Being able to work from home has been a desirable perk for most people for several years. Although the number of telecommuters and remote workers has been increasing steadily in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the number of people working from home to explode.
According to studies, about 7% of Americans worked from home prior to the pandemic, and more than 60% have been working from home in 2020 (source).
With so many people suddenly working from home, about 50% of workers in the U.S. have had to adjust and learn how to work from home rather than commuting to an office.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to work from home since 2008. There was definitely an adjustment period during the first year, but I’ve found that I work much more productively at home and I’ve never missed working in a more traditional office setting.
This article will cover a number of tips related to efficiently working from home. Some of the tips are based on my own experience, and you’ll also see quotes and tips from a number of others who have experience working from home. Hopefully, the diversity of opinions will provide a well-rounded look at the topic and help you to come away with some practical tips that you can implement right away.
Tips to Help You Work from Home More Efficiently
1. Create a Dedicated Office Space
One of the biggest challenges that you’ll face with working from home is being able to separate your work life from your personal life. If you have a room or space in your house or apartment that is dedicated as your office, it’s much easier to make that separation.
Ideally, your office will be a room with a door that you can close, especially if there are other people living with you. However, if you don’t have a room that you can spare, you can use a specific part of a room to create your office.
Todd Kunsman, the head of marketing for a software company and blogger at Invested Wallet says “One of the best tips I have to be more efficient is to create your own office space, as it will help with productivity. If you just work from your kitchen or laptop on the couch, I find it harder to be focused and to get in ‘work’ mode. Instead, even if it is the corner of a room, make it your own office space filled with things that inspire you and keep you focused.
“It’s okay to take your computer and move around your home to switch up the views, but I’d recommend always having a dedicated area that feels like an office to you. It helps me stay focused and less distracted on things that are in our home.”
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many people were forced into working from home on short notice and didn’t have the luxury of extra space in the home for a dedicated office. You may need to use some creativity here, but do your best to establish a specific location in your home for working.
2. Invest in an Ergonomic Chair
In order to be productive long-term, you need to take care of your health. When you’re sitting for many hours each week, an ergonomic chair is a very worthwhile investment.
If you’re sitting for long periods of time in a chair that’s bad for your back, eventually you’ll have trouble working at all. An ergonomic chair will help to protect your back and allow you to work efficiently for longer hours.
3. Create a Schedule
When you’re going to work in an office, you probably have set hours. That’s not the case for a lot of people who work from home. Without a schedule, there’s a lot of temptation to prioritize other things aside from work.
Michael Leonard of Inspire Your Success says, “Unlike a normal 9-5, you have to create a schedule to get work done! Don’t wake up and try to ‘wing it.’ Instead, do the big tasks/harder projects early in the morning when there are fewer distractions and you can move your business forward.”
I take a similar approach to Michael. I have set working hours, just as if I worked a traditional job in an office.
Having a schedule is important, but it’s also important that others know about your schedule. When you work from home, it’s not uncommon for friends and family members to assume that you’re always available.
Furqan Aziz, CEO of InvoZone says, “Most of the time families and friends cannot differentiate when a person is working or available to run errands. This issue is important and can be addressed through communication. Effectively convey to the family about your working hours.”
If it becomes a problem, you may need to establish some boundaries with friends or family members who become a distraction during your working hours.
4. Start Early
Not everyone is a morning person, but many people find that getting an early start is the key to a productive day. This can be especially true if there are other people in the house and you’re able to get some work done before they get up.
Joe Firmin, managing partner of True Freedom Capital and father of two young children, says, “I’m up at 5:00 am and working by 5:45 am. I put in a couple of good hours before my house wakes up. These are some of my most productive hours of the day and they are without interruptions.
“These early hours allow me more flexibility throughout my day as well. I’m able to be with my kids for parts of the day and help my wife because I’ve done some good work already before the sun came up.”
Josh Patoka, a freelance writer at Money Buffalo says, “I recommend getting up early and either enjoying the silence, reading something motivating like a daily devotional, exercising, or following another productivity exercise before starting work. This habit helps me focus better when I start working.
“All of us have a different routine. I personally do light reading (that’s not work-related) and responding to the most important personal emails while drinking coffee before our three children wake up. We go to bed mentally exhausted and I’m prone to only provide half-thoughts if I wait until after the children go to bed to take care of personal affairs.
“At most, I spend 30 minutes to one hour doing personal activity. After that, I respond to work-related emails and make a daily work plan for tasks I need to finish and ones I want to finish before the workday ends.”
5. Don’t Forget to Take Breaks
When you’re working from home and you’re focused on your work, you may need to make a conscious effort to take breaks. Liam Martin, co-founder of Time Doctor says, “To really maximize your productivity, you need to know when to stop working! Try to take frequent breaks to take your mind off work and avoid burnout.”
This is something I was very bad at for a long time, but over the past few years, I’ve made a stronger effort to take breaks, and it’s made a big difference in my ability to focus and concentrate.
Tom Blake, a freelance writer and blogger at This Online World says, “If you work in an office, your day is inevitably broken up by meetings, calls, and possible lunchtime errands. However, if you start working from home, it’s all too easy to forget to take breaks and to have 10-hour stints at your kitchen table.
