6 second take: Working from home is a fantastic perk for many, but how can you ensure you stay organized and focused and happy?
Since I’ve been self-employed, I’ve worked in multiple home offices, coffee shops, and co-working spaces. I’ve even experimented with different office layouts and strategies. These experiences have taught me what it takes to be the most productive and happy while working from home.
Happiness and productivity in the home office is important for all telecommuters — whether you’re a self-employed solo entrepreneur or a company employee working remotely who needs to stay motivated without daily interaction from their coworkers.
If you are one of the 42 percent of Americans that began working from home in 2020, according to Stanford University, or simply someone interested in the proven higher productivity of working from home (according to a survey by Airtasker), here are some of our top recommendations to ensure a happy — and productive — experience in the home office.
1. Avoid High-Traffic Areas
When choosing where to set up your workspace, avoid high-traffic areas by finding a quiet corner or room in the back of the house, and whenever possible, choose a room with a door that you can close. (If you’re in a co-working space, try to avoid central, loud hubs if you can.)
“Some areas of your home are better suited for a home office than others,” says telecommuter Ron Humes, vice president of digital marketing company Post Modern Marketing. “If you live with other people, especially children, don’t even think of placing your office in areas where they will be in your space.”
Even if it’s not a permanent office space, choosing a room with a door can massively boost your productivity and sanity when you work from home.
This will reduce noise and interruptions by other members of your household. Of course, your significant other or family members need to respect your office hours when your door is shut.
2. Choose a Cozy Spot
Experts in frugal living tell you to turn down your thermostat to save money. That might work fine while I’m sleeping. That said, if the room I'm in is too cold, it's hard for me to focus. I get distracted by being uncomfortable!
About 51 percent of workers claim that they are less productive when the temperature is too cold in the office, according to a survey by CareerBuilder. My home office isn’t too warm, but I can definitely say that boosting the temp helps avoid brittle bones.
However, it is important to remember that 67 percent of workers struggle to work when the office is too hot as well, according to that same survey. So take care to make the environment a comfortable temperature for you.
3. Purge Your Office
After you’ve chosen a remote, warm spot to set up shop, it’s time to clean. To clear out the clutter on my desk, I did a massive purge. I took everything off my desk — even my computer.
Then I picked up each item and asked myself, “Do I use this at least once a week?” If the answer was no, I threw it out or put it elsewhere.
I then reorganized everything around how frequently I use each item. Obviously, my computer and mouse went front and center; my pencil cup and notepad are now right off to the side, and everything else is organized in order of ease of access in a small set of drawers.
Things that I use less frequently, like envelopes and rulers, are now in a box. I then placed that box in a more remote, yet still easy-to-access location within my apartment.
Cleaning up will not only help you get organized, but also help solidify your home office as an extension of your job — not just a place in your apartment for work. Having an attractive, organized work space not only makes you feel better, but provides a polished backdrop for video conferences.
“The lack of formal structure that office work provides can seriously blur the lines between your personal life and work when you work from home,” says human resources professional Darko Jacimovic. “Creating conditions that resemble the office in your home works well for this purpose.”
Having miscellaneous objects from your home strewn about the office can distract you and deteriorate the quality of your work. When setting up to telecommute, undertake a workspace “deep clean” before hopping to it.
4. Get a Good Sized Trash Can
My home office is right next to my kitchen, so naturally I thought I’d just walk over and throw my garbage in my kitchen trash can. I have vastly overestimated my ability to not be lazy — and frequently find myself compiling trash across my office desk.
So, I purchased a decent-size trash can that holds about a week’s worth of refuse. It’s done wonders so far for keeping my desk clear of old paper plates (and opened envelopes, used tissues, candy wrappers, etc.). You can find some pretty good deals online for an office-appropriate garbage receptacle — it’ll do wonders for your workspace.
5. Set Up a Filing Process
Once all the cleaning is completed, it’s time to take the steps necessary to ensure your area stays fresh and focus-inducing.
It’s important to understand how your brain and workflow function so that you maximize your output each day.
I, for one, cannot work in a cluttered, disorganized space. I have a simple electronic filing system set up for important documents. Once I upload the document to my secure online vault, I shred it to keep the need for paper files to a minimum.
6. Let in the Light
Having an office with good natural light is a game-changer for productivity. Years ago, while living in a different home, my desk faced a wall with the window on the other side of the room. It was dark and uninspiring.
Now, I have a smaller room. However, my desk faces a large window overlooking the street and the gorgeous park outside. It’s made all the difference in my work-from-home experience.
In fact, I’m not the only one: Access to natural lighting generally leads to better alertness and productivity of workers, while decreasing headaches and eyestrain, according to a study by the Ergonomics International Journal.
It makes a lot of sense. I love coming into a bright room in the morning and opening the window shades overlooking the beautiful scenery. Try reconfiguring your space to let in some natural light, and watch your output soar.
7. Take Care of Yourself by Staying Connected
Finally, it’s important to not push yourself too hard while telecommuting lest you end up burning yourself out. To that end, it’s recommended you shift your focus away from your work-from-home productivity in terms of your total output and set aside time to practice some necessary self-care.
For instance, schedule social interaction on your calendar daily. If you are used to working face to face with others, set a regular time with your team, either by teleconference or phone. Being forced to stay apart (especially if you're a social type) is very stressful.
Not only will this help combat work-from-home fatigue, but it could end up boosting your overall productivity in the end.
In fact, even taking a proper lunch break can help workers feel more productive, engaged, and efficient, according to a survey by KRC Research. If you feel comfortable, meet a friend or colleague for lunch. Engaging in simple acts we took for granted pre-Pandemic can help return us to a level of "normal". Consider getting out in nature and taking a brisk walk the next time you start to develop home office cabin fever. Your body and mind will thank you later.
How to Stay Positive and Productive When You Work From Home: The Bottom Line
It’s not always easy to stay positive and productive when you work from home. Regardless, these tips can help you get back on track if you’re suffering a lull in your professional output or feeling disconnected due to social distancing.
Remember to take regular breaks and fuel your body with healthy, nutritious food. It’s all too easy to grab unhealthy snacks throughout the day. But your mind and body need healthy alternatives, as well as time for exercise and social interaction every day.
It will take time to find and develop the optimal workspace for your habits, but just be patient. Keep implementing the above tips and tweaking your space and daily routine until find the best way to maximize your productivity and happiness while working from home.