Working from home or working remotely in general is on the rise. Over the years, the number of people working remotely in the US rose from 24% to 43% . It’s an increasingly popular choice for employers and employees.
This is because remote work has a lot of benefits. These get talked about frequently, and there are plenty of articles written about them. Even we have an article on the topic of benefits of working from home. However, if we only talk about the benefits, it paints an inaccurate picture. Working from home can actually be really hard:
🙁 It can be intensely stressful, and often the lines between work and home become so blurred that it can result in working all the time. It can also feel quite lonely.
Luckily, fate brought you to this article, which means that if you stick around for a few minutes, you’ll be armed with the best work from home productivity tips to ensure that none of these pitfalls happen to you.
Working from home successfully boils down to two key concepts: defined boundaries and focus
There are two parts to this discussion: being productive while working from home, and maintaining your mental health (i.e. – staying sane). The first part can be narrowed down to two specifics: defined boundaries and focus .Defining your boundaries is easy. If you’re disciplined with when and where you work from home, then you can ensure there is a clear distinction between work and play.
Having set working hours and specifically working through those hours goes a long way to separating work from home. This is probably one of the best work from home productivity tips that anyone can give you. The beauty of working from home, is that in many cases, you won’t have to match your hours to the traditional 9-to-5 schedule.
Many of you that work from home have far more flexibility than an office worker. It’s up to you to take advantage of it though. You can do this by setting your work schedule hours to whatever is best for you.
Speaking for myself, I like to take a longer break at lunch, and I don’t work on the evenings or weekends. The key is to stick to the schedule you set, be as productive as possible during that time, and not work outside of it.
A designated work space is essential. An office in a separate room is ideal, but any dedicated space will do. Only work in your work space, and don’t use it at other times or for other activities. This is another way of creating a clear distinction between your work life and your home life.Focus is a question of how you are doing your remote work, and this is where working from home can offer a huge comparative advantage. To explain this, I want to introduce you to a productivity concept called deep work.
Deep work is the brainchild of Computer Science Professor Cal Newport. It’s probably best characterized as extreme single-tasking. Deep work argues that prolonged periods of focus on a single, specialized, difficult thing, are when you produce the biggest breakthroughs. As a consequence, the overall value of your work increases.
The deep work thesis compares this highly valuable work to so-called shallow work, or “busywork”. This is work which takes up a lot of time but produces little or no value.
Often this takes the form of moving information around, be it via email, Slack, or social media. What’s more, this shallow work is typically highly interruptive. Slack, or any of these apps, demand your attention whenever you get a notification. This takes your attention awayfrom the productive work you would have otherwise been working on.
For example, if you’re a software engineer who works from home, your deep work might involve writing code. On the other hand, your shallow work might be indulging in #wpdrama on Twitter, general chat on Slack, or constantly checking your email.
As someone who is working from home, you have an incredible opportunity to focus your attention on deep work. You have the privilege of blocking out the distracting shallow work until you want to deal with it.
In light of that, another work from home productivity tip is to set up your workspace to protect your concentration and avoid distractions. This can be done through apps like Focus, or News Feed Eradicator. Even something as simple as keeping your phone in another room allows you to hyper focus and really get things done:
Just to be clear, you do still get to use Slack, respond to tweets, and respond to emails. The underlying point is you get to do these things at times convenient for you rather than on-demand.
Focusing on deep work can also keep you sane. Humans feel happier when they are making concrete progress on meaningful work. Immersing yourself in deep work when working from home is an incredibly effective way of doing this.
Staying sane while working remotely
If you can manage to implement the aforementioned work from home productivity tips, then you should achieve the coveted status of a productive remote worker. This is only one part of the goal however.
We can’t just stop here.
Working from home brings about a unique set of challenges, especially concerning mental health, and we will address those next.
It’s absolutely vital that you don’t overlook this aspect of working remotely. I implore you to take it seriously. Spend some time thinking about how you will maintain your sanity while working from home.
I’ve broken this down into five additional work from home productivity tips that have personally worked for me and I hope they will work for you as well.
Work from home productivity tip #1: go outside and do some exercise
You’ve got a fourteen second commute. You can fit in personal errands around work. You’ve got your cat to keep you company. What an incredible setup! Surely you are the envy of cubicle workers the world over. And yet, it’s 7pm, all you’ve done all day is talked to people on Slack, and you haven’t even left the house.
That can’t be good for your sanity in the long run, much less your productivity.
So what’s a remote worker to do?
