As an author and consultant, I’ve had the privilege to work mostly from home for the past five years. I call it a privilege because this arrangement has saved me thousands of dollars in commuting costs alone, along with thousands of hours of precious time.
But while working from home offers many tremendous advantages, it also offers some unique challenges. Here are seven tips to help those who will be working from home for the foreseeable future:
Have a dedicated workspace.
One of the biggest challenges of working from home is all the distractions: your family. Your pets. Your kitchen.
That’s why it’s extremely important to have a dedicated workspace. If you have room for a separate home office, perfect. But even if you don’t, you can make due with a small desk or table. The key is to use a room where you can close the door and achieve a bit of solitude.
Not possible in your place? Then invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones … or order some disposable earplugs.
Schedule “work time.”
One of the best things about working from home is the control it gives you over your own schedule. But it’s easy to run out of time or energy for work without a good structure in place.
If you’re like me, your mind works best in the morning–after a cup of coffee (or two). But you might choose to start your day with a workout or by running personal errands, and then focus on work in the afternoon or evening. With a little time and practice, you can figure out what works best for you.
Equally important is scheduling a time to stop work. The danger when working from home is that work and personal life start to blend together, and you begin to feel like you’re always “on.” This can be very unhealthy.
To help with this, choose a time in advance to “check out” of work. Even if the checkout is simply mental, it will help provide the separation you need to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Schedule time for focused work, too.
In addition to scheduling your general work time, you should also schedule time for focused work, i.e., work without the distraction of email, Slack or other instant messaging, or constant notifications from your phone.
I do this by scheduling what I call “head-down” work, any focused work that requires deep thinking or flow, for between 9:30 and 12:00. During focus time, I silence my notifications and concentrate on the task(s) at hand.
Use “downtime” for email and meetings.
So if you use prime time for focused work, when should you respond to emails and take meetings?
I personally like to take about 20 minutes early in the morning to review emails. But I only reply if it’s urgent; otherwise, I do so in the afternoon. This gives me time to let emails I’ve read in the morning marinate in my head a bit, often leading to better responses than if I had replied immediately.
Regarding meetings, I also try to save these for the afternoon, if possible. But if it’s a very important meeting that requires lots of mental focus, I’ll use a morning instead. And I personally try to schedule meetings on certain days of the week (for me it’s Tuesdays and Thursdays), as the structure helps me to get more done throughout the week.
Take proper breaks.
There’s tons of research out there that indicates humans work best by taking short breaks in between bursts of high activity.
But how long should you work before taking a break?
The answer is, it depends. Individuals differ, and the tasks we work on differ too. I’ve found that if I’m working on a high-concentration task, I’ll begin to experience what famous Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes as “flow.” When I’m in this type of zone, I can work constantly without even thinking about taking a break to eat, drink, or even use the bathroom. When working on simpler tasks, though–like trying to knock out a bunch of emails–I take more frequent breaks.
The key is to make sure you take time to refresh your mind and body. Remember that a five to 15 minute break will make all the difference, as will a proper break for lunch.
(And don’t forget to keep a glass of water on your desk to help you stay hydrated.)
Go for a walk.
Never underestimate the power of a walk.
Sometimes, just a walk around your home is enough to get you past the problem you’ve been stuck on. But even better is a short walk outside, for 10 to 20 minutes. The combination of fresh air and different scenery is invaluable in helping to get the creative juices flowing.
Communication is key.
Good relationships are built on a foundation of good communication.
While I try not to get bogged down too much by email and instant messaging, these tools are still very useful for staying in touch with colleagues and maintaining those relationships.
And while there’s no true replacement for an in-person meeting, online conference tools like Zoom and Skype allow you to see the other person’s facial expressions and body language, in addition to hearing their voice.
So, ready to get that quarantine life on? As you begin your new routine of working from home, remember:
1. Have a dedicated workspace.
2. Schedule work time (including “checkout” time).
3. Schedule time for focused work.
4. Use downtime for email and meetings.
5. Take breaks.
6. Go for a walk.
7. Communication is key.
Follow these simple steps, and trust me: You’ll never want to go back to the office.
And you’ll set yourself up to do the best work of your life.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.