how do I motivate myself to work from home?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

Since starting to work from home full-time, I’m finding it extremely hard in the mornings to just start working. I struggled with this in the office, but the physicality of being in the office and the presence of other coworkers usually kicked my butt into gear.

It’s just not the same at home. I find that I’ll get up just in time for our morning check-ins at 9 am, but then once those are over I struggle with just … working. I want to be like the person who outworks their other coworkers, I really do! I just can’t seem to find the focus within to do it. I don’t have a problem completing my tasks on time, it’s more just getting started on them.

It feels like there’s a giant wall that I have to climb to even get started – I’m trying to reframe it as “diving in” instead of “climbing a wall” since that seems easier in my mind. But it’s not working. Do you have any tips about getting down to work in the mornings and just focusing through the day?

I think a lot of people are running into this right now — in part because of how stressed and distracted people are, but in part just because adjusting to working from home is tougher than we often acknowledge. Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 315 comments… read them below }

  1. Daniel*

    Is there a task/report that you could do each day? The reporting requirements in my unit went up quite a bit once we started WFH–think a bi-weekly report becoming weekly, then becoming daily. I do that as soon as I get started in the day. I’ve gotten praise from higher-ups for being punctual and consistent about getting those off the presses early in the day.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      I was going to suggest something like this. A task or report that should be run early. Or, on some days, at least, is there a check-in meeting you could schedule? I have a 9am project standup every day and that’s pretty helpful for grounding the day at least at 9am (if not earlier), for me.

    2. Alli525*

      Yes, this! My day both starts and ends with separate reports, and it really helps – I have to send some of the data to my direct report by 9:30am, so there’s no dithering around and reading the news or getting into the weeds on emails. Even if OP makes up an artificial deadline for a task that could be technically done any time that day, I bet that would help quite a bit.

    3. Patty*

      You need a good routine to separate waking up time and work… so, set your alarm, take a shower, have some breakfast, check social media etc. before the 9:00 check in. Then put on music or a podcast, make your to-do list and get going immediately.

      Personally, I’m motivated to finish my daily to-do by rewarding myself when it’s done. Sometimes I take a nap, sometimes I sit on the deck with a book, but it could be anything.

      1. KMD*

        I agree with all of this, making a “before work” routine is crucial. Maybe even have separate work clothes you put on just to get you in the mindset.

        For me, at the end of the day before I logoff, I block time in my calendar at say, 8:30, with something that I absolutely must do. Any task, just something I can’t forget to do, and by the time I have that knocked out, I’m in the flow and moving on to the next thing.

  2. ABK*

    Checklists. I need to look at a list to see what I’m supposed to be doing, then do something small and easy to kick off the day! There’s also variations of the timer method, where you put on a timer for ~15 mins and work, then take a 3 min break. If I can put off getting coffee/checking email/going to the bathroom for those 15 mins, get something done, then break, it helps a lot.

    1. WFHGal*

      I’ve heard the hand-written check lists are better than digital ones, since your brain gets a boost from physically crossing items off a list.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        I am generally anti-paper, but I am buying a notepad when I go to the drug store this afternoon. I’ve been using outlook reminders and an electronic list, but I think I need to go back to tangible paper to-do list.

        1. FormerFirstTimer*

          I have a really cute planner that I try to write everything I need to do in. has some super cute ones! I also have a special set of pens to make it more fun. Yeah, I’m an office supply nerd.

          1. JustTara*

            Me too! My own special cool pens, colorful post it notes, a special notebook and planner. I love those things and they help me!

        2. irene*

          Look into a whiteboard!

          Doesn’t even need to be fancy – grab a picture frame and easel stand from the dollar store and stick a plain piece of white paper inside. (but don’t skimp on the good whiteboard markers! i really like the U Brands double-ended ones that i got at walmart)

          there are notebooks made to be reused like a whiteboard – the Rocketnotes is one, I think? but they can have issues with warping or water damage after a while. the picture frame is inexpensive, saves on paper, and can be recycled into an actual picture frame later :D

          I’m also thinking of getting smaller ones and just spray painting the back of the glass white, so i can have a scratchpad at my elbow for transient notes… maybe put some Sugru bumpers on the edge, once i have enough projects lined up to make a pack of sugru cost effective.

          1. Julia*

            You can also get frixion pens, which are erasable pens. Everyone in my Japanese office used them, even the construction guys drawing on floor plans etc. They really look like pens and highlighters, not like colored pencils, and erase completely clean.

        3. OtterB*

          I’ve been keeping a paper list semi-regularly for several years, kind of a proto-bullet journal. But I’m thinking of switching back to digital. A couple of weeks ago I started a to-do list on the Notes app on my Mac, meaning to just keep track of a few things that came up in a Zoom meeting. But instead I’ve been keeping that list on the upper right corner of my monitor and adding to it/checking things off. It’s helpful for refocusing after I’ve been distracted by something, and it’s also useful for getting some of the smaller things done. I think, I’ve got 20 minutes before lunch, no point in diving back in to Main Project, but here’s this list item to read Fergus’s report, and that’s enough time to skim over it and see if I need to go back in detail later.

          So I may switch back to the WorkFlowy app. Haven’t decided for sure. Conceptually I like the Bullet Journal approach of keeping lists and notes from meetings and so forth all in one book, but practically, having that list up at the edge of my vision is helpful.

        4. CynicallySweet7*

          I have found all of my old gel pens. My planner is a shiny, spectacular rainbow of color! (which oddly does help me stay focused)

        5. a good mouse*

          I use the Rocketbook reusable notebooks. It cured me of my notebook addiction. They have a little flipbook size that I use for notes and reminders. I use the regular size notebooks for work notes, because it forces me to digitize them and I don’t end up with endlessly filled notebooks where I can’t find the info I need from a couple years ago. I used the same notebook for well over a year, and I only got a new one because mine had been their first version of the Everlast and it had a weird back cover.

