How to work from home effectively

Working from home effectively, is it possible? Some would say absolutely not, others wouldn’t go to the office unless they absolutely had to. Of course, some don’t have a choice. But what are some ways that you can work from home effectively?

I recently moved back to my family in Cornwall, for a number of reasons and I was quite concerned about how well I’d work here. I’d been used to having a dedicated office space in my flat, and of course my desk at uni. However, so far, it’s worked out really well! But this hasn’t been without a concerted effort (and lots of discipline!). Here are the steps I’ve taken to ensure that I work from home effectively!

Maintain some sort of routine

Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a routine. Of course, enjoying the flexibility that a home working environment can bring is important. But if you thrive on consistency it’s a good idea to have some sort of routine. This might be a morning routine, a lunch routine or an after-work routine.

For me, a morning routine is key. I tend to wake up, do some stretching and have some hot lemon water. I’ll go to my work space, plan out my day, do emails, some morning pages or read a journal article. Then I’ll have breakfast, before returning to my work space and cracking on with the tasks for the day.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some mornings I roll out of bed and straight into work. And I tell you, it always results in an unproductive morning where I am in a funk and just can’t get into the swing of things. Where I can, I stick to a time schedule, but this morning routine happens whenever I wake up.

Maintaining a routine can help to provide some containment and thus work from home effectively, because it can feel a bit wild to have a full day and no routine ahead of you!

Create a work from home space that works for you

Now, you might be like I was in my flat and have a dedicated office space – if so – lucky you! If not, you might be reading this and thinking there is nowhere for me to work except the kitchen table. Don’t fear! You can still make the space your own.

Some things that I have used in the past to try and create a work environment have included a special mug for when I’m working, burning a candle or essential oil that I only use when working and having a ‘work’ blanket. I keep these things specifically for working and my mind starts to make the association that when these things are around – it’s time to work!

You might choose a scent, some music or a particular outfit that signals work for you. If you’re able to go all out, even better. Be sure to keep the space for work only – as boundaries are super important when working from home. Sometimes your work and home life can seep and blur into each other and working can be become less focused whilst your home life becomes more stressful.

Consider what would have been your commute time

If you switch between the office and working from home and you normally have a commute, it can be really tempted to start work early. If you’re able to maintain this level of work and manage your energy levels, by all means go for it! But also consider whether you might actually stick to what your normal office hours would have been. If you’ve got the time from the commute, how might you spend that? You could have an extra bit of sleep, do some exercise or have a proper breakfast instead of eating it in the car (guilty!!).

Thinking of the time you’re saving from the commute as bonus time can be really helpful, and you might find that you need that time to transition into a working mindset. For me, my commute time is now spent on that morning routine and I have an extra hour at the end of the day to relax, go for a walk or stay on top of chores.

Some days I will work through what would have been my commute time, but I can’t do this often otherwise I end up feeling frazzled by the end of the week and am useless the week after!

Take regular breaks

I think when working at home, particularly if you work alone, it is even more vital to stop and take breaks. At work chances are you are disturbed occasionally, or you get up and go and get a drink, or go to the loo, and that counts as a mini break. When you’re at home and those breaks are shortened or non-existent, it can be easy to work right through without taking a proper break.

I have an office space outside of my home (albeit I still work from home). So, getting a cuppa or going to the loo takes about the same time it would at the office. But I still make sure I take the time to have a proper break, whether this is to relax, take a walk and get some fresh air, or to empty the dishwasher and put the washing out, depends on what kind of day I’m having!

Get out of the house

In line with taking the breaks, it can be easy to go a bit stir crazy when you don’t have an interaction outside your own home. Some days I won’t see a person all day until my family get home from work late afternoon. Which is great when I have a thesis to write but isn’t sustainable.

This year I have committed to walking everyday for at least ten minutes for no other reason than walking – so thankfully I have a good excuse to get out of the house. But I’ll also pop to the shop or offer to drive a family member somewhere. This means I get out of the house and see something other than four walls and my office space.

Just because you live and work from home, doesn’t mean that is the only place you can exist. Make the most of being out of the home and exercise, catch up with friends or just relax!

Communicate to those around you

When I first arrived home I was in a period of recovery from surgery, but after a few weeks I got back to working. This meant I was in my work space all day. My family members took a little while to understand that just because I was at home this didn’t mean I was in ‘home’ mode.

I had to communicate that when I was in my work space, I’m working, and therefore am not open for distractions. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But for the most part it’s effective.

Something I know others have tried with varying levels of success is a system of warning family members or housemates about the status of their working. If the office door is open for example, they are happy to be disturbed. If the office door is closed, then it’s a no no!

I think when living with other people, this, alongside maintaining routine is probably one of the most important parts of being able to work from home effectively. At least it has been for me!

Be clear about home working hours

It can be so easy to let the work day drag on when you work from home, because the commute is literally a matter of seconds, right? But this can be dangerous territory. Long working days, even without the stress of a commute are often unsustainable and can easily lead to work addiction.

If you set your hours in advance (and potentially tell those you live with about them) then you can have clear boundaries on your working day. Just as you hopefully would if you worked in the office.

By setting sensible working hours, communicating these to others and then sticking to them, you’re likely to increase overall productivity. You can also then make the most of the joys that working from home can bring!

Reduce distractions

Whilst there are lots of distractions in the shared offices, there can also be lots of distractions at home. It can be tempting to ‘just quickly’ do that chore, put the washing on or whatever else there might be. It can also be hard to avoid social media with no one to keep you accountable or look over your shoulder.

Flow is important. By dedicating time to getting these chores done, you can protect your working time and stop it from being disrupted. I’ll keep chores to the morning or in my lunch break, if not after work.

There are lots of ways to limit your social media use. Most web browsers have add-ons that you can download which block certain websites for a certain part of your day. You could also consider leaving your phone outside your work space and only checking it during your breaks.

Plan your day

It can be easy to just breeze through the day, reach 3pm and wonder where the day has gone. Especially when you haven’t got any meetings or appointments. That’s why I find it really useful to plan my day in terms of tasks but also time. I’ll jot down my top tasks for the day and allocate them to either morning or evening.

If you’ve got Skype meetings or other calls to take/make as part of your work, consider popping these into your schedule when you are least productive with other tasks. For example, my writing productivity is best just before lunch and towards the end of the afternoon. I therefore schedule calls early morning (when I’m still asleep) or after lunch (when I’m usually in a post-lunch slump!).

Find some ‘virtual’ working from home study buddies

Finally, just because you’re working from home and don’t have any office mates, doesn’t mean you need to be a complete recluse!

Something I have found SUPER helpful in the past couple of weeks is having a study buddy. Texting each other in the morning and evening, and throughout the day sometimes, is really helpful. We clarify how long we’d like to work for, what our aims are and then crack on. Having a cheerleader, someone to be accountable to and just some connection is really helpful.

There are lots of ways to set this up. Consider contacting some of the people in your cohort if you’re a student. Or put out a call on twitter or instagram and use the #phdlife and #phdchat tags. You could also @academicchatter too!

Some people might not be up for regular check ins, so finding (or arranging) online writing groups can be helpful. ThrivePhD have some writing groups you can join to help you with your writing.

Community is important, even when you work from home and value the hermit lifestyle!

If you’ve enjoyed these tips about how to work from home effectively, you might also enjoy this video from a YouTuber called Hannah Witton. She talks about some of the suggestions I’ve given and also some others!

Until next time 🙂

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