I have been working from home since early 2011, when I was let go from a Hollywood agency after the summary firing of my boss. It’s a long story, but in the end, it led to the start of my full-time writing career.
At first, working at home as a freelance writer was a challenge, and a bit terrifying. Not only was I without a guaranteed paycheck and a set of expected daily duties, but I was also suddenly in charge of my own schedule, obliged to create my own workspace, and left without any human resources team to support me.
In the first year or so I spent working from home, I often found myself bouncing between projects without making much progress on any of them, leaving my desk at random times in the absence of an established schedule, and often returning to work late in the evening well after I should have been relaxing or even asleep.
Through a slow, organic process, I began to identify what habits led to the most productive work from home experience, and what hacks I could use to keep myself on task, managing my time, meeting deadlines, and also enjoying a good work/life balance — no easy task when your home life and workplace are one in the same.
With that in mind, here are nine of my best productivity hacks that keep me on task while I work from home.
Get dressed for your home office just like you would for a professional workplace
When I first started working from home, often I would put on running shorts and a T-shirt in the morning, knowing I’d be going for an afternoon jog later.
But I came to realize that the overly casual outfits were making me feel like I was just hanging out at home, not working from home.
Now I go through a full battery of morning ablutions, dress in clothes just short of business casual attire, and I even put on a pair of leather shoes worn only in the house. Once my work shoes are on, my work day has begun, and I can literally feel it right down to the soles of my feet.
Keep a schedule and make sure others respect it
One of my major challenges in learning how to work from home was establishing and maintaining a real schedule.
Now I start work at quarter to nine almost every day, I eat lunch at about the same hour, and I take an afternoon jog every day, too.
The next hurdle was making sure other people respected my time. Sure, I work from home and might not appear to be more available for this call, that meeting, or this favor from a friend, but with occasional exceptions, when I’m within my work hours, I am at work and not free.
Take real breaks during the workday
Along with keeping a real schedule to make sure your work-from-home arrangement remains productive, you need to take real breaks during the day to make sure it stays manageable.
When I go up to the kitchen for coffee, I’ll allow myself five minutes to flip through a magazine or scroll through a website, and when it’s time for lunch, I hang out with my wife if she’s home, or watch a show or read for fun if she’s not.
Unless I’m in a crunch, I don’t do work at my desk while eating, because I need a break just like any employee in an office.
Create and maintain a real workspace
My office is built into a corner of our basement, and I’m fortunate to have the space for a large desk, an armchair, bookshelves, and just enough room for pacing when thinking or on calls.
But even if you work out of a small apartment, you can create a dedicated workspace, it just might need to be rearranged at the start and end of each day. Always put your computer, phone, papers, and coffee cup in the same place on your table and your workspace appears. However you establish a workspace at home, keep it as consistent as you can.
Learn to use lists and workflow management software
Even if you are a full-time employee of a company who just happens to work remotely, working from home puts much more of the burden on you to manage your projects and deadlines. And if you are self-employed, this is so much truer.
I’m not naturally prone to using lists and calendars and generally organizing things all that well, but I have learned to create and maintain systems without which I would have no idea what to prioritize and when.
While you can use programs like Slack and Trello to organize your workload and coordinate with colleagues who also work remotely or work in an office, one of the best platforms is simply Google. Between Google’s calendar, with its customizable reminders, and Google Drive, which allows you to access files from anywhere, Google software is a force multiplier when you are your own human resources team. And it’s free at that.
Don’t treat home like home
There are a million projects I could tackle around my home right now, from a clogged gutter to a blown bathroom light bulb to organizing the whole garage and then some, but here’s the thing: I’m at work.
If you allow yourself to blur the line between home and work during work hours, you will quickly start to lose time as the home projects snowball on you. It has happened to me so many times in the past that I won’t consider even a literal one-minute light bulb swap until the work day is done. I’m just sure I’d spot a scuff on the wall that needed painting or a wobbly shelf that needed tightening.
Get some fresh air and, ideally, some exercise
Breaking up a work-from-home work day with fresh air and getting the blood moving (as at a gym) is essential for keeping your workdays low stress and even enjoyable.
Without the proximity of colleagues who can often offer respite from the grind of work, taking a walk or going for a run or bike ride are great ways to reinvigorate yourself. Or, like I do, you can use afternoon exercise to transition out of working: When I return to my house after my jog, the work day is over and I’m just home.
Make sure there’s plenty of light in your workspace
Even if you tend to keep your home more softly lit in general, during the workday your workspace should be brightly lit. This will help increase your energy, reduce eye strain, and keep you better focused.
Swap out bulbs or get a bright desk lamp that produces full spectrum light similar to that of natural sunshine.
Don’t spend all of your working time at home
Even if your home is your primary workplace, you should occasionally try working from a coffee shop or library, and take meetings at colleague’s offices or restaurants from time to time. This will keep things fresher, help prepare you for work on the road during travel, and also help you keep up your interpersonal skills for that time when you may again work in an office setting.
Originally published on Business Insider.
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