      2. Elle*

        Also a physical check list stays available next to my keyboard instead of a digital check list that disappears under other windows.

      3. Shad*

        Yes. I love my handwritten lists. It’s great for two reasons: it’s much easier for me to see the scale and organisation if I’m looking at paper, and crossing things off make me happy.
        I’ve also found it helpful to start with a small thing, sometimes two, to get the productivity ball rolling (like going through my inbox, making today’s list, sometimes something else small too).
        And forgive yourself. It’s going to be hard, and that’s okay. But if you’re like me, thinking about how hard it is to get going makes it that much harder to get going.

      4. Radical Edward*

        This is absolutely the reason my workspace has always been covered in fluttery cascades of multicoloured post-it notes. No matter what my job is or how I otherwise operate, I need to physically write tasks down and be able to see them in front of me without turning on a computer or looking at my phone. Peeling them off and getting rid of them when it’s done is really satisfying to my inner urge to tidy up, as well.

      5. Laurie*

        Yes! There is definitely something about crossing off a completed item! I will often type my list digitally, then print it, so I can have the satisfaction of physically crossing off an item! Sometimes I even put a task on that I know I am just minutes from finishing just to get the crossing off / feeling accomplished started!

    2. old curmudgeon*

      Lists are my primary tool. It helps that our work unit is required to send end-of-day updates to our supervisor listing what we accomplished, so I both keep a list going all day plus am motivated to make it clear that I’m getting things done.

      (And yes, before anyone points it out, it is micromanagery to require people to send daily lists of accomplishments, but my employer is new to WFH and many supervisors are struggling with feeling out of touch with their staff. I’d far rather email a list of what I did each day than be required to waste 30 minutes daily talking to my manager about it all, which is what some folks here have described.)

      Regardless of that requirement, though, lists are my friend. I keep multiple running lists going – what do I need to do, who do I need to ask for data, what have I completed, what barriers am I encountering – and it honestly is one of the primary tools I use. It both motivates me to start work each day, and helps me feel as though I’ve accomplished something useful at the end of each day. Plus if my manager does need more information about anything (“why is the teapot handle inventory still not complete?”), the lists of people I ask and barriers I encounter helps me frame the response informatively without feeling defensive.

    3. Sparky*

      If I am really struggling, I write my to-do list and write and cross off “make list”. I am rotating days in the office with my supervisor and a coworker, and I am leaving my lists out. My supervisor might never glance at them, but they show what I do all day alone at the office.

    4. Kira*

      I had a similar issue to OP, and it didn’t help that I’m an efficient worker so I never needed the full day to get my workload done. I’d end up procrastinating for hours before finishing my work right before the deadline.

      The checklist strategy I eventually used was writing out my top 3-5 “things I have to do today to feel like I worked enough”. I got a neat notepad with 5 columns for the days of the week, and enjoyed planning out my work for the coming week on Friday afternoons. It also gave me a chance to “assign” myself a higher workload if I was feeling ambitious and wanted to the satisfaction of feeling like I’d gotten a lot done.

      Then Monday rolls around, I feel really distracted and demotivated, and I’d pull out my notepad. There was still the mental struggle of getting started, but by *deciding* what to do on Friday, that made it easier for me to just start working on it.

      1. Sharkzle*

        OP Here. This is a great idea! I’m 100% a list maker but I usually wait until the beginning of the week to create them. Moving that task to the end of the week is a great idea so I don’t have to figure out what I’m doing Monday morning. Thanks!

        1. AVP*

          I’m also a major listmaker and working remotely (my role has been remote for more than a year so thats my only main difference to your situation). I love this suggestion and would even add that sometimes I get very sluggish starting in the morning because I hate my first tasks of the day or week – so sometimes I’ll just work a little later the night before, knock that task off if I can, and start 15 minutes later the next days since I already have something done.

          For example – I run a Monday mid-morning meeting and I HATE doing agendas first thing in the week…so now I just draft the agenda on Fridays and feel amazing when I wake up on Monday and it only needs to be looked over, not started!

      2. ReadingTheStoics*

        “3-5 things I have to do today to feel like I worked enough”.

        Oh, this is a good idea. Because it’s a two-level problem: not getting the work done, and also beating oneself up about it.

      3. allathian*

        I find I’m easily distracted as well. The first few weeks of WFH and monitoring my 10-year-old son’s remote learning were tough and there were lots of interruptions. Now he’s settled in his studies and asks for my help much less often. He has no issues with asking his teacher for help in class when he needs it, but he found it tough to do it remotely to start with, although his anxiety around that seems to have eased off quite a bit. So it should be easy for me to focus on work, but it isn’t…

        I get distracted by all sorts of “ooh shiny” things and spend far too much time on AAM. Reading non-work websites at work was never an issue with her even at the office. My job is the kind that requires intense concentration when we do it and we’re allowed to take plenty of breaks. She made it clear that she doesn’t look at what’s on our screens when she comes by and that she doesn’t expect us to focus 100% on work when we’re on the clock. My biggest issue is a big task that’s been on the back burner for the last year. It’s important, but not urgent and gets pushed to the end of the queue because even more critical and particularly more urgent issues get in the way. Some of them aren’t even that mission critical for us, but because they are urgent and easy and fast to do, as well as often commissioned by the C-suite, it’s really hard to outsource it, even if we have the budget for it and are encouraged by our boss to do it.

        But I’m wondering if all this isn’t in my head, because I get as much done as I ever did at the office and I’ve had no complaints from my boss so far.

    5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I keep a list in a Word document. The first thing I do each morning is open it, add anything that I thought of overnight, then print it out. I spend all day scribbling on it. The last thing I do each day is open that document, and update it to current before I leave, then file the paper one in a folder of to-do lists.

      I also use the back of the list for phone messages. That way I have a dated record of all of the messages I received.

