12 Tips to Increase Productivity While Working From Home, From Folks Who Do It Often

12 Tips to Increase Productivity While Working From Home, From Folks Who Do It Often

By Suzy Strutner, managing editor
7-minute read


In the past few weeks, millions of U.S. workers have adjusted to a new reality: working from home due to effects of the coronavirus.

Taking phone calls from your kitchen table isn’t a new concept, per se, but it’s certainly more widespread now. Pre-virus, Gallup estimated that 43% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time. The organization has yet to calculate which percentage of employees are doing so now due to the virus -- data is on the way -- however we do know that over half the U.S. workforce has a job that’s compatible with working from home.

👉 Before the coronavirus, an estimated 43% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time.

While the experts run calculations, the work-from-home masses are left hacking ways to stay productive in the same rooms in which we sleep, eat and play, while maintaining a feeling of connection with our colleagues and managers to boot.

Now that many of us have a couple of weeks of virus-induced “WFH” on our resumes, the Grow Wire editors took to social media, our newsroom and beyond to ask our pals for their tricks to getting plenty done during a remote workday. 

Are you or your employees asking yourself how you can work from home more easily? Seasoned WFH-ers say that routines and time management help, along with team communication and some good ol’ biohacking. (Scented candles, anyone?)

Allow their tips to inspire you to make working from home fun.


1. Start with a “fake commute.”

“For me, the biggest thing is getting up in the morning and having a routine that you do,” said Shannon O’Neill, an integration associate who usually works from home about half the time. “You don’t commute [when working from home], so create a commute, if you will, that gets you moving.”

Her “fake commute” usually involves a workout, walk, quick meditation or taking a shower, she added. Yours could look much like a real one: Though her office is near her home, Spanx founder Sarah Blakely takes a full 45-minute drive around her city before reporting to work in the morning. The drive allows Blakely to “have my thoughts come to me,” she told CNBC.

The faux journey needn’t be elaborate. Just ensure that it helps you avoid the urge to roll over and respond to emails before getting out of bed. 

“Don’t start responding to email or Slack first thing,” said Twitter user @catedunn. “Get up and have a morning like you normally would [if you weren’t working from home]. I check my messages first thing but wait to respond until I’m ‘at work.’”


“Don’t start responding to email first thing. Get up and have a morning like you normally would."  


 


2. Do a stand-up.

While working from home, “ensure there's a stand-up early in the day,” @farooqSL said.

He’s referring to the process popular among software companies in which team members gather to share accomplishments made the day prior, outline tasks they plan to complete that day and review overall team goals.

Even if your team doesn’t have a daily stand-up call, you can boost your WFH motivation by simply messaging a close colleague. Members of Indie Hackers, an online community for founders, often post their stand-ups to complete strangers on a daily basis -- and we’re fairly certain it still yields a motivation boost.

While working from home, let your team members know what you'll be working on each day. (credit: Getty)


3. Choose a dedicated work space, as well as scents and sounds. 

It’s perhaps the most notorious WFH adage: When you work from bed, productivity suffers. 

While working from home, “don't sit on your couch or bed,” said Grow Wire editor Megan O’Brien, who’s been in the WFH game for years. “You will get distracted and/or fall asleep! Have a dedicated work space so your body knows when it's time to work and when it's time to chill.”

Aside from choosing a spot, the editors at the Morning Brew recommend a specific scent to associate with work, be it incense or a candle. Their advice reflects insight on the link between smell, memory and mood. 


Some recommend a specific scent to associate with work, be it incense or a candle.


Finally, @BrowserBugs recommended correlating music to your work tasks. Perhaps you’ll choose to associate lo-fi beats with brainstorming and house music with cranking out to-dos. 


4. Pick up the phone, and turn on your camera.

The work-from-home veterans we heard from agree that, while it may not be your first choice, you’ll get more done if you connect with colleagues vocally and visually.

Consider calling your teammate instead of tying a paragraphs-long email that might have a vague interpretation. And when meeting via video chat, remember that deep down, the vast majority of at-home workers think that seeing our colleagues’ expressions helps us build relationships and increase productivity.

“As hard as it may be, default to ‘cameras on’ for all meetings,” said @ChristiWhip. “It’s worth it.”


5. Try a new time management technique.

Without a team in sight to keep you on track, time can fly quickly away to unnecessary tasks while you’re WFH. If you’re feeling frazzled, pick the time management strategy that best corresponds with your personality type, and try it for a week. 

One of our favorites is the Pomodoro Technique, inspired by a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, which involves completing work in 25-minute blocks. If that isn’t user-friendly enough, consider the app TomatoTimer, which O’Neill uses to track her sprints.  

