Almost 4 million people work from home at least half of the time, according to FlexJobs research.
A majority of managers report that telecommuting employees are actually more productive when they work from home.
Not only are remote workers more efficient, but 82% of telecommuters report feeling less stress – which led to higher morale and lower absenteeism.
It’s a great option for companies, employees, and the environment.
But working from home presents its own challenges to employees – from physical and mental health to work and professional obstacles.
Here are some tips to help you feel more productive when you telecommute and to keep your body and mind healthy.
Create a Schedule
1. Establish a Routine
Part of what makes working from home so freeing is being able to establish your own schedule. There’s so much agency in feeling like you can do what you want when you want.
Remember back in college when you had two classes a day and spent the rest of the time doing whatever? That’s the kind of freedom working from home can feel like.
But just like back in college, it’s crucial to establish a routine or suddenly you’ll find yourself in a YouTube time-suck at 5 p.m., having accomplished nothing all day long.
Eat meals at the same time every day. Start work and stop at the same time (pending emergencies).
By setting a schedule, you can estimate how long things will take and make room for things like meetings, calls, and breaks.
2. Batch Your Work
While creating a schedule can help with the overarching day-to-day, batching your work can help you get more done in less time.
Studies show that multitasking actually makes us less productive. Batching work is the opposite of multitasking.
You set aside a large chunk of time to accomplish something in its entirety.
The same way you may meal prep for an entire week on a Sunday night – you’re “only doing one task until it’s completed, and everything related to it is also completed.”
For example, spend the first Monday of the month planning all your social media posts across all channels for the rest of the month.
Or creating a content calendar for the quarter – and spending a few days writing every single article that you plan to post in the next 90 days.
3. Get Dressed in the Morning
Sure, it’s easy to just roll out of bed and work in your PJs all day. It may feel more productive to just hop right to it. But there’s something to be said for adding a “get ready” element to your routine every morning.
Not only will putting on real (read: not sweatpants) clothes give you a designated “I’m at work” mindset, but it can help you be more productive. Studies show that what we wear affects how we think and succeed.
“Dress for success” isn’t just a trite idiom after all.
4. Stop Working at a Designated Time
Part of keeping a schedule is both starting and stopping your work at a certain time.
When you work from home, it’s easy to think, “I’ll just finish this last task.” Or, “Just 30 more minutes.”
When you go to an office, it’s easy to have a designated “quitting time” when you have to pick up kids or catch a train.
Stave off burnout by making sure you stick to your chosen stopping time.
If you’re struggling with stopping work, schedule something so you have to quit working – a dinner with your spouse, a happy hour with friends, a playdate with your kids, etc.
If you work 8+ hours multiple days a week, you’re actually less productive.
Your mind and body both need that 5 p.m. break.
5. Designate Days for Meetings, Calls, Tasks, Etc.
One way to work on batching your work (see #2 above) is to schedule specific days for meetings/calls.
Firstly, you will be in the mindset for the type of conversations and work that needs to be done around these tasks. But also, it will leave you with full days free of interruptions to truly dig in and get other work done.
Since I started working from home full time in March, I’ve found that it’s difficult for me to feel like I can start a new task if I know I have a call or meeting coming up soon.
I think to myself, “Just as I get in the groove of this task, I’ll have to stop for the call.”
This ends up coming back to bite me when calls get rescheduled or canceled. I always wish I’d started the task anyway.
By having days with no calls, I can feel free to start things without upcoming “stop” times looming over my head.
6. Try to Track Every Hour – See What Happens
I saw an article a while back where author Michael Grothaus tracked every hour of every day for a year to see where he was really spending his time.
If you work freelance or contract, you may be tracking hours for client work, but tracking everything else you do in a day forces you to truly pay attention to how you spend your time.
Chances are you can find out where you’re losing precious productivity during the workday (social media, web browsing, chatting, etc.) and areas where you can find time to do things you wish you did (get to the gym, spend more time with family, cook homemade meals, etc.).
Try it for a week and see what you discover.
Set Up Your Physical Space
7. Separate ‘Work’ Space from ‘Home’ Space
Part of what makes working from home so convenient is that you can work pretty much anywhere.
I typically rotate from my kitchen table, my living room couch, and my upstairs office. But I am always the most productive in my designated working space.
Almost like walking into a corporate office every day, there’s a mindset shift when I walk into the room with my desk, monitors, and other supplies.
