Staying on Top of Things While Working From Home

Working-from-home has been somewhat taboo in the past. When I mention that I work from home, I can sense the old presumptions that are being made:

Is that because she can’t get a real job?

Oh, she’s lucky to work in her pajamas all day.

I wonder if she’s actually working, or if she just says that.

If I worked from home, I would get nothing done.

Is she just sharing spam links in comment sections?

There are a lot of myths about remote working that perpetuate a negative stigma of laziness or instability, yet reports demonstrate that 50% of Americans will be working remotely by 2020. Working from home is a legitimate option that often works better for companies and employees alike, and it’s definitely not as simple as it sounds.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a creature of habit who loves structure. You wouldn’t think of me as the ideal candidate for remote work, but nevertheless I find a way to get my writing done. However, I’m not always great at it. We all could use some tactics to increase our productivity and make sure that we continue to bust the work-from-home myths that linger in the back of our mind.

Can Work Remote vs Should You Work Remote

The first step to productive remote working is knowing yourself well enough to decide whether it is truly a good option for you. This depends on a lot of personal factors, as well as the kind of work that you do.

Almost anyone can work from home, but that doesn’t mean everyone should. Designer Tobias van Schneider reminds that “some of us just need the daily watercooler conversations and tangible feeling of belonging.”

Some of that can be taken care of with various tools, but even then it might not be quite the same. Working from home can be lonely. Personally, I’m an introvert and that works in my favor. But even then, if I’m not intentional about taking breaks and getting myself out, I’m at risk of getting down in the dumps.

Working from home also requires a lot of self-motivation, so if you’re one of those people that really need accountability to stay on task, it will take a lot of extra effort and time management, though it can be done. For example, your team can use Prodoscore keep track of a daily productivity score to keep yourselves accountable to each other.

Make Sure to Establish a Routine

Remote working is inherently less structured than time in the office. One common myth is that you’ll just inevitably get more done without a commute or excess meetings, and I can testify personally that isn’t always the case. I do save time without sitting in traffic, but without my routine my “workplace” falls apart. If you want to get anything done, you will have to set aside time for it.

Make sure that you have a routine and stick to it as much as possible. That means working at the same time on the same days, developing a sense of consistency that your brain and body will get used to. If you don’t create a routine, then working from home is likely to devolve into one of two things.

First option: you may never escape your work. If you don’t have time set aside and just work whenever you have to or the mood strikes, it will feel like you always have work to do. You’ll feel guilty whenever you aren’t working. You’ll feel trapped in your own home while your laptop and planner stare you down. When you have set working time, that means you have set non-working time too.

Conversely, you can also fall into the trap of just never doing work, or falling way behind. For many people, if there isn’t time set aside for work, it will probably never get done. When you work from home, there’s not much to keep you on task, so you have to set your own boundaries.

Set Yourself Boundaries

Speaking of boundaries, those are another way to avoid the pitfalls I mentioned above. Sarah Goff-Dupont is a Principal Writer at Atlassian who works remotely. She explains the value of setting boundaries so that you don’t exhaust yourself:

“Working remotely means you get a ton of quiet, heads-down time to do deep work. But deep work is exhausting! Build 5 minute breaks into your day...take care of yourself so that you still have gas in the tank.”

Breaks create healthy boundaries. Other recommended boundaries include having an established work space in your home--no working from bed--and setting ground rules with your team about how and when work needs to be done.

You’re only human, so don’t fall into despair if you need to experiment to find out what remote working strategies are best for you. It may take some trial and error, but once you find your groove it will be so satisfying.

Keep Track of Your Time

There are a ton of apps out there to keep track of the time you spend working on various projects. Your company may have one they prefer you to use if you work remotely. Even if it’s not required of you, it’s a great resource to have a measurement and representation of the time you spend working each day.

There are also list and task-keeping tools that help you and your team keep track of your progress. Trello is a popular one, and Google provides some task list functions as well.

Chat & Video

Several experts recommend regularly scheduled chats and videos with your co-workers. This holds everyone accountable for the work that they’re supposed to be doing, but also fulfills social and team-building needs so that working from home doesn’t become isolating.

If you’re using a chat app like Slack, you’ll want to make use of channels like “random” for non-work related topics and team building.

Working from home means over-communicating with anyone that you’re working with or for. Jessi Craige of Evernote explains that updating your co-workers, even if it’s just briefly using a chat tool, it provides context for the work you’re doing that they wouldn’t know about otherwise.

Communicating well also eases everyone’s mind, so that remote working doesn’t become an extensive version of the group projects we were forced to do in high school. Updates ensure everyone that you are in fact, actually working, and haven’t been spending the last week singing into your hairbrush.

It’s always better to overshare than for someone to miss out on an important piece of information.

Only Human

In the end, no one is perfect. No matter how organized you may be, working from home comes with its own challenges. But don’t give up hope! With effort and practice, remote working becomes just as satisfying as any other office job.