Lots of companies offer generous flexible and remote work policies–but maybe your company isn’t one of them. For the most part (and for better or worse), people work from their desks in the office, ducking out only for the occasional doctor’s appointment or to pick up a sick kid from school.
Full-time remote workers have their own habits to keep them on track, but you don’t. So what do you do when you’ve got an office-bound routine and find yourself faced with a day–or several–when you have to work from home? Perhaps your office is moving to another floor in your building, so your whole team suddenly has to go remote for a bit. Or maybe your cat just had surgery and you need to give him medication every three hours. Whatever the case may be, a telecommuting day may feel like a cross between playing hooky and taking a vacation–and not especially productive.
Don’t freak out. Here’s a checklist to help you prepare for a seamless day (or week) of remote work when that isn’t something you normally do.
Get Your Files Handy (The Night Before)
Successfully working away from the office starts before you leave the office. Chances are there are documents you’ll need in order to work remotely. Before you head out the day before your telecommute, make sure you’ve got everything you need to get things done. Check the hard drive of your computer at home or your laptop to make sure you have all the files you need. If you use a cloud server, confirm that the latest versions of key documents are available. If (gasp!) you’re still using paper documents, make sure you bring them home, too.
Check your schedule for the next day before you leave as well. If you have phone meetings, be sure the numbers are in your cell phone as a backup. Also, keep some of your colleagues’ numbers in your cell just in case you need to check on something during the day. It can be a pain to start looking up people’s numbers while you’re working.
Prep Your Workspace Early
Your next step is to get your workspace ready. If you’re going to work at home, try to a spot the evening before. Tidy it up as best you can and get your work supplies ready. It’s smart to keep a box or desk drawer someplace at home with the basic supplies you’ll need to get through an ordinary workday. If you haven’t planned ahead that far, don’t worry–just make sure you get your workspace organized first thing in the morning, before busting open your laptop and diving into your work for the day.
If you’re planning to work from a public space like a coffee shop, pack a quick “go bag” that you can grab on your way out the next morning. Make sure it’s stocked with pens, a notebook or a few sticky notes, a phone and laptop charger, and anything else you’ll need. Plan for contingencies–which may even mean packing other things like a stapler and tape (you never know!). In fact, being the person with office supplies at a coffee shop can also be a great networking opportunity when the person working at the next table suddenly needs something.
Stick To Your Morning Routine
Especially if you spend most of your time at the office, there’s a tendency to treat the days you work remotely as special. They aren’t. They’re still workdays. So get up at your regular time and go through your ordinary morning routine just like you would on any other workday.
You have lots of habits in the morning, all of which help get you into the mind-set that it’s time to start working. Your brain knows that the next thing after brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and so on, is work time. So if you treat your morning like a weekend or holiday, you’ll have a much harder time getting into gear. Sitting around in your PJs will make it feel like time off, and that could disrupt your focus.
Spend Some Time Around People
The office environment you’re used to keeps you in a work mind-set in a few ways. For one, you’re surrounded by other people working. Your brain is wired to adopt the goals of people around you, in a phenomenon psychologists call “goal contagion.” It’s just harder to slack off when everyone else is working hard.
In addition, even if you do feel like slacking off, there are probably other people around watching you. Most of the time when you do something wrong in life, you do it when nobody is watching. Sitting at home alone encourages you to spend a little more time messing around than you ordinarily would; there’s nobody to disapprove of you watching a dozen cat videos in a row.
So if you’re having trouble concentrating while working remotely, consider spending at least part of your day in a more public place. One of the reasons that coffee shops are filled with telecommuters is that (in addition to coffee) there’s social pressure to keep working. And even a day working in a nice coffee shop is still a day away from the office.
Don’t Contaminate Your Rest Spaces
One of the nice things about working in an office is that there’s a clear, physical separation between the locations where you’re on the clock and the locations where your time is your own. Your brain is wired to think about things that are relevant to whatever place you’re in at any given time: You think about driving-related things on the road, baseball-related things at a game, and work-related things at the office.
Once you start working from home more regularly, you can begin to associate aspects of your home environment with work. That means you may get reminded of deadlines, key tasks, or problems just by the things you see around the house. But if you don’t work from home too often, you’re more likely to think about home-related stuff (“looks like I’m low on paper towels–I’ll pick some up later”) than your work tasks. So to mitigate this as best you can, pick a workspace at home that’s not one of your rest spaces (like the couch or your bed).
And finally, after you’re done working for the day, make sure that whatever space you’ve used for work doesn’t affect your downtime. If you’ve spent the past workday set up in a room that’s just doubled as your office, then close the door when it’s time to unwind for the evening. If you’re using a more public space in your house, like the living room, then at a minimum, make sure you clean everything up and put away your laptop and office supplies. This way when it’s time to kick back and watch some TV, you aren’t still answering work emails in your head.