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How to Work When No One is Watching

Recently, I moved from my office job in Washington, DC to working remotely in a small town in North Carolina. To say this was a huge change is an understatement. I left the bustling, fun offices of GuideStar, where most of us eat lunch together every day, and co-workers know more about my personal life than my mother, to working full-time out of my apartment in a strange, new city.

I’m extremely lucky to have this opportunity, and I’m not alone. More and more Americans are finding themselves working from home – whether it be because of home businesses, remote, corporate positions, or, increasingly, for a temporary amount of time as they transition in and out of maternity and paternity leave. When working in an office, it’s easy to daydream about what working from home would be like—quieter, more self-paced, and certainly more comfortable than working in business professional attire! However, working from home comes with its own set of challenges, such as staying on task , getting work done when no one is watching, and still feeling like you’re part of the larger organization’s community

Here are a few things I’ve learned to keep me productive and sane while working remotely:

Get into a groove
Working from home requires a big mental shift, and everyone handles it a little differently. Don’t just follow conventional advice – figure out what methods are best for you. Personally, I figured out that I can’t work from a coffee shop for more than two hours at a time, and only while working on my easier, less mentally consuming tasks. Many remote working articles suggest working somewhere outside, but honestly, that just doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. Figure out what makes you most effective, and stick to it!

Designate a work space, keep it a work space
Working remotely is a mental game –without anyone constantly physically monitoring your output, it’s important to get into the mentality of “work time” in order to remain successful. Designate a particular space within your home that can serve solely as your professional work space. Do not use this space for anything except work. I’m lucky enough to have a designated office, however, smaller spaces can work just as well. A corner of a living room, kitchen counter, or infrequently-used dining rooms can all serve as spaces to set up shop—the goal is to have a single landing station for all things work-related. Remind yourself that when you come into that space, it is time to do work. It’s not time to read, or take a nap, or fold your laundry. You may do this in other parts of your house, but not this area. During non-work hours and the weekends, I may go into my office to grab something or vacuum, but I am never in the space longer than five minutes. (Of course, that may say a lot more about my vacuuming than my work skills…)

My designated work-from-home space My designated work-from-home space

Establish routine in lieu of a commute
As stressful as commutes may be, they are a great, effective way to transition yourself from “home” mode to “work” mode. In lieu of a morning commute, I’ve found I work best with as comparable routine to transition myself successfully into “work” mode. Make sure to set up some kind of routine in the mornings to get yourself started, however small. In my case, I always change out of my pajamas and make myself a cup of coffee. Most importantly, I tell myself I’m not allowed to do either of these things until right before work time.

Use lunch your way
At some point in the day, you’ll need to take a break. Figure out the best way to use this precious time. Maybe you want to read for a bit, or meet with a friend, or catch up on your favorite reality TV shows. Whatever you do, make sure to use that time in a way that personally s relaxes your brain enough to help power you through the rest of the busy afternoon.

I’ve found my afternoons work better when I make a point to leave my home and break up my scenery. Twice a week during my lunches, I take a Zumba workout class at the local gym. Zumba makes me feel very physically productive, and I get to rock out to Beyoncé! Once in a while, I’ll also drive up to my fiancé’s office and have lunch with him. Its a few more added calories than a Zumba class, but definitely fun, and similarly recharging

Does your organization encourage remote working? How do you work remotely while keeping your schedule (and sanity)? Let us know!

Anisha Singh Anisha Singh

Anisha Singh is a strategy analyst at GuideStar. She splits her time between the Strategy Team, Finance Team, and Office of the President/CEO. Anisha is a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in International Studies and Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding the best restaurants in town, and annoying her brother with her philanthropy chatter. You can reach Anisha at anisha.singh@guidestar.org.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice