How to Work from Home Successfully in 7 Steps

Working from home can be amazing, productive, and fulfilling…it can also be crazy-making, full of distractions, and challenging.

Are you already working at home? Or maybe with the spread of infection, cold & flu season, and just the lengthening nature of commutes, you are considering working at home right now.

Well then, congratulations! Science has PROVEN that working from home has awesome benefits. 

Let me ask you, what benefit of working from home has been scientifically-proven? Is it:

a) increased productivity

b) healthier workers

c) happier workers

d) remote workers have better relationships

e) all of the above

If you guessed e) all of the above…

Bingo! 

You’re correct.

The Benefits of Working at Home (with Science!)

Science has proved that working from home is BETTER than working in the office. There are four main benefits of working from home that make up what I like to call… 

The Work-At-Home Burger! 

The Work-At-Home Burger. It is made of 4 ingredients: more productive, healthier, happier, and better relationships.

Are you hungry like I am? Let’s dive into the juicy science that makes working at home SUCH an appealing meal!

#1. A Side of Productivity? Check!

Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford professor, conducted a 2-year study in which:

  • He divided 500 employees from Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, into two groups.
  • One group continued to work at the headquarters, and the other group volunteered to work at home.

What Bloom found out from this study was nothing short of astonishing…

He found that remote workers had a boost in productivity equal to a full day’s worth of work!

But why is this? It turns out that people who work from home:

  • spent time working an actual full work-shift (compared to office workers who were late or left early)
  • found it less distracting and easier to focus
  • took shorter breaks
  • had fewer sick days
  • took less time off

I can say that Bloom’s findings are TOTALLY true! Here are some MORE great time-saving benefits of working from home: 

  • No commute
  • No need to pack a lunch
  • No make-up / hair (unless you do video calls)
  • You *could* wear your pajamas (more discussion on this later)
  • No checking traffic
  • No stopping for gas
  • No need to park or buy public transport tickets
  • No schmoozing with people in the elevator

Want to find out more about Bloom’s study? Check out his TEDxStanford talk here:

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#2. A Healthier You? Double Check.

In a 2015 Survey of remote workers, 42% of all remote workers said they ate healthier than in an office-based environment. And it’s no wonder:

  • A healthy, fresh meal is just steps away in your kitchen
  • No more bringing processed, junk food to the office for the sake of convenience

And don’t forget sleep: 45% of remote workers also said their quality of sleep improved! With less time spent on commuting, working from home lets you transfer your precious commute time to sleep time.

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#3. Happier, Too? Triple Check!

Did you know a 2013 survey showed that 70% of workers would rather work at home than in the office?

And it’s no wonder—people who work at home are happier! In a 2019 study by video conferencing company Owl Labs, 1,200 U.S. workers were surveyed on their happiness with their jobs.

  • They found that remote workers are not only happier, but stick with their companies longer than people who worked only in the office.

Why are remote workers happier? When asked, the survey respondents said:

  • They had a better work-life balance (91%).
  • They had increased productivity and better focus (79%)
  • There was less stress with the job (78%), and
  • They didn’t need a commute (78%)

So if you work from home, count your blessings! I’m SO happy to be able to call my home my office! And finally…

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#4. The Finale: Better Relationships? Ch-ch-ch-CHECK!

I personally believe that relationships are one of the MOST important parts of our lives. And, believe it or not, but Swedish researchers at Umea University released a study that found that working at home IMPROVES our romantic relationships!

In the study, if one partner commutes 45 minutes to work… 

They are 40 percent more likely to divorce. 

“Bye, honey! It was nice knowing you!”

And the reason is simple: daily commutes mean less time spent with loved ones.

  • Breakfast? No more morning chats over a bowl of warm oatmeal.
  • The kids? Forget about them.
  • Random acts of hugging? Not unless they’re virtual!

Not to mention commuting is a lot of unwanted stress!

But working at home brings your loved ones closer! I certainly know this to be true.

I have been working from home for 13 years. And 3 years ago, my husband joined me. 

Since we’ve both worked from home, we’ve been BLESSED to have more time for each other.

Really, who knew that working from home has SO many benefits?

