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Working From Home? Find Your Groove and Leave the Grind Behind

When home is your office, it’s easy to feel like you’re living at work. Here’s how to reclaim your time, social life, productivity and happiness.

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Many U.S. workers have gotten a taste of work-from-home life in the past few months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, telecommuting is a blessing during tumultuous times—especially for some Black workers who just don't have the patience right now to engage with White coworkers around race in a way that caters to their comfort levels. But for others, it’s a confirmation that they’re all about that office life — commute, work drama and all. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, working from home may continue to be a part of your near future as companies phase in back-to-work procedures.

When I made the leap to full-time self-employment a few years back, it took me a little while to get into my work-from-home groove. Even though I have a couple of years under my belt, I still look for ways to stay focused and productive. Now that I have coworkers — aka my hubby and kids — those goals are even more challenging.

So whether you’re thriving in your home office, just surviving or looking for ways to improve your game, here are some tips to help you hone your work-from-home skills.

Pull yourself together

A couple of friends recently admitted that they hadn't worn anything except pajamas or leggings in the past two months. If that’s you, consider switching over to real clothes. I know that goes against what most people envision when they think of working from home, but research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that professionals perform better when wearing clothing that aligns with their role (think a lab coat for a doctor). On the other hand, it's possible lounging in your pj’s could kill your productivity .

Consider identifying a few effortless outfits that are comfortable but still work for your Zoom calls. You could even take your work-from-home look a step further and opt for makeup and (gasp) shoes.

Grab coffee with your girls online

Who says working from home means ditching lunch with your work besties? If you would normally chat with your coworkers in the mornings before you start the day or go on an afternoon coffee run together, move those events online. Doing this will give you something familiar to look forward to during this very unfamiliar time. Plus, those work relationships are important and should be maintained!

Elevate your workspace

We’ve all discovered that looking good on video calls requires a little effort. There’s lighting and your background to think about and the oh-so-important camera angle. For the best position, place your camera at just above eye level. This will provide a flattering and double chin-free view to those on the other side of the screen. One way to raise your camera angle is to place your computer or phone on an ironing board and adjust it to the right height.

When you’re not taking calls, the ironing board can double as a standing desk so you can be healthier while working and boost your energy levels. Besides, what else are you using your ironing board for these days?

Get more done by breaking up your day

If you struggle with focusing for hours on end, try working in small chunks of time. A popular approach to this is the Pomodoro Technique. With this time-management method, you work in 25-minute increments, each followed by a 5-minute break. After four work increments and breaks, you take an extended break.

If 25 minutes seems too short, try 45 or whatever you think will work for you. By working in shorter stretches, you increase your chances of staying focused until break time. During your breaks, get up and walk, grab a drink, check in on the family or do whatever energizes you for the next work stretch.

Eliminate distractions with productivity apps

Does this sound familiar? You sit down to work, but before you dig in, you decide to quickly check in on Facebook and Instagram. Thirty minutes later, you’re still scrolling. Limit your chances of distraction by using productivity apps or browser extensions. For example, RescueTime blocks distracting websites during your work time and tracks how you spend time on the computer. If you decide to give the Pomodoro Technique a try, Strict Workflow is a browser extension with timers in 25- and 5-minute increments, and it blocks specific sites during your work stretches.

Pretty up your workspace

If you haven’t already, designate a specific area in your home as your office, even if it’s one end of the kitchen table. If possible, set up where you can enjoy the benefits of natural light. And make your new home office look and smell appealing by bringing in some greenery, a candle or whatever will bring a smile to your face until quitting time. Studies show that what we see, hear and smell contribute to our moods and productivity.