    6. ThisPersonIsTyping*

      The timer thing is a really good start. for example, you could try saying: “I’m going to work for 10 minutes now and if I’m not getting anywhere, I’ll get up and make a coffee/walk around the apartment/ decompress for a couple minutes/ etc. Can I commit to doing x thing for 10 minutes?”
      that’s a lot easier to do than “I have this mountain of work and 8 hours of time ahead of me and I need to do all of it, now!”
      Often, you’ll find that once you get going on your 10-minute task, you will be able to work for more than 10 minutes. You can also actively decide to add another task for another 10 minutes (or 15, or 20).
      Similarly, you can try commiting to doing 3 things, and once those 3 are done, anything else is bonus. Make a big list and pick 3, and get started on those only.
      I also want to add that this is a bit of “the blind leading the blind” – I’m having an absolutely terrible time getting anything done at the moment. So if anyone has any tips on getting out of the “everything feels pointless” mode, I’m happy to trade.

      1. EH*

        I use that exact tactic for all kinds of things – going to martial arts class, exercising, work, et al. Super helpful!

        Everything definitely feels a bit pointless right now – it’s easy to be depressed when you can’t hang out with your peeps or do your once-usual routine, plus the world is in chaos. I’m finding that walks outside are helpful (another thing I do the “just 10 minutes” trick with), but there are a million things to try for creeping depression.

        Solidarity, ThisPersonIsTyping and OP! You are far from alone.

      2. Kettricken Farseer*

        I don’t have any tips on the “everything feels pointless” mode, because I’m in the same boat. I’m having a difficult time finding meaning in the work I do, because it just seems stupid when the whole country is facing a life-or-death crisis. Plus I’m in two of the high-risk groups for the virus.

        1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

          When the whole room is dark, lighting one little candle can make a huge difference—it matters so much more than lighting that same candle in a room that’s already well lit. Even if all your work does is light a little candle for someone, that matters more now, not less.

          Being in a high-risk group can be really stressful, and I encourage you to seek mental health support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

      3. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        Whatever work you do probably helps someone in some way. If you pick and pack onions, you’re helping hungry people feed themselves and their families. If you write lines of code that will eventually become part of a software package, the end users will benefit from having that software and being able to do things they couldn’t do without it. If you work in customer service, you’re helping people fix problems all day. Can you think about the people who benefit from your work, even if it’s in a way that feels small and inconsequential, and motivate yourself that way? Every little bit of joy and usefulness helps right now.

        Also, “everything feels pointless” can often be a sign of depression, so if you’re not already approaching that as a medical condition that can be treated, it might be time to start. Talk with your doctor about it. Everybody needs mental health support right now and there’s no shame in that. You don’t have to just muscle through.

    7. EmbracesTrees*

      I also highly recommend putting “read AAM” on the list. Since it’s updated during the day, it’s like I’m triply getting things done!

      lol … I’m actually only kind of kidding, but then I’m the person who will write things down (“oh yeah, I emailed X about Y and it wasn’t on the list”) just so I can have that visceral pleasure of crossing it off. (Seconding the on paper rather than digital list — SO much more satisfying for me!)

    8. Matilda*

      Yes, to the checklists! I use an online one (To Doist) and then try to keep the tab open on my computer throughout the day (otherwise I can get terrible at checking them). I’ve also been breaking down items on the list into their steps (you can create subtasks), which has the benefit of making my projects less overwhelming and getting the mental boost of checking stuff off.

      1. MoopySwarpet*

        I love Todoist. I use it on multiple devices so I can easily check what to do on my phone, computer, tablet, etc. I also have it synced to a google calendar. I always add times and then can rearrange my day/week as needed. I put the times only for order sorting. I never put a task due before 3pm. I love that you can just type the things and it knows, too. “Read AAM tomorrow 3p [30m]” will put the task on my calendar and allocate 30 minutes of my day tomorrow.

    9. Kaittydidd*

      Yes! I have a notebook for checklists of my daily tasks. I include easy wins like “update timesheet” so that I get the little bost of accomplishing something to get my momentum going. I also use an app called Forest to keep me from getting distracted on my phone. Its basically the pomodoro, but with cute digital trees as rewards for staying focused.

    10. MtnLaurel*

      Checklists help me too. Also rewards. “When I get this report done I can pet the dog.” “After I get through my email I can have a snack.”

  3. JT180*

    Start with easy tasks. Leave yourself a set of low stakes things to do. Sometimes I cleaned up my desk, or a digital file, or cleared my whiteboard.

    1. earl grey aficionado*

      I was coming to say this. Easy, and I would add, tangible/direct. Ease into the day with the brainless stuff (cleaning up your desk or digital space is one great option, a regular meeting/phone call/email check-in is possibly another) and leave the more open-ended, thinking-intensive tasks for once your brain is fully in gear.

    2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Funny, I’m the exact opposite! If I start the day with procrasti-working tasks I can go on like that for hours. But if I jump straight into a more substantial or difficult task as soon as I sit down I find that my pace is set for the day and I can easily keep the momentum going.

      1. sara*

        I’m the exact same – I’ve lost entire days before to procrastination tasks. My morning “email check” can last literally all morning. I have to just take the plunge with my actual work or it may never happen! When I just dive in, I’m reminded that I actually like my job and feel way better when I’ve been productive…if only I could harness that feeling BEFORE diving in!

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Yep. And I find it’s not so much needing to harness that feeling before diving in, it’s more that I need to not allow any room for an unproductive mindset to settle in and take over. The more time I allow myself to think about not wanting to start proper work just yet, the less I ever want to start.

      2. Djuna*

        Same. I start my mornings now with compiling and responding to feedback on one of the things we do at work.
        It kick-starts my brain and generates a list of things to check and people to ask about potential changes.
        I know when other people on my team have had this task they’ve found it onerous, but I enjoy it.

