How To Work Productively From Home: Tips & Tricks
The days of working 9 to 5 in a traditional office setting are long gone. We've replaced them with a more flexible remote-working model and rethought what it means to "go to work." Companies are seeing the benefits of hiring remotely, from happier employees to a more diversified workforce. And who wants to be in the office five days a week when they can be just as productive, if not more, at home?
After a full year of working remotely, 61% of employees, and 32.2% of hiring managers, felt that productivity improved. As workforces shift to hybrid and remote working, productivity is measured by outcomes and results rather than time spent at a desk or an office.
The adjustment from working in an office to working from home can feel a bit strange at first, and learning how to work remotely is important. Follow these work-from-home tips and tricks to stay productive and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Table of Contents:
- Stick to a routine
- Avoid multitasking
- Take a break
- Know when to “log off”
- Set ground rules with your team
- Use efficient telecommunication tools
- Have a dedicated workspace
- Work with targets, not hours, in mind
- Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb”
- Interact with other co-workers
- Use task management software
- Plan the day ahead
1. Stick to a routine
Creating a routine adds structure and predictability to your day. You may find that you feel more in control of your time and how you spend it. Work-life balance is critical, especially if you're working from home full-time. Try committing to a routine that helps maintain that balance to avoid burnout.
Before you start your workday, what do you need to be successful? Some people may take a walk, make breakfast, brew a pot of coffee, or stretch. Give yourself time to get mentally ready for your workday, even if that means waking up a few minutes early.
Once you're in your workflow, schedule times for breaks and lunch. Your exact work day-to-day may look different, but you can create a set routine around self-care, exercise, snacks, and meal times that adds structure during your week.
Check out this day in the life of a freelancer to see what it's like to be an independent professional on Upwork.
2. Avoid multitasking
Multitasking may seem like a boast-worthy skill, but when you explore how it actually affects work, you’ll quickly see it hurts your productivity and efficiency. Few people can multitask well, and instead of giving one task 100% of their attention, most people divide their focus between multiple tasks. The urge to multitask may be even stronger when working from home, but according to various studies, multitasking:
- Temporarily drops IQ and lowers brain matter density
- Reduces attention span, affects learning, and disrupts working memory
- Reduces focus and concentration
- Hinders creativity and innovation
- Damages the part of the brain responsible for emotional intelligence
- Increases stress and burnout
When figuring out how to work remotely, most people are more productive when they complete work in batches and create mental space for deep concentration.
Focus on deep work
Instead of dividing your attention between tasks, try removing distractions and dedicating all of your brain power to one task for a set amount of time—this is called deep work.
The Netflix documentary "Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates" explores the mind of Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates. Gate famously went off the grid and spent "think weeks" where he would read and think critically without any distractions or obligations.
Comparing his brain to a computer, the documentary called this "CPU time." All of his brainpower re-routed to a singular task. Gates says these think weeks are where some of his biggest innovations and best ideas came from.
When deep working, you enter a flow state. Have you ever been so immersed in a task at work that you don't notice time passing or have many thoughts outside of what you're focused on? This is called a flow state, and it's highly productive. Most people can only do this for four or five hours a day.
Try time batching
Instead of multitasking, time batching is a great work-from-home tip and trick recommended by Monday.com. Time batching is "a productivity system that helps individuals focus on a group of similar tasks during a dedicated time period without interruptions."
When time batching, group similar tasks together into "small," "medium," and "large" tasks based on how long they'll take and the amount of brainpower needed. Block out time for deep work versus tasks that require a little less brain power like cleaning your inbox.
Small–takes about 15-30 minutes of attention
Medium–takes up to 2 hours of attention
Large–takes more than 2 hours of attention
Once you've batched, decide which is the best list to start with based on your schedule and focus. You'll want to think about your priorities: Is it better to get many small tasks done at that moment or work on larger tasks that have a bigger impact on your team or organization? Once you've chosen, stick with the list to keep your motivation and distractions to a minimum.
3. Take a break
Breaks are just as important to productivity as your time spent working. Taking micro-breaks (breaks less than ten minutes long) helps increase energy levels and improve performance. Your brain is like a battery; it needs time to recharge, whether for 30 seconds or five minutes. You could grab a glass of water, stretch for a bit, or cuddle with your pet to let your brain quickly rest. This is a great time to incorporate a little exercise and movement into your day.
In the office, you'd be walking to a meeting, talking with your deskmate, or making a coffee run. At home, you have to make time to take these little recharging moments away from the computer.