Since the start of working from home…

I have meticulously kept productivity journals and have noticed some great patterns that I want to share with you. 

I have had certain years where I got TONS done. In 2017 alone, I: 

  • Published a book (yay Captivate
  • Launched a new product (whoop People School), and 
  • Hired a new team member 

And I have had other years (2010 & 2013) where it seemed like nothing happened at all. 

Why!?

Because I fell into a dark, black hole during these “unproductive years.” My productivity literally fell from Mount Everest-levels to nada, all because I started falling victim to what I call…

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The Seven Deadly Problems of Working From Home

Now, maybe you’re thinking… “How can you have so many problems working from home, even after working for years?”

But the thing with working from home is that it’s a slow drip

The problems start slowly at first. And then you keep letting them slide (maybe I’ll just lie down in bed for oooone second).

And before you know it, all of a sudden you catch yourself sitting at the computer with a baby in your lap, remote control in one hand, and your phone in the other.

So, I’ve come up with my favorite strategies to counteract these seven problems and let you work from home effectively, productively, and—dare I say—enjoyably! I now LOVE working from home and think it is an incredible option for most people (including extroverts).

The key to working from home successfully is to understand your productivity triggers and to optimize your home life WITH your work life.

Here are the problems I found working at home and the steps you can take to work at home like a boss:

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Deadly Problem #1: “Look, It’s a Bird!” Syndrome

The best thing about working from home is that you have everything you need nearby. 

The worst thing about working from home? 

You have everything you need nearby:

  • Your desk is super close… but so is your bed. 
  • Your commute is super close… but so is your trek to the kitchen. 
  • Your computer screen is super close… but so is the TV and phone (yes, a 2014 study even showed that just having the phone nearby reduces attention!).

If you’ve faced any of these problems, you’ve got “Look, it’s a bird!” syndrome.

And distractions may be even more dangerous than you think. In a University of California Irvine study, researchers found that returning to your original focus after being distracted can take a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds!

Want to be more productive?

Now is when you have to think about removing triggers.

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The Solution: Know Your Triggers

I want you to take away things that will destroy your productivity:

  • Put the TV remotes and/or your iPad in a drawer far away. No joke, I have turned on the TV “just for a minute” during lunch only to have it on in the background for 2 hours.
  • If you do not normally work with your cell phone on, put it far, far away.
  • Ask your partner or kids or neighbor to lock you out of Netflix or Hulu. It gets very tempting at around 3pm….
  • Remove anything that you know distracts you—strip the sheets off your bed if you must.

I want you to add things that will help you be more productive:

  • Get a great set of noise-canceling headphones.
  • Put a sign on your door that says “Do Not Disturb” or “Leave Packages at Door”
  • Put a coffee maker in your bedroom or home office so you can avoid the kitchen entirely (snacks, dishes, kids).
  • Put healthy snacks in a drawer in your desk so you do not go wandering for a snack.
  • Pre-make your lunches just like you would do at work–pre-made salads and sandwiches do best.

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Deadly Problem #2: Failure to Launch

The hardest part about working from home is not having a clear start time or end time, or workspace versus personal space. Typically work and home begin to blend together so you have to WORK at separating the two. This begins with time.

There are also some downsides of working from home:

  • No colleagues to say hello to (this could actually be a benefit if you are an introvert)
  • No designated office space
  • Kids, spouse, pets as distractions
  • Laundry, dishes, errands as distractions
  • TV, iPad, bed as distractions
  • No office snacks (if you are lucky enough to have this at work!)
  • No office coffee bar (if you are lucky enough to have this at work!)

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The Solution: Punch In (and let everyone know)

The best way to combat the downsides and increase the upsides is to create an official start time to your work day at home.

