Ah, working from home: the dream, right? Well, not always. If circumstances are forcing you to telecommute for the first time or you’re unaccustomed to working in a new environment, it can be a tough transition. Without a boss nearby, a dedicated workspace, or the imposed structure of an office, telecommuting can leave you feeling unmoored. Throw in a barking dog or screaming kids (or both!), and it can really wreck your productivity.
That’s why it’s crucial to create a work from home schedule. Rather than viewing a schedule as restrictive, see it for what it is: a tool that builds structure into your day and enables you to do your best work.
I’ve been working remotely since 2013, and below, I’ll share the best tips I’ve learned on how to create a work from home schedule that works for you.
Know Your (and Your Company’s) Goals
Before you create a work from home schedule, identify what the goals are. Is there a certain number of hours you need to clock in each day? Does your company require you to be online at set times? Or are you simply trying to complete a set number of projects each month?
Since I’m a freelance writer, my schedule revolves around completing my assigned articles by their deadlines. Rather than plan my schedule around working a certain number of hours or at specific times of day, I plan it around monthly revenue goals. That helps me break down how many article assignments I need to receive per month and how many I need to complete per week.
So sit down and write out your goals and your company’s expectations. This will help you craft a work from home schedule that will please both you and your boss.
Create a Morning Ritual
We are creatures of habit, and having a ritual that we look forward to each morning can provide us with a sense of stability that we often lack when we work from home. In fact, research shows that routines help fill our lives with meaning, which boosts our well-being.
Routines are especially important during times of crisis. When the world around us feels scary and unpredictable, we take comfort in the predictability of our routines, the things we can control.
Your morning ritual doesn’t need to be extravagant. Mine consists of getting out of bed without reaching for my phone (I often fail at this part), drinking a glass of water, praying, and then writing my to-do list for the day.
Even when you’re working from home, there’s scientific evidence that getting dressed as though you’re going into the office can be a good thing to keep in your morning routine. One Northwestern University study found that the simple act of wearing a lab coat improved selective and sustained attention on tasks. Researchers concluded that “clothes can have profound and systematic psychological and behavioral consequences for their wearers.”
Align Your Schedule With Your Peak Energy Times
You’ve probably heard of the circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock, but did you know that within that circadian rhythm, there’s a unique variation known as chronotypes? That means the old “morning lark” and “night owl” types hold true. Some of us are more alert during the morning, while others reach peak alertness at night.
If you can, create a work from home schedule that aligns with your peak energy times. For example, if you’re a lark, tackle the most energy-consuming, complicated tasks in the morning. But if you’re a night owl, save those tasks for the evening.
But how can you tell if you’re an early bird or a night owl? My next tip for creating your work from home schedule will help you understand which times of day you’re most alert.
Track Your Time
Even though I don’t bill by the hour, I use the app Toggl to track my time because it helps me in three ways:
- I get a better idea of how long certain tasks take me, which helps me plan my days ahead of time.
- By looking at the reports at the end of each week or month, I can tell which times of day and which days of the week I’m most alert and productive.
- Using the timer helps me to train myself to work in longer, more productive spurts. I try to adhere to the Pomodoro Technique, where I work 25 minutes straight before taking a break. This helps me to maintain focus.
Keep track of how you spend your time during the day, and you’ll be amazed at what lessons you can glean about your productivity and how to structure your schedule.
Make a To-Do List Using the ALPEN Method
Everyone’s familiar with the standard to-do list, which is typically just a brain dump of all the tasks you need to complete that day. But if you really want to power up your productivity, try incorporating elements of the ALPEN method. Developed by German time management expert Lothar J. Seiwert, it’s a way of planning your day more strategically. Each letter of “ALPEN” represents a step in German, but below is the gist of it in English:
- Make a to-do list.
- Estimate how long each task will take.
- Plan “buffer time.” This is the time that goes toward taking breaks and dealing with distractions. The ALPEN method recommends planning for 60% productivity time (where you work on the tasks listed) and 40% buffer time (where you take breaks and get distracted).
- Rank items in order of highest to lowest priority.
- Cross items off your list, starting from the top.
For me, the most helpful part of the ALPEN method is that you plan for distractions. One of the reasons my work from home schedule never seemed to go smoothly was that I was expecting more productivity time than was feasible. Whether you work from home or in an office, distractions are bound to pop up; if you anticipate them, they’re less likely to ruin your day.
Set Office Hours
A friend wouldn’t show up to your workplace and barge into your office in the middle of the day, but it’s different when you work from home. Outsiders might not understand that just because you’re at your apartment doesn’t mean you’re lazing around. Because of this, it’s important to set boundaries by communicating your office hours to everyone you live with, as well as your friends and family outside the home. That should help to cut down on annoying texts such as, “Hey, since you’re home anyway, could you pick up Fluffy for me from the groomers?”
Communicating your office hours to others also means respecting them yourself. That means cutting out anything that distracts you from work during that time, such as your cell phone. I recommend putting it on silent and out of reach.
Despite all of this, there are some things you just can’t put on silence (like when your roommate decides to turn on the blender while you’re on a conference call). If background noise plagues your business calls, install Krisp for free. With its two-way noise canceling, Krisp lets you speak without the call participants hearing your background noise and lets you listen without hearing other people’s background noise.
Know the Difference Between a Schedule and a Routine
Some people thrive when placed on a schedule, which dictates what they will be doing and at what time. Others, however, do best when they follow a routine, which means they do regular tasks in a sequence but not on a strict timeline.
For example, I don’t have a set bedtime or waking time. I begin my workday whenever I get up, which is whenever I feel rested. Then, I begin my morning ritual, no matter what time it is. And if I’m feeling particularly sluggish during my workday, I give myself more frequent breaks. As long as I turn in my articles by their deadlines, it doesn’t matter when I do the work. This is what suits me best, but it may not work for you.
How do you know if you’re a schedule or a routine person? Experiment! Give both a try for a week and see which one energizes you the most and helps you do your best work.
Have an “Anchor Activity” for Your Day
While my work schedule is pretty flexible, there is one thing I make sure never to miss: doing at least 30 minutes of cardio in the late afternoon. I like to think of this as my “anchor activity.”
Just like a literal anchor prevents ships from floating away at sea, an anchor activity prevents you from drifting off course during your workday. My daily cardio gets my heart pumping, helping me to fight the afternoon slump and return to my work with renewed vigor.
And I make sure that, no matter how busy or unproductive my day has been, I always do my anchor activity. Why? Because even when I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done all day, sticking to my anchor activity helps me to feel a sense of accomplishment. It grounds me when I feel like I’ve gone off track.
Some other ideas for anchor activities:
- Virtual team check-in
- Meditation or prayer
- Going for a walk
- Practicing a language
The point here is to have a single activity in the mid-point of your day that you never skip that serves to ground you in a sense of purpose or reinvigorate you so you can continue your work.
What’s Your Ideal Work From Home Schedule?
There is no one-size-fits-all work from home schedule. What suits you best will depend on your personality, needs, and job role. Using these guidelines, you’ll have a better shot at crafting your own schedule. And remember, you can always experiment and tweak from there.
When you’re working from the comfort (or chaos) of your home, having a routine and a schedule can save your sanity and boost your productivity. But creating a schedule is just one piece of the puzzle. If you really want to do your best work outside of the office, check out our top tips for working from home!