burnout and ensuring your brain has a chance to delete all of the useless stuff and save all of the important information you have consumed.
As you no longer have a commute, why not just get dressed, walk outside and go around the block simply to return to your home as though you were commuting.
If you need the extra motivation, stick your earphones in and listen to a podcast, audiobook, or Spotify playlist.
Hide Your Phone
When people ask why I don’t answer spontaneous phone calls they are often aghast at my response “I keep my phone locked away and only check it a few times a day at set intervals”. They think I want to go off the grid or back to the stone age but the simple fact is when I’m working and in production mode, I want to minimize my distractions and interruptions.
When you are working on a project and you are interrupted it can often take 10 or 15 minutes to get back into what you were doing and moving at the pace you were previously. These stops and starts on a repetitive basis can seriously derail your productivity and leave you working for more hours than you need to.
If you want to get everything done between 9 and 5 so you can enjoy some relaxation and social time it’s helpful to find ways to be at your productive best when you are doing deep work.
I take all of my calls on Zoom anyway but for others, a better way to do this might be having a separate phone number for work or just keeping it on silent and checking it once every couple of hours unless you are expecting an important call.
I’m sure for people with kids this is a non-option. I don’t have children so I can’t speak on that.
Time Tracking Apps
Time can run away from you when you don’t track your time and even more so when you are working from home. If you want to be able to effectively plan out your week and future client projects it’s good to have some evidence of how long things take even if only for your own peace of mind.
I often find I underestimate how long certain projects or tasks will take but using a time tracker has allowed me to be more honest and realistic with myself when calculating quotes and turnaround times.
The apps/services worth checking include Toggl Hours (iOS only) and Timely. All three allow you to keep a detailed log of the time you are spending on each project or client so you can make sure you are sticking to your schedule and billing your clients accurately.
Another advantage of time tracking apps is that it helps you keep yourself accountable and you can also see the daily progress you are making so you get to see what you have actually accomplished each day making it easier to finish work earlier without feeling guilty.
Power Tip: You can also keep a work journal to keep notes and track your work progress there, this can sometimes give more context to the value you are delivering to your bosses or clients.
Music & Podcasts
If you work at home and you are completely alone the peace and quiet can be beautiful, but the silence can also be deafening so for that reason I like to use music and podcasts to deal with it.
Now I don’t want to be listening to things that distract me so I will often go for music without lyrics or podcasts I’m not so invested in that I can’t continue to get my work done but having some voices in the background can definitely lift my mood and help with the loneliness of isolation, particularly when there’s a lockdown and you spend most of the year living alone.
There are even apps like WhiteNoise and AI music plus there are even Spotify playlists specifically for music to work to. I find fairly uptempo instrumental dance music works well for me as I try and work to a certain rhythm like I’m dancing with the keyboard.
Note: please don’t actually dance with your keyboard.
Take a Day off and Avoid Burnout
Take it from me, burnout is a nightmare! Cue: “Hello darkness, my old friend!”. I have had more run-ins with burnout than I care to remember and it can completely derail your ability to perform your best work.
It’s all too tempting to work 12-14 hour days when you work from home and don’t have any boundaries, but at what cost? For me, the cost has been depression, the need to take a whole week off or just a week of dragging my feet and not getting anything meaningful accomplished.
With experience I have learned to detect the tell-tale signs and use that as a warning sign I am overdue a break. That break can be anything from finishing work early that day, going for a walk, riding my bike, taking a shower (at any time of day), or even a power nap if I’m that exhausted.
Listen to your body and recognize when you’re heart’s not in it. Maybe you need to give yourself a break.
Communication / Asana
I am a stickler for efficient communication and it pains me to think that most companies and freelancers rely on email and calls for pretty much everything. I try and only take meetings if they are absolutely necessary as they are a big time suck and I try and avoid overusing email when working on a project with a client.
Sure, email has its place as do meetings but I hate to see people wasting large chunks of their workweek on pointless calls when they really don’t need to be.
The natural posture when an individual or company switches from office work to remote working is to overcommunicate and in a sense that’s a good thing but it can easily be overdone and with so much noise it can be hard to keep up.
When you have dozens of emails going on with different team members and lots of calls unless you are taking extremely detailed notes or already using a project management or ERP tool you are going to be overwhelmed and having to sift through at a snail’s pace to make sure you haven’t missed something.
Instead, I use an Enterprise Resource Planner or ERP and my favorite option is Asana.com which allows me to micromanage my own responsibilities and collaborate with others in a granular fashion which makes it harder to miss or forget about important details.
This makes every task and responsibility actionable, reportable, and reduces important details from getting lost in the noise.
