What I’ve Learned About Working From Home

Working from home: what to wear for a video conference. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Almost four years ago, I left my corporate job and began working from home. It was both exhilarating and challenging, and it took a while to find my footing. Distractions abound, and it can take more effort to buckle down and work.

Video conference ready:
Necklace | Tee | Earrings | Lipstick | Cardigan |
Pants | Mug | Shoes

For those who may now find themselves working from home for the first time, here are a few tips and strategies I’ve picked up along the way. These will help you not only to be productive, but maintain balance with family and personal life.

5 Tips For Working From Home (Effectively)

Routine is your friend

  • Get up (and go to bed) at the same time each day
  • Maintain your regular routine. If you usually exercise and shower in the morning before work, continue to do that.
  • Eat at your usual times.

Get Dressed!

  • I’m really not kidding.
  • No, you don’t have to dress as if you’re going to the office, but just the act of getting out of your pajamas and putting on “real” clothes helps shift your brain into work mode.
  • Dress comfortably, but…if you’ll be doing any video conferencing, be mindful of what will be visible on camera. 😉

Make space

  • Even if you don’t have a home office or dedicated work space, you can still carve out a designated “work nook.”
  • Whether it’s the kitchen table, a corner of the living room or whatever, clear a space for work. Move distracting non-work items aside.
  • Use headphones (rather than speaker) when on calls or video conferences. Not only will it be less disturbing for anyone else at home, but will also cut down on environmental noise (kids, dogs, TV, etc.) on the call/meeting.

Optimize your productive cycles

  • You may already know the times of day that you’re best able to concentrate and sustain focus, but if not, pay attention and see if any patterns develop. (I’ve found my best times for writing or other tasks that require concentration are early mornings and from mid-afternoon to early evening.)
  • Use your “non-productive” times to do your more repetitive tasks (clearing out old emails, for example)

Set boundaries

  • If you have other family members at home, give them a schedule of what times you’ll be working, or how much time you’ll need to finish a project. Stick to it.
  • Let your personal phone go to voicemail and only return personal calls as necessary during your “work hours.” (You may be shocked at how many attempted telemarketer calls you get during the day, despite being on a Do Not Call list! 😆)
  • Just as you wouldn’t stay at the office all night, establish a “quitting time” and stick to it. Turn off the computer, put papers away until the next morning.

It may take a while to find your rhythm if you’ve been used to the structure of an outside workplace, so be flexible at first. I still have days (and weeks) that go awry, but I love working from home and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are there any tips or strategies that have helped you to work more productively from home?

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29 Comments

  1. Susan
    March 20, 2020 / 5:26 am

    Your suggestions are very sensible and I should get my niece’s husband (an executive) to read them. I was at her home this week, the hubbie was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, the 18month old chasing after him, or banging on his study door, calling out ‘dad’. Realizing nothing was getting done, we ended up by the pool, drinking a wine and having a barbie for lunch.

  2. Cecile
    March 20, 2020 / 5:29 am

    Really enjoyed reading this blog. Even though this is about working during this pandamic, it rang a bell for me. I retired some years ago but your principals are still spot on. At first I was at a loss because I didn’t have a schedule anymore and I didn’t need my business clothes. After awhile I found a rythm-the same as when I worked! Consistency is key. No matter what my day will be I make my bed and get dressed (no, I never wear a sweatpants outfit!). The other thing I added to my routine (again, retired, no children at home, I admit it!) was get in the car and go get coffee (not my first cup) or the grocery store or just drive around for a while and then go home. Somehow that took me out of “home” mode and got me into “work” mode. Even retired people have work to do!

    • Claudia
      March 20, 2020 / 7:45 am

      I got a giggle about the coffee not being your first cup. As my sister once said, I need a cuppa coffee before I can go out for coffee!

  3. PatB
    March 20, 2020 / 6:13 am

    Thanks, and although I have been retired for a few years, I still function best on a routine. My other suggestion is to wear your comfortable but stylish clothes, for me that means my lovely pink sweater today. We are a week ahead of you with Social distancing and working from home. I have been sewing white cotton face masks for family and friends. They are not medical grade, but washable, reusable and available. Keep safe, and well.

