Best Ways to Optimize Your Work-from-Home Schedule
Working from home has its perks, that's for sure. No commute, saving cash, superior fridge access – all good! However, managing a work-from-home schedule is not so easy, especially with nobody looking over your shoulder to keep you on track.
Here are some tips from the most motivated and disciplined work-from-homers around – business leaders who navigated 2020 and led their brands to success. Hopefully, their remote work schedule tips will help you stay sane and productive now and into the future.
Map it Out
Are you new to the work-from-home life and need some structure? That's the common missing link for most folks, and creating a solid schedule will move you in the right direction.
“If you want to be more productive from home, the first step is to make a master schedule of your time,” said Melissa South, CMO of SwingTie. “Everyone will plan their tasks at work, but not everyone will include their leisure time on that schedule as well. If you work from home, the line between work and leisure is very thin. If you do not properly manage your time between the two then it can be hard to avoid burnout and reach peak productivity. Every week decide where your time will go and what time you will put aside to yourself.”
Following through on a schedule is easier said than done, but just mapping it out can be highly effective as an exercise in discipline.
You've got a life outside of working on your laptop, even though it sometimes doesn't seem that way. It's important that you chip away at household tasks and personal responsibilities in between work sessions – you'll feel way more organized.
“The best way to get more from your work and home schedule is to find a way to mold work and home chores around the same time,” said Ryan Solomon, CEO of Kissmetrics. “A lot of people work nonstop and then get off work and try to catch up on all the work they have not done at home. However, if you are at home and can start getting stuff done throughout your workday, then once you are clocked out for the day then you can kick off your shoes and relax far more easily.”
Nobody likes chores, but everyone likes when they're done!
Work, Then Don't
We have the tendency to take our time on projects when working from home, allowing them to stretch out longer than they need to be. This can bleed over into your personal life and really throw things off.
“Working from home makes it much harder to delineate work time from personal time,” said Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign. “I encourage all of our employees to have a disciplined schedule for when you will work, and when you will not, and to stick to that schedule.”
Once that muscle of discipline is built up, you can take on more challenges and really start to make the most of your work-from-home lifestyle.
Maybe your remote work schedule just isn't working out the way you expected, or you need a new angle to get into the groove. Whatever's on your mind, it's worth bringing up with your employer, who should be there to support you.
“If you want to have an at home work schedule that works better for you then you should always be open to discussion with your employer,” said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. “The last thing you want to do is to start doing less work at certain times and then your manager getting confused as to why your work is not getting done at certain times. The freedom of working from home does not always translate to freedom to work whenever you wish. Try your best to be communicative with your management team so that they can understand that you wish to get certain things done at home at certain times and work around that with the hours you work.”
No two people have the exact same work-from-home habits, and that's totally fine, as long as you get the work done and uphold your end of the deal.
We've heard it so many times – work/life balance is key, and it's what we all seek. Actually finding that balance is another story, and you need to actively manage your time to make it happen on a consistent basis.
“I have never distinguished too much between my work life and my personal life while leading Proven Skincare, and this is one of the perks of being an entrepreneur and running your own business,” said Ming Zhao, CEO and Co-Founder of Proven Skincare. “This mentality has helped me ease into the work-from-home norm and the distractions that naturally come with it. I believe in balance with everything, and this has helped me both in the past and currently.”
Remember that balance doesn't come passively – it's all in your control.
Certain tasks on your schedule can be done without much brain power, while others require 100% focused attention. Block off certain times of day for performing these different tasks when you're prepared and have momentum.
“Save your more complex tasks for when you feel your absolute most productive,” said Kaz Amor, Founder of VoCe Haircare. “For some people that's early in the morning, or in the afternoon. If you divide your tasks according to your personal productivity, you'll find you're optimizing your time more efficiently.”
You won't always match your schedule perfectly with your preferred tasks, but make the effort to line things up the way you want.
Rise and Shine
Working from home makes it too easy to just roll out of bed at any time and lazily go through a morning routine at your own leisure. In other words, you might need to crack down on self-discipline to get your day started right.
“Waking up earlier than usual to start your work day can be a useful tactic for working from home,” said Mike Pasley, Founder of Famous IRL. “This may sound counterintuitive since you would think that working from home would allow you to wake up later without worrying as much about commuting or dressing for the office; however, if you start your work earlier but take more breaks throughout the day, you'll feel more refreshed every time you come back from a break and you won't be finishing your day too late. Taking breaks when you're working from home can be really beneficial for your productivity since it can be easy to go stir crazy.”
Adjust your sleep cycles and try out some different morning routines to see what effect they have on productivity.
There will be moments in your days working from home that you hit the wall, run out of energy, and just don't want to budge another inch on your to-do list.
