For a long time, I didn’t thrive in my work from home environment. There were a lot of reasons I could choose from as to why this was, but one of the biggest was that I never asked myself what fit ME. I was constantly looking at “what successful people do” and trying to copy it – even if it left me feeling awful.
I probably should’ve known better, as I fell into the same trap with fitness, following EXACTLY what someone else was doing because I wanted to look like them, even though they weren’t me. I wasn’t them and our lifestyles weren’t even somewhat comparable. I hated working from coffee shops, but still somehow told myself that I was wrong for disliking it and kept forcing myself into a less than conducive work environment.
I threw my hands up in frustration too many times because I thought I just couldn’t have it. I couldn’t live and work from home the same way these other “successful” people did.
Then, I FINALLY figured out that my schedule didn’t have to look like someone else’s success to also be successful and truly thrive.
I enjoy being in sweats and pajamas throughout the day and it didn’t lessen my productivity. I liked having the convenience of home when I could and that having to pack everything I needed to be away for hours wasn’t something I enjoyed. I found what kind of chair I gravitated towards sitting in while I work, even if it wasn’t the typical office chair.
And above all else, I realized that my productivity only had to serve me.
How many times have you tried to follow someone else’s schedule or routine, hoping it would turn you into a better version of yourself?
How many habits have you tried to adopt that never quite fit?
This might spark some ideas for some, but I also want to give you actionable tips to find your happy place where you thrive in a work from home situation:
Determining What Kind of Work Environment You Need
A happy work environment can be associated with SO many benefits including greater job satisfaction, better performance, stronger alignment, and improve well-being. Not to mention how that bleeds into your day-to-day attitude.
Think about what your ideal workday looks like:
- What type of people do I like to work with? Do I want a group/community to work with? Everyone focused on his or her own work? People similar to you? Different than you?
- What does your workspace look like? Relaxed? More strict? Casual dress? Business dress code? More personality?
- Do you like when you are told exactly how to do a task? Or would you prefer more flexibility on how to get your work done?
- Do you like fast-paced or slow-paced? Are you more task-driven and like having a lot on your plate?
- Are you a night owl or a morning lark? When are you most productive? What time are you ready to wind down? Do you like slow mornings or slow nights?
Identifying a work environment that aligns with you and your ability to be successful is just as important as finding the right job. If you have worked someplace you loved, identify the traits that you loved most about it and let those be key things you look for moving forward. If you have not enjoyed a work environment before, you at least know what you don’t like and can work from there.
Now you might not be able to replicate that perfectly when it comes to working from home, but it can give you some semblance of routine that you and humans in general thrive with.
What’s Productive For Some Might Not Be For You
THIS is the bread and butter.
To give some examples on this from my own life:
Alex is more productive when he puts on “work clothes,” is showered, and even wears shoes at his desk.
I wear men’s XXL clothing and my desk chair allows me to fold my feet under me or contorted in some other position.
Alex loves to alternate between standing and sitting and loves his standing desk.
I hate trying to work while standing and you will only catch me sitting.
Alex uses his iPad and planner to write out his tasks for the day and almost everything is done via electronics.
I NEED to have pen and paper AND a shared Google Calendar. I found that if times were ever moved, I hated crossing out and moving them on paper because then it didn’t look perfect anymore. But I can drag and change and see his schedule without feeling like I need to start a new page (hello perfectionist).
Alex listens to music or podcasts in the background while he works and he can pick up and set down tasks easily.
I like complete silence and get thrown off with music and starting/stopping.
Alex also follows somewhat of a “Pomodoro” technique and works in time blocks with breaks.
I work until my brain does not and then take a larger break.
At the end of the day, Alex and I are both successful in getting our jobs done and doing them well. We just have different paths to get there. And actually, we truly complement each other when it comes to working together because we have different strengths.
Optimize Your Work From Home Environment
- TIME YOURSELF
Track how long it takes you to do the tasks you do every day, and what the tasks are themselves. This will help reveal where you might be creating bottlenecks in your productivity.
You might find that you are trying to do more than you realized, or that you keep saying you are going to do x amount of things, but realize it’s not physically possible to finish it all in a day.
Maybe you’re adding stress and always feeling behind, when in fact you’re not spending your time wisely. Figure out what’s realistic to do within your work hours and budget time for each task – that way, it’s harder to waste it.
You can also get apps that track time spent on different apps and websites and sends you a report (even ones that track social media usage).
A lie I use to tell myself is that I worked best with some chaos. And while a small part of that may be true, it was just an excuse to have clutter.
Once you have nailed down what behaviors or structure is limiting your productivity, you can truly cultivate an environment (within your desk space, computer desktop, etc.) that will eliminate distractions and even help your workflow.
Minimize distractions by closing out unused tabs or clean out the documents on your desktop. Set up a to-do list that shows the flow within your day. Clean off your desk and file loose papers where you can easily find them later.
This also relates to tasks. Multitasking might fool you into thinking you’re doing more, but often if you were to focus on one task at a time, you can be more efficient.
- BREAK IT UP
Humans can’t just work forever with constant attention towards one thing. Well, at least not this human! Productivity is influenced by your environment, but also by your mindset, emotions, etc. Finding the flow for your brain is key!
I mentioned Alex uses something called the Pomodoro Technique, which has a pretty simple premise: Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break. That’s one “block” of work. After four consecutive “blocks,” you get one long break.
Regular breaks can also help keep your mind fresh so you can return to whatever is next with some renewed energy. It also just helps break up a day that can otherwise seem monotonous.
Those breaks can be spent playing with your dog, going for a short walk, having a snack, scrolling social media, calling a friend, ANYTHING.
- DO WHAT YOU HATE FIRST
I may be biased towards this tip, as it’s been huge for me.
If I find that I’m dreading a task, I do it first. Because truly, as time goes on, the dread is only going to pile on. Along with that, it will affect my other tasks because that task is just sitting in the back of my mind taking up space and brainpower.
I also ask myself, “Will this take 5-10 minutes or less?” If the answer is yes, I do it first This helps with crossing tasks off my list, pushing past less than pleasurable tasks, and opening up my day with a sense of accomplishment and joy knowing I got the “thing” out of the way!
- STEP AWAY
You’ve heard it before but you’re about to hear it again – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Yeah, working from home is great – but it also comes with its own set of challenges to wade through. One of those being the fact that work is always there and available. This is where those breaks come in handy, but it’s also something that was affecting my sleep for quite some time.
While it is critical to stay “in the zone” during work hours, learning how to switch off for family time or simply a good night’s rest is even more critical. Limiting blue light/screen time before bed, having a nighttime routine to unwind, and creating a positive sleep environment all go hand in hand with a positive workflow.
Create routine and normalcy where you can. Structure is freedom.
Dress and be in an environment that serves YOU. (And vocalize that to the people around you. It was a hard decision to work from different rooms for Alex and I, but in the end – it was not serving either of us to be in the same space. If you have other people you are living with, sit down and have the conversation about what you need).
Block your day. Different tasks require different things from us and our brain.
Make sure you have an “end” to your day.
Sometimes, a single question can illuminate a hidden aspect of your life. Or, it can allow you to step into your power, get to know yourself better, and better tailor your habits to your nature.
Find habits that work, stick to those habits, and watch how they help you flourish in your work from home environment. Casting out how others do things and focusing on YOU will truly help you find a routine where you “thrive.”
Written by Sue Bush