Simple tips for working at home

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life57 Comments



If the Covid-19 outbreak has found your office temporarily closing its doors, you might be either a) relieved to be able to actively social distance yourself from others, b) thinking it’s going to be fantastic to finally have time to catch up on Love is Blind, or c) wondering how the hell you’re actually going to be productive in your job at home.

It’s possible you’re experiencing all three.

I’ve worked at home since 1999, when my youngest child arrived on the scene and I realized that two-thirds of my graphic designer salary was going to go to covering day care costs for that new baby and my then-three-year-old daughter.

My husband and I tightened our budgets and I left my corporate design job at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and with a little ingenuity and a lot of hustle, I’ve managed to make ends meet* every year since—more or less—all while working from home.

I’ve learned a thing or two about setting yourself up for productivity while working at home, and today I’m happy to share these basic tips with anyone who needs them.

  1. Create a dedicated work space. If you’re fortunate enough to have a home office or an extra room, this will be easy to do. If not, you’ll want to carve out a space that lets you leave your work there when your day is over. I understand that this may not be possible, but if you can commandeer half of the dining room table, then by all means, do so. Having a space, however small, is important to create a semblance of your normal office routine.
  2. Get up, get showered and get dressed. Oh, and put your shoes on. There is a temptation to just keep it super chill at home and stay in PJs all day. I get that, believe me. But I kid you not: the most important thing I’ve done over the years? Get dressed and put shoes on. Make sure to dedicate a pair of shoes for indoor use only, just to keep them as germ free as possible in your home. I wear Haflinger slippers at home but they FEEL like shoes and remind me that it’s showtime. #shoesequalshowtime
  3. Take the same breaks you would take at work. If you’re used to getting that cup of coffee during the morning break, and chatting in the break room with colleagues, then do the same at home. Leave your work space and ring up a friend on FaceTime. Or call someone. Or go for a walk around the block. The same applies to lunch. Take a lunch break, similar to what you would do on any normal work day, and try to eat away from where you’ve set up for work.
  4. If you don’t watch TV at the office… This may just be me but I make a point to not watch TV or YouTube videos while I’m working. I don’t have a TV in my office because I know how quickly I can be sucked into what’s happening on the Season 3 finale of Outlander. (Let’s be real here—Jamie Fraser is NEXT-level hotness in a kilt.)
  5. If you miss the noise of an office environment then find something to have on in the background that will give you a sense of not being home alone, but not enough to distract you from your work.
  6. The housework can wait. Don’t feel like the laundry has to be done right now because you’re home. Again, try to keep your schedule similar to any work day. I will admit to multi-tasking during my day, but friends, I’ve been doing this for a long time and at this point, it never derails me. I literally use laundry time as my break time. Go figure.
  7. Clock out at your usual time. There is a tendency to think that since you’re already home, knocking out a bit more work can’t hurt but I strongly advise against it if you can. It’s a bit of a stressful time in this current era, so be sure to strive for a little balance. Work is not the most important thing.
  8. Give yourself some grace. If you’re charged with working from home and caring for your younger children, both you and your employer will need to adjust the expectations for productivity. That is a simple fact.

I realize a lot of this is pretty basic, but I hope it helps some of you who are trying to navigate your work life suddenly at home. My best to you and this too shall pass.

*when I was a kid, I thought the phrase was ‘ends meat’ and figured it was some kind of sausage made from the trimmings of other meats. To this day, when I use the phrase, I still am proud that I learned the difference but I feel no need to admit just how old I was when I experienced said awakening.




Cathy ZielskeSimple tips for working at home

57 Comments on “Simple tips for working at home”

  1. #1
    Kimberly O.

    I work from home too. I WAS working in our office but when the company was moving our satellite office to a smaller location, I had to option to work from home. Heck yeah! I will still sometimes work at the Fargo office if someone says “Hey, we haven’t seen you for awhile, let’s do lunch!”

    I like that I can get the laundry done during the day (not the folding part because that takes too much time). I take morning and afternoon breaks in the warmer Minnesota weather to take my dogs for a jaunt around the block. It’s a double block plus we walk around the park that on the street behind ours.

