In this day and age, working from home is super common for a lot of jobs. It’s also a task that can be very hard to master (we all know not to work from bed, but what if your couch is just as comfy?). I know the struggle all too well as a freelance writer. I try to be as efficient as possible when I’m home, but distractions can be endless (Hulu, Instagram, Facebook, two cats. All at my fingertips). I sometimes head to my favorite coffee shop down the block, but doing that every day ends up being pricey. Ultimately, the goal is to try to be as efficient as possible in the comfort of my own home with out letting distractions get the best of me and not overwork myself (like working until 9pm and then wondering where your day went). Trying to find that balance seems nearly impossible, but with the help of one girl boss, I realized how it can be done.
I interviewed Tricia Sciortino, president of eaHELP, a website that connects companies with executive assistants to help them to stay organized, whether it’s with their meeting schedule or family schedule. Balancing a busy work and family life herself, Tricia has expert experience working remotely while staying productive and keeping home and work life separate, even when they are all happening in the same place. Below, we’re sharing five game-changing ways to help you be more productive when you’re living that WFH lifestyle, even when you’re tempted to Netlix and chill.
1. Over-Communicate: One of the downsides of working remotely is the lack of team morale because of the lack of, well, people. That’s why it’s important to communicate and keep communicating any way you can. No matter where she’s working, Tricia says she feels like she’s surrounded by people “most of the day” through video conferencing and online messaging. She said, “Sending a Google Chat message to a team member is, to me, the equivalent of sticking my head into someone’s office! […] We communicate and communicate and over-communicate. And use video! It’s the next best thing to face-to-face time. Even a quick one-on-one conversation is better over video, as it helps us feel like we’re sitting in each others’ offices.”
Keeping the waves of communicate wide open like this helps you feel less isolated, keeps you on track and shows coworkers and clients your appreciation. “We tell our teams that if they think they’ve said it enough, they need to say it again,” she says, “We place a really high value on responsiveness, making sure our team members understand what we expect in terms of returning emails and phone calls so that we share information efficiently. And we encourage our teams to randomly send written notes of appreciation and encouragement to their colleagues to foster connection.” Communication is the key to any good relationship — professional, personal and beyond. [Ping, ping, ping!]
2. Treat your days like an office work day, with a start and an end: If you’re anything like me, it can be hard to have a cutoff time when working at home. The more I procrastinate, the longer my work day becomes and my at-home downtime is pushed back. According to Tricia, it’s a must to have a “[…] true start and end time, which can be hard to adjust to. When your office is in your home, it is easy to be ‘on call’ all day. But that’s a guaranteed path to burnout. I also focus on taking a dedicated lunch break to get out of my home office, or even out of the house.
“Shut it down at the end of the day. This can be hard to do when you work from home, which is why I like having a dedicated space for work so I can literally shut the door on work. My family deserves my undivided attention, so I mark off time to greet my daughters when they get home from school and connect with them about their day for a little while. Then it’s back to work for a few more hours before I close out my workday and come back to tackle it refreshed the next day.”
3. Set social media check-in times: The Internet is chock full of all kinds of distractions, from your fave social media apps to sites like Buzzfeed that are procrastination magnets. Try and limit your online distractions by allowing yourself to have some social media play time a few times a day. Tricia says, “I check my social channels at set times during the morning, at lunch and at the end of day. I leave it alone the rest of the time, unless I have a break.” If social media is important to your job to stay connected with, that’s one thing. Just keep the same mentality as Tricia: “[…] my bottom line is ‘the work comes first.'” Preach!
That’s not to say you should stay offline completely. Using the Internet and all its glory helps the all-important communication you need to stay in touch with your team and your clients. Tricia says, “Any video conferencing or meeting application [helps]. We really love Zoom, but Google Hangouts or Skype can work also.” There are also sites that help you work on group projects or presentations, even if you can’t be in the boardroom. “We use Basecamp for larger projects, and also use Dropbox and Google Drive for sharing information.” The internet is a wonderful place to help you work well, inside or outside of the office. Use it, just don’t abuse it.
4. Make sure any workspace looks and feels like your office: I’m a part-time freelance writer, so sometimes my days off of my other job are still work days for writing. If I’m working from home, being in a clean, zen space is important, and Tricia agrees. Mainly, you should stay away from a cluttered kitchen by any means necessary: “If you’re on a video call, as we frequently are, it needs to look and feel like an office as much as you can — no dirty dishes or laundry in the background, no family members wandering through during your call, etc.” It’s also important to keep any office supplies or needs handy. The more you can focus and the less you have to wander around the house looking for a legal pad, the better. If it’s a dinning room table, coffee table, home desk or even your patio, a clear space and proper setup helps to give you a clear mind.
If it’s hard to get into a space that’s office-like in your busy home, get out! “I think it needs to be somewhere you can get the quiet and space you need to focus.” Even if it’s just for one day a week or even a couple hours, getting into a different space can help your headspace. It can help switch off the need to take care of stuff at home and get into work mode. Focus on your work tasks at hand instead of daunting chores.
5. Calendar like crazy: As a mom, Tricia makes it a point to prioritize making sure her family has time to, well, be a family. She said, “I calendar like crazy. I block all my personal time that I need to take on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis to make sure things stay in balance. I use my daughters’ school calendar as a starting point, so I can allocate my paid time off to key breaks in their school schedules and for summer family getaways. We need our beach time in this family!” Don’t think of it as scheduled too far in advance; think of it as being prepared to give yourself much needed downtime when you can. You work hard, but running yourself dry is not good for your body or mind.
Scheduling far ahead helps make sure you’re around for moments that matter, especially in the New Year. She says, “This is the time to reflect and recharge, so you can tackle the New Year with renewed energy and focus. Even if you have to front-load your month to fit everything in at the end, it will be worth it. [I took] time off this holiday to connect with my family and loved ones, and it’s an absolute must for me.” That should be a must for you too.