This saves me on a daily basis, reduces mistakes, and helps me to avoid lengthy email exchanges and hunting through thousands of words to find important information.
It’s fine to use email and Slack to chat about stuff but the important details and tasks should be added to an ERP and project management tool.
Eat Healthy Meals / Prepare your meals
One advantage of working from home is being near your kitchen. This can help you to avoid takeaways because you can always go to your fridge and make yourself something from scratch.
Helpful for both your bank account and your waistline!
Unfortunately, not everyone uses this to their advantage, myself included in the past but these days I keep enough brain food stocked up to ensure I can always create a quick and healthy meal at any time of the day.
Even better – why not try and prepare some of your meals ahead of time and keep them in the fridge, then you can always open it up and get some good nutrition without having to think about it.
When you take your lunch break, try and step away from your workstation and find somewhere with a different mood. If the weather is nice, nothing beats having your lunch in your garden.
My go-to work snack is a bowl of muesli with some fruit. Usually bananas and blueberries.
Content Diet – Avoid the news etc
When you work on a computer you are only one click away from a distraction rabbit hole and in the middle of the pandemic, it’s easy to become overwhelmed trying to keep up with the latest government guidance and other news.
While I think it’s important to keep up to date with developments and other current affairs I also think it can become addictive and a waste of time.
So consider going on a content diet and taking a break from the distracting sources of information you read on a daily or weekly basis and try reducing it by half, and then try reducing it by half again.
If you are like me you will quickly see positive results both in lower levels of anxiety and getting more work done.
There are several apps and Chrome extensions you can install like StayFocusd that allow you to block certain websites during the workday.
Something I really didn’t put any stock into or think I needed until I tried it is the idea of having an accountability partner. When you work solo most of the time the lack of having anyone managing you or having people to bounce ideas off can hold you back from achieving your best.
Having someone you can check in with once a week or even daily to discuss what your goals and objectives are for the day can help you to better understand those milestones yourself.
There are lots of communities online where you can network with other professionals in your industry who are also looking for an accountability partner.
There are even virtual co-working websites where you can work over webcam or mic with someone who is working on something completely different and you just have a brief 10-minute chat at the start and a short debrief at the end to report on how you got on.
Forming positive habits and avoiding bad habits when you work from home is one of the best ways to get the most out of your 8 hours a day.
One of the best books I have read on the subject of habits over the past few years is Atomic Habits by James Clear which really changed the way I think about good and bad habits and gave me a framework to become more disciplined. I highly recommend it.
Ideas like having my pull up bar above a door I have to pass every time I go to the toilet came from Atomic Habits and having these reminders really helps to keep you on track. If my pull-up bar was hidden away in a cupboard do you think I would use it anywhere near as often? Nope! It would be one of the many dust collectors in my life.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s easy to feel lonely and depressed if you are working from home and alone, in fact even if you aren’t completely isolated it can still have a negative effect on your mental health from time to time.
Remember to cut yourself some slack. You are probably adapting from a wholly different work environment and it will take time and perseverance to get comfortable with it.
A lot of managers and companies have worried that having your workforce working remotely means they are just pottering around the house doing the laundry etc. Actually most of the time the reverse is true as workers try and over-compensate for the fact their managers can’t see them actively working.
Time trackers which I mentioned earlier are one great way to quantify the work you are getting through and compare it to your typical workday and so is using an ERP tool like Asana, Monday, or Notion.
The Best Tips for Working From Home for You? Experiment!
Listen, if you are still adapting, please don’t let the list above overwhelm you.
I have been at this WFH thing for a decade and even I’m not perfect and always on top of everything mentioned above but I make a conscious effort and writing this article will also help me to keep myself accountable and act as a reminder of all of the good habits that make a difference.
What works for me, might not work as well for you and there are certainly many other ideas you can implement to improve your mental health while working at home or in isolation, the above is just what I have found helpful and a list to hopefully help a few others.
For some people finding a coworking space is best for them, hard to do during a pandemic but under normal circumstances, this is a valid solution to try if you feel the need for more social interaction and human contact.
I’m an introvert so have never found that part to be an issue, or at least not one I can’t solve with a few accountability partner calls and podcasts on in the background anyway.
If you have any ideas or suggestions I’m all ears. I’d love to hear your tips for working from home so feel free to contact me or join our Discord server and let the community know.
Browse some other related articles that might help you in your quest to be the most productive and efficient version of yourself!
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- Eliminate, Automate, Delegate – In that Order
- Tips for using Asana to Improve Productivity
- Achieve Inbox Zero & Email Productivity