        I’m a little different in that I make a list at the end of the day reminding me of stuff to do tomorrow, so I can push anything that came up late in the day into a “don’t think about that now, it’s for tomorrow” mental file.
        Mornings = feedback, then more coffee, then list. I generally don’t have morning meetings so I need to have things to keep me busy until lunch.

        This way, even if my afternoon is entirely consumed by meetings I still know I got stuff done.

    3. Jane*

      This works for me – to start with more low stakes items – including writing out my to-do list and checking email starting with easy-to-resolve email and then I can move into more demanding stuff. By then I am in a groove and it’s hard to call it a day

    4. Sharkzle*

      OP Here. I really like this idea, it gets your brain in working mode with a simple task. And I can see that simple task such as cleaning up digital files sparking ideas for other tasks like that I can do on other days. Thank you!

      1. MayLou*

        I’ve been using Complice, partly for the virtual coworking room and also for the intentions-setting and pomodoro tracking. I’ve set a list of daily tasks that I can add to my list with a single click – for me, that goes: Emails and admin, Make detailed to-do list, Housework task, Lunch, Appointment, Plan/prep dinner, Walk dog, Duolingo practice.

        I move the tasks around in the daily routine as needed (for instance today my appointment was in the morning, and on Tuesday I had an additional video meeting) and I add more specific tasks. Emails goes first because they often inform the detailed to-do list.

        I’ve found that I need to be both super granular and also very flexible with my list. More than half of my daily tasks are not related to my paid work, which is deliberate – they’re still important tasks I have to do, and if I feel the need to take a break from focused work I can do something else on the list without totally breaking my productivity and getting sidetracked by mindless internet browsing. My detailed to-do list gets as specific as “call Jade after 2pm to talk about ordering new llama brushes”, or as vague as “fight with Outlook 365”.

        Also if I’ve had a particularly difficult day focus-wise, I make sure I set the next day’s intentions the night before. That way I can get started more quickly and not let one bad day derail the week.

    5. James*

      I do the opposite–I try to do the thing that’s going to be most obnoxious at the start of the day, because that way as my energy declines (I’m a morning person) I can do less-onerous tasks. I know working from home doesn’t (usually) involve this, but I always try to organize my day so that the more physically demanding tasks are in the morning, and things get easier as I go. That way, I know that I just have to make one hard push up front, and it’s down hill from there.

      Either way works, of course. It’s a matter of personal preference.

  4. Laure001*

    I try to organise a routine which includes something pleasant as a “gift” for getting started. I prepare a nice area for work, a comfortable chair, and a coffee with plenty of honey – it’s my thing! ;)
    Over time the two things (delicious coffee with honey, starting work) have become associated in my unconscious, and “starting the day” is now an experience associated with contentment.

    I also start with something easy, or that I like doing. Completing it is satisfying and I want to complete something else.

      1. JPVaina*

        Second this! I reward myself constantly, whether it’s a 20 min walk, or a trip to Starbucks for a pick-up (aka what I normally would have done while working in the office), or literally just letting myself “get off the clock early” if I focus and get a lot done (my supervisor is aware and has been very supportive of us just getting tasks done, and worrying less about actual hours clocked).

    1. ThisPersonIsTyping*

      OMG this sounds so good. Tricking your brain into associating work with a treat! Love it.

      1. Laure001*

        I am a tad ADHD and sugar helps me focus. The trick is not to overdo it but it’s definitely helping… :) :)

    2. Jane*

      Ohh I like this idea @Laure001 about having a routing that includes something pleasant!

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      This is me as well. I get up, have some coffee, eat something while I check my email. Basically, I kind of ease in to the day. It feels less jarring and then the once I get done with my food and email I’m usually ready to put together my to do list and get moving.

      My days with a lot of morning meetings kind of feel like jumping into cold water compared to non-meeting days, but, well, jump starting the day that way works too. But I vastly prefer my slow start way.

  5. Jedi Squirrel*

    Quit trying to be the person who outworks their coworkers. That’s not you, at least right now.

    Make a list of things you need to get done, and celebrate when you tick one of them off.

    I don’t know about your business, but mine has slowed way down. It’s okay for me to take longer breaks. Is the same true for you?

    1. C in the Hood*

      I was thinking the same thing: first, change your expectations of yourself. Don’t try to be the “outworker”. Maybe: “what’s the one thing I want to get done/started today?” Then once that’s under your belt, work up to 2 things, etc.

    2. Anax*

      Unfortunately not for me. People still need to get paid – we calculate their bonuses – and the pandemic has meant more urgent work on our side rather than less, with people stuck out of the country, technical issues now that everyone’s WFH, adjustments to bonuses to compensate for the current situation…

      Until a couple weeks ago, I was burning the candle at both ends to get through the emergency (… while I was also quite sick, whee), and now that things have slowed down to a slightly-above-normal workload, I’m having a really hard time concentrating and getting work done.

      I know that’s a natural consequence of exhaustion and anxiety, but I’m really struggling with it – when I don’t get my tasks done, someone else on my team has to pick up the slack, and they’re in no better shape than I am. I’m really not sure how to cope.

      1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        Talk to your manager about taking time off. I know that sounds paradoxical, but if you’re officially not working, there are mechanisms in place for your workload to be redistributed or paused, whereas if you’re on the clock but struggling, those mechanisms don’t kick in. Expectation-setting matters too, and advance planning. Everyone will handle “Anax will be off Monday and Tuesday” much, much better than “Anax didn’t do anything on Monday and Tuesday”. And then you can come back feeling a little rested and able to do more, and maybe facilitate someone else being out the next Monday and Tuesday.

        You need rest, especially if you were working so hard while sick. Collaborate with your boss and your team on making that rest happen. You’ll be so glad you did.

    3. Agreed*

      Also, don’t forget that not everyone can “outwork their coworkers”, and trying to do so is really just a race to the bottom.

