How to Work From Home Successfully (Even If You're an Extrovert)
I have worked from home for about three months and have already learned a lot about myself, maximizing productivity, and how to be successful in an unconventional workplace setting.
This summer, Brandon and I decided to move from Denver to Nashville, which was a particularly difficult decision because we both really loved our jobs. When I was in the middle of putting in my two weeks notice (well, more like 3.5 weeks notice because it was eating me up inside), my bosses offered to keep me on the team and let me work remotely once we moved to Nashville. They even knew we were planning on taking the summer off to travel and see family, so I was especially grateful for this opportunity.
After three months, I can confidently say that working from home has been much more enjoyable than I imagined it would be. I’m an optimistic person, but I actually had low expectations for this, especially knowing my extroverted tendencies. However, there are some thoughtful decisions I have made throughout the process that have helped tremendously.
1. Get dressed every day.
This seems simple, but it is my number one rule that I cannot go without. I have worn sweats and a sweatshirt on a handful of days, and they have been my least favorite days. You don’t have to get dressed in a pencil skirt or slacks, but just putting on real pants and a normal shirt can go a long way in helping you feel awake, productive, and generally happy. “Look good, feel good” has never been more apparent to me than it is now. I’m not saying I put on makeup every day; in fact, I hardly ever wear makeup during the week! But for some reason, putting fresh clothes on when I wake up helps me transition immediately from sleep mode to work mode.
2. Go to a coffee shop.
If you follow me on Instagram, you already know this is my saving grace. As an extrovert, even the smallest social interaction can go a long way in making my day. At least twice a week, I walk to a coffee shop in the neighborhood for the morning or the afternoon for a change of scenery. Plus, a coffee shop atmosphere is my favorite environment for getting work done. There is something about the energy, steady noise, and commotion that helps me work quickly and with the most concentration. But that is certainly not true for everyone! I know Brandon cannot focus whatsoever in a coffee shop setting. Find what works for you and implement that into your weekly schedule.
3. Take a lunch break.
Believe me, it is tempting to work all the way through lunch, stuffing your face with crackers while you type away. I’ve certainly had those days. However, it is important to make a conscious effort to take a short break from work to eat something and step away from your screen, even if it is just for 20-30 minutes. On a daily basis, I have to consciously tell myself to not spend those minutes scrolling through my Instagram feed, and to instead eat something, go on a short walk, or take the dog out. Which leads me to my next point...
4. Get a dog or cat.
I’m only kind of serious. This may not be an option for everyone, but I figured it was worth mentioning how vital our dog, Olive, has been in my overall contentment while I work from home. Even just having another living being in the room with you can instill a sense of peace, comfort and joy (is this a Christmas carol?). Plus, letting Olive outside at noon is a natural reminder for me to get off my butt and take a miniature walk, even if it is just 100 feet to our dog park! Olive has truly been an exceptional coworker. She curls up to next to me on the couch or under my feet at the desk, reminding me that I’m not alone. Plus, she keeps the day interesting with the occasional bark or funny sleep talking episodes. If only she could upload content and photos to WordPress and answer some emails...
5. Brush your teeth.
As obvious as it sounds, practice good hygiene while you work from home. Overcome the temptation to skip simple morning rituals, such as brushing your teeth, putting your hair up, or washing your face. I had a few days where I failed to do the above, and I just felt disgusting by noon. Get into a routine that involves the typical getting-ready habits you would do if you were going to an office...except maybe not the makeup or high heels part.
6. Play music.
Music is vital to my success. Even while I worked in an office setting in Denver, I almost always had headphones in. Without fail, I play music throughout the entire day through our Bose bluetooth speaker. While I certainly have my favorites that I like to revisit, I love to listen to the Electronic Study Music playlist on Spotify, which Brandon and I discovered back in 2014. Another favorite is Deep Focus. Both are extremely trancy, monotonous, and go hand-in-hand with that caffeine buzz you’ll have going on about 30 minutes into the day.
7. Have a good chat system.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with my team for nearly two years before working remotely. And although we worked in the same building, we had established a chat system (through HipChat), since it was much easier to communicate that way. Most of our conversation is sending links to relevant articles, asking quick questions, or simply chatting about life updates. So it was a pretty seamless transition when I logged back into Hipchat in the beginning of September. I cannot stress the importance of a chat system enough! If you are working from home, this is one of the best ways to feel connected to your team and maintain a steady line of communication, even if it is just about your dinner plans. This is a digital replacement for that office small talk that can go a long way in increasing workplace happiness. And more importantly, it helps you do your job. It is the easiest and most efficient way to get answers to questions as they arise.
8. Maintain a clean work space.
I am mildly obsessed with cleanliness and order, which may be surprising to those who know me. So having a clean apartment is absolutely essential to my contentment and productivity as I work. But I think that is true for most people. An orderly space is calming to our minds, allowing us to express creativity freely, think clearly, and have an overall sense of peace. Practicing minimalism has helped with this as well, as there is simply less stuff to manage and clean. I sometimes spend about 30 minutes each morning cleaning the apartment before I start work, and since I don’t have to commute anywhere (or put on makeup), this replaces my “getting ready for work” time.
9. Have a work-from-home buddy, if possible.
This is another life circumstance that I’m grateful for but had no control over. Brandon works as a computer programmer and is able to work from home quite often (on average, about 3 days out of the week). I have found that having him around while I work actually improves my productivity and helps me feel more content, which is contrary to what many have told me about working from home alongside a significant other. We hardly talk to each other during the day, but each enjoy knowing someone else is in the room while we work. It’s an unspoken comfort, much like having Olive in the room. And now I’m comparing my husband to our dog…
10. Drink good coffee.
One time I tweeted, “Does anyone else get excited to go to sleep because you realize you get to drink coffee when you wake up?” As pathetic and depressing as it sounds, the experience of making coffee and drinking it is sometimes one of the reasons I get out of bed in the morning...amongst other reasons, such as my husband, our dog, the sunshine, the promise of eternal salvation, etc. Invest in a quality coffee brewing system (my go-to is Chemex, although we have a French press and a one-cup pour over as well). And get good beans from your favorite local shop, or save money by going to Whole Foods (is that even possible?). I have found some of the best whole beans for just $7 at Whole Foods, which is about one-third of the price you’ll find at most places.
11. Stay active.
It's not breaking news that there is a direct correlation between exercising and one's happiness and overall well-being. Brandon and I started a strict workout schedule as soon as we moved to Nashville, which has indirectly affected my work life in a positive way. I have not been consistent about exercise since the days when I had 1-2 soccer practices per day and games on the weekends in junior high and high school. After experiencing both a sedentary and active lifestyle, I can now verify that I am much better off when I am working out regularly. It's nothing crazy — just running on the treadmill three times a week. But it keeps the endorphins/dolphins/whatever flowing.
12. Create a schedule.
I am pretty horrible at this, but I desperately want to be better. I always start work before 9, but sometimes start at 8:20, or as early as 7:30. The flexibility can be awesome, but the inconsistency can be nauseating. I imagine our bodies, minds and emotions thrive off of a planned schedule and a predictable rhythm to our day. In fact, I know they do. I am big on New Year’s resolutions, so I am adding this one to the list for sure!
What tips do you have?
Whether you work from home occasionally or all the time, what helps you be most successful and productive?