Working from home is fantastic. There’s no commute, no unnecessary office chit-chat, you get to spend more time with your family, and showering is optional.
It also comes with a learning curve for newbies. You want to both be productive, and show that you’re being productive and not just spending all day hanging out with the cat.
Many freelancers have been working from home—voluntarily—since before it was mandated during the pandemic. These professionals have learned to create their own flexible but highly productive workday routines. So I thought, Who better to ask for advice?
I spoke with real-life independent professionals from Upwork for their best insights on how to work from home effectively. Plus, I’ve included tips gathered from the community of professionals on Upwork’s social media channels. As an independent professional on Upwork myself, I’ve also added my own perspective.
And lastly, if you’re wondering why people love working from home so much, I also share the many benefits of remote work.
If you’re interested in learning more about remote work opportunities, check out: The 30 Best Work From Home Jobs.
1. Do what works for you
I want to kick things off with the most important tip of all. When it comes to working from home—do what works for you!
If remote work is new for you, take the time to get to know yourself. Try out the different strategies and tips discussed below and see what fits into your life best. There are no have-tos here. You don’t have to fit yourself into anyone else’s productivity mold. After all, one person’s ultimate productivity hack may feel like another person’s productivity straitjacket.
For example, my husband swears by the Pomodoro technique. This time management method involves working in focused 25-minute intervals and then taking a break. For me, it’s a recipe for distraction! As a writer, I work better when I’m in a flow state, and completely immerse myself in my work for longer stretches of time. Compelling myself to take a break every 25 minutes breaks my train of thought and makes me feel less productive.
Social media marketing professional Kyle Evanko agrees that the ideal working from home situation is different for everyone. “Working from home is so new that there's no one-size-fits-all playbook. Work in bed if that's what you need. There's nothing wrong with cozying up under the covers and launching an ad campaign or delivering that project brief to a potential client.”
You will find lots of useful advice below. Experiment with different tips and pay attention to what works for you. Create a routine—or not. Put on office clothes—or not. Work from your bed—or not. It’s all up to you!
2. Create your own ideal schedule
With that in mind, let’s discuss creating a work-from-home schedule that’s right for you. For some, creating a strict daily routine helps add structure and a sense of predictability to the day. You don’t have to wake up every morning and figure out what to do—it’s already decided. Now all you have to do is get it done.
Energy consultant Matt Chester believes keeping a consistent schedule makes him more productive. “For me, working from home as a freelancer requires setting a strict schedule for myself. While I love the benefits of choosing how I work, when I work, and with whom I work, having a regular daily schedule helps keep me accountable and reduces the resistance and friction of 'getting into work mode' because it is the normal part of my day.”
On the other hand, strict schedules may not be everyone’s cup of tea—and that’s okay too. Evanko, who shared his preference for a loose work-from-home schedule above, elaborates further: “For me personally, I've found I'm most productive working wherever and whenever. Some days I start working in bed and don't move to my office until noon. Others, I'm walking and working on my treadmill desk at 8 am.”
Creating your own ideal schedule may require a bit of trial and error. Experiment with working at different times of the day. Synchronize your workday with your biological clock. You may feel more energized to do your best work in the morning while others may be at their peak later in the afternoon.
You could also try a strict traditional schedule vs a non-linear workday that blends elements of your personal life into your day. You might like to break up your day and make some time for your kids who are also at home. Others may choose to work out in the middle of the day or take a nap and come back to work again later.
Adopt a work-from-home schedule and rhythm that suits you and your lifestyle best. I discuss schedules and how different freelancers organize their days here: A Day in the Life of a Freelancer.
3. Have a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar
Calendars can be a remote worker's scheduling bestie. Organize your daily, weekly, and monthly priorities, to-dos, and meetings in your calendar. Free up your brain space, put it all in your calendar, and never forget a meeting or deadline again.
Google Calendar can also be super helpful for managing multiple clients and time zones. It lets you sync calendars from multiple emails so you see everything in one place. You also see all meeting times in your own time zone so you never have to worry about calculating time differences!
Social media management and content creation professional Silvia Pinho uses her calendar as a productivity tool, “First, figure out when and where you work best. Is it in your office in the morning or outside in the afternoon? Then, make sure your calendar reflects that, by adding any bigger tasks to the times when you're most focused, and then adding smaller tasks as needed in the open slots.”
Freelancer Joanne Strand from our social media community agrees:
4. Keep to standard work hours
Having set hours can also be very useful for maintaining strict boundaries between work time and personal time. Freelancing and solopreneurship allows many of us to set our own hours but this doesn’t mean you have to work every waking hour.