Do not take this step lightly. Take into account:

  • Your morning chores
  • Potential distractions in the house like pets or kids or roommates
  • Your new at-home, get ready routine (no suit? no makeup?)
  • Your new timeline

Then remove tasks that can disappear from your work day:

  • No commute
  • Easier to get ready
  • No packing a lunch

What time should your start time be? For example, your old routine might look like this:

7:00 a.m. — Wake-up, shower, make-up, get dressed

7:30 a.m. — Get kids ready + breakfast

8:00 a.m. — Out the door

9:00 a.m. — At desk

Your new routine could change to:

7:00 a.m. — Wake-up, shower

7:30 a.m. — Get kids ready

7:45 a.m. — Start laundry + do dishes

8:00 a.m. — Turn on Computer

In other words, your extra time allows you to do some extra household chores before you start. And maybe you start an hour early so you can finish an hour early when the kids get home.

But what about waking up? A study from Oxford University states that the ideal wakeup time is based on our age:

  • 9:30 a.m. when we’re in our twenties
  • 8 a.m. in our thirties
  • 7:30 a.m. in our forties
  • 7 a.m. in our fifties, and
  • 6:30 a.m. in our sixties

Does this sound about right for you? Since I’m in my thirties, I like to wake up before 8! 

But the bottom line is… Everybody has a different sleep schedule! You could be a night owl who wakes up later, or a morning bird who wakes up when everybody’s still asleep.

And I DON’T believe in setting an alarm… most of the time! I found that sleeping at a (usually) consistent time is the most natural alarm. What works best for you?

My new wake-up time is: ________________

You want to create a new start time accounting for your wake-up time, old tasks you no longer have to do, and new tasks you now have time to do.

My new start time is: ________________

Once you pick your new start time, make it known! Everyone in your home should know this, whether they will be home or not. If people are home, tell everyone:

“I’m starting work now. Bye!”

Your official start time is sacred; it will set up your entire day.

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Deadly Problem #3: Not Finding Your Groove

Ever wonder why sometimes you’re more productive, and other times you feel like a baby trying to learn molecular biology? 

Dr. Paul Kelley, a researcher at Open University found that his students had increased concentration levels when he started class at 11am compared to earlier. 

Why?

Because everybody has their own time of day when their sparks fly, or when their brain starts functioning properly. And usually, it’s later in the day than earlier.

So if you are lucky enough to work anytime you want, capitalize on that opportunity!

Otherwise, you’ll be wasting that precious time where you could be making magic happen.

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The Solution: Work Your Rhythms

You have a wonderful opportunity if you work from home. You can re-evaluate your most optimal schedule. When I reviewed the science of productivity I learned that everyone has different rhythms. The time at which you choose to perform a task is incredibly important. Not all times are created equal. Think about your typical daily and weekly tasks, and make a basic list. This might be:

  • Emails
  • Researching
  • Team Calls
  • Writing
  • Paperwork

Now think about when you do best at these tasks. For example, I used to do all of my email first thing in the morning. Then I found this fascinating research. In Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body, Jennifer Ackerman explains that the hormones we need to feel productive are released based on circadian rhythms— natural cycles our bodies go through to carry out daily functions. 

Her research shows that our brains are most alert 2.5 – 4 hours after waking up. 

This is the time of day that your body releases the most brain power hormones to help you to solve problems, generate ideas and plow through meticulous work. 

I was wasting all this good juice! I was most fresh in the morning, and didn’t really need that energy for silly emails. I was much better off spending my tired afternoons corralling emails and putting my morning juice into writing and strategizing.

  • Look at your tasks and assign them ideal times. You also might think about what day of the week is best. For example, I find team meetings on Monday are not nearly as productive because not enough of the week has happened to review. After you have broken down tasks and times, begin shuffling your schedule to accommodate.
  • A fun tool called Inbox Pause can help prevent distraction by temporarily keeping incoming emails from reaching your inbox!
  • The morning is also a good time to brainstorm with teams. There’s a crazy phenomenon called the “morning morality effect” where research has shown that a person tends to have strong moral awareness and self-control in the morning, but this decreases as the day goes on. This is thought to happen because our capacity for self-control can start deteriorating throughout the day as we make more and more decisions. With this being said, try to make all ethical and strategic judgments with your team and colleagues in the morning, while everyone’s mind and moral awareness is heightened.
  • Consider scheduling in your breaks. At home, it is easy to wander to the kitchen…the couch…the bedroom at any time. If you find yourself taking more breaks at home, schedule them in.

