Work from home tips [I failed miserably at first]

My story

I’ll admit that when some of my friends had to work from home abruptly because of the coronavirus talked to me about how strange and difficult it was, I was wondering why it was such an issue. Working from home is one of the best things that has happened to me.

Working from home was a dream for me for the longest time. I remember how in New York City, during my walk from my apartment to the office at 9:30 am, I’d pass by a handful of people walking their dogs or talking on their phones on their front stoop, and wonder who those people were. After that experience, whenever I pictured the royalty, I didn’t picture some king or queen wearing a cloak on a throne. I pictured those millennials in their pajamas, sitting on the front stoop of a townhouse while everyone else was at their workplace.

The benefits of working from home

It’s not just the freedom of not being tied to an office, but you also save time and money on transportation, not to mention drastically reducing the chance of being in a car accident or having an unpleasant experience on the subway or bus, whether it’s a delay, the smell of urine or arm pit, or getting squished.

You don’t have to pretend like you’re working when you’re having a lunch slump, or pretend that you’re listening when people are talking just for the sake of talking during meetings, or get distracted by people not getting the hint when you’re deep in focus, wearing headphones. You can stretch whenever you want without looking weird. You can eat whenever you want without having to share snacks (Just kidding. I like to share). And you can wear whatever you want, which is especially a relief as a woman, because work clothes don’t fit exactly like hoodies and sweatpants.

So, anyway, then, I realized it took some time for me to make that transition to working from home, which didn’t come to me naturally at first. In fact, I failed miserably the first few months because I had zero structure to my day. Here’s how I overcame the transition and mastered the skill of working from home.

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Work from home tips

Get a designated work space

This tip is what had the biggest impact on my productivity. I worked from the couch, kitchen bar, and my bed while living in a studio. I knew I needed my designated work space, but I was being stubborn because my lease was almost over, and I knew I’d be moving into a house where I would have some office space.

Looking back, I set myself back a couple of months out of stubbornness. Get a desk or table that you use only for work, even if the only thing it fits is your computer and monitor. Put that desk facing towards a wall or window with few distractions. If your designated work area is in an open space, get a room divider to remove visual distractions. You could also use a large book case or white board to act like a divider.

Update: If you have back problems, get a standing desk or if you don’t want to invest in one, you can also get an adjustable laptop desk, and place it on something tall-ish. I have the following laptop desk that I keep on the kitchen cart in my office: https://amzn.to/2y79dBm

If you must use the table that you normally use for dining, don’t have a full meal while working at that table. It should be very clear whether that table is being used for dining or for work. One thing you do not want is to be half-working, half-lounging all day, and having a designated work space helps to keep those boundaries.

Finally, if you live with other people, make it clear when you can’t be distracted, for example, absolutely no interruptions between 8 am – noon while I’m sitting at my desk.

One thing you do not want is to be half-working, half-lounging all day

Stay energized during work hours

If you only used your house for resting and recharging, and suddenly now have to stay there for a long period of time, you may feel low energy due to lack of social interactions and accountability as well as the sheer comfort of being in your home.

1. Get some exercise

Besides regular walks, I highly recommend working out if you’re often feeling low energy. I’ll have to admit that I, myself, haven’t made working out a regular habit, but whenever I do, I get a surge of energy that day.

There are tons of exercises that you can do in a small place, and there are tons of at-home exercises you can look up online. By the way, people tell me that I look like I work out every day (ehem.. lol), and the truth is I only work out once or twice a week for less than 30 minutes. I stick to full body exercises (planks, pull ups, etc) and weight training using a barbell.

2. Consume less alcohol

Alcohol will make you tired, even if it acts as a stimulant in the short run. Try replacing it with sparkling water or hot chocolate or whatever that brings you comfort, and see how you feel.

3. Have caffeine

Caffeine in moderation is ok, and may even be good for your health. For example, there are studies that show that it’s good for your metabolism and for reducing inflammation.

Personally, I love coffee. I generally drink a cup in the morning to wake up, and one in the afternoon to get out of my lunch slump.

