Most people don't get to work from home. Those that do find it can be a double-edged sword. More freedom means more responsibility, after all. Even if you don't work from home, here are some lessons learned from the other side that everyone can apply to their daily habits.
You Need A Routine
It's easy to underestimate the value in a morning routine (or even come to loathe it as a time suck). When you don't have an office to go to, you start to learn what's optional — like pants. For example, most people do these things in their daily routine:
- Brush teeth
- Eat breakfast
- Find keys
- Wear something other than pyjamas
But if you work from home, you may not feel the need to do those things.
Everyone's routine is different, but they all serve a similar purpose. Routines get us ready for the day. It takes a while for our brains to transition from sleep to a productive mindset. We can function enough to do simple, repetitive tasks, but for anything substantial, we need a warm-up period. This is why that time frame is perfect for a series of rote, but beneficial tasks. When you work from home, you have to ensure that you compensate for this lack of structure with your own self-discipline.
How this applies to everyone: Morning structure is the default for the typical office worker. Useful, productive structure isn't necessarily a given, though. Whether you work from home or not, exercising self-discipline to build a better morning routine can have a profound effect on your entire day.
Start by protecting your routine. Night owls may love 3am (I know I sure do), but work doesn't change when it opens the front door because you were binge watching TV. Your morning routine will be what suffers if you lose sleep. Protect that time. Also be sure to use that time effectively. Your Facebook feed can wait, but a good morning meal shouldn't.
Your Commute Isn't A Burden
Nobody likes a commute. Sitting in a car or on a bus for an hour every day feels like a waste of time...until you don't get to do it anymore. One of the first things I missed when I started working from home was gearing up with a morning playlist. Listening to music at work (or at home) isn't quite the same, as anyone who's ever taken part in front seat karaoke can tell you.
How this applies to everyone: Slow down. Traffic may be obnoxious, but it can often be a blessing in disguise. Use the time you're stuck in a car to listen to an audiobook, rock out to Queen, or just enjoy some peace and quiet.
If you use public transit, even better. Riding on buses or trains gives you time to read a book or play a game. You can use this time for something productive like responding to email, but don't force yourself to do something productive. Your commute may be the best break you get in the morning, so enjoy it.
And for those that do work from home, you can still get in on the action. Many people stop in to a cafe in the morning for a pick-me-up. Personally, I avoid stocking up on my morning caffeine so that I have a reason to get out of the house and moving around in the morning.
You can also combine this with the previous tip and turn your morning routine into a commute. As our own Whitson Gordon recommends: "shaving cream mirror karaoke is almost like front seat karaoke." While your significant other may not be inclined to let you sing off key judgment-free, your morning routine is a perfect place to fit in some of that morning commute quiet time.
Your Space Needs To Be Protected
Don't you hate it when you're at the office and the cat walks in and pukes on the carpet? Unless you work from home, you're probably not familiar with this particular type of distraction. However, at home you learn real quickly how much family, roommates and pets can take you away from your work. In a proper office, you have a natural buffer from the distractions of home: not being there.
How this applies to everyone: Distractions aren't limited to your house. Annoying coworkers can take up your time just as much as annoying pets (but hopefully with less vomit). If you have an office, close your door. If you have a cubicle, try using headphones to dissuade people from bothering you. Or learn to just say no.
If possible, whether at work or at home, set up a place where you can work alone. Or, if you work best in a group, give your team a place that's dedicated to work. Don't let anyone in that's not supposed to be there. Don't hold parties or allow coworkers to congregate in your space.
Your Environment Influences Your Productivity
Your home is typically designed for fundamentally different purposes than your work. Unless you have a job at Google, chances are you don't have a bed in your office, or access to a TV, gaming console, and bathtub within ten feet of your desk. You have all of these things in your home because it is designed for comfort and your personal preferences. Your office is not.
How this applies to everyone: Your home doesn't just provide a mound of distractions. It makes you feel at home. That's a good thing when you're not actually working. But both an office and your house are a veritable cornucopia of behaviour triggers. When you're relaxing in your bathrobe with your laptop on the couch, it doesn't feel like you need to be getting much done. Even if everyone else in your office is working hard.
No matter where you work, your office should be set up in a way that lends itself well to working, first. Give your workspace a directional flow, with new stuff coming in from the left and finished work going out on the right. Avoid letting junk fill the gaps. Eat your meals away from the desk. Block distractions while you're at your desk.
If you're in an office setting, try to be close to the action. You don't want to let a distracting coworker get you off-task, but if there's a group working together on a project, try to be close to that. Same goes for online work. Group work chats exist so that you can stay connected to your coworkers even when you're not physically present. Keep that app open and try to avoid isolating yourself.
Turn Work Off At The End Of The Day
When the office is your house, you don't get to "go home" at the end of the day. Leaving work lies somewhere between Alt+Tabbing to a different window and taking a walk to the living room — which doesn't exactly set up a barrier between work and play. It's too easy to lose track of time or "go back to the office" to take care of something you forgot. You don't have the natural boundary of the office closing. You have to make yourself stop working.
How this applies to everyone: This isn't a problem that's limited to people who work from home, but it is exacerbated by merging your work life and home life. When you work from home (or are constantly connected with your job by, say, your smartphone), you have to force yourself to turn the computer off and just relax. This xis a lesson that really anyone could learn any number of ways, but it bears repeating: stop working. You have more to do in life than just work. Put the phone down, sign off, and go home.
Not only should you physically separate yourself from the office, but also be sure to give yourself something fun to do. Make a relaxation to-do list if it helps you. Plan weekend activities and stick to them. While scheduling fun sounds like an oxymoron, placing something entertaining on your calendar ensures you have a distinct end to your work day to look forward to.