Set yourself standard work hours and stick to it. You don’t have to work regular office hours. Work when you’re most productive but set yourself limits and outside of your chosen work hours, allow yourself to rest.
As an example, I work Monday to Friday and aim to start my day by 7 am and finish by 4 pm—with lots of breaks in between. Sticking to these hours ensures I get work done within that time. And, it also allows me downtime at the end of the day to exercise, go to the beach, cook, and do whatever else I want—without feeling guilty about not working.
Rich Murphy’s advice is to:
5. Eliminate distractions
Distractions are a normal part of the workday. When you’re working from home, these distractions might multiply. Here are some tips to help you stay productive:
- Have a clear plan for your workday and try to stick to it.
- Don’t let other tasks interfere with what you’re working on now. Multitasking is terrible for productivity!
- Set clear boundaries with housemates, family members, and your kids. When you’re working, you’re working.
- Block out the distractions of barking dogs or neighbors doing yard work with noise-canceling headphones.
- Set specific email-checking times. Constant refreshing isn’t helpful. Ditto for messaging or any other productivity apps you have a tendency to get sucked into.
- Keep your phone away from your desk to avoid getting sucked into messages or worse, social media.
- Wait on that laundry! Resist the urge to do household chores during your workday.
Deepak Sharma believes a little bit of forward planning is also key for avoiding distractions during the workday:
6. Consider time blocking
Time blocking, also known as task batching, is a time management method that works by dividing your day into blocks of time. Each block is focused on accomplishing a specific task only. No multitasking or open-ended lists allowed!
Customer service and administrative support professional Stanley Okafor uses time blocking to ensure he’s making space for non-work-related priorities too. “Create time blocks each day for physical activity such as visiting the gym. It will help you stay sharp and refreshed.”
Madison Bailey says hourly time blocking can be very helpful for avoiding the urge to multitask:
7. Use “busy” or “do not disturb” away messages
If you need to do deep work and the constant Slack or team chat app pings are distracting you—turn off notifications. You’re not obliged to be available all the time, especially if it's costing you your productivity.
Make the most of the busy or do not disturb features of these apps. Pause notifications as you need. Set your own boundaries and others will learn to respect them.
8. Communicate with clients and managers
Communicate your availability to your clients and/or managers. Let them know about your schedule and when you’re available for meetings, how long you usually take to respond to emails etc.
For example, if you work a non-linear workday or need to take time out of your mornings to drop the kids off at school, be clear about your lack of availability during certain times.
Setting these boundaries helps to set expectations for your clients and managers. My clients know I don’t work weekends. If they email me on a Saturday, they’re unlikely to get a response until Monday. However, as I’ve already set these expectations at the outset, there are no complaints.
9. Keep boundaries with friends and family during work hours
Similarly, communicate your boundaries with family and friends as well. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re free to socialize. If you work from home with kids, set expectations for when you’re available to them. You can set similar boundaries with your pets as well.
Having a set routine can really help with this. From early in my freelancing career, I made my work hours very clear to my family and friends. While some learned those boundaries more quickly than others, I can say that I’m now no longer expected to be available for random weekday catch-ups.
Ligo Geri believes in setting clear boundaries:
10. Create a dedicated office space
Working from home can sometimes make it hard to tell when work ends and life begins. Create a space at home that is solely for work. You may be lucky enough to have a spare room to use as your home office. Or you may have a dedicated desk or table space that you use only for work.
Whatever space you use for work, make sure it’s separate from your personal life. That way, when you step into your home office space, you are immediately in work mode. Okafor, who previously shared his thoughts on time blocking, says “Have a dedicated space where only work gets done. That way you know once you are seated in that space everything else takes a back seat and work becomes the priority.”
Having a dedicated work area also lets you know that, when you step out of that space, you turn work off. It’s okay to give yourself space. Remember: you aren’t obligated to be “on” all day.
Creating this distinction between your office and home spaces is important for maintaining boundaries and for preserving your mental health. A lack of proper boundaries while working from home can lead to burnout—which nobody wants!
11. Ensure your setup is ergonomic
You’re going to spend a lot of time in your home office. Make sure it’s both comfortable and ergonomic.
Proper office ergonomics—including correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing, and good desk posture—can help you and your joints stay comfortable at work.
I currently work from my home office in Australia where I have a fantastic adjustable chair and an extra monitor that are essential for my office setup. Even while traveling as a digital nomad, I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up with neck issues. I purchased and continue to use this Nexstand laptop stand that ensures my laptop is always at eye level.
Ebony Travis Tichenor makes the most of a standup desk:
12. Buy the right office accessories
In addition to an ergonomic setup, you may like to invest in some other accessories for your home office. Let go of your “make-do” attitude and buy a few things to enhance your working-from-home experience.