    4. TechWorker*

      Also no slow downs here, I still have a full workload but am less productive from home… I am currently struggling with procrastination & distractions during the day (& I feel less able to allow my reports to flounder without input or wait on things from me, because it’s harder for them to get help wfh and some of our are team are working odd hours for childcare) and then working late in order to actually get my focussed work done :(

      This week was a mess hours wise… I need to sort it out!

  6. CTT*

    I also struggle with this, and I’ve found that when I make a to do list for the next day before I log off, I am less likely to spend an hour puttering around figuring out what to start on. It’s not always successful, but it helps me.

    1. CH*

      I’ve been doing this and it helps a lot. I’ve also blocked off time on my calendar to do those tasks, which helps me be more accountable to myself. (ex. This is when I am doing the weekly report, this is when I am working on the draft proposal, etc.)

      1. Isma Mcintosh*

        I’ve also been doing nightly to-do lists for a few years – I now feel stressed out if I don’t as I don’t feel prepared for the day ahead! I find 15 mins planning before logging off saves around 45 mins faffing time in the morning. I also schedule out my day so I know roughly how much I realistically expect to get done, and this also helps force me not to spend too long on something when other pressing items need working on.

    2. Batty Twerp*

      I use a daily task list (on paper, so I have to physically tick things off), but I include not-exactly-work items as well, such as “Get dressed”, “5 minutes in the fresh air”, “Have breakfast”. Once I’ve started work on my list, it’s a little easier to continue. I also break my day down. 45 minutes on this task, 15 minutes to get a new brew and stretch my legs, visit the loo, etc., repeat as needed.

      It’s also possible that get[ting] up just in time for our morning check-ins at 9 am may be part of the problem. I start my day at the same time (ish – to within 30 minutes) of when I would have had to get up to go into the office. I’ve tried to make my day as similar to “normal” as possible (I don’t have children, so that’s something I have as an advantage). Routine is key.

    3. cleo*

      Same! And these days I’m finding it helps if I note what I want to work on first.

    4. Becca*

      I do this as well!

      I have a small (maybe 3″ x 5″?) notebook that I write my to-do list on for each day. The size has been key, as it can’t fit a crazy amount of things on it that I’ll never be able to do in a day! I generally split my list into three sections, so I can cross things out pretty consistently throughout the day.

      Each day, as my last task of the day, I plan out the next day on the next blank page in my notebook. I write down every meeting I have first, with the time of the meeting next to it, including my daily standup that happens every day. I also include lunch in that list, with the time (generally 12, 12:30, or 1) when I’ll be taking lunch next to it as well.

      Under my list of meetings, I list out prep for meetings — if I have a 1:1 with a direct report, that 1:1 is listed in the meetings at the top of the page, but “prep for 1:1 with Fergus” is listed in the next section, for example.

      Then, after I’ve taken care of scheduled meetings, meeting prep, and lunch, I add up to three tasks that I need to finish the next day. I’ll also look back at my meeting timings and figure out when I’ll do them and write the timing next to it. No more than three tasks can be added here. If I have overflow, then I flip my notebook to the last page where I have an ongoing list of “this week” tasks that I want to make sure I don’t forget. If I end up with extra time in my day, I flip back to that page and choose something to tackle.

      Generally this looks something like this:
      10am team standup
      11am meet with leader of other team on that project
      12:30 lunch!
      1pm 1:1 with Fergus
      2:30 brainstorm meeting on X process

      – prep for mtg w other team lead
      – prep for 1:1 with fergus
      – prep for brainstorm

      – brain dump for project report (note: not “do the whole report”! I break it down.)
      – assemble feedback for boss on project plan they sent
      – update project manager with XYZ needed for ABC

      When I’m really struggling to stay focused, I will get even more intense and schedule out my day even more than the above — ie instead of three “sections,” everything will be scheduled along with meetings so my list looks like:

      10am team standup
      10:30 prep for mtg w team lead
      11am meet with leader of other team on that project
      12pm prep for 1:1 w Fergus
      12:30 lunch!
      1pm 1:1 with Fergus
      2pm prep for brainstorm
      2:30 brainstorm meeting on X process
      3:30 brain dump for project report
      4:30 break!
      5pm assemble feedback for boss
      5:30 update project manager with XYZ
      5:55 make task list for tomorrow

      also note that I don’t overschedule every second — daily team standup lasts for about 10-15 minutes, but I don’t have another thing “scheduled” until 10:30, giving me time to drink coffee, check email, slack a coworker about a tv show, etc. If a meeting is scheduled for 45 minutes, I’ll give that 15 min of overflow before my next “Scheduled” task, etc.

      If you’re someone without a lot of control over your time (ie you get requests for new work that pops up on the same day that it needs to be completed), I have been there as well! For those types of roles, I will do the same process as above, but identify my “swing” time, ie time in the day that can be spent on anything. Then, when the boss slacks with the task, I can immediately answer and say “great! I can get this to you by X o’clock, does that work?” and then schedule it in to my open slot. I also rely more on a general “this week” list that, if I reach a “swing” open time and don’t have a task for that time, I can consult the list and choose something to do in that time. I write it into my daily list and cross it off when it’s done

  7. Taylor*

    I use the Pomodoro technique for the first part of the day and it really works! As soon as I sit down to work I’m like ugh, I don’t want to, but I set a timer for 25 minutes and commit to being productive and it usually helps me get into the groove

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I have done the Pomodoro technique as well, and it really does help. I bought two times at the dollar store, set one for 25 minutes and the other for 5.

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      Yup. I use it in the office sometimes as well. Not all day, but it kinda kickstarts you when you’re procrastinating because you’re afraid of the task. Once Pomodoro gets me going, I have no issue keeping up the momentum.
      Procrastination is often based in fear. Fear you can’t do the task and that you’ll fail at it. This is why smart, perfectionist kids often have such trouble with academic deadlines. But since you’ve managed to keep your job so far, you usually can do it. So once you get into it, that fear passes.

