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5 Effective Habits for Working from Home

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A work desk with two laptops, headphones and cups of coffee.

For those of us lucky enough to have work that can be done remotely, the fantasy of working from home doesn't always shake out when we find ourselves in in our new "office" (read: pajama-ed at the kitchen table which is now your desk).

Just because you're working from home doesn’t mean you’re not working. You still have deliverables, expectations to meet, a team to support, and a supervisor to please. In some ways, it may actually be more challenging to work from home than to work from an office. Here are three tips to keep you effective during this indeterminate era of telecommuting.

1. Carve out a dedicated work space (that’s separate from your living space)

I’m a strong believer in designating a space that is specifically and exclusively for work.

In theory, you could grab your laptop and dig in anywhere. And that may work for a day or two, or if you’re under a pressing deadline at work and have adrenaline pushing you toward the finish line. But, add any type of distraction—your child, roommate, significant other, landlord, neighbors, or constant stream of news blaring from the living room—and it’s likely your productivity will take a hit.

While we don't all have the luxury of space (especially considering that at the moment, our partners, roommates, family members, and children are right their beside us, and trying to carve our their own space), there are still a few ways that you can set up a productive and distinct work area.

Try these ideas for creating a productive work space while keeping your home a sanctuary:

A small work office in a closet.

2. Stay accountable, maintain a routine, and track your time

If your work hours are at your discretion, create weekly or daily schedules and embrace routines to stay organized and on task.

Even if time tracking is not required by your employer, tracking your time can facilitate proactive reporting and allow you to examine your time allocation. Toggl and other desktop and mobile time trackers are helpful project management tools.

Another way to stay accountable is to communicate an agreed upon level of transparency with your boss and co-workers. Create a shareable calendar and to-do list, and submit regular project updates. For micro-time management, digital reminders, and timers work great. Suggesting a monthly phone calls or Skype can help maintain an up-to-date feel for office culture and expectations.

3. Establish boundaries

Try to remember, it’s now more important than ever to set some boundaries for all aspects of your life, because now all aspects of your life exist in the same square footage (and likely with the same people).

Set boundaries with your colleagues. When you work from home, common signals that the day has come to an end like packing up your things and heading out the door, don’t exist. And, sometimes telecommuters overcompensate by extending their availability to pay for the privilege of working from home. While it is important to be accountable, make an effort to determine a set time frame when your co-workers and manager can contact you, especially if you’re setting your own hours.

Set boundaries with roommates, friends, and family. The transition to working from home if you have roommates, family, or children at home may be confusing. You’re there, but you’re actually not there; you’re off-limits and working.

4. Be a human!

Don’t be afraid to share a little—appropriate—personal information in your emails. Generally (and especially in times of crisis), it's those little nuggets of humanity that allow us to feel comforted and connected. It could be as simple as mentioning that you’ll be out of touch for an hour during your daily Youtube yoga. Or that you’re looking forward re-reading your favorite book over the coming weeks.

These are bits of information that normally get shared among people over the coffee pot or in the elevator. When you’re working remotely, these opportunities don’t occur as naturally. By inserting a few details about your life in your emails or chats, you help provide a more rounded picture of who you are as an individual.

At Idealist, we've been using to Slack to keep everyone connected and collaborating. And while we've been laser-focused on getting the work done and supporting our community, we've also taken the time to personalize the space and lighten things up where we can. So while we have space to project manage and meeting plan, we also have a channel where we update co-workers on our favorite new shows or what we had (or wished we had) for breakfast that morning. Now more than ever, we should feel encouraged to connect in a way that lifts our mood and lightens the mental load, if only for a moment.

5. Give yourself some grace

Even if you've worked from home in the past, chances are you've never done the whole working remotely thing while simultaneously managing so many of the stressors that we're all dealing with these days. We worry about our families, our health, our finances, or kids' education, the people on the frontlines of fight to quell the coronavirus pandemic, and the list goes on.

So guess what? You're probably not going to be as productive as usual, as least during this settling-in period, and that's okay. Everyone is in the same boat: your boss, co-workers, direct reports, and partners. We're all just trying to get comfortable with an entirely surreal situation. If you need more walks than usual, more snacks than usual, more naps than usual, speak up and let your supervisor know that you'll be stepping away. You may think self-care is easier when you're working remotely, but it can actually post a greater challenge if you don't feel empowered and entitled to step away when you need to.


Remember, even if you are wearing your fluffy slippers, you’ll still need a game plan to make the best use of your time and space. You only have yourself to balance your work and life. Good luck out there!

Working remotely? Struggling or thriving? Reach out and let us know! And, for more information on working remotely, check out this Idealists Careers series.

About the Author | With a background in the performing arts and journalism, Caroline Rodriguez understands the chaotic course of career change. She’s been a reporter, teacher, and co-manager of a yoga resort. Her passions include women’s rights and encouraging girls to study science.

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