Not only does it do something for my own brain, but it designates to my family that I’m “on the clock” and not to disturb me for casual chatter.
8. Declutter Your Physical Space
Having a tidy workspace not only means you’ll be less distracted by the junk around you, but you’ll save time and money.
Overall, a lack of organization the inherent stress that causes equates to around $2.5 million lost in lack of productivity, according to data by the International Data Corporation.
Not only that, but a dirty desk means viruses can linger on germy keyboards and smartphones, which can lead to more sick days.
Spend 10 minutes once a week or at the end of each day to tidy up and sanitize your workspace.
9. Invest in Comfy and Ergonomic Office Furniture
It’s common knowledge now that sitting for 8+ hours a day is bad for the body, but what can you do when your job involves a computer and requires you to be fairly stationary?
The Mayo Clinic suggests finding a standing desk or improvising with a high table or counter, taking frequent breaks to stand up and walk around, and having walking calls or meetings.
You can also invest in office furniture that encourages good posture and is fitted correctly for your body’s ergonomics.
10. Find the Right Ambiance for Working
Each person works differently, which is why open offices are so controversial.
When you work from home, you have to create that environment yourself. Sometimes that means finding the right playlist, having a clean desk, lighting the perfect candle, etc.
As an introvert and someone highly sensitive to sound, I find working in open office and coffee shops extremely distracting. I love working in absolute silence.
But I’ve heard some telecommuting extroverts try to replicate that “background conversation” ambiance by having the TV running in the background, playing online apps like Coffeetivity, and listening to YouTube videos with people talking.
Find what works for you (which can even vary by time of day!) and let the ambiance get you in the work groove.
Ditch the Distractions
11. Get off Social Media
One study found that we waste on average over 2 hours a day on social media apps. It’s a nice respite from work-thinking every once and a while, but can quickly turn into a huge time suck.
I’m the worst at this. I’ll get on Facebook to see what’s new with family and friends, but end up spending an hour answering people’s questions in marketing groups.
It’s a hard conundrum since social media connects us and working from home can sometimes feel very isolating. There is a good amount of escape and connection online, but it can quickly sweep away your working time.
Set timers for yourself with apps and extensions that help you stay on track and block social media URLs during your productive hours
12. Check Your Email at Designated Times
Checking your email can take up huge chunks of your day, and it’s difficult to feel like you’re being productive when you inbox keeps notifying you that you’ve got another message to tend to.
Part of “hustle culture” is this expectation that we’re always on, always connected, and always available. So, I challenge you to buck that idea.
I recommend checking your email at designated times during the day and turning those “You’ve Got Mail!” notifications off.
Set an auto-responder that says something like, “I’m most productive when I am not distracted. I check my email at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 4 p.m. ET. I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.”
By setting expectations with emailers, they know that just because you don’t respond within 10 minutes, doesn’t mean you don’t see them. And then you’re free to dig into work during the non-email hours.
13. Establish Expectations for Anyone Else at Home
One of the hardest parts of working from home is managing expectations with your family members and housemates.
My husband loves to talk about his day when he gets home, but if I’m not done with work yet, it can be distracting.
Setting expectations and indicators about work time and off time can help ensure that everyone’s happy and not feeling interrupted or ignored. (This is why schedules and having a designated “quitting time” are so important!)
I remember someone telling me he installed one of those touch lights outside his office to indicate to his family that he was on calls or busy when it was on – so they didn’t burst and interrupt in like that viral video from a few years back.
14. Establish Productive Ways to Procrastinate
There’s no doubt that giving your mind a break can help you get more work done. But sometimes the ways we find to procrastinate end up taking us down a rabbit hole of wasted time.
Have you ever looked up a YouTube video on how to do something but end up 30 minutes later watching Ellen interviews of break dancing kids? No? Just me? Cool.
Find ways to give your mind a break that have dedicated cut-offs or “done” signifiers – or that help you reach another goal (either professional or personal).
Sometimes when I need a break I’ll go to my kitchen and spend 30 minutes making snack packs for myself by cutting up fruits and veggies and making little cups of fun dips.
Or I’ll take a walk around my neighborhood which is a perfect half-mile loop.
Or I’ll plan an outline for an article (like this one).
Your mind needs breaks in the middle of tasks, but those break times don’t have to be wasted time.
15. If You Have Kids, Get Help (If You Can)
Working from home as a parent is a unique challenge. It’s difficult to feel productive when you are working double-time caring for your kids, too.
