Working from home has been on an upward trend for the past few years, as more employers and employees realize the massive benefits. But recently, it’s seen an even bigger boost in popularity, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
For the time being, working from home isn’t just about saving money and increasing productivity—it’s also about maintaining public health and, with the help of other social distancing tactics, saving lives.
Virus concerns aside, this may be your first real opportunity to work from home. As someone who’s been working from home for more than 10 years, I’m here to tell you—it’s fantastic, as long as you have a strategic approach in place.
I’ve compiled some of the best science-backed working from home tips you can follow to increase your productivity while working from home. Below is an infographic with my favorite tips that you can show your employees or re-publish on your own blog or website!
Maximizing the Benefits of Working From Home
If you’re on the fence about working from home (assuming you have the option), you may wonder about the real productivity benefits of doing so. If your primary concern is health, the decision should be a no-brainer. But otherwise, you should know why working from home is a good decision.
1. Work from home if you can!
There is an abundance of evidence backing the productivity benefits of working from home, which we’ve recounted in a prior blog post. But let me note some of the highlights from those studies. Working from home boosts raw productivity by 13 percent, according to a study by Stanford University, and leads to 50 percent lower employee attrition, ostensibly due to higher morale and job satisfaction. Additionally, 77 percent of people working from home self-report higher productivity (take that statistic how you will), and telecommuters tend to make about $4,000 dollars per year more than their conventional working counterparts.
2. Work alone—but don’t let yourself get lonely.
We’ve also talked about working alone—something most remote workers have in common. According to a study by Ask.com, about 86 percent of people naturally prefer to work alone to maximize their productivity. The same study found that 61 percent of claim loud colleagues are their biggest distraction. That said, working from home can get lonely, especially if you prefer working with others. If this is the case, read on to discover some strategies you can use to abate loneliness.
3. Maximize your new-found time that you won’t spend on commuting.
One study found the average one-way commute is 26 minutes, or 52 minutes of two-way travel time. That’s nearly 5 hours a week wasted on a commute. If you’re suddenly working from home, you’ll have, on average, 5 extra hours to actually work—or whatever else you want to do to maintain proper work-life balance.
4. Set your schedule according to your personal ultradian rhythm.
Everyone has differing ultradian rhythms—the biological cycles that underpin our various body functions. Understanding your biology and your personality can help you set your own schedule, ultimately giving you more flexibility so you can increase your performance.
Setting Up Your Home Office
One of the first things you’ll need to do is set up your home office—the working environment where you’ll be doing most of your work. These scientifically supported tips for working from home can help you create an environment that maximizes your efficiency:
5. Designate a specific workspace.
Traditional office spaces are designed as they are for a reason; they can make you more productive. There’s a psychological benefit to changing your environment when you’re changing responsibilities. Going from “home” to “work” forces your brain to adapt to new expectations. If you simply work from a couch or the kitchen counter, you’re not going to make the switch. Instead, designate a specific room of your house (if you can) to be your home office.
6. Keep dressing as though you’re going to work.
There’s also a psychological impact carried by your clothes; your choice in attire can change the way you think. If you wear pajamas, you may feel lazier and less likely to do your best work. But if you wear a suit (or whatever you would wear on a normal workday), you’ll change your brain to a more productive mode.
7. Get ergonomic furniture.
Ergonomic furniture is designed to improve your posture and keep you comfortable, both short-term and long-term. Scientific studies confirm that appropriately designed ergonomic chairs can ultimately reduce back pain—and other ergonomic purchases, like ergonomic keyboards, can help you stay healthy as well.
8. Set up next to a window.
If possible, set up your home office next to a window. Let in as much natural light as possible during the day. The natural light will increase your mood, make you more productive in the short-term, and help stave off the effects of depression long-term. It’s also associated with an 84 percent drop in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision.
9. Buy a plant (or two).
Science makes it clear that plants are associated with an increase in productivity, though the exact mechanism is still under scrutiny. It could be that human beings love nature, and get in a happier mood when engaging with it, or it could be an effect that plants have on the air.
10. Hang artwork.
Did you know that occasionally looking at artwork can make you more creative? It’s true. Hang a painting or some of your favorite artistic works on the walls, and don’t hesitate to stare at it when you’re experiencing a creative block. You also won’t have to worry about coworkers judging your taste.
11. Play music at a moderate volume.
Speaking of escaping coworker judgment, when working from home, you can play music at a moderate volume to see a productivity boost. Just be careful here—if your music is too loud, too quiet, or too wordy, it could end up distracting you more than helping.
12. Turn off the TV.
You may think you can work comfortably with a TV show on in the background, but invariably, “background noise” television leads to distraction. Turn off the TV and stay as focused on your main work as possible.