    I DO have to have the TV on while I’m working. I think it kind of adds those “office sounds” of people talking. BUT… I can’t have something on that I want to pay attention to. I tend to have the true crime shows on like “Forensic Files”, “48 Hours”, etc. Kind of funny that I think that provides office sounds. The location where our office had been was in a high crime area. The cops were always at the apartment building behind the parking lot or whoever held up the gas station on the corner would run through the parking lot. (No lie.) Heck, that’s the reason I got my carry conceal permit.

    I clock IN at my usual time and clock OUT at my usual time. 7:30 – 4.

    I just miss talking with people in-person. I have a daily meeting with one of the teams I’m on and a meeting with another team on M-W-F. The latter meeting is a video conference call, so that’s nice. At least I can SEE them. Heck, the highlight of my day is if I have to run to the grocery store OR if our mail carrier is bringing me a package.

    For anyone who is just starting to work from home due to the virus, I can see how “different” this would be for them, particularly if they have kids home too. (And the fact that the kids are supposed to STAY HOME and not have friends over.)

    1. #1.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Kimberly! Yes, I know creating ambient sound can be helpful for sure! I actually listen to ASMR channels that I love for ambient sound but that is not for everyone! lol. Thanks for sharing your approach!

  2. #2

    Thanks for this Cathy. I start officing from home today and was just thinking about some parameters to make myself more productive. Shower, dress and make up was number one on my list. I don’t have indoor shoes — and now I need them1

  3. #3

    Thanks Cathy! Day two of working from home for me. This is great and will be helpful for me to stay on track and less anxious I think. And I like your shoes suggestion-it makes sense Tom me!

  4. #5

    Cathy –
    thank you so much for this! the firm I work for is in the process of getting a few things ironed out to make it easier for access – we already use Citrix (for cloud file sharing).
    It does help to hear from someone who has been there to hear how it can really work.
    thanks again!

  5. #6

    I teach at a private school and while this is spring break, we are using it to prepare for remote teaching. I will begin teaching via the internet on next Tuesday, as well as home school my three boys as they are taught via the internet. 🤞our prep work pays off and we can have some normalcy. Thank you so much for this post. I needed it big time!!!!

    1. #6.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Good luck, Sarah! I’m not sure what my school teacher hubby will be expected to provide as schools here are closing this week. Some of his students do not have internet access at home.

  6. #7
    Teresa Medeiros

    Cathy, these tips are great. I work from home at least one day per week but with the outbreak happening I’m home everyday starting today. It is difficult to discipline oneself whilst working from home, especially if you’re like me and your office is in your craft room! The temptation to craft is very real! Lol My best to you and your family and thanks for all you do.

  7. #8

    Okay, Cathy, I’ve been a huge fan of yours for a long, long time (since the days of Simple Scrapbooking!), but to find out that you love Outlander and Jamie Fraser, too? Now I love you even more! LOL! Seriously, thanks for such great advice during such trying times. I think giving people the tools to do something they might never have done before is giving them some control when everything feels out of control, and boy do we need some right now. You’re the best. Stay safe and enjoy your family being home together again. Can’t believe how they’ve grown. I’ve enjoyed watching them via your pages since they were itty bitty kids!

    1. #8.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Deb. And I was an Outlander late bloomer. As in, only started watching a month ago and holy kilts! I love Jamie so much. Great show! I hear the books are fantastic.

      1. #8.1.1
        Deb Pugliese

        Welcome to the world of Outlander! I vote for reading the books. In my opinion, they’re are even better than the show and that’s sayin’ something, since I love the show so much! While the TV version doesn’t follow the books exactly, it hits most of the highlights. And don’t be afraid when you see how many pages the books are – Diana Gabaldon is an incredible writer. I didn’t dive in until I heard there would be a TV show and now I wish I’d started a long time ago. I’m on my second read-through and plan to read them at least once more in the future. I’m telling you, if you like Jamie on the show (Sam’s fantastic in the role, and so is Cait as Claire), you MUST read the books, because Book Jamie is even more yummy, if that’s at all possible!

      2. #8.1.2

        Yes! Thanks for the tips, and sharing a love of Outlander. You’ve got to try the books as well. I do love both the show and the books, if the books just a little bit more 😉

  8. #9

    Very helpful—practically a PSA! I’m an English professor, so other than teaching and meetings, I usually have the option of working at either my campus office or home, and more and more, I choose home.

