Working From Home For Dummies
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When you work from home, it’s your responsibility to set up your space, your schedule, and your boundaries to create a healthy work–life balance.

work-life balance © Black Salmon /

For many people, the idea of working from home sounds heavenly. No commute, no cubicle, no annoying coworkers, no more expensive dry cleaning, no more office politics — the list goes on. To others, banishment from the office doesn’t sound ideal. They may be concerned about social isolation, boredom, and career limitations, as well as fear that they won’t be productive working on their own.

Here’s a great list of best practices to help you and your team have healthy boundaries:

  • Set up a dedicated workspace. Create your space and make it work for you. Don’t try to reproduce a corporate office. Make it your own by filling it with things that make you happy (family pictures, diplomas, awards), safe (ergonomic desk and chair), and productive (good lighting, efficient filing system, stable Internet connection). Don’t bring your work into the rest of the house, and try to never bring it into the bedroom.
  • Set working hours. Working on a virtual team is all about flexibility, but to maintain boundaries and to be transparent with your colleagues, you must establish working hours. You can (and should) still block time for picking up kids from school or taking your favorite spin class at the gym, but the consistency of working hours can ground you.
  • Schedule lunch and breaks. Just as you do in an office, you need to eat and take breaks. Make sure you book them throughout your day.
  • Get dressed. Yes, working in your PJs and sweats is tempting, but you need to maintain some professionalism. That doesn’t mean you have to put on a power suit and a full face of makeup, but no one needs to see your bedhead on video calls, so take a shower and make yourself presentable. More than likely, you’ll also feel productive.
working from home © David Prado Perucha /
  • Go walking, preferably outside. Get some real-world time every day, even if it’s just to stand out on your porch for 15 minutes. Walk, get some sun, smell the fresh air. There’s no better way to quickly get some perspective and clear your head.
  • Set clear boundaries with nonwork friends. Just because you don’t work in an office doesn’t mean you’re available for unannounced visits from friends. A quick reminder usually does the trick.
  • Don’t do chores. Setting parameters is key. If you’ve scheduled an hour in your day to run personal errands, that’s fine. Just don’t get in the habit of haphazardly jumping back and forth between work projects and home projects. You won’t do either one well.
  • Drink plenty of water. In the absence of an office watering hole, keep a large water bottle on your desk and sip it throughout the day.
  • Stop working when the workday is done. Although being connected to your virtual team is important, it’s equally important to shut off when the workday ends. If you’re available all hours of the day, people will expect you at all hours and your work–life balance will be nonexistent.

Create and stick to a schedule

Effective time management is essential if you want to hit your deadlines when you’re working from home, so use your calendar as a success tool and use it wisely. So, how do you create a schedule? Instead of leaving your calendar as a blank open slate for others to populate, block time to support a healthy body and mind and to do focused work when you’re most productive and alert.

Aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day so that your schedule is consistent. Allowing yourself two weekly schedules to choose from for different types of work (for example, project work versus networking/relationship building) can address boredom, sustain your attention, and reduce the chance of multitasking, which can eat up 80 percent of your productive time.

Time chunking

The best way to get things done when no one’s watching is to organize your time as efficiently as possible. People used to think that multitasking was an efficient way to accomplish many tasks as quickly as possible. That’s true for some simple tasks. But as soon as you attempt two simultaneous tasks that require critical thinking, they’ll both suffer. Multitasking fractures your attention and frequently ends in frustration.

The alternative to multitasking is time chunking, which is the concept of breaking up your day into larger chunks of time for important work, instead of reacting to constant interruptions. It’s the answer to “working smarter, not harder.” The more chunks of time you can devote to specific tasks, the less start-up and restart time you’ll have and the more efficient you’ll be. And because you set aside a specific amount of time to accomplish a specific task, you’ll be more focused and do it better.

Here are the simple rules of time chunking:

  • Block your time by breaking your work hours into chunks of hours for specific purposes. For example, you may chunk time for project work, administrative work, follow-up calls, sales calls, team meetings, personal time, planning, downtime, and exercise.
  • Block time for harder tasks for when you know you’ll be in the right headspace for them. Maybe you’re best during the first few hours of the day, or maybe you’re most focused right after lunch. Use slower points of the day to knock out less demanding tasks on your plate (for example, answering email). Block time on your calendar to align with those energy windows. Discuss how to coordinate those energy windows with the energy windows of the others on your team.
  • Do one task at a time and avoid interruptions of any kind during these times.
  • Stick to your plan.

