• Ivy L. James

11 Pro Tips for Working from Home

Updated: Jan 29

I've worked from home many times over the years, and now I'm teleworking again for The Quarantine. And against all odds, I'm focused while doing it.


Me? Stay on task? Some days are better than others, sure, but overall I've figured out the tactics that help me get focused and stay focused.


Ways to stay on task while working from home:

  1. Set a schedule.

  2. Get dressed.

  3. Have a designated work space.

  4. Keep snacks and all supplies in the work space.

  5. Use the pomodoro technique (25 min work: 5 min break).

  6. Physically put away your phone (and any other distraction you crave).

  7. Make a to-do list, but star only 3 things you have to do TODAY.

  8. If you have pets or kids, figure out how to manage their needs.

  9. Refill your water regularly.

  10. Make something interesting happen at your Dead Time.

  11. Listen to classical or lyrics-free music.

1. Set a schedule.

Determine what times you'll start and finish, and keep that schedule every day.


Stick by your in-office schedule if possible.

  1. It's easy to remember bc you're already used to it.

  2. It's easy to stick with bc you're already used to it.

  3. It'll make going back to the office easier bc you're still used to it.

Deciding on and maintaining a regular schedule helps me stay on track bc I can't get lost in "should I start now?" and "what day is it even?"


I still don't know what day it is, of course, but hey, when you work the same hours Monday through Friday, it doesn't matter.

2. Get dressed.

Yes, with actual clothes. Not pajamas. Not pants-free. (Maybe Pants-Free Friday.)

You don't necessarily have to put on that perfectly tailored blazer, but say yes to the decent-enough-to-leave-the-house clothes. They help get your brain in We're Real Adults And We're Working mode.


And this may sound obvious, but... keep up with ya hygiene.


You might not have any in-person coworkers to judge you for unbrushed hair, but it'll help you feel like more of a human being if you maintain your morning routines in full. Refresh your teeth, hair, and skin as well as your clothes.

3. Have a designated work space.

To get into the We're Working Now mindset, it's best to have an established place in the house where you work, as opposed to floating around the house on a whim.

When I lived in Virginia, I had a home office. /Dreamy sigh/. It was the best.


Now that I'm in Maryland, the studio-apartment-style basement has a library/office corner, but it's in the same big area as my favorite things: sleep, the TV, my Switch, my D&D stuff, my stack of unread books, and my bookcases of already-read books that I'll read again to avoid committing to something new. And muuuuch more.


This makes focusing harder, but I always work at the desk, and that helps settle me. I do not take my laptop to the bed or the living room if I can help it. Too much distraction.


Remember: A) Designate a space. B) Have it be only for work.


Not for naps. Not for Netflix. Not for your brand-new library books that you're just dying to get your paws on. This space is where you work, and that's it.

4. Keep snacks and all work supplies in the work space.

This is not to say you should have everything your li'l heart desires within arm's reach. See #3 and #6. But things that would distract you more if you had to get up and go get them? Those can stay.

Surveying your fridge every 15 minutes does not a productive day make.


I keep small snacks, office supplies, music, a blanket, tissues, rando work references, and my meds within reach while I work.


I also keep my water cup/tumbler next to me, but I get up and go to the kitchen for refills. (Exercise?)


Basically, if it's important and not a distraction, it can live in the Work Space.

5. Use the pomodoro technique.

The pomodoro technique, in case you want a refresher, is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. Lather, rinse, repeat.


For me, this is pretty much the ONLY way to go. Unless I'm in the zone and need no breaks at all, Pomodoro Technique is what gets me through the workday.

I love the TomatoTimer site--you can customize the work time, break times, sound, etc. And it's made specifically for the pomodoro method. Don't get much better than that.


Storytime!


For a week or so, I couldn't figure out why my pomodoro-variant wasn't working. "I can do 40 minutes of work in a row," I said as I pulled out my phone after 15, 20 minutes. "I can totally do it."


Spoiler alert, I couldn't.


The 25 minutes rule is soooo nice bc it means the end is always in sight. My A.D.D. brain will absolutely give up if the end is too far away.

6. Physically put away your phone (and any other distraction you crave).

Put it away. Literally, physically away. You shouldn't be able to see it.

Better, it should be stored so diligently that you have to listen to your Guilt Brain if you go root around for it.


This is surprisingly effective in reducing the intensity of the cravings.

