20 Tips to Increase Your Productivity When Working from Home

It’s not as hard as you might think!

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of a woman sitting at her desk working on her laptop in her home office

Once considered a dream gig, more and more workers are getting the opportunity to work from home.

Companies are increasingly offering remote work options for a variety of reasons, including improved employee retention and lower overhead. With these benefits for employers, and the changing needs and motivations of the younger workforce, a virtual office seems destined to be the workplace of the future.

While businesses have been encouraged by studies that show employees are more productive when working from home, there is evidence to suggest those results wane over time. If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that remote work brings its own set of challenges to getting your daily assignments done.

So, while some of the tactics to improving productivity in the workplace still apply, we’ve got some additional tips to be more focused and effective in the new world of telecommuting.

1. Get the right office setup

Hunching over your laptop on a sofa or at the kitchen counter may seem convenient at first, but your aching back and shoulders will soon interfere with your work. Whether you’re repurposing furniture you have around the house or splurging on a cool new home office desk, having a useful and comfortable setup is key.

Don’t ignore ergonomics just because you’re working from home. Raise your desk with blocks if you have to, or look for an adjustable chair that will improve your posture.

2. Reduce distractions

You can’t control all the distractions at home, like the neighbor mowing their lawn or a particularly vocal bird just outside your window. Look for the things you can control, like setting your home phone or cell to voicemail to avoid getting calls from friends who just want to chat.

Clear your desk of that pile of bills, the song lyrics you’re working on with a friend, and any other clutter that will draw your attention away from your work. Unless you focus better with background noise, turn off the TV and try earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones if that bird really starts getting to you. (Work time is too precious to waste shouting at magpies!)

3. Turn off notifications

The idea that multitasking is effective is still pervasive in the working world. Research shows, however, that repeatedly switching tasks can make us 40% less productive by the end of the day. Even a quick email check causes your brain to switch gears, and it takes time to refocus when it’s time to get back to work.

Randomly timed and endlessly pinging notifications can also cause stress, even if you ignore them and try to focus on the task at hand. Turn off all notifications to save your sanity and get more work done. If there are communications you need to stay on top of, schedule specific times each day when you can batch process them.

4. Stay in contact with the office

One of the things that keep us productive in an office setting is accountability. Your colleagues check in to see how your part of a project is going, and your boss is right across the hall watching to make sure you’re not on your phone all day. If you don’t want to be a slacker at home, make an effort to contact the office every day.

Ask if your supervisor can do a video chat at the start and end of the workday with the entire team. It’s a perfect way to set goals for the day and then be accountable for results by five o’clock.

5. Use project management tools

One of the significant benefits of project management technology is that it keeps remote workers in the loop on projects. Software like Asana and Basecamp can help you keep track of assignments, coordinate with other team members and log your progress.

If your company isn’t already set up with its own software, do some research on the options available, and pitch it to your boss. It’s a simple way to combine two important implements for productivity and efficiency in the workplace — clear communication and accountability.

6. Create a to-do list

When you have other responsibilities at home keeping you busy, it can be difficult to accomplish much work. Write up a to-do list that combines both your work tasks for the day as well as things like laundry or picking up the kids from school.

Cataloging everything the night or morning before helps you construct a productive day. It also enables you to see if you’ve overcommitted, and you can immediately work on prioritizing and delegating tasks.

7. Keep yourself busy

Ever received poorer service in a restaurant when it’s half empty than during the lunch rush? It seems counterintuitive, but people are less motivated to work when there’s not a lot going on. When forced to complete a lot of tasks and meet deadlines, workers focus and prioritize better.

So, as tempting as it is to take one-hour breaks at home just because you can, those breaks can get you into resting mode and they tend to stretch into a very unproductive day. Give yourself a reasonably hefty but manageable to-do list, and keep yourself in that effective worker-bee mode.

8. Break down large tasks

No one wants to see a to-do list for the day that says “Write a best-selling novel” or “Create new accounting software for the department”. Your first step is to break those big, important tasks down into parts, then break those parts further into simple, achievable steps.

“Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks, because we simply don’t know where to begin,” says Melissa Gratias, PhD, a workplace productivity coach and speaker.

9. Create boundaries at home

If you live with family or have roommates, it’s not always easy to separate your work and home life. This is why it’s ideal to move your desk to a separate room, as it offers a physical barrier that indicates you’re at work now.

You may also need to implement some house rules to ensure there won’t be constant interruptions during work hours. Create whatever arrangements or time restrictions are necessary for your situation, but know that working successfully from home requires everyone’s cooperation.

10. Personalize your schedule

Whether you’re an early riser, a night owl or somewhere in between, you should create a schedule that capitalizes on your most productive hours.

HubSpot’s Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich, for example, takes advantage of the time gained from not having to commute and dives into work the moment she wakes up. “I only start making breakfast once I’ve hit a wall or need a break,” she says. “I’m a morning person and find I can get a ton done in the early morning hours, so this really works for me.”

If you have flexible work arrangements and are working at home only a part of each week, you may find it useful to mirror your working hours at home to the days you go into the office. Sleeping until noon when you usually start work at nine can throw your routine habits into chaos, and you may struggle to get the same amount of work done.

11. Maintain a work–life balance

A study by the human resources group CIPD found that 32% of staff felt they weren’t able to “switch off in their personal time” when working remotely.

Being in work mode constantly during your waking hours, including taking calls and responding to correspondence, can, of course, make you more productive — initially. Unfortunately, leaving no time to relax or interact with family and friends ultimately leads to burnout.

