While many of us were working from home long before the pandemic, our ranks have grown exponentially. And as we’ve all learned, a long slog of Zoom meetings and screen time without the usual social encounters can be draining. If you’re wondering how to be productive working from home, we’ve got a game plan for you. Here are our nine top tips for getting great things done from home (whether you’re in your kitchen, a closet, or on the couch) while still having energy left for the rest of your life.
1. Get outside, even for just a few minutes.
Sunshine and fresh air are major mood-boosters, so even a few minutes spent outside can give you the energy to power through your day. In fact, sunlight has been shown to boost serotonin levels, which leave you feeling alert but relaxed—perfect for productivity. When you commute to work, you often get the benefits of being outside without realizing it, whether it’s walking to the train, hopping into your car, strolling to the office, or stopping for coffee. But when you work from home, it’s easy to spend the entire day inside without ever going past your front door.
2. Suggest phone calls instead of video meetings.
Zoom has been one way for us to recapture some of that in-person, in-office atmosphere, but a long succession of video meetings can be exhausting for everyone. Switch it up by suggesting that your next meeting be on the phone, or off-camera, to give everyone the space to contribute, take notes, and rest their eyes without constantly checking what their facial expressions are communicating. With many of us hitting Zoom overload, your suggestion may be a welcome way to mix things up and stay energized.
3. Build regular breaks into your schedule.
It’s so easy to stay in one spot, hammering away at the computer or conducting meetings, without ever looking up. Sometimes when you’re in the zone, it’s difficult to stop. But breaks are necessary for your brain to function at its peak, and without regular breaks throughout the workday, you may get to the end of it feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Instead, make breaks a priority to achieve better productivity. Although taking more breaks sounds counterintuitive, research shows that working with your brain’s ultradian rhythms benefits productivity. You can do this by putting in 90-minute bursts of productive work, followed by a 20-minute break to let your mind recover.
4. Don’t Fritter Away Your Breaks Online
Yes, it’s fun to check Instagram or save new ideas on Pinterest, but try to take at least a few breaks away from the screen. Think of some 10-minute activities that are fun, energizing, and would fit well into your allotted break times. Brainstorm these ahead of time, so you can truly look forward to your upcoming breaks when it’s time. For example, could you tinker around with some Play-Doh or air-dry clay to get your hands moving? Do a quick dance party to your favorite song? Knock out a few pushups or a headstand? Turn off the screen and listen to an audiobook or podcast? If you pick an activity that you enjoy and that energizes you, you’ll come back to work fresh and ready to be productive.
5. Create a “commuting” routine.
Despite headaches like traffic jams or late trains, commuting has one major benefit: it serves as a clear transition period between work and the rest of your life. For many of us, that line is now blurred—which is why it’s important to set up boundaries between true leisure time and working time. One way to do it? Set aside 15 or 20 minutes at the start and end of your workday for “commuting” time. This time should be a way for you to mark the start and end of your workday, creating some separation between work and home life. You could create “commute” time by taking a brief walk around the neighborhood, grabbing coffee from a nearby cafe, doing a few sun salutations to mood-boosting music, indulging in 20 minutes of reading, or creating your own ritual for the start and end of the day.
6. Upgrade your workspace with things that inspire you.
Getting work done at home is hard when you’re staring at a sinkful of dishes or laundry that’s also competing for your attention, or sharing space with family members who may also be working or learning virtually. You may not have the luxury of a personal office to retreat to, but you can do little things to create an atmosphere conducive to getting work done. Try enhancing your working time with little upgrades to your surroundings. For example, you could put a work-from-home playlist on your headphones to drown out the sound of other family members working around you, or even plug into some white noise, background chatter, or nature sounds if you prefer. You could also brew your favorite tea, light a scented candle, or display a favorite photo next to your workspace to transform the atmosphere around you and signal the start of the workday. Even bringing a houseplant closer to you (or creating a small houseplant barricade to denote your space) can uplift your atmosphere and help you feel more ready to work.
7. Make time to be social.
The morning chat with a barista, a casual catch-up in the hallway, a quick hello to a colleague: when you work from home, these small but important interactions don’t happen. Some of us now go the entire day without connecting meaningfully to people outside of our immediate circle. Combat this by calling a friend for a “coffee break” and catch-up chat, sending a funny GIF to a colleague, or staying connected to friends, family, and colleagues via GChat, Slack, Signal, or WhatsApp to feel a little less isolated.
8. Do something physical, and make it fun!
At some point in the day, take a break and get moving just for the fun of it! There are no “rules,” no number of reps you have to do, no prescribed exercises. Simply pick a movement that’s fun for you, and let yourself enjoy it. Crab crawls across the kitchen floor? Hula-hooping to an 80’s mix? Deep stretches in the backyard? You don’t have to do an official “workout” to do your body good: any kind of movement counts, so make it something you love! You’ll feel instantly energized and ready to get back to work.
9. Put your computer away once the workday is done.
Work can easily creep into the rest of your life, especially when you work from home. Yes, you could always send out a few more emails, tie up a few more loose ends, or get a head start on the next day. And if you leave your computer out, you probably will. Banish that urge by placing your laptop in a drawer or covering your desktop with a scarf at the end of the day. This gives you the space to mentally check out of the “office”—after all, you’ve worked hard today. Time to clock out.
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