7. Make a to-do list, but star only 3 things you have to do TODAY.

It has taken me 25 years to come to terms with the fact that I will never finish my to-do list. I finish one thing and add three more; of course it's eternal. So the tactic I use is to ask myself, "What are the THREE things I NEED to do TODAY?"

Three (3) isn't a lot, so like with the pomodoro method, the end is in sight.


This also forces me to prioritize based on deadline and urgency. I can have 50 things on my to-do list, but if any are due TODAY, those get starred. I HAVE to do them today.

8. If you have pets or kids, figure out how to manage their needs.

Yes, this guideline is vague.


As an apology for not having a more specific solution, enjoy this photo of my corgi Pippa Finn as a baby (feat. Snapchat filter).

So, since I don't have a one-size-fits-all answer for kids and pets, lemme share my examples.


First, for a hot minute in Quarantine, I was a swinging door for the 4 dogs in my house. Every half hour I was up letting them in or out. Eventually I figured out that hey, they can wait an hour or two between trips to the back yard, and I can go work while they're outside rather than waiting at the door.


Second, I work in the basement, and when they start barking and howling at the front window upstairs, it's still PIERCING. I get THISCLOSE to losing my shit.


Eventually my partner pointed out that I can bring the dogs downstairs. At first I was like lol no, I'm not here to dogsit. But it turns out that bringing the dogs downstairs... in the basement... with no front window to howl at... means they stop howling. Wild.


So when they work themselves into a frenzy, downstairs come the dogs. They settle, and I can focus on work again. Eventually my ears even stop ringing. It's magic.

9. Refill your water regularly.

Stay hydrated, boo. It helps you stay focused and it's good for you.


Plus, every time you fill up your cup, you get to leave your chair and move around for a few minutes.


Win win win.

10. Make something interesting happen at your Dead Time.

Let's admit it: there's a certain part of your day when your motivation disappears, your energy evaporates, and it's all you can do just to stay conscious. I call this the Dead Time.


For me, it hits at 2pm on the dot, and lasts 'til 2:30-3pm depending on the day.


So how do I continue to be productive during the Dead Time? Well, I make it not dead.

Dead Time comes around bc your brain has decided, "This never ends, I'm bored, I'm tired, screw this nonsense, let's go take a nap." So my tactic is to dangle something new and fun to break up that mindset.


For me, the perfect thing is a fancy drink.


My office is 5 minutes away from a Starbucks and a Tropical Smoothie, so when I was out there, that worked on Extra Fancy days. The rest of the time, I brought in boxes of Bubly or LaCroix or hot chocolate packets.


When 2pm rolls around, I pop open a can of fizzy water and watch my brain light up.


(Note: This isn't an ad for any of those brands, but if they read this and feel like they should compensate me, I wouldn't say no...)


And if Dead Time comes at a different time than usual, just roll with it. I've had fancy drinks at 10am, noon, 3pm--whenever I need them.


Now that I'm working at home, I just keep my stocks here and refill as needed. Conveniently I don't have to carry them into the office anymore.


11. Listen to classical or lyrics-free music.

I like classical music -- Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach. Here's my YouTube playlist "Working from Home: Classical Music."


LOTR soundtracks (The Fellowship, Two Towers, Return of the King) are baller.


Viking music like the band Danheim is somehow even cooler.


Soooometimes I can listen to music with lyrics, if it's familiar and I can tune it out. But overall I have the best results with classical.


TL;DR

Here are our tactics for staying focused while working from home:

  1. Set a schedule.

  2. Get dressed.

  3. Have a designated work space.

  4. Keep snacks and all supplies in the work space.

  5. Use the pomodoro technique (25 min work: 5 min break).

  6. Physically put away your phone (and any other distraction you crave).

  7. Make a to-do list, but star only 3 things you have to do TODAY.

  8. Figure out how to manage yours pets' and/or kids' needs.

  9. Refill your water regularly.

  10. Make something interesting happen at your Dead Time.

  11. Listen to classical or lyrics-free music.


Some days will be better than others; that's part of life. Don't give up on yourself! You can always start fresh.


Now go forth to your Designated Work Space and stay on task!


I believe in you!

"Make the Yuletide Gay" is now out in the world! Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads. Read Chapter One for free: Chapter 1: “Good Sir, That's a Lotta Snow”!


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