Whether you feel like we’re at the tail-end of this global pandemic, or you’re hunkering down for a second wave, one thing is for certain:
More of us are working at home more than ever before in the last 100 years.
While there’s no shortage of how-to guides for staying productive at home, one thing many of these guides miss are opinions from real “work from home” experts.
Long before the pandemic, there were over 77 million freelancers and independent remote workers around the world choosing to work from their home, while travelling the world, or during an extended stay in a quaint country villa.
Decades before we started asking ourselves if working from home would be the “new normal”, many of these remote workers had already identified ways that help them stay more productive while working from home or elsewhere.
So today, here are some actionable, realistic tips from 17 remote-working professionals on how to stay productive while working from home.
Train your brain
Preston Lee, Founder at Millo
I’ve been working from home (or train stations, or train cars) for nearly 10 years.
For me, productivity comes down to routine. Our brains are hard-wired to do better work when we’re in familiar locations or under familiar routines.
While this may prove more difficult at home, establishing a dedicated “home office” space away from distractions can be vital. Coming into this area only when it’s time to work and leaving this area when work is over will help your mind separate work time from leisure time—which are both necessities.
If your current home situation doesn’t lend itself to a dedicated space, try working in the same spot every day with headphones playing the same sounds or songs in order to train your brain that it’s time to get work done.
Theme and Time-Block Your Days
Jay Clouse, Freelancing School
I’ve been a remote worker for the last three years, and for me, it’s important to theme and time-block my days.
I know that on Mondays and Fridays I won’t take client calls. I also know that mornings until noon are my time for writing. Having this built-in structure helps me focus on what’s important, while also playing to the strengths of my creative energy.
I also find that assigning a specific room in my house—the office—as my only place to do work is key in helping me to recognise when it’s time to be working vs. unwinding.
Find Structure, Prioritise, and Plan
Justine Clay, JustineClay.com
I’ve been a small business owner since 2006 and have tried pretty much every productivity hack in the book! For me it’s all about structure, prioritising and planning my day.
Ever since I had kids (who are now 8 and 4 years old), having a morning routine has been the biggest factor in my having a good, productive day.
I’ve been using the bullet journal for a while now and love how it enables me to see the big picture as well as the day-to-day nitty gritty to-dos.
Then I end my day at a reasonable hour and turn off the computer. Balance is everything!
Use a Project Management System
Sarah Morgan, XOSarah
I’ve been working from home for 8 years. My project management system is a big part of staying productive.
My go-to is Asana. I plan all my daily to-dos at the beginning of the month. I usually have 2-3 top priorities for each day and try to not add more than 5 tasks total.
This way I don’t need to make a decision about what’s most important or what’s next. I just look at my list and get to work.
Set Work Hours and Keep Showing Up
Ian Paget, Logo Geek
This might sound obvious, but the simple act of showing up is key. Set yourself working hours, and inform everyone in your household.
Then sit down at your desk during those hours, and if you can, close the door so you’re not distracted by family. Even if you’re not feeling motivated to work, you’ll soon start to make progress as you’re in the right place to do so.
One of my biggest distractions is social media. It’s so easy to jump to my web browser to do some work related task, such as reply to an email, to then end up scrolling on Facebook to catch up with notifications. It can become a real time suck. To eradicate this problem I use a handy piece of software called Freedom which allows you to temporarily switch off websites of your choice for a period of time.
Set Boundaries (and Stick to Them)
Brent Galloway, BrentGalloway.me
I’ve been working from home as a freelance graphic designer since 2011. The only way I’ve been able to stay productive while working from home is by setting boundaries.
I operate my entire business from a spare bedroom in our house. When I need to focus, I can shut the door and isolate myself from distractions.
I could work from the comfort of my bed with the laptop. But those two things conflict each other—working in the same place where I sleep.
Chances are I’m going to get cozy and take an unexpected nap. That’s why separating where I work and where I relax is the key to staying productive while working from home.
Get Out of The Office/House Regularly
Rhonda Page, Rhonda Page.com
I’ve been a remote worker for 10 years now. It was hard at first. The key is to go out every day.
Even in COVID, I go for a daily walk (and when I don’t it’s not as good or productive a day).
Also, I stop working if I feel tired—I don’t motor through. I go do something else and go back to it when my head feels clear.
Have a Rock-Solid Morning Routine
Jake Jorgovan, Jake-Jorgovan.com
For the past 8 years, I have been working remotely. My #1 productivity hack is to have a rock-solid, non-negotiable, morning routine.
It takes a while to dial this in, but once you get it in lock, then your routine because the rocket fuel to launch you into a productive day.
For me, my morning routine includes a mixture of journaling, stretching, affirmations, reading, and writing. I go through the same steps each day and that becomes the domino that kicks off a productive day!
Be Deliberate in When, How, and Where You Work
Patricia LaCroix, LaCroix Creative
Remote working isn’t new to me. I’ve been doing it in some way, shape, or form now for more than 30 years.
Staying productive was more difficult for me back when I started than it is now. I’m also a mom… and I was a wife… and there were always distractions.
I found that I had to be very deliberate when it came to setting up boundaries—both physical boundaries and mental ones as well. For example, I worked (and still do) in a space that’s very defined physically. It truly is an office, with four walls and a door. Everything in there is work related. When I walk into the room, I’m literally “going to work.”