  4. susie
    March 20, 2020 / 6:22 am

    I’d like to make people aware of the poor sound quality of some headsets, microphones, cell speakers, etc. One of the most frustrating parts of home officing is using earbuds and mainly speakerphone quality. Many times I ask people to get OFF the speakerphone, and car phones can be awful too.
    If you want to do a home office, invest in HIGH QUALITY equipment for clear phone connections. Everybody: Hang in there!! We WILL get through this!!

    • Susan Blakey
      Author
      March 20, 2020 / 6:42 am

      Good point, thanks!

  5. Shari
    March 20, 2020 / 6:41 am

    Funniest thing I’ve see was a post from a former student teacher of mine! She posted a visual schedule( like the ones kindergarten teachers use) for her husband ! Said it kept him from whining about when lunch was!! Hilarious!
    Thanks for a great piece today!

  6. Lisa B
    March 20, 2020 / 6:43 am

    Hi Susan, I don’t work but I’d love an article on working out from home. My treadmill is on the fritz and I was trying to decide on what to replace it with. Should i buy another or invest in a stationary bike or stair climber? Then this happened. My girls live in Rome and are quarantined together and my husband is a physician so buying exercise equipment has taken a back seat. I’ve managed to scrounge up some weights and exercise bands and am exercising at home. But it would be nice to see what others are doing while passing the time.
    Stay well!

    • Terry
      March 20, 2020 / 8:23 am

      I would suggest a high quality elliptical. Upper and lower body are worked simultaneously.

      • Lagatta de Montréal
        March 21, 2020 / 7:39 am

        How about a real bicycle? Needn’t be new if it is in good shape and the right size and shape for your body type.

    • Victoria D.
      March 20, 2020 / 10:27 pm

      I’m embarking on a 30-day “yoga challenge,” Yoga with Adrienne (YouTube). I have no excuse not to complete it now! She is great, and has many other yoga videos of all varieties (for back, abs, anxiety, relaxation, etc). And they vary in lengths, which is also helpful.

      • LINDA J
        March 21, 2020 / 3:59 am

        I love Adrienne. I have been a home exerciser for years and I have done her yoga challenges in the past. I get migraines and she has a video specifically for that. I’ve been doing a spring challenge on Jessica Smith’s YouTube channel, she is also a favorite of mine.

  7. Tess
    March 20, 2020 / 6:58 am

    Hi Susan. I’ve worked part-time from home for 21+ years as a freelance writer/editor and one thing I learned early on is not to incorporate household tasks into my workday, tempting though it is to throw a quick load of clothes into the wash or to empty the dishwasher. I save those tasks for lunch or break time – otherwise it interrupts the workday flow. Thank you so much for your delightful posts. I’m on day 8 of a 14-day self-isolation away from my husband and the rest of the world after a trip to NYC, and blogs like yours are a lifeline to escape the insanity. My very best to you!

    • Cathy
      March 20, 2020 / 10:01 am

      I worked from home for 13 years and I concur. You really must set boundaries between work/career tasks and personal otherwise they start to run together and you lose productivity.

      • Pam
        March 20, 2020 / 11:47 am

        I’ve worked from home for 30+ years. I started my own company when my first child was born. I completely agree with the above advice. I’d like to also add to avoid television, social media and people who don’t respect your time during your work hours. Love your blog Susan. Everyone please stay safe!

        • Lagatta de Montréal
          March 21, 2020 / 4:26 am

          Pam, I’ve also worked from my home office for over 20 years, and have had a couple of those f(r)iends who had no respect for the fact that I was working and would call me more than once during the working day. Was it Susan who spoke of “tabletop dressing” or another blogger? I also like to have a nice background – one of my bookcases, some plants etc. Of course there is the challenge of keeping my cat from jumping on my desk, but she has settled down a lot now.

  8. MJ
    March 20, 2020 / 7:01 am

    You left your job almost four years ago?!? Wow, I’ve been reading you for a long time, as I started many years before that. Keep up the good work!

  9. Sandra
    March 20, 2020 / 8:02 am

    Taking notes…many thanks for this Susan. Sensible and useful. Great! Greetings from Aberdeen Scotland.

  10. Elizabeth Hall
    March 20, 2020 / 8:22 am

    I’ve been retired for many years now, but the last few years of my career I could work from home. I loved it and also experienced the challenges you mentioned. One funny thing I realized,….although I choose to wear super casual clothes thru the day, I HAD TO PUT ON SHOES!!! for some reason if I wore my slippers, I was less productive. Lacing up my tennis shoes helped me ‘get in the game’.

