Working from home sounds like an idyllic situation, in theory: You can roll out of bed each morning (or afternoon, even) and get started on your day without having to dress up, brave traffic, or engage in mindless chit-chat around the communal coffee machine.
However, not going into an office every day presents its own set of challenges, like determining how to separate your home life from your work life, and making sure you’re feeling connected to your colleagues and clients, among other things.
To help ensure that you’re on the right track while working remotely, we consulted seasoned work-from-home veterans who shared their top tips for staying productive—and thriving—in their careers.
Whether you have a whole room dedicated to a home office or prefer working from the couch in your living room, having the right setup can keep you productive while on the clock.
1. They make sure they have the equipment they need.
It’s important to invest in the quality of your workspace by getting equipment that helps you do the best work you can. When I transitioned to an at-home employee, I went out and bought a similar version of the computer I was used to working on so that my productivity levels wouldn’t suffer from an inferior, slower setup.
—Brit Casady, 24, Lehi, UT, graphic designer
2. They invest in ways to stay active at home.
My favorite part of working from home is the fact that I can work on my treadmill desk. I can kill two birds with one stone by exercising while I work. I’ve found that being able to walk helps keep me focused and because of that, I’m able to succumb less to the distractions that come from working at home. On the days I work on the treadmill, I typically spend two to four hours on it—that adds up to about 10 to 15 hours per week. I pretty much do any kind of work on my treadmill, from writing posts to sending emails to creating social media content and so on. At a two mile-per-hour pace, it’s not so fast that certain tasks are difficult to do because I’m walking.
—Brent Hale, 30, Sparks, NV, online entrepreneur and owner of IncomeAddon.com
Let’s face it—distractions run rampant wherever you work, whether it’s in an office with coworkers or in your own kitchen. Keep productivity zappers at bay with these strategies.
3. They get organized with the "three-minute rule."
I allow three minutes to tend to anything I feel I need to respond to immediately that is not on my to-do list. Give yourself three minutes every hour of your official ‘work hours’ to scan and respond to important emails, put shoes that accumulate around the doorway in the closet, etc.—if it takes no more than three minutes. It puts your mind at ease and reduces at-home work distractions without derailing your day. It also helps you spend less time cleaning the house and dealing with administrative tasks when the workday ends.
—Stephanie Taylor Christensen, 38, Columbus, OH, freelance writer, yoga instructor, and mother to a 6-year-old
4. They don’t let socializing get in the way of working.
Notify friends that you do have work hours, even if you are at home. For the longest time, I had friends popping over at all times of the day whenever they were free! Make sure you are assertive and tell them what your hours of work are and that you stick to a no-visit schedule during these times.
—Laura Fredrick, 28, Marlton, NJ, public relations professional and owner of Laur PR
5. They let their kids visit their home offices occasionally.
With a home office and three kids, it’s not easy. My advice? Get a white board. When the door is closed, do not disturb. But if it’s open—and leave it open as much as possible—my kids can come in and draw on it and leave me little notes. It’s magnetic, so they can put stuff on there for me to display. Everyone is happy.
—Gregory Pavliv, 38, Bloomfield, NJ, music teacher and owner of Music Teaching Guru
6. They minimize online distractions.
One of my favorite productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called StayFocusd. When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps you avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10-minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.
—Lori Cheek, 43, New York City, founder and CEO of Cheekd.com, an online dating app
7. They time-delay their email responses in order to manage expectations.
I time-delay every single email I send. I have gotten people out of the habit of thinking that they control my workday and that they will get an immediate response. I time-delay up to a full day if I feel it’s necessary. Inbox by Gmail has been critical in helping me maintain my inbox. I love it because I can simply save messages for later, create my own bundles (like per project or sender) and remind myself to do things. It has been tremendously helpful as far as keeping my mailbox from getting out of hand.
—Ashley Sharie, 27, Washington, DC, CEO and founder or Aspire Business, a business consulting firm
Checking in with colleagues and customers can be challenging when you don’t see them every day. This is why it’s important to put your best foot forward in all of the interactions you do have.
