Person working from home

I’ve been working from a home office for 14 years now. By default, I guess that makes me an expert on how to be productive (and ignore those clean dishes that need to be put away) during my work time.

In the past few weeks, the worldwide work-from-home population has increased dramatically, and many people who are used to driving to an office or business every day are probably struggling to adjust. With children at home too (and perhaps a spouse who is also working from home as well as other family members), this new normal is, well, a little uncomfortable.

Here are a few things I’ve learned through the years that might prove helpful now:

Create an office.

If you have a home office, great. Tidy it up and make it into your work office now. That means clearing away those Amazon returns you’ve been putting off for a while and shredding all that junk mail. Really transform this room into the space where you’ll do your job for the foreseeable future.

If you can, bring home your office equipment so you have what you need: laptop, that extra monitor, a printer, supplies, etc.

What if you don’t have a separate office? Create a space. It might be your rarely used dining room or a corner in your living room with a table and chair, but you need a semi-permanent spot where you will “go” every day when it’s time to get things done. In other words: a laptop on the couch or bed isn’t ideal.

Get dressed.

Everyone is different, but there’s something about working in pajamas that makes me feel glum and unproductive. You can certainly take advantage of your new casual environment and put on workout clothes (that’s usually what I do), but get ready each day. It will make you feel more awake and motivated—trust me on this.

Create a schedule.

When people learn that I work from home, the first question I always get is, “How do you get anything done?” The answer: I have a schedule, just like anyone else. When my kids go off to school (more on this in a minute, since they’re not going anywhere right now), I head into the office to:

  1. look over my to-dos and scheduled calls or meetings
  2. prioritize the tasks
  3. get started

I might throw in a load of laundry or step away from the computer for a workout, but I have a schedule and I stick to it.

Monitor the distractions.

If working from home is new to you, it’s easy to succumb to the distractions—and I’m not just talking about Netflix or social media. Yes, you are at home, but that doesn’t mean you should get out the vacuum cleaner or fold that pile of laundry when you should be writing a memo. Establish your working hours (and school/homework hours if you’re doing that too) and set aside the housework when you’re doing your job.

Talk with the kids about a schedule.

The new wrinkle for yours truly is having to juggle doing my job with monitoring my kids, who are now home all day, every day. If you’re a parent of school-age children, you feel this pain. It’s not easy to do what you need to do work and college studies AND help your children monitor this entirely new world of online/remote learning.

Your children need a routine. Look over what the school sends home, establish a schedule, and set expectations. Make sure they too have a good space to do their school work undistracted.

Lay out the tasks your child will do independently.

Young children will need more guidance than teens, obviously, but it’s a good idea to go over ground rules regarding meal preparation and getting work done. If your child needs help, encourage him or her to write down questions and move ahead the best they can rather than come interrupt you every 20 minutes. Consider setting specific times that you will make yourself available for guidance throughout the day.

Find some undistracted time.

My kids are middle-school-age and therefore more independent now, but when they were younger, I often got an hour or two of work in before anyone was awake and getting ready for school.

If you foresee trouble staying productive while your youngsters are doing school work (and asking you questions), tweak your plans. Maybe plan to get your day going before they’re rolling so you have a quiet house/office to yourself.

Make time for important things.

Exercise. Enjoy family time that isn’t looking over a math worksheet or cleaning up the kitchen. Talk over a meal. Everything feels different right now, and, let’s face it, weird.

Make sure that everyone in your household is making time for the things that feel good and normal. Encourage your children to connect with friends and family over FaceTime. Do fun things together after your work/school day is over.

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