This is a video from a Udemy course I created a few years ago to help people maximize their efficiency while working from remotely or from home. Instead of selling it as a paid course, I’m sharing the content here, for free. I hope you find it helpful. -Ron Stauffer
Don’t start your day by checking your email! There is no productivity killer worse than checking your email.
One thing that’s really important when you start working from home is that you have to realize that your schedule is now essentially under your control. When you don’t have a boss (or even if you do have a boss, remotely), but when you don’t have a boss, who’s there telling you what to do all day, every day, checking in with you, it can be a little bit overwhelming for you to figure out “What am I going to do when my day starts? And halfway through the day? And then in the afternoon? And then when I’m done?” So creating your schedule is really important, and you are now essentially in control of that schedule, to some extent.
One of the most important parts of that schedule is your morning routine. A morning routine is something that we all do, whether we actually realize it or not. If you previously knew your schedule really well, like “get up at 7:00, take a shower, eat breakfast, get in the car by 7:41 in order to get to the office by 8:00 right before the all-staff meeting,” or whatever… it might be a little bit weird for you to start to realize now your schedule is kind of all over the place: you don’t have a commute anymore, so what do you do in the meantime?
Make a morning routine that works for you. And the best way to do that is to write it down. It might seem really silly, but I’ve done this for myself, where I’ve literally written down on a sheet of paper: wake up at this time, brush my teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, make coffee, et cetera, et cetera. Whatever that is for you, create a morning routine that is dependable, reliable, and consistent. It should set you up for success for the rest of the day.
People who work from home sometimes joke about not having to put on pants. And let me tell you, as I’ll explain later on, that’s a terrible idea. I know it’s a joke, but it’s not really entirely a joke. What this shows is, that there’s a bit of a mindset where people are tempted to think, “I don’t really need to get ready for work because I’m not going to work.” I highly recommend that you completely flush that idea.
If you were someone who used to go to the office, I recommend you try to keep your morning routine as similar to what you had in the past as possible. So, for example, just because you don’t have to get up early to drive to the office doesn’t mean that you should get up any later. Just because you might not need to take a shower anymore because you’re not going into the office to be around people doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a shower.
If you’re the type of person who had a uniform to wear, even if that was a suit and tie, maybe try wearing a suit and tie. For my morning routine, for example, it’s really important that I get up, brush my hair, get dressed, and put on shoes. Why? Because even if I’m never leaving the house, putting on my shoes helps me feel like I’ve done all the things on my list in order to get ready for the day.
Usually, people have some sort of a routine where they start from head to toe: they brush their hair, brush their teeth, put on their shirt, whatever, and however they do that. In their own mind, there is a sense of being prepared. Whatever that is for you, do it. If that means that because you wore a suit and tie in the past, you still need to wear a suit and tie now, do it. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed of it. That’s good. That shows that you’re taking this seriously.
Create a morning routine as much as you can that is similar to what you had in the past, that makes you feel like you are ready for the day to begin and that you have structure. There’s a tendency for people who work from home to get lackadaisical and lazy. Sometimes they’ll wake up four minutes before their conference call because they know they can; all they have to do is get up out of bed, put on a ball cap and walk into the home office and turn on the video. I recommend you don’t do that.
In my opinion, you really want to remain as professional as you can. And a big part of that is in the way that you prepare for the day. Treat your workday the same as you would if you were going to the office. That’s really important for your employer or your clients, and for yourself.
A big part of this is knowing what you’re going to do each day. So something that I like to do that you could do, or you might find something different, is I try to spend at least 10 minutes each day before I start working with my coffee and with some sort of an idea of a schedule: I think about: okay, I have a video conference at this time, a phone call at this time, I have to email this person, and I have the following deliverables due.
Before your day starts, if you possibly can, review what you need to do that day. Some people like to start their day with stretching, or some people might like to take a walk around the block. Whatever it is, find what works for you, and again, as much as possible, make it something that you can do consistently every day.
One of the biggest mistakes that I think most people make, whether they work from home or in an office, is they start their day by checking their email. Let me be very bold about this: don’t start your day by checking your email. There is no productivity killer worse than checking your email.
Instead, let the email wait until your day has begun. Beforehand, it’s your job to set your schedule on your terms. Even if you have to change that schedule later in the day, it will help you in your sense of completeness and your sense of feeling prepared to review ahead of time, “Here are the things that I need to do today.”
If you check your email, it’s just too easy for somebody else to put something new on your plate that you weren’t anticipating or don’t have time for. Save your email checking for later in the day.
A bad thing to do is to have your phone with you as you’re preparing for the day. I’m a big fan of smartphones; I use my smartphone all the time. But there are times when it’s appropriate to put it in your pocket and not touch it. Getting ready for the day is one of those times. Don’t let it be that you’re setting yourself up for success, and then by accidentally checking your email, you panic because of something unexpected. Let your problems come later when you’re prepared for them.
Your morning routine should help you prepare yourself for what you need to do; it should help prepare you to do your best work, and it should help you put your best foot forward.
Be jealously guarding of your morning routine. Don’t let family members, coworkers, bosses, or clients interrupt your ritual that helps you get ready for your workday.
Ron Stauffer is a solopreneur and freelancer with over 14 years of experience running a small company. He’s extremely familiar with the loneliness, frustration, and challenges unique to freelance work and running a business of one. He started Free Soloing to help other people just like him.