Data privacy consulting professional Jodi Daniels’ advice is to “Set up a specific workspace and have all the things you would have in an office. Maybe that includes pictures, a keyboard separate from the laptop, an extra monitor, a nice light, a jar for pens, and a really good quality webcam. The webcam along with a ring light can make a huge difference!”
13. Invest in better internet and Wi-Fi
When I moved into my current apartment, the Wi-Fi was terrible! It dropped out every afternoon and caused many a meltdown. I was losing so many productive hours each day—either not being able to work or spending hours on the phone with customer support trying to figure out how to fix it.
I ultimately realized that a simple plan upgrade was all I needed to fix the terrible Wi-Fi situation. It costs me more but I no longer dread the inevitable 2 pm drop in internet speed.
Good internet is crucial for productively working from home. Check your Wi-Fi speed using Speedtest. If your current Wi-Fi isn’t cutting it, consider an upgrade or switch providers. The investment will pay for itself in the boost you’ll see in your productivity. I can attest to this from my personal experience!
14. Keep your office clean and organized
A cluttered office space or desk can make you feel stressed and anxious. Our brains like order, and research shows that constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources, reducing our ability to focus.
E-commerce website development professional Mara Nikolic is an advocate for an orderly home office: “Keep your home workspace clean and in order. A clutter-free space is very important for me to feel creative.”
Saniya Varkhandkar has similar advice:
15. Dress professionally
Many remote workers swear by dressing as if they’re going to the office. A recent study shows that more people (83%) who dress in smart-casual attire feel productive than those who wore pajamas (50%) or gym clothes (70%). This work-from-home hack is effective for many as it gets you into the work mindset.
In saying that, I personally don’t wear office clothes. However, I do agree that getting ready in the morning (or whenever you start work) can help you get into work mode. I rarely work in my pajamas. I shower and get changed into other comfy clothes—often shorts or leggings. I am always barefoot. I’m much more productive in comfortable clothes than I am in restrictive jeans or a stuffy shirt.
This is again one of those “do what works for you” situations. Wear clothes you’re comfortable in and just remember to present professionally for meetings with clients and managers.
16. Pay attention to your health
When working from home, getting caught up in work and forgetting to take care of yourself is easy. Don’t become a workaholic at the cost of your health.
Self-care and looking after your physical and mental health can mean different things for different people. Take breaks. Eat healthy meals. Make sure you sleep enough. Exercise and get outdoors at least once a day. Get a massage if it helps you. Meditate. Just take some alone time.
Know yourself and know what your body and mind need to heal. Don’t work to the point of burnout.
Prioritizing self-care can reduce chronic stress, improve job satisfaction and reduce burnout, according to Verywell Health. Self-care, ultimately, makes you a better, more productive worker.
For Creece Rubia, an important part of self-care is listening to your body and heeding its signals:
17. Schedule regular breaks
It’s easy to just work-work-work when you’re working from home, but your brain needs a break. “Our research shows breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage while in meetings,” said Michael Bohan, senior director of Microsoft’s Human Factors Engineering group.
The Microsoft study advises taking a 10-minute break between each 30-minute meeting. However, your breaks don’t even have to be that long!
We heard from Okafor earlier about time blocking. His other productivity advice is to “Take at least a one minute break every hour or two depending on your workload, to distract yourself a little. This can include taking a little walk around the house or just viewing Twitter trends. It helps to ease off the stress a little.”
Whether it’s 10 minutes or just a minute every hour—schedule breaks into your day. Don’t just leave it up to chance.
Abby Angelo says a lunch break is key for her:
18. Take in natural light during work hours
Natural light can affect our mood, stress levels, ability to learn, and overall mental health. Andrew Huberman, Associate Professor of Neurobiology at Stanford University, is one of my favorite podcasters and discusses this at length with one of his guests on The Huberman Lab.
I’m lucky enough to live near the ocean, so I start each day with a walk by the beach. It wakes me up and makes me feel energized for the day. Leaving your home each day to get some fresh air and natural light can do you a world of good.
Walk your dog, take the kids to the park, tend to your plants in the garden, or just sit outside for 20 minutes and soak in the Vitamin D. It all helps!
19. Take breaks for pets
Pets can be fantastic stress busters for remote workers. Their furry presence can be calming on tough workdays. Schedule pet breaks into your workday to simply be with your animals.
Whether you play with them or coo over them in the special language all pet owners are experts in—it all helps! Also, for those of us who forget to take breaks, having to walk the dog can be a great reminder to get up and go outside.
Simply having a pet around can remind us about what's important—which isn't always the computer screen.