If you’re not used to making your own cup of coffee, and want a simple way of making great coffee, I recommend getting a moka pot (type of stove top espresso maker). All you have to do is put water in the base, and put ground espresso in the filter component, and put the pot on the stove. Then, once the pot fills up, pour out the coffee to your mug and add whatever you normally add to coffee. No need to keep buying coffee filters, super simple to use, this thing takes up no space, and it’s also very portable and affordable.

Everyone I knew in Spain (and supposedly many Italians) had this espresso maker, and they know how to make good coffee!

This is the exact product I have, and is sort of the gold standard. A review says that the options that aren’t for 6 cups may be counterfeit in the Amazon listing above.

Besides coffee, here are some other caffeinated beverages that’ll help you be more alert and give you energy: green tea, black tea, and yerba mate.

I sometimes make iced black tea or iced green tea, and keep it in the fridge since I don’t really like drinking water. They’re so easy to make (tip for iced tea: add a pinch of baking soda to the bottle), and cost next to nothing.

Just make sure you don’t consume caffeine too late so that it doesn’t affect your sleep. It stays in your system for a long time. I rarely drink coffee after 2pm.

4. Take a cold shower

If you need a jolt of energy, take a cold shower. I, personally, am not a fan of them, but I do like ending my showers with cold water. It’s so refreshing.

5. Find out if you’re lacking anything

There were times in my life when I constantly felt low energy. Although I’m sure there are different factors that played into this, I think the main factor was sunlight. Whenever I lived in places that were cold and dark, I had low energy. I’m talking about Seoul and New York City in the winter time. I didn’t have this problem when living in places like Barcelona and San Diego.

Looking back, I probably had seasonal affective disorder, which is like a seasonal depression. If this is you, move to a place with more sunlight or experiment with a light therapy lamp. I’ve never used one by the way, but I learned about it from one of my roommates in London who was from California, and she swore by it.

Instead of lacking vitamin D and sunlight, you may be lacking some other vitamin or iron or something else. See your physician and see if you can get a blood test.

Finally, what you’re lacking could be motivation, and if that’s the case, working from home can be especially challenging if you’re now isolated. You need to do a deep search to figure out what exactly is going on that’s keeping you from feeling happy and fulfilled everyday, and then find a solution.

For example, if you stopped caring about what you do for work, make your tasks into games by setting challenging deadlines for yourself, and with the time you save, take online classes or read a book to learn more about what it is you actually do care about to prepare for a career transition. Make sure your manager and everyone else is happy with your productivity, of course.

Make yourself at home at your house, even for a long period of time

1. Get or foster a pet

Even to someone like myself, who is comfortable being alone, working from home can feel isolating at times.

I honestly think that if it weren’t for my dog, I would’ve gone stir-crazy, and would’ve had to work from a co-working office or cafes. I really wanted to avoid that because I’m so used to working with my external 40 inch monitor in my own, comfortable environment.

Besides the companionship and joy that my dog provides, he helps me to keep a sense of routine since I feed him at regular times (he definitely helps me and my boyfriend get up early in the morning since he’ll wake up at 6 to eat breakfast.) and because he forces me to get fresh air and exercise since we go on walks for almost an hour a day.

2. Be grateful for having a shelter

Be grateful to have running water and electricity, a roof over your head, a soft pillow and blanket, and other essentials. Want a glimpse of what it’d be like without them? Watch Naked and Afraid, a show in which participants are out in the wilderness, trying to survive on their own for 21 days.

3. Create a pleasant environment

If you don’t like being home, see what you can do to make it more pleasant. Do a deep clean and declutter your surroundings. Then, make your home an extension of your happy self, whether it’s getting candles, hanging up your favorite picture or quote on the wall, or getting some plants for the windows.  

Use audio for productivity

Music sets the mood for my environment, and also helps to get me in deep focus.

1. Get premium headphones or an ok speaker

Obviously, premium speakers are nicer to use than cheap ones, but if you’re working with a budget, get ok speakers but splurge on headphones (if you’re using them mainly for background music while you work). That’s because speakers are bigger than headphones, and so you can pack more and better components into them, like bigger drivers, to create great sound.

