If you have decided or are ‘forced’ to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering how to be productive without your usual office routines. I want to share seven of my tried and tested steps on how you, as a normally office-based employee, can be productive from your dining table or desk in the corner of your home.

As the owner of a virtual business support company and having worked from my home office for 10 years now, after having been a corporate office employee for decades, I have learned how to be productive from my desk at home. Here, none of your usual daily office routines happen automatically, so it is up to YOU to create some routine!

Here are my 7 Tips to make working from home productive:

1. Set your alarm

Get up the same or similar time you would otherwise, minus your commuting time, which could be a significant saving. This alone sets you up for a good daily routine.

2. Get dressed

Do not stay in your pyjamas! It won’t help to sit on the couch in your jogging-pants and try to focus. Wear something reasonably presentable to get yourself in the right mindset (think workplace), which also indicates to your spouse or children that you are in work mode.

3. Plan your day

Write down a schedule for that day. List the top 1-3 tasks to work on. Decide on the amount of time you plan to work until your first significant break. Our brains can’t stay fully productive for longer than 90 minutes, so plan 60 or 90-minute increments followed by 15 or 30-minute breaks. Plan your lunch break as well. Track what you’ve worked on and check it off when completed, so you see what you’ve achieved – it is hugely satisfying to check off completed tasks! If your employer doesn’t already use a team management program, set up a free online account and invite your team members. Email your manager or supervisor what you’ve worked on at the end of each day or two – it will stand you in good stead to show you’re still getting things done.

GREAT TOOLS: Trello, Asana, Basecamp or Slack (the first two have free basic plans) to create task boards, task lists, due dates and communicate on projects with your colleagues without clogging up your emails. Quite intuitive and quick to learn and many help videos available online. A simple task list in Google Keep also works.

4. Eliminate distractions

Reduce demands from your pets, children or spouse, who will feel that because they see you, they can discuss today’s news, be entertained and beg for playtime or walkies. Explain to them why you need to enforce workhours. Stay off your social media accounts until you have a scheduled break and turn off your mobile phone ringer and text messaging. Check it only at set times for new messages.

GREAT TOOLS: Simple: mute buttons, turn off email notifications on your computer

5. Establish work and rest routines

While you need to be strict with work time, be sure to take breaks. Our brains’ 90-minute limit is based on energy and oxygen supply, so restorative breaks are hugely important. Step away from your desk and really switch out of work mode for 15-30 minutes. Step outside if you can, make a cup of tea, eat a healthy snack and chat with whoever is at home with you. Also, schedule when to end your workday and at a reasonable time, so you can keep that important demarcation between work time and personal time.

GREAT TOOL: A simple kitchen timer. If you don’t have a portable one, set the timer on your stove, which also forces you to get up from your desk.

6. Tell people

Let your friends, children and parents know that just because you are home for the next few weeks does not mean you’re free for unscheduled and unlimited phone or video calls during the day. If your employer is paying you, make it clear to friends and family that you have work hours. If you are lucky enough to have a separate office at home, you or your children can draw a sign with your “home office hours” and post it on the door or stick it on your refrigerator.

7. Plan for fun too

Make sure you plan for fun time and take a little bit of advantage of working from home – after all, you are saving on travel time. If you can, go for a walk during your lunch break, take the children out so they can let off some steam, play a game at home or take a short nap. Schedule a quick phone or video call with a colleague or your work team to stay connected and help reduce the feelings of social isolation.

If one day goes a little sideways, don’t beat yourself up about it. Even after ten years of working from home, I have days when my best-laid work schedule and routine doesn’t come off smoothly. Stuff happens, as we all know now. Try to accept it and prepare to have a better day tomorrow.

Also worth mentioning is that employers are taking a huge financial hit by sending home X number of staff. I hope you will continue being paid the same salary or hourly rates. That means you, as an employee, can help ensure your company stays productive and competitive during a shut-down, and therefore your job still safe when you return from voluntary or mandatory self-isolation or quarantine.

All the best in your new work-from-home routine, stay well, and contact me if you have related questions or post a comment to share how my tips are working for you and what else helps you stay productive.

Click here to download and maybe print these 7 tips as a bullet point list.


A former corporate executive assistant turned entrepreneur, now a Virtual Business Manager of Martina Rowley And Company in Canada guiding clients to better time management, accountability and increased productivity through streamlining their tasks and processes. A disciplined and organisational nerd with a cute cat, who makes many attempts to distract her during her workday. www.martinarowley.com

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