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How to Increase Productivity Working from Home (as Your Best Self)

March 24, 2020

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As many people are finding themselves working from home for the first time amid this global pandemic, I thought I would share what I’ve learned in the 11 years I’ve been working from home, four of them alongside my husband. I have learned that although it’s absolutely a privilege, it can be challenging to stay productive and on track. Over the years, here are a few of my tips that I’ve implemented to make the most out of every day.

Get up early, and get moving.

If you need to, set an alarm. Without your morning meeting or a daily clock-in, you need some accountability around a “start time.” Plus, you’ll feel so accomplished when you look at the clock and it’s only 10 a.m., but you’re already plowing through your list. I’ve always been an early riser (my sweet spot is a 6am alarm), and I’ve worked from home for 11 years — but the day I made myself report to my desk no later than 8:30 a.m. was the day I really started getting things done. I fill the early hours with working out, getting ready for the day, making myself a good breakfast, making my bed and getting the girls up and ready, too. All before reporting to my desk.

Clothes are powerful.

I know it’s weird to get dressed (and do laundry!) when no one is going to see your outfit. You’ve heard the phrase, “Dress for the job that you want,” and I’m not suggesting that you put on your business suit before settling in front of your laptop. But I am suggesting that if you shower and put on clean clothes, you’ll feel better and be more productive. Ditch the sweats tomorrow, and put on your coolest pair of pants and favorite top. It’ll feel like the sun came out. I always reach for some house shoes, too, because they make me feel like I’m ready to go!

If it helps, take a selfie for every day you shelter in place, jump on IG stories (my motivation), or FaceTime a friend. All good reasons to get dressed today — and maybe even apply mascara and  tinted chapstick. I love my 5 minute makeup routine!

Everyone thrives on a schedule.

Make a list. Break it down by the hour. You can take up to 30 minutes on this activity. Write it out in your best penmanship and doodle little boxes next to every item to check off. Make it so ambitious and beautiful that you have to snap a picture and share it on your family chat. This will add structure to your day, and you’ll be swelling with a sense of accomplishment when the day is done.

Incorporate a big list of to-dos for your workday, but also sandwich with personal agendas, like “meditate,” “exercise,” “clean the kitchen.” And don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t check all of the boxes. Tomorrow is a new day with a new list! I always schedule my calls in the morning. Write when (and what!) I plan on posting on social media, pencil in creative time, projects, and writing posts always happens between 3-5pm.

Designate a work area.

If you haven’t worked from home before, or it’s been a while, you might not have a desk. My sister called me commiserating that she’s taken over the dining room table — her notebooks and computer and headphones and planner and water bottle and day-bright lamp have taken over the room! You might be occupying a similar room in your house — maybe you haven’t seen your coffee table in week?

Pick a spot. Set up your computer and all of your gear around you as neatly as you can. And then rummage around for a basket or a bin or a tote where all of your work stuff can “live” at the end of the day. Take the dining room table back! You deserve to eat dinner in this room!

And if you have a desk, do yourself a favor a de-clutter so you have room to work. Then follow the dining-room-table rule and make sure everything is put away at the end of the day. When you “clock” out, home should feel like home again.

Upgrade your equipment.

You probably need a printer now. (We LOVE ours and it’s white!) You were really used to using your office’s fancy one that you didn’t realize how many things you even printed in a day: documents to sign, shipping labels, etc. As a WFH veteran, I’m hear to tell you that a good printer doesn’t have to be pricey (you probably don’t even need color), you can sign documents virtually, and there are a handful of great apps with which to scan your documents (we use CamScanner–it’s free!). Because we might be working from home for a while, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a postage scale.

Have a meal/snack plan.

I eat three meals a day, plus snacks. But maybe you find yourself all-day grazing as you work from home? It’s incredibly tempting to always be steps away from the pantry. Or, are you forgetting to eat? Both are common. Write yourself a menu. Write down what you’re looking forward to eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Build in a snack break! You’re the boss around here! Do you ever wish your office had a smoothie bar to hit up in the afternoon? Make that happen for yourself.

Power down.

Designate an end to the workday. This might be hard for some of you! (It still is for me.) Maybe you need to put in eight hours — maybe ten! maybe six! Work that to-do list until your chosen quitting time, and then close your laptop. Since I work from home, it’s hard not to pick it back up again. I’ll get an idea and crack open my computer again on the couch. Or, Chris will fall asleep to the glow of my blog-editing in bed.

My Uncle Victor is one of the hardest-working people I know. He has an alarm on his phone set for 7 p.m. No matter what he’s doing at 7, he powers down and goes to make dinner. And he doesn’t come “back to work” tonight. It’s time for the evening. It’s time to unplug.

Carve out some personal time.

Even if you live alone, this one is important. You’re attempting to distinguish between work life and home life or personal life in the same space! Make a list of things that make you feel like you, and do at least one of those things every day. One of mine is exercising. Or my skincare routine at night. It’s something that I do just for me, and I do it alone. Sometimes it’s the only time the whole day that I’m alone and I cherish it. It’s a struggle right now because we don’t have gym equipment in our house, but I’m trying to take some time every day to stretch, strengthen and sweat. I’ve been using the Sweat App, and just changed my program to BBG Home.