These are the make-or-break moments that determine your days and weeks, so learn to push through and keep the momentum.
“Since it can be easy to get distracted working from home, do what you can to keep yourself busy,” said Brittany Dolin, Co-Founder of Pocketbook Agency. “Pushing yourself to complete more tasks than usual booking a bunch of meetings in one day might seem overwhelming, but it also can make the day go by faster, it pushes you to get things done quickly rather than overthinking or overanalyzing things, and you'll be less likely to even think about any potential distractions around you.”
Develop a list of mental tricks that help you overcome stagnation and procrastination, and use everything at your disposal to stay on track.
Build the Trust
What is your perception of remote work, and what are the parameters you place on yourself as you shift to a work-from-home lifestyle? These are important questions to ask as you make the transition and aim for max productivity.
“It's a misconception that remote workers are lazy or not as productive or don't get as much done,” said Greg Caplan, Founder of Remote Year. “Trust is so important. If you have relationship mistrust and you require your team to be in front of you so you can stare over their shoulders and look at their computer screens, they're also not going to operate with a level of trust. In a remote environment, you have that trust and people are generally getting more work done.”
Ask around, read articles like this, and learn from others about the best methods to conquer remote work and live your best life possible.
Design a Space
Your home workstation can be a relaxing and motivating space where anything is possible. Alternatively, it can be cramped, uncomfortable, and stress-inducing. Do your best to avoid the latter and make a space that works for you.
“Take extra care to ensure that you have a working space that caters to your ability to fully concentrate and remain efficacious in your work,” said Ben Teicher, President and CEO of Healthy Directions. “The less distractions you have the more likely you are to get more done within any given amount of time. Try to have access to sunlight since this can improve your mood and keep water and snacks near you. Anything to make you feel more focused and to save you more time will be to your advantage.”
Browse online for inspiration or just reorganize things so that you get a fresh perspective on things in your space.
What habits are keeping you healthy and happy while the world is going through a tough time? It's important that you stay active and engaged with loved ones so that work doesn't seem like such a daunting task each day.
“Creating healthy habits is essential to keeping yourself grounded, especially during challenging times when we have all been forced to spend more time indoors,” said Mary Berry, Founder and CEO of Cosmos Vita. “Create a schedule for when you wake up, get ready, eat, etc., but you can make it fun. One great way to do this is to incorporate two habits at once. For instance, you can do the dishes while listening to a marketing podcast for a business you're running or you can take your vitamins while taking a look at your calendar for your work day. If you're able to put work habits and home habits together somehow, this will be optimal for your work from home lifestyle.”
Establish your keystone habits, and ensure they stay in place no matter what challenges you face.
What is your biggest source of distraction when working from home? Flipping channels? Making snacks? Checking social media? These things add up quickly and drain your energy before long, so be cautious when stepping away from the workstation.
“Working from home requires focus, since there are so many distractions,” said Ben Cook, Jr., Vice President and General Counsel of Cook Capital Group and Printed Kicks. “The best thing to do is to have a designated place to work and one that is out of a heavy traffic area if you have a big family. Make sure you have a comfortable chair to sit in as well. It is also a good idea to take regular breaks from your computer screen to rest your eyes and give your brain a break! Keep a routine as well and set boundaries between the time you're working and the hours you're not, so you can fully enjoy your time off.”
Some forms of procrastination are disguised as productivity, so be aware of those, too.
Long-time remote workers can definitely struggle with consistency, and it's a relatable issue for newcomers as well. One day, you're in the zone, the next day, you're distracted and can't seem to check off a single task. Consistent routines and discipline are the only real answers.
“There are a lot of ways to optimize working from home,” said Daniel Snow, CEO and Co-Founder of The Snow Agency. “Definitely keep a schedule which will help make sure you stay on task. Waking up at the same time every day and ending work around the same time each day is one way to do this. It is also a good idea to make sure you take breaks during the day. There is nothing like temporarily stepping away from the computer and then returning later refreshed and rejuvenated.”
Figure out what's stopping you from being consistent every day and remove (or add) those key elements to create a sustainable remote work strategy.
Ahead of the Rest
Everyone questioned the early adopters of work-from-home technology, but who is laughing now? There are so many industries taking the remote work leap – often by necessity. What is the next big trend going to be?
“So many people are now working remotely in ways that, a year ago, no one would have thought possible,” said Dennis Hegstad, Co-Founder of LiveRecover. “Many doctors and other medical professionals are now able to telecommute. Whatever your profession, some of the best ways to optimize your schedule while working at home include staying on an actual schedule. Try to wake up and start work at the same time each day. It will help you focus and feel more organized. Also, don't forget to take frequent breaks and move your work area away from the kitchen, so as not to be tempted to do too much snacking.”