    Much of what I’ve learned is similar to your practices, except that the nature of my work—and I suppose, the nature of me—requires some flexibility in scheduling, for example during periods of intense grading. But that’s the kind of Job-specific thing all of us work-at-home folks have to figure out for ourselves.

    I’m still negotiating the wear-your-shoes thing with my better self. LOL

    1. #9.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Yes, I know many homes do not wear shoes because of germs. And that is a very real thing all year round! So… my hard soled slippers? They are the best!

  9. #10
    Stephanie Rucinski

    Such a generous, thoughtful post…thank you! Very sound advice that I will use. I am a fan of Haflingers I’ll make sure I put them on for work 😊 As an aside, I’m totally on board about Jamie Fraser! Outlander is the best.

  10. #11
    Peggy Makurat

    Great advice. I’ve done this since I’ve worked from home for the last 12 or so years. My break time might be throwing a load of wash in but it’s not my focus. And yes, that shower, getting dressed etc or a morning workout. The most important thing is the SAME routine you had going in to an office. You WORK at home which is something you need to stress to those around you that don’t get that “work” part.

    1. #11.1
      Cathy Zielske

      That is also true. I’ll be picking up my son tomorrow from his college and we are going to have a little family meeting to help set ground rules for all of us. My daughter will be attending law school remotely as well. I’m used to having quiet to record videos. Etc and so on. A new normal for now.

  11. #13

    Cathy, your tips are spot on!! Especially #3 and#6. I worked from home off and on for MANY years, but since I was pretty much salaried it didn’t matter how many hours I put in. I know plenty would abuse that, but I went the opposite direction and would often work until 2 AM. I learned to put those early morning emails in draft and send them out during regular work hours (8-5). Then I started skipping lunches and would often eat a bowl of cereal for dinner/supper. I also went into the office on many days (since I had people to supervise) and would then go home and work! Six months before retiring I stopped all that and made my staff do the majority of the work instead of me. OMG!! It was so freeing. Had I done that earlier, I probably would not have retired early and definitely would not have grown 2 asses instead of one. It’s a real struggle trying to lose that excess weight now that I’m over 63. So, I really hope that those who work from home heed your suggestions. I can attest to how important your tips are.

    1. #13.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I definitely overwork myself… but… sometimes my business requires it and I’ll break up my days in other ways. 🙂 But yeah, I know what it’s like to eat at your desk and I gave that one up years ago! : )

  12. #14

    Not sure where my comment went, but I’m not seeing it. Sorry, if this is somewhat of a repeat…
    Cathy, I cannot agree with your tips more…particularly #’s 3 & 6. I worked from home for years and also went into the office regularly since I was a Supervisor and had staff to check on. I often found myself working until 2 AM – even after I had worked in the office all day. Office hours were 8 AM – 5 PM. I would save my 2 AM emails in draft and send them out the next morning during regular business hours. Eventually more often than not, I found myself skipping meals, eating cereal for dinner/supper, or whatever bag of chips were around. I gained 2 asses instead of 1 (as Erin Brockovich would say). I was pretty much salaried, so it didn’t matter how many hours I put in. I know plenty of people would have taken advantage of that, but I did the exact opposite and worked at least 12 – 16 hours a day….many a time even on weekends. Finally, 6 months before retiring I stopped all that and made my staff do the majority of work instead of me. OMG!! If I would have done that years ago I probably would not have retired early (just over 62) and I certainly would not have gained so much weight, which I must say is SO hard to lose now that I’m over 63.
    I do not recommend doing what I did and I really hope those working from home for the first time heed your advice and save themselves a whole lot of misery.

  13. #15

    I’ve been teaching completely online for several years, so I’m used to working from home. I do most of what you’ve listed here, except that I rarely get “office ready”; I’m generally in relaxed/comfy clothes all day and slippers.

  14. #16
    Maria Nyce

    Thanks for you wonderful suggestions! I’ve worked from hone since 2017 & I love it!!! That’s when I discovered card making! I was making scarves and various other items and was selling them through consignment. Last year I summoned up the courage to go on YouTube and share my card making. Love it, I definitely need to get more consistent, this helped a lot! My pray for you and your family is that you stay safe and healthy! As always, thanks for inspiring me, blessings and hugs!!!