13. Scent your office.
Aromatherapy has some mixed support from a scientific perspective, but there are some studies that suggest the right scents can make you more productive. I’m no scientist, but I’d guess this is more of a personal preference thing. Lavender and peppermint are commonly cited options.
14. Put your phone in another room.
You probably know that your smartphone is a major source of distraction, but did you know studies show it can distract you even when it’s off? That’s right—the mere presence of a phone can throw you. Shove it in a drawer or put it in a different room while you’re trying to focus.
15. Eliminate other distractions.
Distractions cost you more than you realize. According to one study, a single distraction can disrupt your focus for up to 23 minutes—that’s a long time to waste unfocused, due to a single notification or stray message. Pay attention to the things that distract you most. Are they notifications? Demands from your children? Noise from outside? Reduce these however you can.
16. Get fresh air.
Multiple studies show that getting fresh air, one way or another, will increase your productivity. If you have a window and the weather is nice, open the window and breathe deep. Otherwise, consider going for a walk outside as a break from your day.
17. Set the temperature to between 70 and 73 degrees F.
At home, you won’t have to fight your coworkers for control over the thermostat. Find the right temperature for your productivity, and keep your home there throughout the workday. Studies suggest the optimal temperature is somewhere between 70 and 73 degrees F, but you may prefer something slightly warmer or colder. Pay attention to your work habit changes in different temperature environments.
18. Keep your desk clean.
Clutter is distracting, and research has found that it actually causes workers to procrastinate. In addition, clutter can affect our general mental health, making us feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. Keeping your desk clean has a powerful psychological benefit, which can help you stay focused and get more done.
19. Use a standing desk.
Multiple studies have shown that standing instead of sitting while working has significant positive effects on health, posture, engagement, and productivity. One study resulted in standing call center employees reporting 53% more successful calls than their sitting counterparts. Another study found that employees using sit-stand desks were more engaged at work, better at their jobs, had less job-related fatigue, less anxiety, and a higher overall quality of life. As someone who uses a standing desk and works 100% of the time standing (as I write this, I’m standing), I can vouch for these findings!
Psychological Productivity Hacks
Understanding how your brain works can unlock more of your productive potential. The following working from home tips are all psychological hacks you can use to boost your productivity:
20. Hold yourself accountable.
According to the Hawthorne effect, people behave differently when they know they’re being watched. In a conventional office, your boss and coworkers will hold you accountable, influencing your performance. By yourself, you may need to establish a different kind of accountability. This is one of the most important tips on working from home effectively.
21. Give yourself short deadlines for tasks.
Parkinson’s Law isn’t exactly “scientifically proven,” but it’s an informal rule we’ve all experienced. It states that the amount of time it takes to do something increases to fill whatever time you allocated for it. So if you give yourself an hour to finish a task, it’s probably going to take an hour—but if you give yourself half an hour, you’ll do it in half an hour. Use this to your advantage by tightly scheduling your entire day; give yourself less time than you think you truly need.
22. Master the art of flow.
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that a flow state is the pinnacle of human productivity; when you achieve flow, you become hyper-focused, or fully immersed in your work. You can do this by eliminating distractions, and finding tasks with the perfect balance of difficulty and interestingness. Since you’ll be working from home, you’ll have much more environmental control to find this balance for yourself.
23. Reward yourself whenever you finish a task.
You’re working from home, so there are plenty of opportunities to reward yourself for good behavior. Did you finish a big project? Get a treat from the kitchen. Was that meeting a massive success? Take a break with an episode of your favorite TV show. Research shows that 78% of employees work harder when their efforts are being rewarded. These steps can really make your day more enjoyable and keep you motivated to keep accomplishing tasks.
24. Use the 2-minute rule.
According to the 2-minute rule, if a task takes less than 2 minutes to do, you should do it right away—rather than saving it for later or adding it to some task list. Essentially, it’s a way of preventing small, easy tasks from accumulating enough to bog you down.
25. Use the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is an approach developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. The idea is to use a timer to split your working intervals into manageable chunks. Traditionally, you’ll work for 25 minutes, then take a short break. The exact timing and break patterns can vary, but the important thing is that you pay attention to your focused time and give yourself breaks in between those sessions.
Building a Routine
One of the most difficult, yet most important parts of working from home productively is creating a routine for yourself. Without the structure of an office environment, you’ll be on your own in this regard. Fortunately, these evidence-driven remote work tips can help you establish a routine faster, and customize it for your own personal working style:
26. Use the Seinfeld Productivity Secret.
Jerry Seinfeld is known to have popularized a strategy to never “break the chain” when he wants to do something consistently. The basic idea is to do something every day, marking your progress with a red X or similar notation. Once it becomes a habit, all you have to do is keep the habit going—and it’s easier to remain consistent than it is to start something new. Use this when creating a work-from-home routine; do it consistently for a week, indicating your progress with some kind of tracker, and then keep your momentum going.