You may have thought that maintaining a healthy work–life balance would be easier when you’re at home, but it’s still crucial to set time limits on when you’re available to clients, coworkers or supervisors.

12. Take breaks

Back in the 80s, entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo invented the Pomodoro technique to improve productivity. He suggested breaking the day into 25-minute units, with short 5-minute breaks in between, and a longer break after 2 hours.

These days, research suggests dividing time into 52-minute sessions of work with 17-minute breaks is ideal. However you slice your day, the prevailing wisdom is that you need frequent breaks to recharge your brain and motivation.

It’s important to note that, during these breaks, there should be real distancing from your work. Checking email or social media doesn’t count. Push away from your desk, get a drink, chat with your spouse for a couple of minutes. Since you’re at home, this can be a great time to start a load of laundry or wash a few dishes. Then, dive right back into work.

13. Stay organized

When there’s downtime at a conventional job, you might fill the time by clearing your workspace and setting up new time management apps. Your home office tends to be more cluttered and disorganized; however, there are other responsibilities or more entertaining ways to pass the time than cleaning your desk.

Add an entry to your to-do list to get things in order. If you have an exclusive work-at-home job, take the time to create an organizational that works for you. Whether it’s establishing a hierarchy for your browser bookmarks, separating files for different projects or organizing your invoices in a binder, the effort will save you time looking for things or trying to organize on the fly.

If you’re doing remote work on a part-time basis or temporarily, make use of cloud-sharing organization apps and other methods of connectivity to tap into your already organized calendar and files at the office.

14. Choose the right wall color

Another perk of working from home is that you have control over your environment, and choosing the right wall paint can even boost your productivity.

Studies have shown there’s an actual psychological effect to color, where red creates excitement, yellow stimulates creativity and blue has a calming effect. Blending the colors can give you the best of both worlds, like a matte burnt orange that keeps you creative and energetic without being overwhelmed.

Choose a shade that inspires you, whatever the psychology behind it. Consider selecting a color scheme that’s different from the rest of your house to further set it apart in your mind as the space to get to work.

15. Do it your way

“Learn from what others are doing, but don’t try to be them,” says Kit Whelan, social media strategist and co-founder of remote worker conference 7in7. It’s an important lesson to remember as you look for ways to become your most productive self.

Take the ideas you think will work for your personality style and type of work, experiment with them, and create your own unique program. Only you can know for sure what methods will help you achieve success.

16. Eat well

Working from home can result in a lack of structure in your day: you’re often forgetting to eat lunch, sometimes working through dinnertime, and haven’t considered the concept of “breakfast” in two months. Or you might find yourself at the other end of the spectrum: trips to the kitchen every 30 minutes to retrieve snacks and munch away as you work.

Either way, this lack of structure (or discipline!) can translate into poor nutrition, something you’ll want to avoid when you’re looking to boost productivity. So, set your alarm 20 minutes earlier, make a habit out of preparing breakfast, and load up on nutritious snacks!

17. Dress for work

It might be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day — after all, they’re comfier than jeans — but that might actually end up leading to “dwindling motivation and productivity”, according to Dr Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD.

Our minds have learned to associate pajamas with sleeping and relaxing, so it’s important to put on a different outfit before you sit in front of your computer. Not to mention that changing in and out of your work clothes will work as an additional barrier between work and personal life, which is also essential in preserving your productivity.

18. Limit multitasking

Working from home can make us even more prone to multitasking than working from the office. Whereas, at the office, multitasking typically entails juggling several work-related tasks at once, multitasking at home reaches a whole new level.

You might be writing out an email while minding your child who’s off sick from school while talking on the phone with the plumber who’s coming over later.

Besides setting clear boundaries so your personal life doesn’t seep into your work life (and vice versa), try to consciously practice monotasking: giving one thing your undivided attention at a time.

Methods such as the Eisenhower matrix can help you prioritize your tasks based on importance and urgency, making single-tasking possible. This allows you to use your time effectively, as multitasking has been proven to slow us down.

19. Get in some daily movement

Our stress levels can become our productivity’s number one enemy! Indeed, stress and anxiety can make us irritable and unfocused, and manifest themselves in a range of physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle pains and heartburn. You really can’t produce your best work when you’re struggling with all that.

Luckily, dedicating some time each day to stretching, walking, or going to the gym can help you combat these undesirable effects. Physical activity releases feel-good hormones in the brain, promoting relaxation and even benefiting cognitive function.

20. Switch things up a little

If you have a laptop, consider changing your working environment from time to time by going to cafés or coworking spaces and working from there instead. If not, see if you can move your PC to a different spot in the house, or get into the habit of taking phone calls outside.

A change of scenery can bring back that lost spark of creativity and motivation that routine tends to crush. Even making a smaller change to your workstation, such as adding a new plant or a framed photo can have a positive impact on your mood.

WFH Productivity Hacks

Final thoughts

Staying productive requires coordinated efforts on multiple fronts: setting boundaries with any family members you’re sharing your space with, getting enough food and sleep, working on your organization and time management… As we’ve seen, the list is extensive — but that doesn’t mean you have to follow every tip to a T.

Indeed, different things may work better for different people. Not to mention it’s only natural for productivity to fluctuate, as it’s often influenced by both external and internal (to us) factors. So, make sure you’re allowing yourself to take it easier during some periods, as stressing about “not being productive enough” can certainly cause your productivity to suffer further!

Want to increase your productivity while WFH? Check out the below video:

What other tips have you found that work for you when working remotely? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Originally published on April 8, 2020. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.