When you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on how much time you spend on each task by setting up an activity log. If you’re an independent contractor, this is helpful for billing purposes. If you’re an employee, it’s a good way to document for your team how you’re spending your time and where. Ultimately, seeing when you’re most productive during the day will allow you to carry out complex tasks during that time.

A good time manager creates an at-home work schedule that pairs periods of sustained focus with periods of rest and exercise in a way that works with her natural energy and brain.

Taking breaks

Sitting at your desk all day, eating lunch in front your laptop, and staring at a computer screen for hours on end is a recipe for disaster. Without taking adequate breaks from work, your productivity, mental well-being, happiness, and overall performance will suffer.

Remote workers already feel like they need to be available and online at all hours of the workday, so they’re at a higher risk of working long hours without breaks and sitting for long periods of time.

Take advantage of one of the top perks of working from home, which is having a flexible schedule. Schedule breaks through out your day. Be sure to include short breaks every hour just to step away from your desk, stretch and breathe for five minutes, and grab a snack, as well as longer breaks in which you can exercise, walk your dog, work in your garden, or call a friend. Being outside is ideal, but anything you can do to recharge your batteries midday is valuable to your energy and focus and ultimately your work.

The research is clear on the benefits of taking regular breaks. Here are a few examples:

  • Increased productivity: Taking breaks may sound counterintuitive to boosting productivity, but the gains in focus and energy after stepping away from your desk are real. Taking an actual lunch break, where you step away from your workspace, can help prevent a midafternoon slump.
  • Improved mental well-being: Everyone should set aside time throughout the day to recharge. Reducing stress and improving mental health can be as easy as taking a quick walk outside or cooking a healthy breakfast.
  • A boost in creativity: Taking a break, clearing your head, and getting oxygen to your brain can give you a fresh perspective on a challenging project.
  • More time for healthy habits: Regular breaks give you time to get fresh air, exercise, meditate, or engage in any other self-care activity.

Building in quiet time

Scheduling quiet time is often the only way to get things done when working from home. This is a time you decide to shut off phones, shut down email and instant messaging, not allow interruptions from housemates, and allow yourself to fully immerse for a certain amount of time in a project or just to think and ponder next steps.

Nobody crushes every minute of the workday. Your motivation and energy naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. When you’re working from home, it’s even more important to understand your energy peaks and valleys and plan your schedule around it.

Establishing a routine

The benefits of following a routine are clear. Routines helps people cope with change, reduce stress, create healthy habits, and get things done efficiently. And when you work at home without colleagues to support you, a routine provides much-needed structure.

A daily routine doesn’t have to be rigid. In fact, working from home gives you a chance to be more flexible with your work hours, a major upside for remote workers. A daily routine is simply there to help make sure you’re dedicating time to the things that matter most. Humans are creatures of habit and routines help us do the right thing even when we’re tempted to lie in bed watching movies all day.

Establish a routine for working at home by following these suggestions:

  • Go to sleep and set your alarm for the same time every day.
  • Exercise, meditate, or do light stretching in the morning. These activities will put you in a positive mindset and warm up your body for the day.

Refrain from checking the news, Slack, or social media when you first get up. This is almost never helpful for your mindset.

  • Shower and get dressed for work. Everyone knows how tempting it is to wear pajamas all day. But resist the urge — it really blurs the lines between working and relaxing. Yes, you can dress comfortably, but getting dressed for work signals an important mental shift.
  • Have a healthy breakfast and drink water.
  • Prepare for your day by building your to-do list, setting goals, and planning connection time with team members or friends.
  • Start work at the same time every day.
  • Establish a daily routine for taking quick breaks, stretch breaks, lunch, exercise, and fresh air every day.
  • At the end of every day, spend 15 minutes preparing for the next day and reviewing your appointments and high-priority items. This will help create a sense of clarity and calm for the mind so you can truly “shut off” from work at the end of the day.
  • Quit work at about the same time every day. That means closing your laptop, silencing your phone, and walking away from your workspace. Creating this boundary is essential for your emotional well-being.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

A 20-year talent development professional,Tara Powers is an international best-selling author, award-winning leadership expert, and sought-after keynote speaker. She's worked with more than 200 companies and 15,000 leaders worldwide, building and launching talent initiatives that deliver high touch and high impact for her clients.

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