27. Get enough sleep.
Even a single night of unsatisfactory sleep can have a massive impact on your productivity, compromising your focus, your motivation, your mood, and even your problem solving abilities. If you’re skipping the commute, you should have a bit more time to sleep every day—so don’t make any more excuses!
28. Take a nap if you need one.
As if you needed an excuse to take a nap, scientific studies confirm that even a short nap in the middle of your workday can improve your performance, especially if you slept poorly the night before. There are different kinds of naps to consider, including the famous 20-minute “power nap,” but you may need something longer if you’re feeling especially sleep deprived.
29. Start each day with a victory.
Feeling like you got a “win,” even if it’s a small one, is associated with a boost in mood and energy. Ultimately, this will make you more productive, so try to start your day with some kind of win. For example, you might knock out a task you know you’ve mastered, or try to accomplish something important early in the morning.
30. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, embrace it.
Did you know that there’s a scientific basis to your feeling like an “early bird” or a “night owl?” There’s a genetic component to this somewhat subjective impression. You’re likely much more productive at certain hours of the day than others. Figure out where you excel, and rearrange your schedule so you’re doing most of your work at peak productivity.
31. Eat a hearty breakfast.
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that a hearty breakfast is shown to make most people more productive. A full stomach gives you energy, prevents hunger from distracting you, and can keep your metabolism strong throughout the day. Choose proteins and complex carbohydrates over sugars; for example, eggs and whole toast are a better choice than donuts. And since you won’t have a commute to worry about, you’ll have time to cook!
32. Be smart about snacking.
Similarly, you’ll want to be smart about snacking—especially when your own kitchen is right around the corner. Small snacks throughout the day can stave off hunger, keeping you focused on your work and keeping your energy levels high. But snacking on candy bars and fast food can ultimately result in a sugar crash, which will actually decrease your productivity more than the short-term boost can improve it.
33. Keep the coffee going until mid-afternoon.
Many of us have become caffeine lovers. And in the right doses and timing, caffeine can make you more productive. Use it to perk up and stay active throughout the day; but make sure you curb your intake by mid-afternoon. Caffeine can interfere with your sleep habits if you ingest it even several hours before bedtime.
34. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
Make the time to exercise every day. Exercising gives you a short-term boost to your mood and your subjective energy levels, helping you work more productively. And if you exercise every day, you’ll greatly improve your health, reducing the number of sick days you have to take. As an added bonus, you can use exercise as an excuse to get out of the house and get some fresh air, which is, in itself, a productivity booster!
Meditation has a number of benefits that are scientifically proven, so use some of your extra time each morning for a quick session. Over time, meditation will make you more emotionally stable, more resilient to stress, and even more focused—all of which can help you work more effectively, even if you’re doing it from home.
36. Take breaks.
You might already be taking breaks with the Pomodoro Technique, but if you skipped that tip, I’ll re-stress the scientific value of breaks in general. Take more breaks throughout the day if you want to stay productive. Additionally, you should time your breaks strategically. If you stop a task or project in the middle of it and walk away, your brain will keep working on it, kind of in the background. But if you break at the end of a task, you may find it harder to “jump back in” to something new after a break. Accordingly, consider taking your breaks in the middle of your work.
37. Stop multitasking.
I’ve cited it before and I’ll cite it again: studies prove multitasking doesn’t work, at least not for the vast majority of workers. As you’re working from home, you’ll have more flexibility in working while talking on the phone, or trying to accomplish something while maintaining a presence in a group chat. Don’t. Focus on one task or project at a time, even if one of them is communicative in nature.
38. Commit to small chunks of time on major tasks.
Psychologically, it’s much easier to continue doing a task than it is to start a task. Use this to your advantage by committing to just 5 minutes on a project; you shouldn’t feel much resistance to the idea, but once you get started, you’ll naturally feel inclined to work longer.
39. End each day on a high note.
Just as you started the day with a victory, you should end each of your days on a high note to keep your mood and motivation elevated. Consider saving an especially easy or fun task for the very end of your workday.
Communicating While Working From Home
One of the biggest problems new remote workers find is in communicating with their colleagues. They aren’t used to holding conversations or engaging with other people while working from home, and they don’t understand the strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities of different remote communication approaches.
Try these working from home tips to master your own communicative prowess:
40. Flatten the Allen Curve.
The Allen curve is a concept in communication theory. Basically, it states that the greater the distance between two people, the less they’re going to communicate. Working from home, that distance will be greater than ever, and it’s your job to “flatten” it with ongoing communication. Maintaining communication with your colleagues will lead to better engagement, which makes you 38% more likely to feel like your productivity is above average, according to research from the Workplace Research Foundation.