Just as if you were going to an office, it’s critical that parents get some kid-free working time to dig in and not get distracted by the needs of your sweet littles.
It can be hard (and cause some feelings of guilt) because some people expect parents to be able to do both – but taking care of kids is a job unto itself. So it can be a hard balance when you work from home.
If possible, find help where you can to help you manage working from home and taking care of kids.
I’ve heard some families have adjusted their schedules to minimize the costs of childcare (one parent works early hours and the other works later hours).
Other families find ways to work with part-time daycare to make it easier.
If that’s not feasible, talk to your employer about ways to manage both. Hopefully, they will work with you to help you feel comfortable and in both work and family life.
*Caveat: I’m not a parent yet, so I only have an outside perspective on this from reading articles and chatting with my friends who are parents. Please share your work from home parent tips in the comments!
16. Turn off Notifications
Nothing is more distracting than notifications.
They were built to be irresistible and addictive, which is why we have to make the conscious effort to turn them off – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, Slack, etc.
Thousands of apps are trying to pull our attention in their directions.
Turn off these app notifications during your “working hours” and only check them when you’re taking purposeful breaks.
While you’re on this detox, be conscious of your own desire to check them. It’s amazing how trained we are to want to waste time on these platforms.
Improve Work with Technology
17. Find the Right Tools/Tech Stack to Keep You on Track
If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, it’s worth investing in the tools to help make your job easier.
Along with the trade-specific tools you may need (Screaming Frog, SEMrush, Ahrefs, etc.), invest in cheap ways to automate tasks you don’t need a person to complete.
For example, I use Calendly connected to Google Calendar to help schedule calls.
When someone completes a form, they get an email with a link to schedule a time to chat on my calendar. Not only does this keep me from wasting time on the back and forth of:
“Does Monday work for you?”
“No, but I can do Wednesday or Thursday.”
“Ok, I’m free Thursday from 2-4pm.”
“Ah, I have an off-site then; let’s try Friday.”
But it also allows me to only schedule calls on certain days to keep my productivity high.
You can automate things like proposals, email responses, project management, invoicing, etc. Find the tools that allow you to do the work you love.
18. Get Some Noise-Canceling Headphones
Sometimes you need to work without any audio distractions.
I love my noise-canceling headphones for working on planes, in airports, at home when my spouse is on phone calls (or jamming out downstairs), and even for when I’m home alone working and don’t want to hear the weird creaks of the house or doorbell deliveries.
It’s just another way to ensure you’re minimizing distractions in any environment and focus on what’s in front of you.
Combat WFH Loneliness
19. Find an Online Community
One of the biggest drawbacks cited about working from home is the loss of in-person coworkers and community.
While my dog and cats are great work buddies, they just don’t provide the stimulating conversations that help me get over humps in work, come up with cool new tests to try, and think of new ideas.
Online communities can help replace that lacking in-person element though.
There are so many Slack, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn communities for specialized work where you can ask questions, share wins, complain, laugh, and more.
Find a few that work for you to keep you in the loop and feeling like part of the crew.
20. Leave the House
One of the benefits of telecommuting is that you can work from anywhere. Most coffee shops are happy to host you as long as you buy a drink or snack.
(Tip: Every time I’ve worked from a Starbucks location for a few hours, a team member has come by to all the telecommuters with trays of snacks and drink samples to try. I really love that they embrace people working from their coffee shops. And I always snag an iced tea or some snack to “pay for” the WiFi I use while I’m there.)
Try a coworking space, go to a friend’s house who also works from home, or work outside on a restaurant patio if the weather is nice.
Changing location can inspire new ideas and ignite your motivation to be more productive.
21. Tell Your Family/Housemates About Your Work
Working from home can feel lonely when you feel like you’re slogging it out by yourself.
Not only does telling your family about your work give them an investment in it, but it can also help them understand how important it is to give you space to do that work at home.
A conversation like this can help give you some visibility at home and the praise you get from family can be great motivation, too: “I have a tight deadline for these illustrations I’ve been working on, but I’m really proud of them. Let me show you what I’ve drawn out so far.” Then explain some of the details at a higher level.
When they’re invested in what you’re doing, it can feel like you’ve got one more person on your side.
22. Break up the Routine Every Once In a While
Yes, I said to create a routine. But every once and a while, do something to break it up.
Go to a morning coffee networking event, or take your dog to the park in the afternoon.
