4 Tips For Working At Home

By Jolie Miller

If you’re one of the millions of people who hope to work from home in 2015, we’ve got some tips for you.

Last week, we showed you how to set up your home workspace for maximum efficiency. Today in the second article of our Work From Home series, we’ll help you figure out how to structure your day.

Establishing routines will make all the difference between crazy days in which you get little done and productive days in which you accomplish a lot with few interruptions. Even a company that’s skeptical of work-from-homers has to appreciate productive workdays!

These are the three questions you should ask yourself when setting up your workday routines:

1. Find your Einstein window.

We all have times of day when we’re “on it” and times of day when we’re not at our best. Figuring out your window of Einstein-like brilliance is key to structuring your day. (See Finding your Einstein window from the lynda.com course Managing Your Time.)

If you’re a morning person who needs to get things done first thing in the morning (like I do), then block out the first hour or two of your daily calendar to make sure it stays focused with no interruptions. For me, 7:30-9:00 a.m. daily is a meeting-free zone when I review our customer feedback from the day before, work through emails and special projects, and organize my day. If everything after 9:00 becomes a free-for-all (it happens; you know it does), then at least I had my hour-and-a-half of super-productive time.

2. Decide on break and lunch plans. 

When I first started working at home, which was only a five-minute drive from my office at the time, I still met up with colleagues for lunch on telecommuting days. It kept me connected socially and helped me address some of the questions easier dealt with in person than email.

Give some thought to whether your breaks are going to be time for errands or house chores or perhaps a walk or video-game break. And are you planning to eat in or get out?

There are no right or wrong answers here. I like the solace of being home all day doing my own thing for about a week—and then I need human contact again by way of lunch dates. Others thrive on the variety of one “out of house” appointment a day to stretch the legs and shift mental focus. Get to know yourself better by trying on different routines here and seeing what frequency and type of breaks and lunch plans work best for you.

3. Let your colleagues know when they can count on you to be around.

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One of the advantages of working remotely is we can all be there in our pajamas in different time zones getting things done. But with that comes the tricky logistics of time-zone management—sometimes even across continents. Early in my career, I’d sometimes have calls across five time zones in a single day; I put clocks for different time zones up in my browser so I could always see what was happening when.

No matter what time zone you’re in, send an email to your team and key stakeholders and let them know your working hours. If they’re scattered across regions, make sure you build at least part of your day around being available to them. I used to start my days at 6:00 a.m. Pacific time because most of my authors were on the East Coast.

Once your colleagues know your hours, make a point of actually being around during those times. If you promise availability from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a lunch break around noon, then be reachable via email, chat, and phone when you say you will be.

Similarly, if you know you’re going to be gone picking up your kids from school between 2:00 and 3:00, then let everyone know that, too–and adjust your available hours accordingly so your coworkers have access to you for a full workday.

Note: It’s helpful if large, remote-located teams keep a central team calendar where everyone can track who’s where and when (ie. taking time off or traveling to other locations).

For more tips, watch Enhancing Your Productivity on lynda.com.

4. Have a few go-tos for slumps and stress.

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We all have those restless moments when we realize we’ve been staring at a screen or working on the same project for too long. Then there are those days when just one more email from that one person threatens to send you over the edge.

Decide in advance a few recharge activities you can jump to when you need to get your energy and focus back. This could be anything from a walk to a Sudoku puzzle, from folding laundry to listening to music.

When this happens at the office, we can get up from our desk and go chit chat with or vent to a friend for 10 minutes. You need to figure out what the equivalent solution is when you’re at home.

Get some practical coping tips from our 21-minute course Managing Stress.

5. Draw lines around personal time.

There are 24 hours in every day and we spend roughly a third of them working, a third of them sleeping, and another third attending to our personal lives. Keep it in perspective as much as possible.

I’ve been terrible about this in the past and paid the price of too little sleep and too much stress, all to pack in a few more work hours each day. My new motto is: Work today so you can work tomorrow. Put in just the right amount of time today so that you can come back the next day ready to work—rather than too exhausted to think.

If you share the house with another family member who works at home, you really need separate spaces and a noise buffer between you. Having your own rooms is obviously best, but it’s not always possible. So figure out an easy system for signaling each other when you need no interruptions. For example, you might put on a hat or headphones.

Equally important: Know when you both need to quit working in order to have plenty of “you time” so that having your desks in the house doesn’t get the better of your life.

Want more tips on keeping your professional life out of your personal life? Check out Balancing Work and Life and Finding Work-Life Fit on lynda.com.

Setting up a few simple routines will take you a long way toward productive, balanced days at home. And don’t forget: Working at home is a privilege. So make it count.

Use your time as productively as possible and then don’t hesitate to go out and enjoy the other things that make life complete.

***This article was originally published on Lynda.com and it is re-published here with permission. Please visit Lynda.com for more great career advice.***