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Working from Home: 15 Tips to Keep You Productive and Happy

Career • March 26, 2020 • Ashley Boucher


What you’ll learn

  • How to adjust to working-from-home
  • Tips to keep your routine in check if you’re working from home
  • How to maintain productivity when working from home
  • Ways to stay happy while working from home


Day 1: Ah…working from home. I can stay in my pajamas, eat ice cream, catch up on the television shows I can’t watch while everyone is home (looking at you, reality tv), all while working. This is going to be fun!

Day 2: Okay…I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked to, and my manager is asking me where that report is. I really have to get that done today. Where did I leave off on my show? I think I have a few episodes left. Okay, I’ll just put the show on and work at the same time – easy!

Day 3: Oh boy. I really need to knock out these assignments this morning. I’m not going to even turn the television on. How do people do this? Also – cabin fever is a thing. It’s a real thing! I need to get outside today. It’d be great to talk to someone, too.

Day 4: I need help.

If you’re not used to working from home, you might think it’s going to be just like working in your office, except with sweatpants. But if you ask any of your remote colleagues (like I did), you’ll quickly learn that the structure and routine you’re used to won’t be there, but you’ll still be expected to deliver the same results. So, how are you going to do it?

I talked to my coworkers who work from their home offices quite a bit, and they shared ways to work from home and stay happy and productive:

Build (and keep) a routine.

A routine will help you establish the structure you had in the office. You might think you don’t need it, but if you start to feel unproductive in this new work environment, a routine can get you back on track.

  1. If you had a morning schedule when you went to the office, stick with it, even if you’re staying home. Did you wake up at 7 a.m. and make a pot of coffee? Don’t turn off that alarm! Wake up at the same time and do the normal things (except you can leave your heels or dress shoes in the closet).
  2. Get dressed! While you can skip the suit if you’d like (and maybe opt for yoga pants if you’re not going to be on a video call), still get dressed for the day. Get out of the pajamas and get ready as if you were headed out to run errands. You never know when you’ll have to jump on a last-minute video conference

Create a dedicated space.

Everyone’s space will look different. Some people have offices, some have kitchen tables. Whatever you have, make it work for you with a little preparation.

  1. If you can, try to set up your desk or workspace at home similar to what you have at work. Your muscle memory will still be hard at work, and you might find yourself annoyed every time you grab for the phone but get your stapler instead.
  2. If possible, make sure your area has a door that can close and block out distractions (like noise and pets). The door is also helpful to keep you out when it’s no longer time to work!
  3. Do you have a portable speaker? Set it up for background music or talk radio. Sometimes the silence can be distracting.
  4. That said, if you don’t have a speaker or radio, you might be tempted to leave the television on. Only do this if you can fight the urge to watch your favorite shows – now isn’t the time. Either leave it off, or set it to a channel that isn’t particularly interesting to you. Or, just check in on programs like the news during lunch or your breaks.

Prioritize your wellbeing.

When you’re no longer in the office environment, the things you used to do), may no longer be a part of your natural routine. So, be sure to prioritize things that will keep your health in check.

  1. It’s easy to lose track of the last time you hydrated, so make it simple for yourself by keeping a large cup of water with you at all times. You can even set a goal of finishing the first glass by 10am, the second by noon, and so on.
  2. Move around! Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to take a walk every hour – even if it’s just around the house. (Even better if it’s outside, though.) When you’re on a conference call that doesn’t require notes, get up and walk around! It’ll help you focus on the conversation, and improve your health.
  3. Don’t forget about lunch. Noon (or whatever hour you’re accustomed to) at the office can be the same at home – time to eat. Make the time to walk away and have a meal or a snack, especially one that comes from the fridge (like fruits and veggies) instead of the pantry (like chips).

Set (realistic) boundaries.

Adjusting to a working-from-home routine can challenge your normal productivity. Why? Because you might be surrounded by family members, pets, friendly neighbors, and a slew of other interruptions.

  1. It’s important to have discussions with your family about what you can and can’t accommodate while working, and it may help to have a talk with your manager, too. If you’re working from home for reasons outside of your control, let your manager know what your home situation is like so they understand your reality.
  2. Do you have kids at home? Their age will have a lot to do with how you manage your day.

    If they’re old enough, create a list with chores or tasks for them to complete. If they’re home from school, you might have to include homework or class lessons into that daily list. Make sure they know they can’t move onto their ‘free time’ or fun stuff until their list is complete. Also, tell them they need to write you a note while you’re on calls, rather than speaking over you or your coworkers. You might also consider letting them know when it’s appropriate to come to you. If their situation or problem involves glass, fire, or blood – sure! Let you know! But if they just can’t figure out the remote, save it for lunchtime or a break.

    If your children are too young to follow an independent schedule, you may need to set a schedule for them – and for you. Your uninterrupted time may be when they’re napping, so schedule any necessary calls for that time. You can also log on early in the morning while they’re still sleeping so you can get ahead of some of your daily emails and deadlines. And, if you know working from home with little ones is going to interfere with your work, call on family and friends to help you manage your day, or let your manager and coworkers know when they can expect to hear from you – and when they probably won’t (like during your kids’ lunch time or fussiest hours).

  3. Pets at home? A little less needy but a lot louder than kids, right? If you have ‘chatty’ dogs, you can let your coworkers know at the start of your call that they may hear your pets. Just tell your team the pets are your security system! A little humor can go a long way in explaining your situation – and your team members are sure to understand.
  4. If you have other loved ones in the house, or even the occasional neighbor who may drop by , let them know you’re busy during a certain time of day, and you can talk to them at lunch or after the work day. It may be an uncomfortable conversation at first, but once they realize you’re still working (just in a more familiar setting), they’ll probably understand why you have to have boundaries.

Know when to unplug.

When you don’t have the daily interruptions you’re used to at work - coworkers coming to your desk, meetings in different parts of the building, or the 5 p.m. parade of coworkers packing up and leaving - you might lose track of time and your sense of work-life balance.

  1. Schedule a specific start time, regular breaks, and a time to pack it up.
  2. Unless it’s an emergency, fight the temptation to log back on after the kids are in bed. You’ll be more productive if you’re happy and rested.

Working from home can, and will, look different for everyone. Find what works best for you so you can maintain your wellbeing and your productivity. If you’re having trouble striking a balance, talk to your family and coworkers to find a sustainable solution.


Ashley is a Sallie Mae employee and a graduate of Immaculata University. A mom of two young girls, her favorite dinner topic is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


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