Without a doubt, one of the most important things for maintaining your mental health when working from home is simply going outside, and doing some form of exercise. Figure out what type of exercise works for you. Try going for a brisk walk, running, the gym, swimming, etc. Once you find something that you enjoy, incorporate it into your daily routine.
Here’s an example of what I do: every lunch break I take a long walk to, and around, the local park. It’s a chance to process my thoughts, have a chat with friends or family, and get some exercise. After that, I head to my favorite coffee shop. I do an hour or so of admin (this is my shallow work) stuff. Then I walk home to finish off work for the day.
This routine ensures that I always get out of the house. It also ensures that I get my daily dose of exercise. Finally, it keeps me from feeling isolated because I always have those chats during the walk.
Some people prefer co-working spaces to coffee shops. I tested out a handful of co-working spaces in my local area and personally didn’t like them – but that’s perfectly okay. You need to find what works best for you, which is one of my other work from home productivity tips. You have the freedom to work from anywhere so there’s no need to force yourself to work from somewhere, where you’re not going to be that productive. Once you do find your ideal location or maybe even a few of them, build them into your routine, and be disciplined about following that routine so you can keep your sanity.
When I wrote this out, it almost felt obvious and not even particularly enlightening. However, I had to remind myself that there have certainly been days when I didn’t leave my apartment all day, didn’t talk to people, and didn’t get any exercise. If I’ve had days like these, I’m sure others have too. I can assure you that they do not contribute to maintaining my sanity while working from home.
Work from home productivity tip #2: focus on the things that matter
With no co-workers around to bounce ideas off of, it can be easy to get stuck “in” your work. This is in contrast to keeping the bigger picture in mind and looking “at” your work. It is especially important if you’re working remotely and running a business, but it’s also important if you’re working remotely and building a career.
You should build an element of accountability into your routine. Make sure you are working on the things which do make a difference and move you in whichever direction you want to be going.
I like to do this by having a monthly chat with a friend. We have a recurring meeting set up for 10am on the first Monday of the month. During this meeting, we take turns interviewing each other on how work is going, how life is going, and how much progress we’ve made compared to the previous month.
My friend works a more traditional job that is not remote, but she’s an excellent accountability partner. The point here is not to worry about finding an “exact match” for your accountability system. If the person is willing and capable, then that is all you need.
I was also encouraged by a great talk when I attended WordCamp London to get more professional help on focusing on the things that matter. This inspired me to set up a business mentorship, which I did shortly after that WordCamp London event. I have found it incredibly valuable.
Whether you’re running your own business or working remotely for someone else, getting that outside perspective of what matters and where you should spend your time is invaluable.
Work from home productivity tip #3: use little psychology hacks for improved happiness
I’m as skeptical of the value of so-called “life hacks” as the next person, but I will happily accept the results of peer-reviewed research. It just so happens that there’s a bunch of peer-reviewed “psychology hacks” you can use to make every day a little happier. Here are three things you can do:
- Gratitude journaling. Popularized by Tim Ferriss’ advocation of a “five minute journal”, gratitude journaling forces you to think about the good things that are happening. This makes you happier. I do this when I start work, and when I finish. Here are the questions that you should ask.
- Rate your happiness. Similar to the line of thinking above, simply rating your happiness forces you to think about how happy you are. I’ve found this really valuable. You can use a free tool such as Moodscope for this.
- Try mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness for improving focus, reducing stress, and helping with mental health have really been popularized in the Western workplace in recent years. For good reason, too – it really helps. An app such as Headspace offers an excellent introduction to this.
Work from home productivity tip #4: attend industry events, but make tweaks in order to stay sane
We’ve talked about getting out and about as part of your day-to-day routine, but we haven’t touched on doing so professionally. If you happen to be reading this and you are part of the WordPress community like me and others who write for this blog, then consider yourself fortunate. We are blessed to have access to an incredible array of meetups, conferences, and events. Attending these is an excellent way to maintain your sanity (and grow your business).
Your local WordPress meetup is a great place to start. You can find this by searching Meetup.com or by entering your location in the News and Events module of the WordPress Dashboard. Local or regional WordCamps are also definitely worth attending.
I should mention a couple of caveats here. First, if you’re a freelancer working on WordPress projects remotely, you’ll need to be very clear about the costs of attending a WordCamp. You’ll likely pay to attend, but you’ll also pay the opportunity cost of not working while you’re at the conference. Some people address this by working while at the conference, and this can work.
