How to stay motivated working at home

Janet Arrowood

Whether you’re working from home by choice or COVID-derived necessity or thinking of making the move to a home-based office, there are a few things I’ve discovered over the course of  my 30-year
work-from-home career you might find useful.

When your commute involves a short hop from the bedroom to the coffee pot to the office, it can be tempting to put off the normal events of the workday. As you pass the washer you hear it calling your name. Or the workbench tempts you with hammers and nails. Or maybe there’s a new recipe you want to try or a bedroom pleading for a fresh coat of paint. Don’t give in. Tell these temptations you’ll check back with them after 5 p.m.

Instead, remind yourself this is a real job, not a hobby. Treat all aspects of working from home as if you were in a downtown office with regular meetings, appointments and so forth. Get up, get cleaned up, get dressed in a manner suitable for web-based video calls and then get your coffee. By doing the same things to the extent possible you would do at your former office, you set the stage for working effectively and staying motivated.

Shut out distractions. If that means closing the door, wearing earplugs or forbidding your significant other from disturbing you until noon, so be it. Isn’t that what you did at the old office? Avoiding distractions is another excellent motivator for getting work done since you don’t have these non-work activities interfering with your day.

Structure your day. I use a spiral notebook and old-fashioned day planner, but an electronic calendar and computerized notes work just as well. Whatever method you use, finish each week by noting all the tasks, meetings, video or regular calls and other things you need or want to get done or set up the next week. Post these items to your notebook and day planner or other tracking system. As you finish an item, cross it off your list. If you don’t finish — or start — it, decide whether to carry it over to the next week or drop it. This approach gives you an important record of what you said and did, helps with expense and time tracking, helps focus your efforts and can motivate you going forward. You have a record of your accomplishments and shortfalls — a great way to stay motivated.

Block out a small window of time in the morning and again in the afternoon to answer emails, check news websites and deal with unplanned distractors. Don’t get caught up surfing the Internet for hours unless one of your to-do list items is Internet research. Even if that’s the case, stay focused.

Reward yourself when you reach a particular milestone, finish something really important or gain a new client. You could treat yourself to a much-needed haircut in the middle of a workday, go to the park with your kids or knock off a bit early for a hike or bike ride. Make a list of rewards and reward criteria and post them near your desk.

Celebrate your successes. If you have a mentor or advisory board, invite them to a socially distanced picnic in your back yard or a park. If you don’t have a mentor or board — you really should — call a friend to boast about your success, achievement or accomplishment. It’s hard to give or receive positive feedback when you’re working in isolation. You have to actively seek it. Feedback is an important part of getting and staying motivated.

Finally, don’t get discouraged if you wake up and don’t even want to look at your office or talk on the phone. It happens. If you keep a to-do/accomplished list, you can go back and remind yourself of the benefits and results you reap when you put your mind to the tasks at hand. Positive reinforcement that’s self-generated. It doesn’t get any better than that.