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Deadly Problem #4: Sitting, and Sitting, and Sitting…

You might have heard that the longer people sit, the more likely they are to experience an early death. 

And it’s true— the American Cancer Society found in a 2018 study of over 120,000 men and women that sitting over six hours per day compared to less than three was associated with a higher risk of mortality.

So how many hours EXACTLY do workers sit?

Well, a British team conducted a study in 2019 to find out exactly that:

  • They studied 1,250 office employees and found that they spend an average of six hours a day seated at their desks.
  • This means that the average office worker has an increased mortality rate just by working!

The British team also built a super-creepy life-sized model named Emma, who is designed to represent what 20 years of poor posture from sitting can do to your body. 

You can check out the YouTube video of Emma here (Warning: did I mention she’s creepy??):

Emma has a number of ailments from sitting for too long:

  • A permanently bent back caused by hours of sitting in a poor position
  • Varicose veins from poor blood flow
  • A round stomach from sedentary working
  • Dry, red eyes from staring too long at a computer screen
  • Swollen wrists and ankles from repetitive movements
  • Sallow skin from over-exposure to artificial light
  • Eczema caused by stress

Now all these symptoms make me SHUDDER just by reading them. And I’m headed well into the direction of the 20-year mark!

But, the good news is… You CAN counteract this problem.

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The Solution: Get Your Move On!

Remote workers have an amazing ability: they can get up, go for a walk… even do some Zumba or twerking if they want to! 

Leeds Metropolitan University did a study in which they found that office workers who exercised:

  • Managed their time more effectively
  • Were more productive
  • Had smoother interactions with their coworkers

And the icing on the cake? They went home feeling more satisfied!

And as an at-home worker, you can get your exercise in a variety of ways:

  • Go to the gym
  • Have a quick jog in the neighborhood
  • Try some calisthenics
  • Buy a cheap jump rope
  • Have a yoga session (in class or even in your own home!)
  • Stretch before, during, and after working

You can even invest in a standing workstation if that’s your thing. In fact, researchers have shown that standing desks boost your productivity!

In a 2016 study by Texas A&M School of Public Health, call center employees were studied over the course of 6 months. One group of people sat at traditional desks, and the other group sat at desks that could be elevated. 

The results? The people who had standable desks:

  1. Chose to stand about one and a half more hours per day, and
  2. Were 42 percent more productive (measured in the number of successful calls the workers completed per hour)

If you don’t have a standable desk, get creative!

  • Move your laptop to the tall kitchen counter
  • Find a big box to make your desk even higher
  • Make some laptop space in your pantry

The list is endless! But the bottom line is…

Sitting kills productivity. 

So make your sitting minutes count, and don’t sit too much!

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Deadly Problem #5: Finding Your Space

There’s something amazing about having a separate space in your home you can call your “work space.” 

A place free of distractions and with all your essential needs can really boost your productivity through the roof! But for the longest time, I always struggled finding that magical place to work. 

But possibly one of the BIGGEST mistakes to working from home was quite simple…

I was working in my bedroom.

But I’m not the ONLY one guilty—research has shown that 80% of young professionals have admitted to working from their bed!

But why is working in the bedroom so bad (besides the temptation to just cuddle up in those soft sheets)?

According to The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, “Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.”

No wonder—in my bedroom, the feelings associated with work and sleep blended together! 

So, in order to find my magical place, I had to start somewhere else…

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The Solution: Make a Work Palace

I am a big fan of LOVING your work space. 

I chose to build my space in a separate room in my house, so I ONLY associate it with productive work.

Even if it is a small side counter in the kitchen, you can make it awesome. I call this your work palace. It should make you feel the 3 Ps:

  • Proud
  • Productive
  • Professional

What does your workspace say about you? There is actual research on snooping that found your workspace says a lot about your personality (see next step). Here are my work from home must-haves:

  • Something Inspiring — I have a Harry Potter wand at my desk. I wave it at the computer when I get a bad email and I swear it helps. I also have a cute bamboo plant which reminds me to breathe.
  • A Headset — for video calls or phone calls.
  • Post-It Notes — Always have these by your desk — they help you remember the little things and stay on task.
  • Gum — Did you know that gum has been proven to boost productivity? Don’t tell your dentist, but it’s true!

