Work & Money

Our writers share their best tips for working from home

Advice to help you stay well and productive while you work from your new desk.

Advice to help you stay well and productive while you work from your new desk

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Over the last week, many Canadians have found themselves telecommuting for the first time, as social distancing measures were ramped up across the country. To help work-from-home novices adjust, we asked our freelance writers — many of whom have been working from home for years — to share their best wellness and productivity tips. 

Create the best work space you can

"Don't work from the couch and never work from bed. A home office ... helps you set boundaries if other people are in the home while you're working. If you're in your home office ... you're not to be disturbed. It's important to set those parameters." 

- Julia McEwen, editor, producer and stylist

Don't work in your pyjamas 

"It sounds like the ultimate luxury, but it completely messes with your head. Structure your routine as if you were going out to work. Get out of bed, wash, eat and change your clothes — I swear this will switch your mind into work mode. Otherwise, you're just gonna want to nap all day. And, if possible, keep your work outside your actual bedroom. Your workspace, laptop and papers should all be kept away from where you need to relax, or else you'll never get a good night's sleep, if your work is staring you in the face. And this way, when you're finally done for the day, you can literally leave your work behind."

- RJ Skinner, writer

Create a morning routine

"When you work from home, setting up some kind of daily routine is really important. Usually my schedule changes day-to-day, but I try to maintain consistency with my mornings because that's when I work best. I wake up an hour before I plan to sit down at my desk to ease into the day. It's probably not the best habit, but I start with a scroll through Instagram for some daily fashion, food and beauty inspo. I follow it up with a quick five-minute meditation and goal-setting session. Then I get dressed and make myself a vanilla oat milk latte (thank god for Nespresso, right?). By the time I'm ready to sit down and work on the day's projects, I'm officially in the zone." 

- Carly Ostroff, TV expert, style and beauty writer

"I keep the same routine that I had when I worked at an office: wake up early and [work out] or go for a run. When I come home, I make a coffee, put on a podcast and walk the dog. I shower, apply light makeup and change into casual, yet professional clothing (read: no sweats). For me, this ritual helps prime me for the day ahead. Everyone can have their own type of ritual, but the point is, don't roll out of bed and expect that you're going to be productive once you sit in front of your screen — because it's not going to happen.

- Julia McEwen, editor, producer and stylist

Always take a lunch break

"I find it really helpful to allocate an hour lunch break in my day no matter what. Sometimes this happens at noon and sometimes it's not until 2:00 p.m. ... it helps that I have a dog who pretty much demands to leave the house in the afternoon and an Apple Watch that sends me reminders to get moving. I find that I return to my desk, couch or kitchen table (wherever I've chosen to work that day) with new ideas and more energy after a bit of fresh air."

Jen O'Brien, freelance writer

Try working in intervals

"For a long time, I was finding it really difficult to focus — my anxiety would get the better of me, and I would be easily distracted. My therapist mentioned that humans should be able to focus for about 40-45 minutes at a time. She suggested that I set a timer when I needed to really focus on something, and focus on getting work done in 45 minute chunks. It did really help get me back to a place where I could focus and get some work done. I would then take five- to 10-minute breaks and get back to it for another chunk when I still had more work to do." 

Michelle Bilodeau, writer and editor

Figure out what motivations work for you

"I rely on to-do lists, timers, and a good old fashioned reward system to keep myself motivated when I'm working from home. I use The Pomodoro Technique; if I'm writing an article, I'll jot an outline down first and then turn all of the sections into tasks with check boxes beside them. A timer keeps me on schedule, and after [25 minutes] I'll take a quick two-minute break, which means I'll either stand up and stick my head out the window or quickly scroll through Instagram before setting the timer again. After four [time blocks] are complete, I take a 10-minute break and do something really exciting like watch a video on Vubble News or eat a piece of candy that I've confiscated from the kids. I find that recognizing and celebrating small accomplishments is key to working-from-home success." 

- Jessica Brooks, food writer 

Manage your inbox strategically 

"To maximize productivity, I like to auto-schedule emails at the end of the day so that they go out first thing the next morning. That way, I can spend my mornings (when I'm most productive) focusing on work instead of wading through emails from the previous evening. I also like to start my workday early before the email floodgates open. It's the equivalent of getting into the office early before your co-workers (and the emails) come in."

- Mishal Cazmi, freelance writer and editor, founder of 100 ML

Beware of background noise

"As comforting it is to hear Monica and Chandler in the background, watching re-runs of Friends (or any other show) can be distracting. I hate working in silence so one of the ways I get myself to focus is by listening to music — usually a film score or smooth jazz — anything that's relaxing and won't have me singing along."

- Mishal Cazmi, freelance writer and editor, founder of 100 ML

"Since it can be lonely when you're working from home I always have some kind of instrumental music playing in the background. But, when my partner is also working from home... I put on my headphones. It helps me block out distractions."

- Julia McEwen, editor, producer and stylist

Take body breaks

"It's easy to stay glued to my laptop, but I try to make the effort to get up and stretch — I even remind myself to do so in my to-do list. In the warmer months I'll go out into my garden for a few minutes to get some air, maybe pull a few weeds. And if I have time, I'll get out for a walk or brief hike. I find getting away from the computer necessary to avoid eye strain and bad posture, and to just let my brain rest before getting back to work." 

- Tara Nolan, author of Gardening Your Front Yard and freelance writer

Co-ordinate your WFH schedule with your new officemates

"As an entrepreneur, my home is my office. My husband, a banker, is now working from home, too, and we have to share the space, which I am not used to doing. Add a second grader to the mix, and you can well imagine how things have gotten a bit chaotic in my home office. For partners working together, take your outdoor breaks at different times: I go running while he stays home, and vice versa. This allows for some me-time. While he is out with our son, I like to take advantage of this time to practice yoga or pilates in my quiet home.

Prepare snacks for your child the night before, as you would have done for school. This makes it a fun activity for both you and them, and there are no interruptions while you try to work the next day."

Shayma Saadat, food writer, professor and entrepreneur

Lean into flexible hours

"This may not be possible for everyone who is working from home right now, but for me one of the best parts of being self-employed is being able to complete work on my own schedule. Normally, this might mean running errands mid-morning when lines are shorter or being able to volunteer at my daughter's school pizza day, and then putting in a few hours of work in the evenings after the kids are in bed. Right now, that means having the flexibility to spend an hour at the park each afternoon with the children if I wanted to, or letting the whole family sleep in late on a weekday without feeling bad about it. As long as the work gets done, it shouldn't matter how you choose to structure your days." 

Truc Nguyen, writer, stylist and co-founder of Editors Inc.   

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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