By the same token, while I tend to dress casual and comfortable, I’m not wearing my PJs. I make a routine out of getting ready for work in the morning, and that helps define when I work.
These finite definitions help me think about what I’m working on when I’m supposed to be.
Likewise, leaving the office helps me define when my personal time starts, which for me, is just as important as getting down to the brass tacks of work. It’s easy to become a 24/7 business, but a big reason why I am in business for myself was to avoid working around the clock.
So boundaries are just as important for maintaining your personal life as they are for keeping your work life on track.
Switch Into “Work Mode” (But Also Take Breaks)
Mania Mavridou, DesignMania
I’ve been working as an architect, blogger and consultant from my home office for over 10 years. I work remotely for clients from all over the country and abroad.
To stay productive and creative, I work from a real home office. I transformed my home’s attic to a totally separate, comfortable, cozy and inspiring home office, where I can also meet with clients.
I never do design work on a laptop from my couch, I need a lot of space for my equipment. When I go upstairs I’m switching to work mode.
I don’t work in pajamas, but I wear comfortable, casual clothes or my gym clothes.
Two or three days a week I take a long break—I go to the gym, do some shopping, eat and relax for half an hour if I’m tired.
I then continue with creative design work sometimes till late in the afternoon or at night, if I’m in the mood and feel creative.
Design Your Day Around Your Body’s Natural Rhythms
Ben Brush, Ben Brush Design
I’ve been a freelancer and remote worker for several years now but up until recently I preferred to work from coworking spaces and cafes. Now that I am working from my home full-time I’ve had to make some adjustments.
I think the biggest secret to productivity is sleep, but not how most people think.
I hear people say everyone should go to bed early so you can be up at the crack of dawn. I strongly disagree. I believe in getting lots of sleep but at whatever time is best for you.
If you’re naturally a morning person, then by all means wake up as early as you’d like. However, if you’re a night owl don’t fight it and drag yourself out of bed early, only to stare blankly at your computer until the coffee kicks in.
Design your day around your body’s natural rhythms. This way you can be working during your most productive and energetic hours! Once you make that one fundamental shift and you’re no longer fighting against the clock each day, everything gets easier!
Control Your Environment and Remove Distractions
Clay Mosley, Dripify
I have been working in a remote environment for over five years now. The key to being productive is to find your most productive environment and control it to where there are no distractions.
Most people might think “distractions” are just if kids are around or if Netflix is playing. It means a lot of different things. It includes everything such as what room you’re working in, the chair you’re sitting on, the music that’s playing, the temperature of the room, the background noise, and even the essentials like hunger, thirst, and sleepiness.
If I’m hungry, I eat right away. If I’m sleepy, I take a nap. It’s all about eliminating distractions.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
Chelsea Baldwin, Business Bitch
It’s been almost impossible to keep my normal levels of productivity while stuck in quarantine, but the one habit I keep falling back on is using the Pomodoro technique.
If I set a timer for 25 minutes and don’t let myself do anything but work, it’s pretty surprising how much I can get done.
Design Your Ideal Workspace
Auni Milne, Sumack Loft
I have worked remotely now for almost 11 years. We had a house fire years ago and lost our home. It was a tough time but one of the silver linings is that we got to build a new house, and designed a purpose-built studio for my business.
Because my office is no longer the dual-use space it once was, I am able to be far more productive—when I cut out for the day, materials for whatever job I’m working on are simply left ready for my arrival the next morning. The space is amazing and I keep inspirational objects, books, and my design awards all around me.
I’ve had many friends and family members comment that they “don’t know how you can work from home” because they feel they would be constantly distracted, but having a workspace that is solely mine along with keeping a consistent schedule is what makes it manageable for me.
Stick to a Schedule
Adam Wright, Adam Wright Design
I stay productive by sticking to a schedule—that means getting up, and dressed, and to my office at the same time every day.
I take a lunch, just like an employee, and stop working at regular work hours. I believe staying productive also means taking time to disconnect from work, therefore I don’t work weekends or nights. Also, having a prioritised to-do list with my project management tool helps me organise my day to accomplish all that needs to be done.
Make Your Space Exciting!
Matt Olpinski, MattOlpinski.com
I’ve been a full-time remote worker for the last 5 years. I’m able to stay productive in my dedicated home office because I made it a place I’m excited to go each morning! I painted the walls, filled it with things I love, updated the lighting, and made it a welcoming space that encourages productivity.
Invest Effort and Money in Your Home Office
Ben Collins, BenLCollins.com
You have to focus on work. By that I mean that when you’re in a work block of time you have to let go of doing anything else, like chores around the house. Spending time (and money) to create a good home office environment is well worth the investment if you plan to work from home a lot.
Establish clear priorities and stay flexible
Yawer Malik Cloudways
While staying productive at home can definitely be a challenge, these pros are proving it can be done with some good planning and dedication.
Not everything on this list will work for you, but I hope the ideas have sparked some inspiration for your next move toward higher at-home productivity. The key is to learn from others who are doing it well and then build your own plan to create a work environment where you can thrive.
It will take time, but you can do it.
Originally published Jun 11, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023