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Deadly Problem #6: Your Best Friend’s Name is “Work”

If you’ve ever experienced the following:

  • Not seeing the sunlight for days
  • Your mom/friends/spouse/kids/dog/___ wondering where you’ve been
  • Stronger-than-normal body odor
  • Difficulty remembering the last time you’ve talked to someone (other than yourself)
  • A feeling of hopelessness

Or a combination of any of the above, you might have been spending too much time with Work.

It’s time for some new friends.

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The Solution: Leverage Your Extroversion

If you are an introvert working from home – congratulations! You have struck gold.

If you are an extrovert working from home – it will be ok! I can help.

If you are an ambivert working from home – this could be good. Let’s work it out.

Many people do not realize how much working from home will impact their social life, feelings of connectivity, and belonging.

If you are an ambivert or extrovert then you need to be prepared to ensure you get enough social time.

  • Book times with friends after work.
  • Do happy hour with work colleagues. Even though you are not in the same office you can still get together!
  • Join a sports team, take an art class, learn a new skill.
  • Do family dinners.
  • Make friends as adults — 5 non-awkward steps = )

A quick overview of each personality trait:

  1. Extroversion: How much you like being around people and how outgoing you are. 
  2. Openness: How curious and open to new experiences you are.
  3. Conscientiousness: How organized and detail-oriented you are.
  4. Agreeableness: How much you like working on a team and how easily you say yes.
  5. Neuroticism: How much you worry and how emotionally stable you are.

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Take Our Free Personality Quiz Here

Working from home means you can be flexible and can be optimized to suit your strengths and weaknesses. Looking at personality science when working from home is extremely useful. We already talked about extroversion, but you can also optimize for the others. 

For example: 

  • If you are high in conscientiousness then you are very organized and detail-oriented. You should make sure to keep your workspace sacred (see Step #5). 
  • If you are low in conscientiousness then you should make sure to bring in tools to help you stay organized — wall calendars, productivity planners, post-it notes & a hyper-organized best friend.
  • If you are high in openness then you should order in a new place for lunch every day, or try a new playlist every day while you work.
  • If you are low in openness you should pick your favorite meals and place pre-orders, and create your go-to work playlist that auto-starts every day.

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Deadly Problem #7: Not Charging Your Batteries

Do you have a hard time disconnecting from work like me? You’re not the only one.

The biggest problem for 22% of remote workers is unplugging after work, according to the 2019 State of Remote Survey

So why are we so addicted to working more?

  • We want to simply get more done.
  • It’s hard to stop working when nobody tells you work’s over.
  • If you’ve got deadlines, there’s ALWAYS something more to do.

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The Solution: Punch Out

Make a clear start to your work day AND make a clear end to your at-home work day. This is critical for work-life happiness. When working from home it is very easy to have your work creep into family time and personal time. Make a clear end time and actually punch out. 

  • Shut down your computer.
  • Turn off your desk light.
  • Silence your work emails.

This is mostly symbolic, but will also ensure you do not hear a dreaded ping from the other room. And just like the start bell, tell your family, roommates, partner, cats when you are done for the day so they can help keep you accountable.

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Bonus Step: Don’t Be Silly

Whenever I hear advice for people working from home, they seem to remove all the benefits for no good reason. Have you ever heard…

“Get dressed like you are going to work.”

Why?! Unless it makes you feel more productive, why would you waste all that time getting dressed and then having even more dry cleaning, laundry, ironing etc? Wear what will make you most productive! For me that’s yoga pants, slippers and a comfy blouse that is still nice enough for video calls. Boom! PJs on the bottom, work-ready on top!

A woman is working at home on her laptop. She is wearing a nice collared shirt and vest on top, but she is wearing pajamas and fluffy slippers below.

So instead, dress to be productive. Whatever that means to you.

Many of these steps might involve someone you live with. Be sure to send them this article, have a house meeting, and get buy-in. How can they help you work more productively from home? How can you help them more now that you are home?

I love working from home, but you have to work to make it work for you.

You’ve got this!

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