I've been working from home exclusively for 23 years. I have also watched friends and colleagues do the same, but with varying success. I've discovered there are simple rules to to being productive at home, even when you're more accustomed to working around colleagues.
1. Create a dedicated, separate work area.
If at all possible, set up a dedicated work area, ideally in a room where you can close the door and shut out everything else. The closeable door creates two important psychological barriers: 1) it discourages family and roommates from barging on you, and 2) it encourages you to separate you day into work time and relax time. Without that barrier you may be tempted to work when you should be recharging, since home workers put in significant more hours on average than those who report to an office.
2. Train your family and friends to leave you alone.
Chances are your family will automatically assume that since you're at home, you're available to chat, run errands, hang wallpaper, etc. You've got to be firm that when you're at work, you're at work and not to be interrupted. When my kids grew up and wanted something while I'm working, I used to provide an explanation like: "Daddy working for the next few hours and but I can help you with your homework at ten." The problem was that even that explanation was interrupted my concentration and resulted in a continued wheedling. (Any parent knows what I'm talking about.) I've since reduced my responses to either "No" (which means "go away") or "What?" (which means "if the house isn't burning down, go away").
3. Keep a regular schedule.
First time work-from-homers often drive themselves work longer hours than when they were when they were going into the office. This is a tactical mistake because you can overwork yourself at home just as easily as at work, and overworked people make dumb mistakes. To remain sane and productive, set regular work hours and, as far as possible, adhere to them. My personal schedule is to work several hours in the afternoon, break for family time, and then work several hours after everyone else has gone to bed. That latish schedule works for me because I'm a night owl. Obviously, you will want to adapt your work schedule to your natural chronotype.
4. Avoid the kitchen between meals.
You may have heard of the "Freshman 15," the extra poundage that many students put on when they start college. Well, there's also something called the "Freelancer 50" which is the same thing, but rounder and older. The only way to prevent it is to monitor your food intake. At the office, social pressure keeps you from eating half the donuts in the break room; at home, it's all too easy to say "gee a pan of brownies sure would go down nicely right now." Or worse, a tumbler of port.
5. Learn to brew coffee correctly.
And as long as we're talking about imbibing, one of the great pleasures of working from home is learning how to make coffee that totally blows away anything that you can get from a coffee shop, much less the office coffee station. (Blech!) I've tried many brewing systems in the past but keep returning to the classic Chemex drip beaker. Essential tip: get recently-roasted coffee beans and ground them yourself right before you brew.
6. Invest in ergonomics.
Unless you're 100 percent convince you're a short-timer when it comes to working from home, make the investment in a work environment that will keep you healthy and ache free. Here's the minimum:
- A top end ergonomic tipped-back keyboard to replace the PoC that came with your computer. (Apple's keyboard is among the worst.) Plan on spending around $150.
- A large (greater than 28") high resolution screen. Plan on spending about $300. Hang it at eye level and position it at about 18 inches from your face.
- If your eyes need correction, get a pair of glasses or contacts that focus specifically at around 18". Plan on spending around $400.
- A genuine Herman Miller Aeron chair and not some crappy imitation. (They're worse than useless.) Your back will thank you; trust me. Plan on $500 to $1,000
7. Keep in contact with colleagues.
One advantages of working in an office is that you have day-to-day contact with your colleagues. As a result, working from home can thus make you feel lonely at first. To overcome this, regularly check in with colleagues, stay in the loop, and find opportunities to connect with people outside of work, either through social media or in person (when we're not a period of social distancing.)