Tip: Apps like Flow use the Pomodoro technique, where you work in 25-minute blocks uninterrupted (close all non-work-related tabs and silence your phone) on designated tasks and then reward yourself with a five-minute break. After three or four 25-minute blocks, enjoy a longer 15 to 25 min break.
4. Know when to "log off"
One of the work-from-home temptations is to be "always on." When working in an office, you simply turn off your computer and leave, saving any unfinished tasks until you clock in the next day. If you work from home, it's harder to know when your workday officially ends, especially if you have teammates in different time zones. "Logging off" and stopping work for the day are important for work-life balance and overall well-being.
Creating an end-of-a-workday ritual can help you feel like you're "leaving work" even when working from home. It's similar to how creating a nighttime routine can help you feel more tired and ready for bed. An end-of-work routine can help you destress and get out of "work mode."
Tips for creating your end-of-work routine include:
- Go offline. Turn off your work computer, Slack, and email, and only check the most important messages if needed.
- Take a walk. Signal your workday is over by going for a stroll, ideally without checking your phone for any work-related notifications.
- Physically tidy up. Clean up your workspace and put all of your work-related items in one area, so you don't have to see (and then think about) them.
- Digitally clean up. Close down all tabs and programs you don't need for personal reasons, and bookmark the work tabs you'll need tomorrow. You want to start the next workday with a clean slate.
- Cross off today's to-do list. Crossing items off your to-do list can help you feel more accomplished as you reflect on all that you achieved during the day.
- Create tomorrow's to-do list. Write down your schedule and list of tasks for the next day. When you physically write things down, it's easier to stop thinking about them.
- Check your calendar. Make sure you know what meetings and appointments you have the following day.
- Check your email. Do one last email check, and then tell yourself you won't recheck it until the morning.
- Change your outfit. Switch out of "work mode" by changing your clothes, whether it's workout clothes or sweatpants, to let your body know that your workday is over.
5. Set ground rules with your team
How does your team work, both together and separately, in a remote environment? When managing a remote team, you’ll want to create a culture of trust and independence along with accountability and outcomes. Your team should know exactly what is expected of them and how to manage their workflow.
If you're managing a remote team, balancing asynchronous and synchronous communication channels is key. Establish when to send an email vs. setting up a video meeting, and how long people can expect to wait for a response in Slack.
Tips and tricks for managing a team that works from home:
- Set up regular one-on-ones
- Schedule team meetings
- Check in daily with team members
- Establish core working hours
- Organize Slack (and other messaging) channels
- Record meetings for team members unable to attend
6. Use efficient telecommunication tools
When looking to be successful working remotely, using efficient telecommunications tools is at the top of the list. There's an abundance of apps and different software that make it easy to talk to your teammates and collaborate remotely. Instant messages can replace email and even some meetings, while video conferencing takes the place of face-to-face meetings.
Communication tools for remote working include:
- Slack. Slack lets you instant message your coworkers and create "Slack Channels" for specific topics like tech support or teams. You can talk one-on-one or as a small group through direct messages or post in a channel. Add files and integrate apps like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Google Calendar.
- Zoom. In-office meetings were quickly replaced by video calls, whether it's a one-on-one with your manager or a company-wide all hands. Zoom meetings are easy to join and have added layers of security. You can share your screen and interact in the live chat with polls, reactions, and hand raises.
- Upwork Messages. Communicate with clients or freelancers on Upwork. Keep communication on the platform for extra protection and send project updates, add links, schedule meetings, and video chat through Zoom integration.
- Google Workspace. Google has a variety of collaboration tools like Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides that make it easy for multiple people to work on one project. Workspace also includes Gmail, Calendar, and telecommunication tools like Chat and Meet for instant messaging and video calls.
7. Have a dedicated workspace
The goal is to create a home office, not to feel like your entire home is your office. Being able to "leave the office" and relax at home without feeling like you're on the clock is important. You don't have to have a separate room to create this dedicated workspace, it could be a specific area that you like to work at. If you enjoy moving around while working, having a place to put all of your work-related items at the end of the day can help ease your stress and turn off "work mode."
Upwork shopping guides:
- Best office supplies
- Best work-from-home chairs
- Best work-from-home desks
- Best work-from-home accessories
- Best monitors for working from home
8. Work with targets, not hours, in mind
As companies expand their talent pool to include flexible and remote talent, the idea of measuring success changes to a more output-focused model. Workers are able to be highly specialized and do exactly what they love to do (and are great at!). Instead of hiring for an entire role, managers and employers can hire independent professionals on a project basis and focus on results.