But if working out isn’t your thing, Still take a time out from the kids (hard, I know) or your partner. Or, if you live alone, 15 minutes to meditate or have a cup of tea. You’re a better worker when your batteries are charged, so figure out how to charge them every day.

What do you think?

  1. Liz says:

    SO many good tips here, and insightful as always. I work at home normally but now my whole company is doing it too and it’s a huge adjustment. I shared this blog post with our Msft Teams “Work from Home Tips” group. Thank you for taking the time to share this perspective!

  2. Jenn Crowell says:

    Hi there, loyal follower and fan for many years:) Wondering if you could share where the frames are from in your office? Specifically the one that has the creativity takes courage banner in it? Thank you for continuing to be a release for my brain every day!!

  3. Lauren says:

    Great post! Do you mind sharing where your gold pin boards are from? Those would definitely come in handy during this time. Thank you!

  4. Sharmila says:

    Yes! I wake u at 6.30an, take a shower, eat brekkufast get my kids dressed & work out before I start work at 9am. We’ve been all home for a week now & it’s going well. Routine is everything for us!

  5. Amber says:

    Good tips! It does feel weird getting dressed to go no where, but I think it might help to really do it. I’ve been doing “dressed from the waist up.” As someone who is very accustomed to a schedule (teacher), I found myself floundering. Made a schedule and my sweet kids are keeping me accountable.

  6. Sheri K says:

    Thanks for all of the tips! I use a timer during my WFH hours. Time can feel nebulous when you’re at home and it’s nice to know I worked x amount of hours whether it felt like it or not. Also, the Pomodoro method where you work for, say, 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break can help keep your energy up.

  7. Christina says:

    Thank you for these tips, Julia! I remembered you and other “bloggers” recommending to get dressed every day, so I’ve made it a rule for myself these past couple weeks. It really does make a difference in my mindset! I haven’t put on makeup any day at all, and my skin feels so nice. I might start wearing mascara again soon.
    Another coworker said he was dressing in workout clothes and tennis shoes so he could run intervals or do pushups between meetings and tasks. I liked that idea too!
    The biggest thing for me has been defining the weekends! Without the ability to get OUT and do fun things like normal, it’s hard to feel the end-of-week celebration. I had some Sunday Scaries this week, and I was kicking myself. Why?! Why is it hard to think about going back to work when it’s literally just sitting down at my dining table? And I figured out it was because it didn’t feel like I had a weekend! I didn’t work at all, just did stuff around the house as usual, but still. This week I’m setting up a couple of facetime happy hours to help me feel more celebratory.

  8. Lori Price says:

    Thank you, Julia, I am an artist and work from my home studio. I needed this. I sure wish I could’ve figured this out on my own back when I was trying to paint with five little kids or even teenage kids. If was painting, I felt like I was neglecting my kids and if I was with my kids I felt like I was neglecting myself and my art. So there was never a happy balance like you have figured out. Now my kids are all grown and I have all the time I want to do artwork but I still have trouble balancing where or when I should be doing what because there is also the business side of it all. So I think your insights will really help me. I appreciate your candidness and openness. Stay safe and healthy all of you. ❤️

  9. Linda F. says:

    These are all such great tips! I’ve been working at home for 20 years, and I still have to be mindful of the little things that can make or break my productivity. Getting fully dressed, including makeup, is key! So is a designated start time. If I didn’t have hungry teenagers asking me about dinner, I probably would never have a real stopping time. I would advise all the new work from home folks to get a desk and a comfortable work chair, even if they have to rearrange the living room to accommodate it or stick it in the corner of their bedroom. A window spot is awesome, and considering the percentage of their day that is “at work”, the desk deserves an awesome spot. The mental and physical separation from the couch or table is really worth the hassle. One final tip that I use daily: know ahead of time what you can use to reset yourself mentally. Sometimes staying on task is really hard. I know for me, if I make a cup of tea, light a candle in the kitchen, and open up the window by my desk, I will be ready to hunker down and get a lot done.

  10. Deborah says:

    Speaking as a night owl, the “get up early” tip needs to be modified for those whose bodies don’t work that way. Getting up at 6AM and working out in the morning won’t improve my day — my body just isn’t wired that way, and I find that my workouts are much more functional/productive later in the day when I naturally have more energy. “Get up at a specific time every day and schedule a workout at a time that works for your work and home obligations and your body’s natural rhythms” is a more useful rendering of this tip for people who aren’t early birds.

    • Chris Loves Julia says:

      You’re totally right! What great insight! Thanks for speaking up for the night owls!

  11. Briana Shields says:

    Hi Chris and Julia! Can you recommend a good black and white printer? I have no need for a color printer but looking for something that works well and is just as sleek as the one you tagged above :) Hope you and your family are well and thanks so much for your posts! They help get me through the day :)

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We believe we should all love where we live.

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