Meanwhile, the Morning Brew recommends time management apps including Calendly and Todoist.

If working from home leaves you feeling frazzled, try timing your work sprints. (credit: Getty)


6. Work during your peak productivity periods, if you can.

Our online respondents made much of working at the proper time of day. Indeed, WFH-ers have the benefit of being able to schedule meetings, work sprints and the like around their personal productivity levels. 

Desk workers are generally at peak productivity before 10:30 a.m. and after 4 p.m., though each of us has our own “native time,” the chunk of the day in which we feel we’re most productive. Keep these timeframes in mind when organizing your daily schedule.


7. Make a reasonable work schedule, preferably the night before. 

“Working from home can fall into two categories: either you’re so distracted that you get nothing done, or you get tunnel vision and don’t do anything [but work long hours],” said O’Neill. 

She recommends that home workers “stick with normal hours. If you have kids, still make some sort of schedule, even if it’s just an outline of the day the night before, and stick to that.”

While you’re at it, consider a block schedule, said @bill_slawski. This method includes breaking your day into blocks -- “before work,” the period from “arriving at work through morning break,” and so on -- and bullet-pointing the various tasks you plan to tackle in each block. This one’s especially helpful for WFH-ers with kids, as you can arrange blocks around nap time and after your brood goes to bed.

For an even more detailed outlook, take an hour-by-hour approach. This color-coded schedule, though spoofed multiple, hilarious times, offers a solid framework for parents working from home.

This parent-made schedule breaks down a WFH day with kids. (credit: Twitter)


8. Get natural light.

A surprising number of online respondents cited the importance of sunlight in your WFH setup. 

“Check which rooms get what sunlight, and how much. You want to avoid glare but still get plenty of natural light,” said @darthna.


A surprising number of online respondents cited the importance of sunlight in your WFH setup.   


 Science backs them up: A 2018 study found that workers in naturally-lit spaces reported less eye strain, headaches and drowsiness. And a recent poll of workers showed that we’re craving natural light in our workspace more than fancy perks like gyms or cafeterias, per Harvard Business Review.

So if you can, work near a window while at home. Doing so could even help you sleep better at night.


9. Stand while you work.

We know, we know: Sitting is the new smoking. If you prefer not to invest in an at-home standing desk, DIY by working on a countertop, dresser or ironing board contraption -- while maintaining ergonomic alignment, of course. 

O’Neill, for example, makes do without a standing desk by tilting her laptop screen back on a fairly high surface and walking around during phone calls, she said. She sets an alarm on her phone to challenge herself to stand for 30 minutes at a time. Of course, there are apps for that, too.

Historically, experts recommend standing for about a third of your workday. To get started, go for 30 minutes total, and work your way up.


10. Trick out your home office.

For those who can and/or wish to commit to the WFH lifestyle, our community has a few tips on furniture beyond the aforementioned standing desk.

“If you’re using a laptop, consider getting an external monitor/small TV” and “a proper chair that forces you to not slouch,” said @darthna.

@DasfNYC points to advice from remote-work community Remoters that suggests a laptop stand, separate keyboard and mouse.

Don’t forget that research suggests a tidy workspace leads to more productivity.

An ideal WFH setup includes a keyboard, mouse and monitor.


11. Walk at lunchtime. 

Our Twitterverse agreed that a midday walk is ideal but often goes untaken in favor of other tasks.

Consider the 2015 study, however, in which U.K. office workers had “improved enthusiasm, relaxation and nervousness at work” after regular lunchtime walks. A 2020 study echoed the finding, with participants reporting “better concentration and less fatigue in the afternoon” after just 15 minutes spent strolling in the park. 


Our Twitterverse agreed that a midday walk is ideal but often goes untaken in favor of other tasks.


There’s also this tech founder who self-reported a 30% increase in team productivity after urging his employees to take two 15-minute walks per day for a month.


12. Reward yourself for a task well done.

@MrLukeCarthy recommends celebrating accomplishments while working from home. 

“Reward yourself for milestones. (Get X done, and reward with Y),” he said.

Recommended prizes include a fresh cup of coffee, a lounging session with your pet or playing your favorite video game for a few minutes. 

Grow Wire’s editor-in-chief Fritz Nelson, meanwhile, prefers to boost his end-of-day productivity with snacks, specifically nuts -- shelled vs. ready-to-eat. 

The tactile labor required to uncase the snack “keeps his creativity flowing” through long afternoons, he said. 

We’re nuts about that hack.