This article was updated in March 2022.
For those of us who are typically chained to a desk during the day, working from home and telecommuting can sound like an enticing prospect. You can just roll out of bed and get started with your day! All that time you spent getting presentable in the morning and idling in traffic jams is yours to reclaim.
But when it’s an involuntary, five-days-a-week type of scenario—especially when pets and kids factor into the equation—it usually doesn’t take long to see your productivity plummet. The seeming impossibility of finishing all the tasks on your agenda when the magical boundaries between work and home life disappear can lead to stress, anxiety, lack of sleep—basically the opposite outcomes of what you imagined working remotely would provide.
So how do the marketing professionals who work from home every day manage to stay on top of their jobs? It’s all about imposing structure on your day and setting boundaries. Here are a few tips from one veteran telecommuter that are designed to get you back on track. Maybe you’ll even end up enjoying your new work situation!
Make Yourself Presentable
Specify a time of day to get dressed and see to your daily hygiene needs. You don’t have to wear anything fancy, but do choose an outfit you aren’t embarrassed to be seen in. Some people will advise you to shower and dress first thing in the morning as if you’re going into the office. Here’s a different take: Do what suits you. If you’d rather knock out some work for a few hours and then jump in the shower closer to lunchtime, there’s no need to feel bad about it. But make sure you always go at the same time, so you don’t give yourself an excuse to put it off. You’d be surprised how quickly fashion and cleanliness can recede from your life if you fail to prioritize them.
You’re not just making yourself decent to appear in society because of a vague sense of professionalism and self-respect. What you’re doing when you maintain your appearance is giving yourself the freedom to go outside. And as we’ll see, going outside is important!
Strategize Your Workspace
If you’re the type of person who favors a change in scenery now and then, feel free to adjust where you sit to get your job done. But make sure that you’re being strategic about where you work. Give yourself ample distance from distractions that could torpedo your productivity, whether that’s a pile of unread books or a fridge full of snacks. Do your best to separate yourself from human and animal distractions as well. That will be an uphill battle, of course, but a closed door and a preliminary conversation about respecting your workday can help. At the same time, treat your sleeping space as sacred and never work in bed.
Creating the right atmosphere is key to maintaining focus and enjoying your workday. You’re at liberty to try a lot of solutions that aren’t available in an office environment: adjust the light level, play whatever music you want, or put the TV on to provide some background chatter. Depending on noise and light conditions, you may find yourself needing to deploy more drastic measures like a noise machine, sound-canceling headphones, or blackout curtains.
One important point that you don’t always hear is to make sure you have the right hardware to get your job done. Working on a laptop is great for mobility purposes, but if you’re used to typing on an ergonomic keyboard and spreading your tasks across multiple monitors, you’re going to find it hard to keep up the same pace. Invest in whatever workplace equipment you need, and if you’re able to swing by the office and take some of your hardware home during the long quarantine, consider doing so.
Take Breaks and Make Them Count
When you’re not used to working from home, what tends to happen is that you spend a lot of time sitting around, halfway in work mode and halfway in relaxation mode. Not surprisingly, at the end of the day you find that you haven’t gotten much done or taken the time to unwind. That’s why you need to allow yourself breaks in which you actually walk away from your workspace. Log out of chat, close your computer, and leave. You can run a quick errand, take a walk outside to brainstorm, or relax in the other room and read a book chapter. Working from home gives you the opportunity to nourish your mind and body in ways that the office doesn’t, but you need to take the initiative instead of passively sitting around wasting time.
Demarcating a hard boundary between work and free time is essential to both your productivity and your mental health. Check out of work at the end of the day just as if you were leaving the office. If you want to take some time at night to get an early start on tomorrow’s workload, fine, but make that a set part of your daily routine. You should be able to tell your family, your coworkers, and yourself whether you plan to be at work at any given point in time.
Take Hold of Your Freedom
Working from home can be liberating if you do it right, since you have so many more chances to customize your schedule and environment to fit your personal needs. But you have to approach every day with a plan to make the most of this opportunity. Otherwise you’re likely to find yourself feeling like both a lazy employee and a joyless drone at the same time. Be proactive about structuring your workday, and you may have such a good time that you never want to go back to the office.
Photo by Jacky Chiu
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