  15. #18
    Christine Miller

    Thanks, Cathy, for these tips. I teach fifth grade and will soon be trained to do so online. I am concerned about teaching without the feedback that comes from being face to face with the children. Do they understand….are they sticking pencils in their ears……the list could go on. I am thankful for leadership that puts our health at the forefront and for any helpful suggestions about working from home. I will add wearing shoes to my getting-ready-to-go-to-work-at-home routine.

  16. #20
    Kylie Holyland

    Thank you for these useful tips Cathy. I’ve shared it with my fb friends because it’s such a good guide. Im a workplace coach and run my business from home and agree with all you’ve said 👏👏

  17. #21

    Thank you for these tips, Cathy. I’ve been working from home for over a year now but I’m still struggling to find that balance. I’m in my second year of business and it’s still not doing as well as I’d like, but I just keep on going. I don’t have any kids so I’m in my office the whole day, and leave it only for doggy duties, bathroom breaks, or to grab a snack/water from the kitchen during the day. I do stop working when I make dinner and most days, I don’t go back to the office. But I’m guilty of wearing comfy clothes (not PJs) and my slippers and not having a morning routine consistently. I’ve worked for someone else my whole life (my family had a business so I helped when I was a kid), so it’s been a struggle to adjust to being my own boss. But I don’t lose hope that I’ll get there.

  18. #22
    Jemima Royall

    I love these tips, thank you.

    My partner has already been sent home where as my government job needs official word from the State to close but we’re getting ready, we’re in Australia. It’ll be interesting working from home at the same time as my partner, might have to go for separate walks at lunch time 😂.

    Ive never worked from home before so I’m looking forward to the challenge.

    Sending love and safety from Sydney.

  19. #23

    Fantastic tips. I work part time but do not a have a daily firm schedule. Going to implement some of these ideas on my days that I have work. In the meantime looks like I need to start watching Outlander. ☺️

    Best to your family and husband. I have a friend who teaches second graders in a school that is 70% free and reduced lunches. One of my first thoughts today was for the families who do not have internet access. Prayers for all.

    1. #23.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Yes, my thoughts are with those families as that is the situation for the school my husband teaches in. He is going in today to meet with the staff to figure out what they are doing. I hope they all stay 6 feet apart.

  20. #24

    Thank you so much for this blog. Ive just begun to work from home. I will keep these pointers in mind! 😇

  21. #25

    So glad you’re still enjoying Jamie/Outlander! My favorite season was season 1! I’ve read a few of the books and will eventually read them all since they are so well written and add more detail to the story than the tv show.

    1. #25.1
      Cathy Zielske

      I think I will order the books once i finish all five seasons. And I may even go old school… and get real books instead of my reader. But then again, I can’t make the type big! lol!

  22. #26

    The books do come in large print! I bought the first one in large print. Then skipped the next 2 because I was caught up to The corresponding tv seasons Then read the rest on kindle. I think at some point I’ll buy them all in print. Looking forward to the new one coming out hopefully this year!

  23. #27

    Dear Cathy, thank you for this post and great advice! This is my Day Two at home–and I want to step up my game. Been sitting on my kitchen bench in my PJs. I will do better! I LOVE the story of “ends meet.” Too fun. Best wishes to you!

  24. #28

    I, too, thought “ends meet” was “meat,” as in food when I was a kid.

    I wish I could work from home. Trying to wear my big girl panties and deal. Your free class was such a kindness. I need to not just read/watch news in the evening.

  25. #29

    Great tips. I used to work from home two days a week and people were always amazed that I didn’t watch TV. I’d say I don’t watch TV at work, why would I watch it when I’m at “work”?

  26. #30
    Barb R

    These are great tips. When I read them earlier this week, I actually got up and swapped out my slipper-socks for shoes. Not even my Haflingers, which I also love. I’ve made sure to put on my shoes every day since. Not sure why it makes a difference, but it does.

    Cathy, you are always so down-to-earth, and wise! And fun!

  27. #31
    Andrea Hastilow

    Great advice, so many nice easy little steps. Will would definetly have to have background noise, be it tv or radio, as when all is silent my mind wander s to why so quiet ? What are the kids doing that quietly ? My current problems is a serious case of the lack of umph ! Stay safe & healthy xxx

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