The lesson here is the people are highly adaptable. They just need to be bold enough to take the leap into the unknown.
Ready for More
Many remote employees are waiting for the day that they can break down their makeshift home workstations and just get back to the office already. Things might go back to normal, but not 100%, so be prepared for anything.
“On at least some level, remote work is here to stay,” said Bill Glaser, CEO of Outstanding Foods. “Our 9-to-5 work model hasn't changed since Roosevelt's New Deal, and with the advent of remote and hybrid work forces, we're going to see a shift in our ideas regarding work-life balance. To create the optimal work from home schedule for you, incorporate self-care tasks throughout your workday to combat burnout and stay inspired. This may extend work hours beyond the 9-to-5 boundary, but that ‘work' time will be interspersed with ‘life' that makes your working hours more productive.”
Even if you don't love the remote work life, there are ways to make it more enjoyable if you just stick with the program.
Too many remote employees find themselves in a weird time warp where they can't objectively analyze their own behaviors or gauge their productivity each day.
If this sounds like you, take a step back and give yourself an honest assessment of how you can improve in key areas of work and life.
“It's important to regularly assess your work-life balance, even when we're working from home,” said Rachel Geicke, Founder and CEO of Snow Monkey. “Now more than ever it can be difficult to draw the lines between personal and professional life, so creating some form of work-life harmony, where these two parts of your life work together as opposed to against, is important. Identify the personal activities you enjoy doing during lockdowns – going for walks or hikes, at-home workouts, cooking, or baking – and find ways to enjoy them throughout your day as opposed to strictly outside work hours.”
Giving and receiving feedback to and from yourself is never easy, but it's necessary to navigate your work-from-home situation if it's not going to plan.
Stay off Social!
It's the great distractor of the 21st century, and we all fall victim now and then. Pick your poison – Facebook, Twitter, Insta, TikTok. Whatever you enjoy most, make sure it's off-limits during your workday.
“Social Media can be the biggest time zapper of all time,” said Timmy Yanchun, Co-Founder of LTHR Shaving. “How often have you found yourself casually scrolling, only to realize you're still doing it – two hours later? And when you're working remotely, it's important to keep track of every minute! So, set limits on social media, and try to only look at it once per day. Even if you're managing a business account, try to post at certain times every day. That will free up space in your day to actually do something productive.”
Some can work with a little social media throughout the day, while others need a zero-tolerance policy. Be honest with yourself about the right approach for you.
First Things First
The first thing we do in our day can really set the tone for the rest of it. That's why you want to have a solid morning routine, keep stress to a minimum, and ease into your work by checking off quick to-do's, followed by more intense tasks.
“When managing your time so that you can be more productive when working from home, try to focus on doing necessary activities first – such as checking in on email, doing your daily tasks or taking meetings,” said Heidi Robinson, Chief Operating Officer of Because Market. “Then, you'll have a much better idea of how much time you have for other tasks – or even an impromptu brainstorming session or two.”
When you block out your day into manageable chunks, you get way more done and keep an even keel throughout.
Schedule Some Breaks
Even the most motivated workers need a breather now and then, stepping away from the computer to get fresh air, take a bathroom break, or just joke around on the phone with a friend for a few minutes.
“Working from home comes naturally to many people, but some have to work a little harder to adapt and be successful,” said Travis Killian, Owner and CEO of Everlasting Comfort. “One important step is to set a work-from-home schedule that allows you time for productive work flows and regular breaks. This means that you should include your entire day's activities in your daily schedule, including but not limited to scheduled breaks to ensure you don't experience burnout. Plus, when you know that you have a break coming up, you often get that extra burst of energy to push hard and exceed your own expectations.”
Learn to leverage breaks for motivation and allow them to power you through each day, avoiding burnout in the process.
When you close the laptop at the end of your workday, do you immediately try to distract yourself with something else, or do you consciously reflect on your performance?
This is one of the toughest parts of working from home, but it's something we can all work on and become better at over time.
“Working from home is definitely not the permanent vacation that some might envision it to be,” said Rachel Jones, Head of PR at Hope Health. “In fact, many people work even harder and are more productive when working remotely. A good way to be as efficient as possible is to take a couple of minutes the night before and review what you hope to accomplish the following day. Often, we may not finish a task the day before, or perhaps we were ‘in the flow' and completed even more than we expected. It's important to always adjust your schedule accordingly so that you can start the day running – not scheduling out your day.”
Now that working from home is nearly universal, it's a reality we'll all need to accept. Since entrepreneurs are well-versed in motivation and productivity, we should listen to what they have to say on the subject! We hope these tips will help you thrive in the work-from-home era and beyond.