41. Set firm communication hours.
Remember that study that found it takes 23 minutes to fully recover from a distraction? While it’s important to stay communicative when working from home, too much communication can actually be distracting. Correct this by setting firm hours for when you are (and aren’t) available for chat. There’s no shame in marking yourself “offline” when you need to focus on work.
42. Get comfortable saying no.
A lot of newcomers to working from home feel the need to prove their worth, so they go out of their way to accept any and all requests. But you should be comfortable saying no, especially if you’re faced with a task outside your field of specialty, or if you’re already overloaded. Saying no is difficult, but it’s often the best choice.
43. Use email as your primary method of communication.
According to one study, 72 percent of people prefer to email when communicating. Email is great because it’s semi-permanent, giving you a written record of conversations. It’s instantaneous. It can be used for one-on-one and group conversations alike. And it doesn’t demand an instant response, like a chat platform. Use it as your primary communication medium when working from home.
44. Set up a reliable system of reminders for yourself.
At home, you won’t have social cues from others, like reminders when a meeting is about to start. Accordingly, you’ll want some system to “communicate” with yourself. You can be old-fashioned and use sticky notes, or you can be like me and send email reminders to yourself.
45. Talk to someone you love.
Oxytocin, the chemical responsible for creating and reinforcing human bonds, can help us stay more focused, more productive, and happier. You can get a surge of oxytocin simply by talking to someone you love. Take time during your day to talk to a loved one, even if it’s a quick text to someone physically far away.
46. Pet an animal.
You can also get a rush of oxytocin by petting an animal. If you have a dog, cat, or more exotic pet, you’re probably already stoked to be working from home. Give them a few pats on the head when you need a break from work. This is one of my favorite tips on working from home, for obvious reasons (and my dog loves this tip, too!).
47. Don’t use social media if you’re feeling lonely.
It seems like social media would be a good way to reduce loneliness while working from home, but in reality, it can make you even lonelier. Limit your exposure, and don’t use it as a substitute for other forms of human interaction.
Obviously, if you’re staying indoors intentionally, due to, say, a viral pandemic, your social options may be limited. Substitute virtual communication whenever you can to stay socially active in the meantime.
Committing to Improvement
Few people start working from home as 100% productivity machines. Instead, the most productive workers tweak and adjust how they work over time. Commit to improving yourself, both short-term and long-term, to see better results by using these working from home tips focused on continually improving yourself:
48. Set goals.
There are some conflicting studies about the “right” way to set goals, but it’s clear that having goals and achieving them is incredibly motivating. Spend time writing down both short-term and long-term goals for your development as a remote worker. What do you want to be better at? How do you want to improve, and when? This is one of the most crucial tips for working from home.
49. Track your productivity.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” If you’re working within a team or if you have a boss who’s paranoid that their employees aren’t really “working” from home, be prepared to justify your productivity by tracking it. Keep notes on what you’ve done throughout the day, and be sure to write down your top accomplishments. You can use tools like Toggl, Time Doctor, or our own tool, EmailAnalytics (you can start a free trial instantly!), to monitor your activity throughout the day and show your boss how things are going. Doing so will not only keep you accountable (which will boost your productivity due to the Hawthorne effect which we covered earlier), but it will also earn you recognition from your boss, which will further motivate you and boost productivity!
50. Keep a journal.
Studies also support the health benefits of journaling. If you keep a journal regularly, you’ll have greater emotional control, a better understanding of your introspective thoughts, and less stress. Spend time writing about your accomplishments, regrets, and feelings as you get used to working from home.
51. Experiment and evaluate.
Don’t assume your initial habits and routines are the best ones for your working style. Instead, experiment with different apps, approaches, and styles—especially if you’re working from home for the first time. Then, measure the objective changes in your time expenditure and task completion rates. Experimenting is the scientific method for discovering truth, so use it to discover your own productivity truth! Try these email productivity tools and these productivity apps.
If there’s one takeaway you should glean from this article, it’s that everyone is a little bit different. Even scientifically proven working from home tips to boost productivity aren’t going to be as effective for every employee. Take the time to measure your effectiveness, observe changes in relation to new strategies, and adjust your working formula over time.
Now that you’re familiar with these working from home productivity tips, if you need more tools to help you track your productivity, give EmailAnalytics a try! Our tool can tell you how many emails you’re sending and receiving, how you’re managing email threads, and even your average email response time. It’s free to try, so sign up for a free trial today—and learn more about your habits once you start working from home.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before exiting it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.