    3. Tree*

      I use the Forest app on my phone for pomodoros. The free version is usable and works well, but I did wind up buying the paid version because I wanted to unlock some extra features. It’s strangely motivating collecting the little trees, and then doing enough to work to unlock the prettier trees. You can choose different planting times, anywhere from 10 minutes to 180 minutes. On a really bad day I just do 10 minute ones and then when it’s over I do another. Starting is the hardest part for me, so “Come on, you can do it for ten minutes” is enough to get me past the hardest part.

      I also keep a paper todo list with little shapes next to the item that i can colour in when I’m done.

      1. Vega*

        I’m also a Forest user, and it’s been invaluable right now. I paid for it as well, mostly for the “app whitelist” when that became a premium feature. Typically, I use my last bit of post-breakfast willpower in the morning to plant a 2-hour tree on my phone and a 25-minute tree on my work laptop browser. Being locked out of my phone that long helps get me into work mode, and then I use the browser version as my pomodoro timer. I also like that the browser version makes you choose to “give up” to access blocked sites, rather than just killing your tree if you open up twitter out of habit.

        1. Sharkzle*

          OP Here. I will look into Forest, this sounds like an awesome tool. Almost like a Tamagotchi but with trees! I’ve seen several commenters say something about the Pomodoro technique and I’m definitely going to give that a try as well. Thank you!

    4. C-Suite Diva*

      Yes! I use a Chrome extension called Block Sites to set a work timer and block all of my usual procrastination reading (including, sadly, Ask a Manager!)

    5. SansaStark*

      I didn’t know there was a name for this, but I’ve been doing this lately with tasks that I just don’t want to do. Can I imagine doing it for 15 minutes? Ok, so I set an alarm for 15 minutes. I can work longer than that if I want to, but I can stop at the 15 minute mark with no guilt. Often, I’ll find myself hitting the snooze button, and think “ok, I can do another 15 minutes” or whatever, but having the pressure off that I have to completely finish this task has been really helpful to me.

    6. LibbyG*

      I love the Pomodoro technique. I have a little Chrome extension/Pomodoro timer. When I feel restless I can glance at it and say to myself “Oh, I get a break in 12 minutes. I can keep going.”

    7. jarl of whiterun*

      Yes! I work from home full time, I don’t use it every day, but I’m always amazed at how much I can get done when I’m using the Pomodoro technique. Plus, the built-in breaks are a great mental refresh! I use a free app called BeFocused — it’s really simple to use.

  8. Kimmybear*

    You are not alone. Recognize that not everyday is going to be super productive and not everyday is going to be a disaster. Most days will be somewhere in between. Here are what helps me: Set an alarm clock (mine is a toddler), Get coffee/tea/soda/whatever to signal it’s time to work, find someplace just for work if space allows (I have a basement closet with a table and laptop), to do lists that have small manageable things so you can feel good checking things off, my team check-ins are at the end of the day so it forces me to have something to talk about by then.

  9. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

    What works for me is to act more as if I’m in the office and not at home. That means, yeah, getting dressed in real clothes. Of course, not hose and heels, but not yoga pants, not sweats, not shorts. A real shirt and at least jeans. (Okay, I admit, real pants with a snug waistband are easy to resist.)

    Acting as if also means being in a work-like environment. Of course, if you’re stuck in a one-bedroom or studio, you’ll have a harder time with this. The goal is to try to make as much differentiation between home space from office space. Try a portable screen to block out the TV; turn your phone off if you can; stay off sites like, um, er, Ask a Manager(!), and get going.

    I like to start with a small task; make that damn phone call, research and reply to that email, whatever gets your brain back into work vibe. It’s definitely harder because we’re dealing with life-threatening and unprecedented problems here, but if you can trick your brain into work mode more quickly in the morning, you may be able to at least sustain that until a lunch break.

    The other thing that might help is getting ready for work at least a half hour before that check-in call to again, get your brain into work mode. Prep for the call, check your work emails, pull that info and be prepped for business.

    Best to you and yours,

    1. Sparky*

      I miss my commute by bus, I miss reading on the bus. I have more time now without the commute, but I try to read for 15 minutes before work and after. This helps all around, not just with feeling like I’ve arrived at my desk and I need to work now. That said, I will be studying this thread because some days I psyche myself out and am not very productive. Then I feel guilty and want to avoid my manager. Not good.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        I “commute” by walking to the end of my garden and back (it’s an enclosed yard before anyone starts). It ensures I get some fresh air and daylight first thing in the morning. We can underestimate the importance of sunlight in starting the day when we don’t get it.

    2. WFH Vet*

      I started working form home about 10 years ago and it took some time to get used to the new routine.

      I agree with Little Miss Cranky Pants – act like you are going to work. Take a shower, get dressed, turn off the TV and home computer. Set aside an office if you can – I have an office that I use pretty much just for work. Tell others in your house that you are at work and have them treat you as if you are not there. Have them call you if they need you – don’t let them just walk up like you are at home. You are at work and they need to treat you like it.

      All these little things can make a big difference in your attitude.

    3. Hillary*

      I agree on real clothes. I’m more casual than at the office and I’m not doing hair and makeup, but wearing real pants is making a huge difference.

      My other thing is to follow my normal work routine. I start the day just like I would at the office – go to my desk, turn on my computer, get coffee and settle in. Email first, meetings, check in with my teammates, spend the remaining time on my projects. A notebook has replaced my to do whiteboard. If I wouldn’t have that snack at the office I don’t have it at home. At the end of the day I turn the computer off, turn the light off, and ignore the room until morning.

    4. Snow globe*

      Agree with this-work at a desk, not on the couch with the TV on in the background. Start and end work at the same time each day.

    5. BJP*

      I was coming to say that getting all my procrastination reading done before my first check in helps me transition right to work when that call finishes. I have the terrible habit of checking a handful of websites (news, webcomics, AAM, etc) first thing when I sit down to my computer. If I can get that time-waster out of the way before my first phone call of the day, then it’s much easier to just start working when I hang up.

