How To Work From Home If You’ve Never Done It Before, According To Pros

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If social media posts are to be believed, plenty of you are finding it hard to adjust to the new social-distancing normal, even if you are digging working in leggings. When you’re used to going into an office every day, interacting with coworkers, following a clear schedule, and having a boss around, learning how to work from home if you've never done it before can be hard.

As a freelance writer who has worked from home for the past nine years, I know that you don't need much more than an internet connection and a computer to get a job done. My friends and I have been where you’ve been, newbie work-from-homer, and we’re here to set you straight on the best work from home practices.

How To Create A Routine When You're WFH (And Not Sit On Your Couch All Day)

While the constant news updates about the coronavirus might tempt you to just veg out on your couch refreshing Twitter, you have to resist! That is the route to personal and professional disaster, my friend. Instead, it’s time to create a routine that works for you.

“When I became a full-time freelancer six years ago, it was crucial for me to figure out when, and how, I work best,” journalist Lauren Sloss tells Bustle. Sloss finds that she work best in the first half of the day and when she breaks her day up with exercise. She's most productive when she stacks a number of tasks, rather than spreading them out across the week.

"Figuring those things out for yourself helps you avoid the inevitable temptation of constant procrastination," Sloss says. "But yes, I do still do my laundry when I'm in the middle of projects!”

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For me, being productive is all about a set routine. I get up, drink coffee, workout, eat and shower, and then get down to work. Every Friday I create a Trello board with a card for each day and every task I need to address, from deadlines to personal stuff. I also include a board titled “Doing” and one titled “Done,” so that I can keep track of what I'm currently working on. Let me tell you — watching those boards empty out and the “Done” one fill up through the week feels great.

No matter what your routine looks like, though, don't forget to eat lunch.

"When you work from home with minimal coworker distractions, it's easy to get lost in the Gmail sauce and look up from your work only to realize it's 4 p.m. and your blood sugar is plummeting," communications consultant Chelsea Leibow, who’s been working from home for three years, tells Bustle. "Take a real break for food midday. You will be happier, I promise."

Leibow also wants you to “not be super hard on yourself if your routine isn't perfect or gets disrupted in some way.”

"People will tell you that you should shower first thing, get completely dressed, and put your makeup on to establish a sense of normalcy," Leibow tells Bustle. "I mean, do you if that's what gets you going… But my personal opinion is that working in your sweats, giving your face a break, and showering midday are the best parts of the WFH gig!”

How Do You Focus When You Can't Focus?

Between normal distractions like laundry and Netflix and the constant, scary influx of coronavirus updates, you might be finding it hard to focus on your work right now. That’s OK! We’re living in an unprecedented situation. But if you want to get off the bad news hamster wheel and get back to work, certified life coach and productivity consultant Cristina Roman, who has been working from home for seven years, has some advice: Schedule a block of focused time.

“If you’re having trouble focusing, try scheduling a 75-minute block on your calendar, preferably 24 hours in advance,” Roman tells Bustle. “Anticipate that when that time rolls around, you likely won’t want to focus, but you’ll choose to do it anyway. Spend the first 15 minutes walking through this step-by-step guide for getting into a deep work state, then spend the next 60 minutes knocking out your most important work.”

Roman also suggests assessing whether there’s anything you need to address before you do your deep work dive, so you’re less likely to be distracted.

“Our brains do an excellent job of disguising distraction as innocent, even noble-sounding thoughts, like 'I really need to be up to date on the news right now,'" Roman says.

How Do You Carve Out A WFH Space In Your Existing Apartment?

Another common piece of advice for working from home is to create a specific workspace in your home. I’ve taken over the kitchen table, while my partner works in our studio/office. It gives us the distance that we’d normally get from him being at work and me being at my coworking space.

But if you don’t have the space to create a “makeshift workspace” in your apartment, Leibow suggests doing the opposite.

“Try switching it up every few hours instead,” Leibow says. “I like to start my workday drinking coffee at the kitchen table, migrate into my office, and then late afternoon I flop onto the bed (I'm a Taurus, sorry) to finish out the workday.

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And when it comes to working with a partner, Leibow is also all about the separation.

“Of course you want to be near each other, but you will want to kill each other at some point if you are spending all day and all night literally on top of one another during social isolation,” Leibow says. “Not every apartment has doors, and if you don't have a door you can physically close to block off space, I would invest in a room divider of sorts.”

How Do You Stop Working At The End Of The Day?

One of the biggest struggles for people when they transition to working from home is figuring out how to end the work day. When your "office" is two feet from your couch, how do you stop yourself from answering emails into the wee hours?

"I do my best to maintain 'normal' work hours as much as I can," Sloss previously told Bustle. "If I'm still working around 6 p.m., I'll try to take a step back [and ask]— can this wait until tomorrow? Then [I] do something to signify the end of the work day... pour a glass of wine, or make a mug of tea, and step away from your devices for a few minutes."

Finally, if you're struggling right now, that's really OK. Give yourself a little bit of leeway and remember: It can't last forever. If you need some help, the National Alliance for Mental Illness has great resources for people whose mental health is being affected by COVID-19. We'll get through this. Who knows? Maybe when everyone heads back to the office, leggings will be the new "business casual."

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.