I really like Grado headphones for their sound, quality, and comfort. Check them out here: https://gradolabs.com/headphones/  I discovered them while stumbling into a specialty audio store on my way home in New York City. When I tried on their headphones, I was amazed by the details I had never heard before while listening to Serge Gainsbourg’s “Couleur Cafe.” I recommend any of their headphones. Wearing headphones for a long period of time is bad for you, but wearing earbuds for a long time is even worse, so stick with on-ear headphones.

2. Find playlists or albums that help you work

Here are some of my current go-tos:

Albums: Quatro by Los Hermanos, The Richest Man In Babylon by Thievery Corporation, Back to Mine by Nightmares On Wax

Pandora playlist: Toro y moi radio pandora station

Spotify playlist: My study playlist

YouTube: Sungha Jung, “Concentration” music

Extra tip: If you’re the type that prefers vocal music but easily get distracted, look for music you enjoy in a language that you don’t speak so that you don’t sing along.

3. Find educational or motivational podcasts, videos, or audiobooks

Listen to them while taking a walk or while doing tasks that don’t require a lot of cognitive focus. For me, that’s editing pictures, organizing files, or some repetitive admin work.

Two podcasts I enjoy are Noah Kagan Presents and Side Hustle Show because of their authenticity, transparency, and actionable marketing and business advice.

Adhere to a morning routine

Having a morning routine is critical since it’s how you start your day and work.

When you’re working at an office, you have a deadline to get ready to go to work; you have to be dressed, groomed, and be at your desk by a certain time. That can easily fall apart when working from home.

Identify your cues for different stages of your morning routine, and place deadlines if you need to. For me, drinking coffee is my cue for waking up, taking a shower is my cue for getting my day started, and sitting at my desk, for getting my work day started.

Finally, find out what puts you into work/ focus mode. For me, it’s simply sitting at my desk. For you, it may be planning for your work day or a morning status call or wearing headphones.

Remove distractions

Even if you have your own home office or a room divider, you still have your phone and computer that give you access to memes and online shopping. If you have no self-control, try these apps to force yourself from accessing games or social media sites or whatever it is that distracts you.

Freedom (paid, lots of features, use for all devices and browsers)

LeechBlock (free, fewer features, browser extension)

Keep a regular work schedule

1. Set deadlines for small tasks

If you have a problem with procrastination, break your task down into small, manageable chunks, and set deadlines for them. If you have a task that you think will take 30 minutes, set your timer, and see if you can beat your expectation. Better yet, put your phone on do not disturb mode during those 30 minutes.

2. Set up rewards for completing tasks that you’re dreading

A reward could be a simple walk or an expensive bottle of wine.

3. Get social accountability

If you can’t keep yourself accountable, let your coworkers do that for you. Suggest having a quick daily meeting, similar to what many IT professionals practice as daily stand-ups. The primary purpose of a stand-up is to have everyone update the status of their projects for coordination, but in doing so, it keeps a social pressure on everyone to keep making progress.

If you work alone, get an accountability partner so that you can keep each other in check.

Conclusion

My last couple of tips to wrap everything up are to 1. experiment with things to see what works for you. And 2. try implementing small incremental changes if you find yourself burning out by radically changing your behavior.

Many things take practice, and it certainly took me a while to set up a healthy work regimen.

Related reading: How to clear your mind

10 thoughts on “Work from home tips [I failed miserably at first]”

    • Just updated the article with a recommendation to use a standing desk or adjustable tray 🙂 I don’t use it much anymore, but it was helpful for when I used to get backaches.

    • Hey Prakhar- I’ve had really productive days even when I had little motivation. Having a great system and work environment helps for those kinda days 🙂

  1. This is so helpful! I do most of my work at home as well and have found many of these times to be true. You have also pointed out some this I had not considered. I will have to try them out!

  2. I love wfh my issue is don’t know when to stop working. Best work life balance ever if you manage it correctly

  3. working from home is something that is certainly different. I recently just adopted a dog, he is keeping me happy 🙂 these are good tips

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