    6. MarieLeilani*

      I agree! I’ve been trying to keep parts of my morning routine and commute–I actually have been more consistently wearing makeup. I also listen to the same daily podcast I used to listen to in the car. I also have a folding divider wall that I pull out at the beginning of the day to “make my office” and then when work is over I fold it up and my office becomes my home desk again.

      Some days though for whatever reason it just too difficult to start. I’ve found it helpful by delaying work by 30 minutes and I do something fun or relaxing (watch a silly youtube video, write a text to a friend, make a cup of tea). Then I check in at the 30 minute mark and it’s usually easier to get started on work.

      Occasionally though I still can’t focus and start work.When that happens I’ll commit to attending the already scheduled emails for the day and and answer emails. I’m really fortunate that I can take a couple hours of vacation or make up the time later in the week. If I try to force myself to work that day, every subsequent day is worse. Taking that 4-6hr break that 1st day means I have a better attitude for the next day.

      Also, I would recommend working from your couch or from the guest bedroom, or from the other side of the room. I’ve found that changing my view even if its a small change to the environment can help.

      1. kt*

        Right: I am for sure in my yoga pants, esp as I try (try!) to throw in some 10-minute ‘workouts’ while things are compiling or whatever, but I’m trying to wear lipstick every day as a signal every time I see my face that I’m not just vegging at home.

      2. allathian*

        Makeup is out for me. I’m not client-facing so normally I wear makeup only to conferences and networking events, which have all been canceled. Or if I go out with my husband and/or friends for a meal or a drink. Those are out now too. Although I must say that when I do wear makeup, I keep fiddling with my face all the time, and that’s not a good look either.

  10. Kierson*

    I use OneNote to organize my life, personally and professionally. I’ll assign dates or days to each task, highlighting the ones I need to accomplish THAT DAY. Deleting these colors off my to-do lists helps me feel accomplished.

    Work-wise, I also keep a list of what I’ve accomplished each day, as well as future projects I can pull from, like a bucket list. Visually seeing what I’ve done and what I still need to do helps keep the motivation going… most days lol.

    1. Anonya*

      I like this. I wish I could see your list! When I’ve dealt with work anxiety in the past, writing down the “already done” items helps me a lot.

    2. Bananatiel*

      On the topic of software– I’ve been struggling using my employer’s project management software and it is a MESS now that we’re all WFH. It’s being used less consistently than ever. I finally broke down and made myself a Trello board (I use it in my personal life and did at a past job)– it’s already made such a difference to be able to visualize my work in that way. I go back and upload my finished work to the other software when I need to but giving myself permission to do what I needed to do in terms of software has been really helpful to my productivity.

  11. Neosmom*

    I allocate time segments for specific work. My day always starts with report prep for our executives and one customer (and the data is needed so good decisions can be made promptly). Next segment is reviewing email and handling urgent items / requests. Then non-urgent items (including reminders that pop up). This usually takes me to a lunch break.

    I then block the lunch break time on my calendar and step away.

    Afternoon is “freeform”: Sometimes it is taking time to pull information together for an executive (monthly, takes a couple of days) or handling a back-burner project that is not time sensitive. Of course, urgent requests also get handled here, too.

    This loos format keeps me on track yet gives me flexibility. At the end of every day I can see progress in all of these areas. And that progress is motivating.

    1. Mazzy*

      I am trying to go for short spurts interspersed with walks and housework, because I rarely can get into that marathon work mode like in the office.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Sadly, I find that if I really get into the zone, it’s in the late afternoon/evening so I find that I handle managing/fire fighting during the day and intense project work during the night. Not ideal but a few marathon days mean that I can then chill for other days and just handle email while I give myself a break. Definitely more hours overall and I’m not actually “off” very much, but the flexibility has been really valuable.

    2. Ashley*

      The block of time schedule really helps me all the time. One thing to consider is what is your personal peak productive times and schedule high concentration items then. I always like to start my day going through my inbox and ending my day with a project I will start on after email in the morning.

  12. Almost Academic*

    Honestly, peer pressure. I set up a digital coworking appointment with a colleague (or stranger through focusmate) for the first hour that I need to be working each day. We each announce at the beginning the task we are trying to accomplish in the next hour, and then work on that for about 45 minutes then do a 5 minutes check in at the end. It’s really helped tremendously for me when nothing else could get me to just sit down and do the things.

    1. Panda Bear*

      OMG I love that idea – never heard of focusmate… I am going to try it. At my old job, several colleagues and I would hold ‘study hall’ sessions – we’d bring our computers/notes into a conference room and hold each other accountable for staying focused on whatever individual work we had to complete. At my new job (a super introverted culture) no one has wanted to do this with, in person or virtually.

    2. Cece*

      We’ve been doing this – a group of us (in a large organisation) have a message board thing to say good morning and perform some small talk for a few minutes at the start of the day. We do it at about the same time every day (7:30ish), and it’s been great to feel connected, but also gets us to our desks.

    3. cleo*

      This works for me too. I used to have a friend / colleague that I would do that with. She called it a “power hour”

  13. Not Elizabeth*

    Is there a relatively easy or routine task you could start with each morning? Or something you can leave unfinished at the end of each day and then finish first thing in the morning? That might help you feel like you’re ramping up instead of diving in.

    1. Person of Interest*

      I do this a lot – leave a task that I’m really engaged in unfinished at the end of the day so I am more energized to get right back to it when I start the next day.

    2. Data Lady*

      I do this too! Not only because I enjoy ramping up the day with a task I’m already well into, but also because I enjoy reviewing the work I’ve already done with fresh eyes.