    • Juti
      March 20, 2020 / 10:52 am

      Years ago I read a blog post on establishing a routine for doing housework (aimed at overwhelmed homekeepers). Two of her suggestions have stuck with me: first, put on real shoes that have to be fastened in some way, and second, don’t call a day finished unless you’ve washed the dishes and polished the sink. Not long after that, I had to endure a bout of unemployment, and her advice really helped to start and end my day, no matter what else I had to do. Now it’s automatic!

      • Pat
        March 21, 2020 / 7:02 pm

        I believe the blog you’re referring to is Flylady. I learned those tips from her years ago and they stuck with me, too.

        • Lagatta de Montréal
          March 22, 2020 / 4:04 pm

          I think so; she had some good tips but was a horrific misogynist who didn’t expect monsieur to do anything and also assumed “the car” and “the garage”. Some of us are urban, Flylady. Even the shoes with laces is a cultural construct. I utterly agree with not working in pyjamas or our worst cleaning clothes, but in many cultures, there is indoor and outdoor footwear.

  11. Elizabeth B
    March 20, 2020 / 8:28 am

    I’ve been retired for many years now, but the last few years of my career I could work from home. I loved it and also experienced the challenges you mentioned. One funny thing I realized,….although I choose to wear super casual clothes thru the day, I HAD TO PUT ON SHOES!!! for some reason if I wore my slippers, I was less productive. Lacing up my tennis shoes helped me ‘get in the game’.

  12. Toni Strother
    March 20, 2020 / 8:34 am

    I am an elderly retired widow, confined to home by corona virus prevention. Every day I get dressed. Often I wear jewelry. I think it keeps spirits up, both for me and my family. I wear colors for days, having been taught by a woman at work years ago. I think it was an idea from the same group who invented Kwanzaa. I used to wear all black all the time. Do, on Tuesday, I wore ruby colored tank top and ruby earrings my husband brought from Brazil.

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      March 22, 2020 / 4:12 pm

      I love black (with colourful scarves and other accessoiries, but also love ruby red , and crave such earrings.

  13. Mary Clifford
    March 20, 2020 / 10:41 am

    Thank you so much for today’s post!
    I am a teacher who will now be working from home and it is a brave new world as I prepare to work with students online. I am copying your tips to share with my colleagues. Thank you for helpful and practical information!

  14. Janet D.
    March 20, 2020 / 4:08 pm

    When I was working from home full-time just before I retired, the most frustrating thing I had to deal with was friends & family who figured that I was “available” any time they wanted to talk to me or needed something. They’d call or drop by when it was convenient for THEM, ignoring my (frequent!) requests to respect my work hours. You really do have to set strong boundaries & not be hesitant about maintaining them, & that applies not just to other people but yourself as well. Tess’ comment is so true: do not give in to the temptation to incorporate daily housekeeping tasks into your work “day”. It sounds harmless — do a load of laundry while waiting for a phone call, clean the toilet when you’re in the bathroom anyway, wipe out the microwave when you’re in the kitchen getting coffee — but it’s a black hole that will swallow entire days, especially if you’re looking for an excuse to procrastinate.
    Now my husband & I are retired & both working at “new” jobs (hobbies that turned into careers more by accident than design) we support each other in this, respecting each other’s space & time & running interference for the other when necessary. It’s hard some days — we enjoy each other’s company, love going for long walks together or cuddling while watching a movie & we never run out of things to talk about — but if you’re not serious about what you’re doing, no one else will be either.

  15. Elizabeth
    March 20, 2020 / 4:58 pm

    Great suggestions. I am now retired, but for the last few years of my career I worked from home. I found that, weather permitting, taking a midday walk helped me avoid afternoon slump. Being outdoors seemed to give me fresh perspective, and of course getting out of my chair and moving was energizing.

  16. March 21, 2020 / 5:02 pm

    I did find it quite hard sticking to reasonable timetables working from home. My natural routine was always to get up, meditate, and do some (short) exercise before getting ready for the day, with work, or study. Then I went to a gym first thing instead. However, this all ate into my productive time and I was starting later and later, then often working until late in the evening. Insanity. I do agree that one needs a timetable, and sticks to it. A nice doable timetable, dressed nicely, with surroundings clean and tidy too.

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