Secrets to staying productive while working from home

Woman sitting on the sofa at home working on documents while her son is lying beside her

Secrets to staying productive while working from home

  • Computer, keyboard, mouse and a desk — Check!
  • Internet — Check!
  • Coffee/caffeine source of choice — Check!
  • Ability to stay on task — Um, working on it…

Even the best planners can have a hard time transitioning to work from home.

As many of us are six months into this whole work-from-home thing, some have found a cadence and are humming right along, while others may feel scattered and struggle to stay on task. With many businesses opting to keep a majority of their workforce working from home for the rest of 2020, we thought we’d share some tried and true work-from-home (WFH) productivity tips.

First things first, shift your mindset.

Working from home has its perks, like the ultra-short commute, comfy clothes and furry friends to keep us company, but it can be challenging, too. With competing priorities between schooling children, keeping up with housework and noisy neighbors (we’re looking at you, guy using a leaf blower year-round), staying focused can seem like a task in and of itself.

It can be easy to take on the mindset of trying to “make things work in the interim,” but that’s typically not a solid solution, especially with no WFH end date in sight for many companies. By addressing working from home as a season in life, rather than a temporary situation, you are better able to:

  • Acknowledge a major change in your life,
  • Develop an understanding that this isn’t permanent and
  • Prepare for and address it head on.

If you want to learn more about this way of thinking, check out the article, “From fixed mindset to growth mindset: the complete guide.”

In addition to shifting our mindsets, it’s also important to address the role of stress and anxiety in our lives.

And let’s not forget to address stress and anxiety.

Stress. While it may not feel like it, stress is the body’s way of keeping you safe from danger (whether that danger is real or constructed in our minds is another thing). Stress is often caused by major life changes like an illness or injury, death of a loved one, divorce (or marriage), moving, losing a job or changes in the workplace. And if you’re one of the 20% of the American workforce now working from home due to COVID-19, odds are you’ve stressed about something in this change. Maybe it was how to configure a workspace, how to care for kids AND be present at work, if your internet could handle all of the video calls or something else entirely.

Or, maybe it’s stress’s not-so-welcome cousin, anxiety, that’s keeping you company these days. Anxiety is actually normal. It’s common before a big business pitch, the first day of schooling kids from home, etc. When anxiety begins to consume your thoughts and interfere with your life, there may be an anxiety disorder in need of a diagnosis and treatment plan.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it so many unknowns, leading to higher levels of stress and anxiety world-wide. While everyone reacts to stress differently, we encourage you to check out these mental health resources. Remember, you can’t take care of others (or do your job well) if you don’t first take care of yourself.

Once your mindset and mental health has been addressed, you can work through some more tangible work-from-home challenges.

Then, use these working-from-home tips to set yourself up for success.

  • Create a comfortable workspace. This should be your first step, even if it comes six months after you started working from home. Maybe when the pandemic began, you rushed into settling into a space that wasn’t ideal, and now that it’s here to stay, it’s time to re-evaluate your choice. If you can, try to find a space to work that’s out of the main living area. This could mean buying and setting up a desk (or card table) downstairs, turning an enclosed entry way into a natural-light-filled office space or moving a current computer workspace to a more distraction-free area. Check out these tips for creating a comfortable workspace at home. In addition to a primary workspace, think through a few alternate locations where you could change up your scenery (this is especially helpful if you find yourself in a rut). This can include grabbing your laptop and sitting at the breakfast bar or standing at the countertop for a while, snagging a blanket and spot in the shade near your house (you may need to invest in a WiFi extender), or simply sitting on the couch with a hot beverage for one of your meetings.
  • Customize and decorate your space. Add frames with photos of your favorite places to vacation, a lamp, bobble head dolls, plants, etc. Whatever makes it feel like your workspace and less like a spare table/desk, do it!
  • Plan the work and work the plan. This is one of Writing by Design President Patti Purcell’s favorite sayings, and it’s a good motto to live by (WFH or the office). This means taking a few minutes at the beginning of the week and then a few minutes at the start and end of each day to evaluate your work and schedule time to accomplish each task. Be sure to block time on your calendar to do the work.
  • Take breaks. If you find yourself getting distracted or just can’t seem to focus, take a break a couple times each day. If you were in the office, you’d likely have many mini-breaks built in—walking to the water fountain to refill your water bottle, a co-worker stopping by to talk about the latest episode of The Bachelor or maybe a quick round of office mini golf. Whatever you do to take a break, make sure it’s away from your desk. Bonus points for getting a quick breath of fresh air (even if it’s just to play fetch in the yard with your dogs).
  • Set realistic expectations (for yourself and family members). This one may seem like a given, but we mean actually writing it down and talking about it. You may think about working during a set time, but then you end up working 10 hours instead of 8. Maybe you know your family knows you’re working, but you’ve never actually talked about what that means. Take the time to talk to your family to let them know how they can help you work, and how you can help them with their work or schooling throughout the day. Outline boundaries (like texting before coming into the room to avoid those awkward family appearances in video conference calls), schedule lunches together to get in some quality time with the family and go ahead and let your toddler sit on your lap during certain calls (and let them know they’ll get to do it again tomorrow/next week to give them something to look forward to).
  • Take advantage of the flexibility. Before working from home you may have believed a variety of myths, like remote employees don’t do as much work. By now I’m sure you’ve learned that this is not the case, and you may even be working more. The myth that work-from-home employees are lazy or do less work can lead to the feeling that you must be present on your computer/phone every minute of the workday (after all, if you’re not on IM, you must be napping, right?). We’re here to tell you this is not the case (I mean, we all have to go to the bathroom sometime!). While you are working from home, go ahead and take advantage of the flexibility and ask your supervisor about setting a schedule that works best for you and your family. Maybe you are an early bird and prefer to work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. or maybe you’d rather work in blocks of time in the early morning and later in the evening so you can devote a good chunk of the day to taking care of your kids (or yourself!). Take some time to evaluate your workday, your regular meetings and adjust your schedule accordingly (if your supervisor and company allows this flexibility).