“If anything, incorporating breaks into your work from home routine is even more important than at the office. Taking regular breaks helps prevent burnout, and it’s also important to separate your professional life from your personal life and to avoid letting work consume you.
“I recommend chunking your day into different tasks and setting aside time for lunch and at least one walk. After all, if you want long-term efficiency, you need to create a schedule that can last. If you stick to a schedule, working from home can be both productive and enjoyable. It might take a few weeks to get the hang of it, but you’ll find a work-life balance that suits your needs if you’re mindful of it.”
Laura Gariepy, owner of Every Day by the Lake, LLC adds, “When your mind is fatigued and your thoughts unfocused, chances are, you need a brief respite. So, get up, stretch, and do something totally unrelated. It doesn’t have to be for long. Just 10-15 minutes away from your computer screen can be enough to restore your energy and put you in a more productive state of mind. Even though it may sound counter-intuitive, the best way to get more done is to periodically stop working.”
6. Get Some Exercise
Dedicating some time each day for exercise can do wonders for your productivity. Regular exercise can help you to have more energy and to be more alert as you’re working. Depending on the time of day that you exercise, it can also give you a nice break from your work and allow you to come back to your work with an improved ability to focus.
You could exercise early in the morning before starting your work, take a break at some point during the day to exercise, or get your exercise in the evening after you’re done with work.
7. Focus on Goals Instead of Hours
Many workers are programmed to focus on the number of hours they work. Most traditional jobs require you to be in the office for a specific number of hours each day or each week, so it’s natural to focus on the fact that you need to work 40 hours per week. Unfortunately, that’s not the most productive habit.
Lauren Keys of Trip of a Lifestyle says, “Many salaried employees who don’t work directly with customers won’t have specific hours they’re required to work. If you shift your thinking from the hours you’re putting in to what you need to get done each day, you’ll be more productive and less likely to focus on how long you have until you can ‘clock out’.
“Personally, I start my week by making a list of goals, some of which have specific deadlines that week and others which are more flexible.
“When you look at what you need to get done, instead of focusing on the time you ‘have to’ put in, you’ll have an incentive to be more productive and spend less time working overall.”
8. Plan Your Time
Using a to-do list or planning out exactly how you’ll use your time can help you to stay on task and improve productivity.
Freelance writer and business coach Michael Leonard says, “Every Sunday, spend 20-30 minutes mapping out your week and each night before bed, plan your tomorrow in detail. This way you can maximize your mornings and not spend your days hustling with busy work.”
I’ve been using this approach myself for almost as long as I’ve been working from home. Almost immediately after I started working from home, I realized that I wind up working very inefficiently if I don’t have a plan for my time.
9. Batch Tasks
With most jobs, there are some types of tasks that can be batched and done in one chunk to save time and improve efficiency. If this is the case with your job, think about how you can batch tasks to get more done in less time.
Freya Kuka of Collecting Cents says, “I batch similar tasks together so that I am not jumping from one thing to another. So, for example, I will only create content on one day and only deal with email work the next.”
10. Eliminate Distractions
While there is a lot to love about working from home, one of the potential drawbacks is the distractions that you can face. When you’re working on your own, it’s up to you to get those distractions under control.
Ron Stefanski of One Hour Professor says, “I’ve been working from home for over 5 years, and I’ve found the best way to stay efficient is to avoid distractions at all costs. When I work, I close the door to my office, put my phone across the room, close out my email, throw on some music for background noise, and pay very close attention to my to-do list with an app I use on my computer.
“I’ve found that eliminating distractions preemptively is one of the best ways to stay efficient. Even if something isn’t distracting you at the moment, there’s a good chance that something will happen to divert your attention and when it does, it can take 10-15 minutes to get back on task, which is a huge waste of time.”
Michael Leonard recommends noise-canceling headphones to help you stay focused.
Bruce Sigrist, a web developer at Phase Three Goods says, “There are apps like FocusMe that work on the operating system level to block distracting websites: everything from Facebook and Twitter to Reddit, YouTube and your favorite news sources.
“If you try to visit these websites, the browser will redirect and give you a motivational quote instead. These apps include a ‘hardcore mode’ that makes it impossible to disable them outside your designated working hours.”
11. Know Yourself
Although the tips covered in this article are all effective in general, each of us is different. Not everyone will thrive in the same type of environment or by doing the same things. You need to know yourself and what works for you. Be willing to go against the grain if some of the standard advice doesn’t work for you.
Kelly O’Hara, founder of Copy Goals points out, “I’ve been freelancing for several years now and I find that working efficiently from home is more about knowing yourself than some magical tactic. Essentially, you know how you work best. If that means sitting on your bed, with your laptop, in your pj’s, then that’s great. Or if you need a dedicated workspace to get shit done, that’s also great.
“The same goes for the hours that you keep. A set routine works for me but I know that it doesn’t work for everyone – maybe you can get more work done at night, for example. The point is, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to work a certain way. Do what’s right for you and you’ll work more efficiently and effectively.”
If you’re working from home, regardless of whether it is long-term or temporary, and regardless of whether you’re an employee or self-employed, take a look at these tips and see what can be implemented into your own routine to improve efficiency.