How to Stay Productive While Working From Home

6 minute read

I never really thought about working from home—until suddenly, I was. Up until now, I’ve always just happened to work in an office building—the big, enormous ones that require a security ID and several escalators before you can get to any sort of sandwich wrap. But now that my apartment is my office, I’ve realized it’s no small switch-up. There are certainly pros: My monthly dry cleaning bill is much lower (read: $0), and I no longer have to spend a half hour stuffed underneath someone’s armpit on the subway each morning. But there are also cons: As a people person, I miss having work BFFs right by my side, and one can only take so much time in the same apartment, as hard as you try to make it worthy of a West Elm catalogue.

So, over the past month, I’ve moonlighted as a Working-From-Home Productivity Detective, asking friends who work from a self-made office about their routine, and experimenting with my own. It accumulated into a pretty helpful guide to get you through your day.


1. Start your day outside.

Some people do their workouts at night in order to let off some steam after a long day at the office, but as a newly-minted SAHW (Stay-at-Home Worker), I like knowing that I’ve already left the house before my workday starts. I do a morning run, walk back with coffee, and if it’s nice out, I’ll go up to my roof to stretch for a few minutes (one of my favorite perks of living in San Francisco).

2. Throw on a pair of jeans.

I stole this tip from Jessica Knoll, author of Luckiest Girl Alive. She told me that since she started working from home as a full-time novelist, she’s made a point to wear jeans instead of yoga pants. I tried it too, and now I swear by it. Something about ‘em just makes me feel instantly more put together, and I like having an office uniform that allows me to devote more brain space to my work. (Confession: I usually steal a sweater from my boyfriend’s side of the closet to finish off my look.)

3. Designate an official “start time”—and pad in a few minutes for housekeeping.

The beauty of working from home is that nobody’s around to give you side eye if your butt hits the chair at 9:15 a.m., or even 9:30 a.m. But the downside is that it can seriously mess with your productivity. I like to be in front of the computer by 9 a.m., and use the time I would be commuting to tidy up my workspace. As Lucy Maher Regan, a freelance writer based in NYC, says, “When you’re working in an office, your un-made bed or pile of un-returned Zappos boxes taking over your dining table are a non-issue. Not so much when you work from home—these things can distract even the most diligent telecommuter. Keeping your space clean and tidy will allow you to focus 100 percent on your work.”


1. De-clutter your desk.

Since it’s command central from 9 to 5, your desk usually racks up mugs, plates, and other piles of randomness by lunchtime. Take five minutes mid-day to freshen things up. And overall, it’s nice to give up some desktop real estate to important mementos. Ranya Barrett, who works from home in Glen Ridge, N.J., says her workspace features a mint julep cup filled with colored pencils and a mercury glass flower vase filled with pens. “They offer a welcome pop of color and infuse the space with a personal touch,” she says.

2. Embrace Gchat.

The more I edged my way up the ladder while working in an office, the less I wanted to be on Gchat. I felt like on top of meetings, conversations with my coworkers, and random coffee breaks, it just made me look like I wasn’t focused during what precious time I had to get real work done. But now that I’m working from home, and interact with coworkers mainly through meetings, I find myself craving more casual conversation throughout the day. It’s not like I’m Gchatting 24/7, but if I want to get a friend’s opinion on something, or if I just want to share a funny BuzzFeed post, I don’t hold myself back so much anymore, and therefore don’t feel like a rabid monkey by 5 p.m.

3. Force yourself to take an afternoon walk.

My friend Cathy Caludis, who works from home as a business analyst, inspired me to do this one. Every day around 1 or 2 p.m., she takes her dog (dog optional!) for a 30-minute walk. “It definitely helps keep me sane to get fresh air and stretch my legs!” she says. Done and done.

End of day

1. Reap the benefits of a well-stocked fridge.

I don’t know about you, but around 4 p.m., I get hardcore cravings to snack on just about EVERYTHING within sight. As Barrett reminds me, “It’s up to you to keep your refrigerator stocked with good, healthy foods. And a strong espresso for when you need an extra boost.” So, on Sundays, the grocery store is my race track, and I don’t stop for anything but the healthy stuff (and, OK, maybe a bag or two of chips and salsa).

2. Clock out.

Just like you should give yourself an official “start time,” it’s equally important to mentally shut down at the end of the day—whether it’s simply the act of closing your laptop or booking a 5:30 p.m. SoulCycle class. “One of my biggest challenges when I started working from home was calling it quits each day,” says Jenny Buccos, who is the creator, director and producer of Project Explorer and lives in NYC. “By setting a regular end-of-business time, I’m now able to separate my work life from my home life—for the most part!”

3. Go out and be social.

When I was working in an office, I mostly just wanted to hightail it home and get into my PJs as soon as possible, then Olivia Pope it up with some popcorn and red wine. Now, I’m much less of a homebody after hours, because I get to be one all day. I’ve become the “planner” in my relationship and in my friend group, finding cool new restaurants or concerts to check out during the week. It’s kind of win-win, because on top of feeling more refreshed when I’m back at work, discovering fun weeknight plans makes me feel like a better partner and friend.

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