A few tips from the hearts of the Writing by Design team

headshot of patti purcell

Patti Purcell

“I had a bored 17-year-old on my hands during COVID-19 work-from-home days. As much as you think he’d have just been gaming in his spare time, he still needed a lot of talk time with us and interrupted both of our workdays incessantly. Although there were times you wanted to get angry (or post a note on the door not to disturb mom while she’s on a call—which I did, and he still interrupted!), you just couldn’t because it was coming from a place of isolation and loneliness and nothing more. So both my husband and I had to build talk-time into our schedules, and instead of trying to keep working, just had to simply stop what we were doing—stop typing, stop focusing on that email in front of you—look him in the eyes and provide him with the face-time (not Facetime!) that he needed right then and there. So my advice is build in breaks for kids often—5-10 minutes here and there and go connect with them. Sit down. Look them in the eye. Give them your full attention a couple times a day. Your work life isn’t at the office anymore; it’s being lived out with people (little and big!) who need you right now more than ever. I think most good leaders and bosses recognize that you won’t be plugged in for 8 hours straight on your workdays and that we truly are all in this together.”

“Talk to your supervisor about your schedule. If you have flexibility, avoid the temptation to try to fit your day into the typical 9-5 schedule. Make yourself available during normal working hours, but carve out blocks of time that you’ll be dedicating to work and available for meetings. This will give you time to take care of your responsibilities at home, as well as the ability to fill up your kiddos’ love tanks with some quality 1-on-1 time. And just like it’s important for adults to have routines, kids thrive on set schedules too! I planned my daughter’s lunch (plus her daily screen time) at the same time each day, followed by reading books together, rest time and then afternoon playtime with various activities to keep her busy. Some of these included filling old gift bags with her toys or simply re-arranging (or rotating) her toys to make them seem new (or more interesting), printing out free coloring pages from her favorite movies and planning fun, out-of-the ordinary activities (like an ice cream shop or indoor day at the beach) during high-profile calls.”

Headshot of Kayde Kempen

Kayde Kempen

Matt Wodenka

“My husband and I transitioned to working remotely and welcomed our newborn baby daughter into our home at the same time. I quickly discovered the importance of self-care and making sure I was keeping a pulse on how I was doing each day. With an altered sleep schedule and adapting to working remotely, I found that small moments of mindfulness and practicing gratitude were good ways to mentally check in to make sure I wasn’t draining my internal battery too much. I’d also recommend being open and honest with your employer about how working from home is going for you. If you need to make special arrangements, like altering your schedule to make time to care for yourself or your family, make sure you ask and have a conversation about that with your supervisor.”

Make time to set yourself up for productive remote working.

If you made it this far, first, thanks for reading. Second, yes, we understand that this may sound like a lot of work or time. Believe us when we say that investing an hour or two to set yourself up for productivity will pay off!

Headshot of Kayde Kempen

Kayde Kempen is a senior account manager at Writing by Design. She has 8+ years of marketing communications experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Kayde has written hundreds of blog posts and e-blasts, both for Writing by Design and its clients, is the lead content writer for Writing by Design’s website/SEO clients, and assists with press releases, concept writing, script writing and more. Prior to joining the Writing by Design team in 2016, she was an associate marketing manager at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where she worked for five years and led nearly 90 website redesign projects, wrote for the University’s alumni magazine and news website, and wrote and managed a variety of print and digital marketing projects.