For example, one way to go about it is by participating in conference events in the morning and early afternoon. Then later in the day, sneak off to a coffee shop for a couple of hours to get some work done. If you think that will work for you, then by all means, go for it.
If you pay yourself a set salary (or a similar amount each month), you can work out how much it will cost your business for each day of non-work. Just take your salary and divide by the number of days you work to get a daily cost rate. Unfortunately, this exercise can drive up the cost of conferences. It can also make it all-the-more tempting to get straight back to work the moment you get home.
Since we’re talking about work from home productivity tips here, I have to advise against doing this. Even if you arrive home energized and full of ideas, the reality of all the travel will catch up with you within a few days. It’s much better to intentionally take an extra day (or two!) off after you get home to recover. Then get back to work once you’re fully refreshed. It’ll give you more time to process your thoughts, more time to recover, and of course, it’ll help you maintain your sanity.
While the above was written from my perspective as someone who works with WordPress, you can apply this to your own industry. Maybe you work remotely doing SEO, content marketing, graphic design, or any of the other countless remote jobs available today. Regardless of your specific remote work position, it’s highly likely that there are professional industry events happening within your niche.
Remember, Google is your friend (or for the privacy-minded among you, DuckDuckGo is your friend).
⚡ Bonus travel tip for attending industry events:
I find travel moderately stressful. There’s the packing and the actual traveling. Then there’s the added stress that comes with being in a new place, where you might not be familiar with the local language or customs. On top of this, you need to manage this stress to be on top of your game. Otherwise you won’t get the most out of whatever conference or event you’ll be attending.
I’ve found the best way of alleviating this is to remove as much friction as possible from the process. I create a checklist for everything I’ll possibly need to have with me. I buy duplicates of small or inexpensive items so I can keep them packed and ready to go on a moment’s notice. Also, I prepare a more lenient budget, and spend money on taxis or nicer hotels when it makes my life easier. All these little things add up to a much more pleasant overall experience when attend an industry event.
Work from home productivity tip #5: schedule projects, leeway time, and time off
When you’re able to work from home, whenever you like, this freedom often turns into working all of the time. Not only is this not desirable, it’s also not productive. As I mentioned previously in this article – being strict and disciplined about how you schedule your time is important for maintaining good mental health.
Remote work typically leaves you in much more control of your schedule, although this isn’t always the case. If it isn’t applicable for you, please feel free to skip this point. However, if you do have the freedom, keep in mind that it comes with the need for responsibility. I’ve found it incredibly useful to schedule in my calendar what I’m specifically working on, and when. This lets me get into my deep work very quickly (as I’ve written about before). However, it also means it’s much harder to over-book myself because I can easily see where I have time, and where I don’t.
The problem is that humans are very bad at estimating how much time something takes. This is known as “planning fallacy”. You’re likely to estimate the time required based on your previous experience. Unfortunately, when using this approach, you’ll probably take the best result you had from your previous experience, but ignore the speed bumps that happened along the way. If you’re filling in every minute of every day in your calendar, it can very quickly transform into having way too much to do.
The solution to this is two-fold: accept you’re bad at estimating, and consider this when making estimates by building in leeway time into your day. This should be unscheduled time where you can deal with whatever comes up. Personally, I like to set aside the latter half of my afternoons every single day for leeway time. Occasionally, this does leave me with a free afternoon, but that’s fine! I can dive into whatever other tasks I want to work on – or simply enjoy the time off.
Finally, make sure you’re intentionally scheduling time off. Whether this is through your employer or with your clients, make sure you give yourself the time off you need – and genuinely don’t work during this allocated work-free period. 🙂
Reap the benefits of remote work (and staying sane)
Remote work offers an incredible opportunity. You can work from wherever you like, fit in other responsibilities, and really focus without distractions.
You really do get opportunities that you just don’t get when working from an office. If my partner needs an errand or to be driven somewhere, I can do that. If I have a medical appointment or even a haircut, I have a much wider selection of times than if I had to be in a specific location working during specific set hours. If I need an extended break to recharge and fully regain my focus, I can do that too!
Sometimes as remote workers we can take these benefits for granted, but they are unique advantages of working from home that you should absolutely take advantage of if you’re able to.
At the same time, doing remote work and maintaining your mental health is challenging. I would really encourage you to take the mental health part seriously, and incorporate the work from home productivity tips outlined here into your own routine.
Did you find these work from home productivity tips helpful? Feel free to share in the comments and add your own work from home productivity tips if you have them.
Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Learn more below:
Original text by Alex Denning, Karol K, and Martin Dubovic.
Layout and presentation by Karol K.