Learning to work from home productively can be a challenge — especially for those of us who only work from home once in a while and don’t have an established routine. After recently spending six weeks on medical leave from the office post surgery, I learned quite a bit about how to work from home efficiently. We’ve all had the somewhat lazy work-from-home days where we allow our personal tasks to take over, but when done right, these days can be some of the most productive and can allow you to get the important shit done.

Organize your workspace & remove distractions

If you’re Type A, it can be difficult to focus when your workspace is a mess. Having a dedicated workspace with a door that can literally shut out distractions is ideal, but not everyone has that luxury. If your home office doubles as something like a spare bedroom, your desk is in your bedroom or you’re working from your kitchen table, try to clean up the surrounding area in the morning before you start working — this will help you focus more on the work at hand rather than forcing you to think about the chores waiting to be done. At the very least, clear off the surface of your desk or workspace, removing all nonessential items. It can also be helpful to set up your space as you would a desk at work, with all work-related items readily available — pens, a notepad, etc. that will help you feel like you’re at an office. As comfortable as your bed or couch looks, opt for sitting in a comfortable chair at a table or desk — if you’re trying to work in a space that you normally use for relaxing, such as the couch, it might be harder to focus on your work.

Other distractions might include a partner or roommate who is also at home. If it’s challenging for you to focus when someone else is at home, either arrange to work in different rooms or invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. If your job involves a lot of writing and music with lyrics makes it difficult to focus, there are plenty of instrumental-only playlists to choose from, or you might want to check out ambient sounds from apps like Moodil or Noisli.

Stick to your routine

Even though you might just be moving from your bed to your desk, sticking to your routine will help you treat working from home like any normal workday (if you typically go to an office). First, try to stick to normal work hours — this will help you stay on top of everything you need to get done in a specific amount of time. If you exercise each morning or make breakfast for yourself, do those tasks on work-from-home days too. The biggest problem most people have when working from home is getting out of their pajamas. You don’t have to get ready as if you’re heading to the office or a business meeting, but putting in a little effort doesn’t hurt. Rather than staying in PJs for the majority of the day, try upgrading one step to something that’s casual but comfortable. Ask yourself if you’d be comfortable video chatting your coworkers in what you’re currently wearing.

It’s also easy to think that you can fit in plenty of personal tasks while working from home — while some of this is realistic, such as switching a load of laundry on your break, try to stick to normal work hours as much as possible. Know when your work hours start, when they end, when you’re taking breaks and for how long. This will prevent you from getting to 9 p.m. and realizing you still have a few things left to get done. After all, when you don’t have to commute to the office, working from home should actually allow you to get your work done faster.

Commit to specific work

When working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in your own world and not interact with colleagues as much as you would if you were in the office. Making a checklist of everything you need to get done in a specific workday is helpful, but it’s easier to commit to that work if you share those tasks with your team. If you have a morning meeting or check in with your boss and colleagues each day, let them know what you’ll be working on and what you will have completed by the end of the day. This is especially helpful if they’re part of the project and can hold you accountable. You might even want to add these tasks to your calendar and block off time to work on each project throughout the day. While plenty of people are self starters, this is a handy trick for those of us who need the extra motivation to finish projects while working from home.   

Take breaks

Just like taking a lunch break at the office, it’s helpful to get a bit of space from your work at home, especially if you’re feeling a bit creatively blocked. Go for a walk, get in a quick workout, read an article, go out for a healthy lunch, listen to a podcast or spend a few minutes meditating. Focus on activities that will provide energy or help motivate you for the remainder of your workday instead of going with the easy and tempting option of sitting in front of the TV.

Leave the house

Yes, this might seem to contradict the whole “working from home” headline, but if you have the freedom to work from anywhere, a nearby coffee shop or library might provide a nice change of scenery. This is especially helpful for the days you have too much going on and aren’t able to organize your workspace before diving into your job. Get away from the distractions of your house and take your work somewhere you can really focus. If a coffee shop sounds great but you don’t see yourself being able to accomplish actual work there, try a quiet area of the library instead. Leaving the house is a great alternative, especially if you’d like to keep work and personal spaces separate, allowing you to fully relax when you get home.