Check out more advice on how to work from home with a dog.
20. Socialize with family and friends
Your productivity at work isn’t just about how long you stay at your desk. Don’t get so caught up in work that you forget to socialize with other humans. If you have kids at home, take a break and spend time with them. Catch up with friends after work. Schedule a FaceTime call with a family member who is overseas.
Working from home can sometimes feel isolating, and a lack of social interaction can be damaging for our mental health. Regular human interaction and building social connections can help combat isolation and reduce stress.
Kim Freeman says:
21. Take time to talk non-work with colleagues in person and via video chat
Don’t be afraid to let your colleagues see your more personal side. They’re in the same remote-work-boat as you. Make time to connect with your coworkers about things completely unrelated to work.
Figure out how much interaction you need to feel connected. Use Slack messages, video calls, or other socialization opportunities to interact with your colleagues.
22. Take advantage of work-from-home perks
Working from home comes with a lot of unique perks. Don’t get so caught up in work that you forget to take advantage of your WFH benefits.
For me, no commute means I have so much extra time at the beginning and end of each day. I go for a walk on the beach every morning before work. I get my favorite coffee every day. I go to the gym every afternoon and I cook in the evenings. These are all things I really enjoy doing. I love having the extra time to make these part of my daily routine.
Working from home also means you don’t have to worry about those pesky day-to-day office annoyances either! No one is stealing your candy without asking. Your office only smells like fish if you’re the one eating it. There is no extraneous tapping of pencils when you’re trying to concentrate. The office temperature is always exactly what you want it to be. Your home office is yours to run and monopolize exactly as you please.
23. Be realistic with working from home
Above all, when working from home, be forgiving of yourself. The best remote workers are disciplined and super productive while working from home. Yet, even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry. That’s the reality.
As Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Your attention might drift. You may have to deal with a toddler emergency. Your neighbor may have scheduled noisy maintenance work the same day you have to make a presentation. Just breathe and cut yourself some slack.
Life happens. Distractions are normal. Be realistic about your expectations and if things don’t go to plan, just make a new plan and move on. Tomorrow is a brand new day.
Benefits of working from home effectively
Working from home has many advantages and each independent professional I interviewed wanted to share their thoughts on that topic as well.
1. Better work-life balance
Working from home has helped Jodi Daniels create a better work-life balance. “I am in a much better mental state from not stressing about bringing everything with me for the day and rushing with carpool. The flexibility gives me the ability to make dinner and work, or have laundry going while working. I’m able to hug my kids in the middle of the day, get them set up with homework if need be—all with less stress.”
Javed Malik also appreciates the manifold benefits of working from home:
2. Improved productivity
For Kyle Evanko, working in his own space has a positive impact on his productivity. “I personally find so much comfort and tranquility in being at home, and when I'm able to be productive while enjoying that space—that's when I produce my absolute best work.”
3. Schedule flexibility
According to Mara Nikolic, “Working from home gives me so much more flexibility and freedom. Even if my clients need me to be online at a certain time of the day, I can organize my own time and day around it.”
Kati Reigeluth also loves the schedule flexibility remote work offers her:
4. Location independence
Silvia Pinho says, “It allows me to work when I'm at my best, and tailor my schedule and location to my needs on any given day—all while still providing my clients with the best work possible.”
Mohib Memon is also a fan of the freedom remote work allows:
5. Zero commuting
The lack of commute is a huge win for most remote workers. For Stanley Okafor, “Working from home means I don't have to deal with crazy traffic gridlock in my city every day.”
6. More time at home
For Matt Chester, “The best benefit of all is that my wife and pets are just steps away from me all day! I love the ability to recharge as I need to, being able to step away from my desk and get the boost I need from loved ones, and being accountable to myself and not an arbitrary manager who is 'watching' me.”
Work from home as a freelancer
Did you know Upwork’s Great Resignation report found that 10 million Americans are considering freelancing? Plus, 73% of them cite the ability to work remotely or flexibly as a reason why.
While freelancing has many advantages; for many professionals, being able to work from home is one of the best perks.
Evanko, who at the beginning of this article, shared his passion for flexible work-from-home schedules, reminds us: “Sitting at your desk at 9 am sharp until 5 pm is a thing of the past. As the world continues to change toward the inevitable distributed workforce of the future, everyone will have a custom-fit way of working that is meant for them. And that for me is one of the most exciting and interesting side-effects of a remote-working world.”
The future of work is flexible. More professionals are interested in careers that allow them to work when and where they want and create a better work-life balance. Learn how to transition to freelancing from a full-time job.
Take your first step towards remote work. Sign up for a freelancer account on Upwork to get started.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. 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.
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