Take a few hours midday to go to a local attraction or art museum.
One of the benefits of working from home can be the flexibility of your schedule.
If it works for you to adjust your working hours and start work a little later or take a few hours in the afternoon to give your brain a break or experience new things – you’ll end up being even more productive in the long run.
Prioritize Your Physical Health
23. Utilize the 20-20-20 Rule
Do you ever look away from your computer screen only to realize that your eyes are struggling to adjust and keep up?
The 20-20-20 rule helps prevent eye strain from staring at a computer screen 8+ hours a day.
The idea is that “a person takes a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. During the break, the person focuses on an object 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles.”
Using this rule or even trying blue light blocking glasses can help you keep your eyes healthy at the end of the day.
24. Prep Healthy Meal & Snack Options
When I first started working from home full time, I thought I’d have the time and motivation to prepare myself healthy meals every day.
Fast forward to 6 months later, and I’ve found that if I don’t prep something in advance I’ll either skip eating altogether or eat a mishmash of weird ready-made or pantry items.
It’s definitely not the healthiest option. Set yourself up for success (and for quick lunch breaks between calls) by prepping breakfasts and/or lunches in advance.
25. Take an Actual Lunch Break
Along with eating a healthy lunch, it’s critical that you actually take a break for lunch.
Sure, there are days when we can’t avoid a desk lunch, but when you’re working from home, data shows that breaks and time away from the computer can help you be more productive later.
26. Drink Enough Water
A CDC study found that half of Americans just don’t drink enough water.
How much you need per day varies based on your activity level and other factors, but chances are you won’t hurt anything by drinking a couple of extra glasses.
I have a big Yeti cup with a straw that helps me stay hydrated throughout the day. I set a goal to fill it up 3+ times and take small sips every once and a while. Set calendar reminders if you need to.
A U.K. study found that staying hydrated “can influence mood, lead to greater feelings of fatigue and reduced levels of alertness.
And, even more importantly, “hydration status can affect cognitive (brain) function. Severe (and sustained) dehydration can also reduce short-term memory and the ability to process and interpret visual information.”
So get to drinking that H20!
27. Get up Every Hour – Walk + Stretch
Moving around can help get the blood flowing in your body and give you a short respite from whatever work you may be stuck on.
If you’re drinking enough water, you’ll probably need to leave your desk regularly anyway.
For those of us who sit at a desk all day, the Mayo Clinic has a list of stretches that help with neck, shoulder, chest, and lower back tightness that comes from working all day long.
Mental Health Is Just As Important
28. Meditate 10 Minutes a Day
Use the time you may have spent commuting to focus on setting an intention for your day.
There are many free YouTube video meditations that can help you or you can purchase an app like HeadSpace to encourage you to take the time.
The practice of meditating, among other benefits, can help you tune out distractions and stay focused.
“Meditating in short sessions can help you focus on your work better throughout the day, reducing your chances of getting distracted, and sharpening your cognitive potential,” according to research from the American Psychological Association.
29. Take a Day Off
When you first transition from an office to full-time work from home, everyday sort of feels like a “day off.” Sure, you still have work to do, but you don’t have to go anywhere in particular to do it.
It’s crucial that you still take days off for mental health and illness.
Oftentimes we think, “Sure I have the flu, but I can just work from my bed in my PJs. I’ll be at home either way anyway.” This is a recipe for burnout.
Just because you can work anywhere, doesn’t mean you have to if you’re unwell, need a day off, have family in town, etc.
Just take the day off. Work will be there when you get back.
30. Travel If You Can
One of the amazing parts of telecommuting is that you really can work from anywhere there’s an internet connection. So take advantage of that ability, and travel if you have the time and means.
Rent an RV. Work from planes with wifi. Leave on a Thursday and then spend the weekend in a fun new location.
31. Let Go of ‘Perfect’
A lot of times we have these “ideals” about what our lives will look like when we work from home.
For me, I like to go to the gym early, take my dog for a long walk in the park, and then deep dive into my work.
But sometimes things pop up, and I choose sleep over the gym, get stuck in traffic after the dog walk, and spend the morning putting out client fires.
Accept that some days will not go to plan.
The flexibility that comes with working from home also means that the perfect schedule, the perfect workday, the goal of productivity don’t always happen.
So we roll with the punches and try again tomorrow.
What tips would you add to help telecommuters stay productive? Tell us in the comments!