This new flexible work model gives freelancers the freedom to work on their terms as long as they meet their deadlines. When leading a remote team, focusing on results and outcomes rather than time logged is a critical aspect of successfully working remotely. While some positions require strictly set hours, many others can be measured based on deliverables.
As a freelancer planning your daily schedule, focus on targets rather than hours. Instead of telling yourself that you're going to work for three hours straight, assign yourself a certain task (or set of tasks) to tackle.
Working on a task and giving yourself breaks seems less intimidating than working for three solid hours without a specific direction. It's more efficient to dedicate 45 minutes to a particular task compared to working on a variety of tasks through distractions for three hours just to try to hit your time mark.
9. Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb”
The average person in the US spends around 4 hours and 21 minutes on their phone during the day (not counting talking). While phones are a great way to stay connected with friends and family, they're also an endless source of entertainment and distraction.
When you want to dedicate yourself to a task or project, try turning your phone on "Do Not Disturb" to prevent notifications from distracting you. Most phones have the option to customize your "Do Not Disturb," so you can choose if you want to receive some notifications but not others. Turn your phone face down to avoid temptation, and let yourself completely focus.
If you don't want any notifications at all, you can put your phone on "Airplane Mode," where your phone is effectively turned off and won't send or receive any signals. It's often easier to do this than to turn your phone on and off whenever you want to focus.
Tip: Some computers also have "Do Not Disturb" mode, or you can download apps like Serene, Freedom,and RescueTime that can block notifications and certain distracting websites.
10. Interact with other co-workers
You’ll want to stay social and interact with your coworkers when learning how to be successful working remotely. Feeling isolated and disconnected is easier as a remote worker, but there are ways to stay involved and still feel like you're part of a supportive team. You can connect with your coworkers through Slack, checking-in throughout the day, and even have virtual lunches together.
As a remote worker, the time you spend not working may become how you fill your social needs. Because there's no commute time, the average remote worker has about four hours and 15 minutes extra per week to spend with family or friends.
Tip: If you're feeling lonely or isolated, try working out of your local coffee shop at least one day a week if you have a laptop and can work outside of your home.
As a manager, creating a remote work culture that fosters a team environment and inclusion is a top priority. Managers set the example for what it's like to work on a remote team. Learning how to effectively collaborate on a remote team has a huge impact on productivity and team output.
Tips for boosting remote team engagement:
- Create non-work related themed Slack (or another messaging app) channels
- Have virtual happy hours
- Establish an onboarding program
- Create or engage in team-building activities
- Find time for wellness initiatives like weekly yoga or meditation
- Use SWAG giveaways – e.g. corporate branded clothing and goods or snack boxes – as prizes for fun contests
11. Use task management software
While there are few feelings as satisfying as writing out a to-do list and crossing items off with a pen one by one, having task management software can help you be more productive when working from home.
When you work on a team and collaborate remotely, task management software is convenient for assigning tasks, monitoring progress, staying on top of deadlines, and managing workloads. Freelancers can organize their projects by client and even track the time spent on each task.
Task management software for remote work include:
Hive. Hive is a visual project management platform designed for remote and hybrid work. You can break projects down into steps, add deadlines, and assign them to teammates.
Monday.com. Monday.com lets you customize your workflows and automate some processes, like approvals and tasks. It also includes social media management and monitoring integrations.
Asana. Asana focuses on planning and progress, creating a visualization of your team's projects. Asana also lets you create automated workflows and quickly build Gantt charts.
Trello. Create boards based on different teams or clients, then start mapping out your projects with cards. Cards contain everything you need for each project, including checklists, due dates, attachments, and conversations.
12. Plan the day ahead
When working remotely, planning your schedule can help you stay organized. Planning your day and week lets you know if you're available to take on more work or new clients, and to visualize your workload. Mapping out your projects can help you also feel mentally prepared.
A good practice is to make a to-do list at the end of each workday for the following day and set a game plan for how you will tackle it. This way, you won't spend time in the mornings trying to figure out what to get started on; you can get straight to work!
Find remote work using Upwork's services
The idea of work as we know it is changing. Companies are embracing remote working, and former 9-5ers are becoming independent professionals working on their own terms. Upwork is the world's work marketplace, where you can create your own path. On Upwork, you can pick and choose the types of jobs you want to work on and the types of clients you want to work with. Find the next project you can't wait to get started on!
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.