Once upon a time—you know, way back in 2019—working from home was a small luxury. An opportunity to avoid awkward run-ins with your boss, a grueling commute, and business casual clothes sounded like a dream. But, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to watch what we wish for.
In the past few months, working from home has transformed from a small luxury to the status quo. There’s a good chance that after all this time inside, you long for the days you could work from the comfort of your cubicle. Sure, you might have mastered the art of back-to-back Zoom calls and designating work spaces with your roommate, but working from home makes it really hard to focus. After all, who could possibly have a one-track mind when there’s groceries to put away, laundry to do, and a large television screen that’s practically begging to be watched?
As a freelance journalist, I’ve spent the past few years working remotely, away from all my clients, editors, and bosses. Even before the pandemic, I was pretty used to working in some of the most unconventional places: my bed, in an Uber, and even during a road trip in Norway—really! And, no matter where I am, I always manage to get my work done.
Make no mistake, I don’t think I’m the most focused person in this whole world. But if you want to make your time working remotely a lot more productive, here are some rituals that help me focus and accomplish my daily goals.
Have a Routine
As a freelance journalist, I can confidently say no two days look the same. But, despite my unpredictable schedule, working from home has turned me into a creature of habit. Each day, I like to wake up early, make a pot of coffee, reload the dishwasher, and light a candle. Once all my morning chores are done, I sit at the head of my dining room table and get to work.
I know, my mornings might sound a lot like Groundhog Day, but I realized that I’m much more productive on the days I stick to my routine. If I hit the snooze button a few too many times, miss that pot of coffee, or attempt to work from my bed, I usually spend the rest of my day feeling lazy and motivated—and I know it’s not just a coincidence.
Having a few tasks you do before clocking into work and having an assigned seat will mimic your pre-pandemic flow. You know, minus the commute and real clothes.
If you’re longing for the days of working from an actual office, consider adding a very basic morning routine to your day. Having a few tasks you do before clocking into work and having an assigned seat will mimic your pre-pandemic flow. You know, minus the commute and real clothes.
Write it Down
I’m a big list person—I can’t be the only one who gets a lot of satisfaction crossing a task off a to-do list. Each day, I have two types of lists next to my computer. The first is a weekly list filled with projects I’m working on, emails I need to send, invoices I need to submit, and Zoom events. All of these tasks need to get done at some point during the week, but aren’t exactly urgent. The second is one I write daily, complete with everything I need to accomplish within the workday. These tasks range from submitting stories, sending pitches to my editors, calling my grandma, or squeezing in some exercise.
When I have everything written down, I can figure out how to best prioritize my time, which makes my days a lot smoother. Sometimes, I prioritize my day by my East Coast clients’ needs. But, more times than not, I tackle the projects I’m most stressed out about first—you know, those tasks that require all of your undivided time and attention. Once I get those tougher tasks out of the way, the rest of my day feels like a reward.
Another perk to writing everything down? I don’t have to dig through my inbox to figure out the minutiae of my day. I can spend less time organizing my day and more time focusing on the tasks at hand—and, of course, crossing each off my list.
The Tech Treatment
Like most remote workers, I firmly believe that the right accessories can make your day a lot more productive. Before the pandemic, I would rely on my blue light-blocking glasses and a great planner, and don’t get me wrong, they’re still important ingredients to my day-to-day routine. But now, I’ve added a few essential tech-savvy pieces to my WFH arsenal.
I spend my days working next to my boyfriend, who is constantly on conference calls and Zoom meetings. Not only do my noise-cancelling headphones block out some of the outside noise, but they also are a non-verbal cue that I’m in the zone.
Another tech essential that’s been invaluable during quarantine? My big monitor. I’m constantly juggling multiple projects at once, so my screen is constantly filled with multiple tabs and windows. One false click and I can go down a digital rabbit hole, often forgetting what I was working on in the first place. Thanks to my secondary monitor, I am able to see all my tabs and windows, keeping my superfluous clicking at bay.
I’m well aware that while my WFH setup might work for me, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Instead, I encourage you to think about the biggest nuisances of your workday and identify if there is a product that can fix it.
Is it just me, or do you feel really unfocused and agitated when you have a long to-do list, dirty dishes in the sink, and a heaping pile of unwashed laundry? Turns out, that’s how we’re wired. Research shows that surrounding ourselves with clutter actually makes it harder for our brains to focus.
Whenever I feel like it’s impossible to focus on anything, I get up from my desk and spend a few minutes tidying up. (I mean, I’d have to clean my apartment anyway, so why not do it when it can help my workflow?) After a few minutes wiping down countertops, dusting unruly corners, and folding clothes, I feel calm and ready to plug into the task at hand. The next time you feel a little overwhelmed, focus that energy on tidying up your space. Trust me, it’ll make a huge difference.
Take a Break
It’s virtually impossible to spend the entire nine-to-five grind plugged-in and engaged. Even when you worked at a big office, you’d break up your days with lunch breaks and small talk in the cafeteria. If you want to stay motivated, treat yourself to some midday “me time.”
In a pre-pandemic world, I would break up my days with workout classes. But, instead of heading to my favorite pilates or throwback spin sessions, I now carve out at least 30 minutes to exercise at home. Working out has been proven to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase your energy levels. By the time I’m done with my workout, I feel energized and motivated to get back to work.
Go for a walk, call your mom, or read a book. Just do something every day that’s for you and you alone.
Psst...you don’t have to workout. Go for a walk, call your mom, or read a book. Just do something every day that’s for you and you alone.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Repeat after me: you are human. When the country first sheltered-in-place back in March, there was overwhelming pressure to make this time at home as productive as possible. We wanted to do it all: master the art of sourdough bread, redecorate our homes, launch a side-hustle...must I go on?
We’ve been at home for the past nine months, but in the grand scheme of things, this is still such a foreign way to live and work. Even though I’ve worked remotely for years, I’m still getting used to not going to my workspace.
As we continue to work out the kinks of working from home, remember that you and your team won’t always be the best, most productive versions of yourselves. There will be some days that you can’t focus on anything—and that’s okay.
We’re all doing the best that we can, so we all need to cut ourselves some slack. Try your best and dwell on your missteps for too long. After all, tomorrow is a new day.