8. They build in prep time for client meetings.
When you work from home, your schedule can be all over the place—workout classes whenever, meetings at different places and different times. Plus, I don’t know about you, but if I don’t need to get dressed in professional clothes, I won’t. My calendar helps me in that regard. Each time I schedule a meeting with someone outside of my home, I set my alert for 30 minutes or an hour before, depending on how long it will take me to get there. Then I set another alert for two hours before. This is my "Go take a shower and make yourself presentable" alarm. Without it, I would show up to many of my meetings looking and feeling frazzled.
—Alden Wicker, 29, New York City, freelance writer and founder of EcoCult.com
9. They err on the side of over-communication (sometimes).
We’ve found that most workplace tension is caused by inadequate communication—particularly when you are unable to speak with colleagues in person due to remote work situations. When you are unable to speak to clients or colleagues in person, make sure they know you are on the case by always being crystal clear. Frequent communication with your supervisor and co-workers can help reinforce bonds of friendship and trust, making collaboration easier throughout your time at a company.
But when it comes to email, remember that less is more: Try to communicate your message using as few words as possible to save time for your reader. When crafting a written message, it’s easy to get lost in long blocks of text and drift off on tangents—particularly when you need to explain a complicated concept to a coworker. To keep yourself focused and on-message, consider using bulleted lists to help structure and explain your thinking. The natural segmentation of bullets and ability to indent can help you keep your thoughts logical, organized, and succinct.
—Sam McIntire, 26, San Francisco, founder of Deskbright, an online learning platform designed to help people thrive at work
10. They speak up during conference calls.
In a remote environment, it’s often easier to sit quietly during conference calls. But it’s really important to go into a conference call with at least a few specific talking points to discuss. It not only shows that you’re prepared, but it also helps to move the conversation forward in a productive way, rather than hemming and hawing while you think of something to talk about.
Also, challenge yourself to ask two questions during a meeting. This really forces you to pay attention to what’s being discussed. Even if a topic of discussion isn’t directly related to your job, it’s a nice idea to ask questions, both to learn more about the company and your coworkers and to show that you’re paying attention and engaged.
—Brie Weiler Reynolds, 34, Dallas, director of online content at FlexJobs
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut managing your daily to-dos, but periodically taking a step back to evaluate your overall performance can help make your work-from-home experience a success.
11. They give themselves yearly reviews.
In December or January, I conduct a yearly review. This is partially to reconcile my numbers and partially to see which of the services I offer pay the most on both an hourly and total-dollars basis. In my year-end review I note items such as gross annual income, average hourly rate, average rate per word, average days from invoice to payment, total hours worked (plus average hours per week), total number of words edited or written (this is more for personal curiosity than anything), most lucrative service by total dollars and finally, most lucrative service by hourly rate.
—Anitra Budd, 37, Minneapolis, freelance writer and editor
12. They block off time for professional development.
Leave open space [in your schedule] for planning and networking meetings, as well as time to reflect on what is working and what is not working. Perhaps Friday afternoons or Monday mornings where you block off time in your calendar to set up your week and revisit your goals.
—Cara Maksimow, 43, Chatham, NJ, clinical therapist and owner of Maximize Wellness Counseling and Coaching
13. They keep their schedules flexible.
Know your schedule—your actual schedule, not a clone of the in-office working model. If you know your home or parenting responsibilities will make working in the morning tough but you’ll be uninterrupted at night, you’ll be more productive by planning your day that way rather than attempting to mix home and work. Be realistic about it so you can build boundaries based on efficiency. The end result is an enormous increase in both your productivity and your sanity!
—Monica Reccoppa, 42, Totowa, NJ, financial manager at Cardwell Beach, a creative marketing agency
14. They write a goal list.
I have my personal and professional goals written down and posted at my desk. This allows me to see them every day—it’s easy to get caught up in task-mode and only focus on checking off items from your to-do list. Having written goals displayed openly forces you to remember the larger reason why you are performing these tasks and take a step back to examine whether you’re on track to meeting the goals you set for yourself.
—Casey Bond, 29, Manhattan Beach, CA, editor of StudentLoanHero.com
This article originally appeared on LearnVest and is reprinted with permission.