Working from home is a luxury, but sometimes, a challenging one. Sure, no one who works from an office wants to hear you complaining about starting the day in your PJs, but focusing and getting work done in the space where you sleep and live can be legitimately difficult.
Offices, and co-working spaces, are deliberately designed for productivity, community and other business-focused activities, while your home, well, maybe not so much. Maybe you just prop up a laptop on your kitchen table and call it your desk for the day, or perhaps you have an entire room dedicated exclusively to work, but regardless of where you’re answering emails or taking conference calls, the temptation to raid your pantry, get a head start on laundry or even slip in a quick nap (that presentation deck can wait, right? no?), lingers.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for remote workers to stay on task, setting up a dedicated space for work can greatly benefit you by limiting distractions, upping productivity and even perhaps earning you an annual tax break. “Investing the time into strategizing what you really need and where things should go will pay huge dividends in time, money, and productivity,” says Bridget James, senior professional organizer with The Organizing Professionals.
Ready to get started? Employ these expert tips for your most productive at-home workspace.
Choose an “office”
If you don’t have a separate room to dedicate to your workspace, choose a spot to call your office and stick with it. This will help you get in the mindset of starting and continuing the workday, and not mindlessly working from whatever place at home you feel coziest. Home design blogger Brianna Thomas of Bloom in the Black suggests picking a space with easy access to outlets, and, preferably natural light. She also recommends using a large surface as your HQ. “Trying to cram your laptop, coffee, notebook, phone and whatever else wanders into your space is terrible for productivity. You need to be able to spread out a bit,” she says.
If you simply don’t have the space, consider investing in a folding table that can serve as a desk, or a mounted desk that folds into your wall after work is done, like a Murphy bed but for business. Thomas is also an advocate of posting a whiteboard or pegboard above your workspace, to keep lists, calendars, to-dos and more directly in front of you (rather than buried away digitally).
If you live with other people, clearly state the boundaries of your office, and how you prefer to be interacted with while you’re at work. It may sound a little silly, but a spouse or roommate casually chatting with you while you’re in a dedicated office in a communal area can be distracting and defeat the purpose of your at-home work space. Let them know you’re working and your policies for taking breaks or socializing.
Keep the necessities within reach
Nothing’s more distracting than looking for an iPhone charger and then getting swept up in an entirely different task en route to the wall you usually keep your phone plugged into. Take stock of what you need during the workday and keep it within an arm’s reach. “Make working at your office desk easy for you and your specific needs,” says professional organizer Susan Santoro, owner of Organized 31. “If you often need to access files while you sit at your desk, then place the file cabinet within easy reach of the desk. If you often print documents that you need to access immediately, place the printer within easy reach of your desk.”
Santoro says that physical clutter can distract your thoughts, so put away anything unnecessary, like lingering paperwork, extra writing utensils or really anything you don’t use regularly. Digital clutter can also be a major distraction during the workday — dedicate some time at the end or beginning of each week to delete any irrelevant drafts, downloads or Gifs you chatted to a coworker. When it comes time to find important documents or emails, the process will be quicker, and you’ll be less tempted to purge yourself into that digital hole of disposal files.
Add a second monitor
Chloe Brittain, owner of a freelance transcription agency works from home and is convinced that a second monitor is the key to her productivity. “No matter what you do as a home-based worker, whether you’re a writer, graphic designer, developer, or virtual assistant, you can dramatically boost your productivity with a dual-monitor setup,” she says. She recently added one to her home office, and has found herself multitasking in a new and productive way. “I can use my second monitor to surf the web while taking notes for an article that I’m drafting in Word, or I can easily compare and mark up two different documents without having to print one out,” she says. She notes that the cost is low, setup is easy, and you’ll reap in benefits.
Others (including the author of this article) may find that a desktop computer can be a great addition to a laptop, particularly if you don’t have a separate home office. My desktop faces away from my TV in a corner of my apartment that has great lighting, so I’m (usually) excited to sit down in the morning and not drag my computer to the couch.
Get a pet
One of the best tips for aspiring writers on author Jennifer Weiner’s website is to “get a dog.” The routine of dog ownership creates discipline and accountability, two things that are difficult as an independent worker or creative. Plus, they provide companionship when the long solo workday feels lonely. Kim Kohatsu, founder and chief creative officer at Charles Ave Marketing, has worked from home for the past six years and has found having a dog to be essential in her productivity. “He keeps me company as I work, providing a sometimes welcome distraction and breaking up the monotony of sitting at a desk,” she says. If owning, fostering or watching a dog (or cat) isn’t possible for you, she recommends using animal therapy to stay relaxed and on task, perhaps by hanging a bird feeder outside the window by your home office or even just streaming a zoo’s webcam or a puppy or kitten video on your screen. “When thinking about productivity, it can’t always be go-go-go,” Kohatsu says. “Sometimes you need to sit back and take a breath, and having animals around, whether live or virtual, helps in this effort immensely.”