  14. Please make it stop*

    On one of the Friday threads from quite a while ago (pre-covid), someone suggested leaving the house and walking around the block before work to get yourself in the right mindset. This actually helped me more than I thought it would.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Weather permitting, I try to take a walk in the morning and one as soon as I get home from work. Walking outside and listening to podcasts while I do it has been extremely beneficial to my mental health.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, and also at the end of the day. Give yourself a physical break to separate “work” time from “home” time.

      1. old curmudgeon*


        I take ten minutes before I start in the morning to get out the laptop, connect the various accessories, get out files and organize them, move my office chair to the table, and get a fresh cup of coffee.

        Then at the end of the day, I take another ten minutes and reverse it all – I wash the coffee cup, move the chair back to the spare bedroom, stack up the files and put them back in my briefcase, disconnect the headset and other stuff from the laptop, and power down the laptop and put it away.

        Those rituals give me a clear mental break between “at work” and “not at work,” and are incredibly helpful in allowing me to compartmentalize my life between home/family and work. I used to use my commute that way, but now that my commute is basically walking from the living room to the kitchen, I needed to establish a new ritual to create that mental break.

    3. Smithy*

      I find this very helpful. Admittedly, I’m more of a morning person but with COVID-19, it’s been easier to slip into waking up later and later. Setting that earlier alarm to do some kind of activity in the morning – whether it’s walking, being first at the grocery store when it opens, or doing laundry I’ve found the most helpful.

    4. Lynn*

      I do this! It has been a big win. It almost feels like a “commute” to transition into work

    5. Beckie*

      Yes, I’ve been doing this, too. Pre-epidemic, I would have breakfast at home and coffee at work, with a fair amount of activity in between (walking kids to school, walking between transit and work, etc.). Keeping a similar routine — walk around the block after breakfast and before coffee — has helped to get me into the work mindset.

    6. Nicki Name*

      I do this. My old commute involved biking and transit, so maintaining a “commute” where I get some exercise has really helped to keep me going. I have a route around my neighborhood that takes about 20 minutes.

      Plus, it’s just nice to get out and get some fresh air and see all the flowers blooming right now!

    7. Oh No She Di'int*

      Agree. I have a friend who has been working from home for decades. Early on he pioneered the practice of walking out the front door (leaving “home”) and coming back in the back door to his studio (going to “work”). If he wanted something from “home”, he would walk out the back door and back in through the front door to pick up what he needed. I adopted a similar approach for myself and fully vouch for it.

  15. Christy*

    I set three goals for myself every day and call myself successful if I accomplish them.

    I have a call every morning an hour after I start with a work friend that helps me get set up for the day. Maybe you could find a buddy?

    I also take off every other Wednesday for mental health. (Both as a “mental health day” and to help manage my clinical anxiety during this time.)

    1. Apollo*

      This. If you can swing it, a day or half day where you don’t have to try to be or look busy makes a big difference right now. Especially in a slower than normal work environment.

      1. JustaTech*

        Thirding. My work asked us to use up some of our PTO to help the company finances (gets some debt off the books), but it’s also nice in the weeks that are just slow and I’m having a hard time inventing work for myself to know that I only have to be productive through Thursday, rather than all the way to Friday.

  16. anonymous bureaucrat*

    If you want to outwork your coworkers – find the stuff that isn’t getting done, that’s falling through the gaps – and just do it. If your work culture allows it – don’t even ask permission. Each little thing is a victory. I have been working this strategy for over a month now and I’m getting really good feedback from peers, direct reports, and my leadership.

  17. Alia*

    I’ve had to set up my own “work environment” to get into the work mindset. I keep my TV on mute on a random channel, and set up a work playlist that I turn on and listen to only when I’m working. I also picked some podcasts full of mindless but interesting information to listen to on my tasks that require less focus. This helps me feel like I’m “at work” in a busy place with lots of things going on around me, which keeps me focused. Sometimes, I burn a specific candle for a “work scent” if I can’t focus still.

    I love working around distractions, and often worked from coffee shops or coworking spaces before social distancing. So for me, working from home was just too quiet and boring. I know lots of people aren’t like that – but the idea of designating environmental things in my home to mean that it’s work time have been really helpful. If that’s not added background noise for you, a work-specific calm playlist, specific ambient noise, coffee or tea or other “work time” beverage, or some other tangible thing could help!

    1. Tiny Magnolia*

      Is the candle “microwaved tuna casserole” or “burnt popcorn”? “Old coffee,” perhaps?

      1. Alia*

        I wish!! Right now it’s pineapple passion fruit, so I can relive tropical vacations and forget I’m still in my living room.

    2. JustaTech*

      I thought I would want total quiet working from home (my work was surprisingly quiet for an open workspace and I’m easily distracted), but I’ve found I really like the audible-but-not-understandable noise of my husband’s conference calls. I can’t understand them, so they’re not distracting, but it has the rhythm of other people working, which helps keep me focused/honest with myself.

    3. Agent Diane*

      There are playlists out there to replicate working environments. Mostly cafes I think but they include background indistinct talking I think.

  18. cmcinnyc*

    For me, what works is getting up early enough to have some nice me time before work time. I am not a morning person, so getting up earlier was counter intuitive, but I can’t just jump from bed to office mode. It makes me very cranky. Getting up and having time to space out, drink coffee, *without* checking email or the news let’s me warm up to the day more gently.

    1. Dino*

      This. I am a morning person but I didn’t realize how much I needed to be awake for 2+ hours before starting to work. With my commute that time was built in but with WFH I would spend the first hours of my work day beating myself up for not being able to focus. After a few weeks of this I finally stopped forcing myself to get to work ASAP, and to my surprise that was all I needed. Now I make my to-do list while sipping my coffee and putz around the house until my brain clicks on. I like doing my to-do list early because i think it primes my brain during the time I spend waking up.

      I’d also say to look at your work week to try to find patterns. I discovered that I’m much more capable of creative/complex work earlier in the work week, so I save the more rote parts of my deliverables until Thursday or Friday. Know thyself and don’t be afraid to try changing it up!

      1. Sharkzle*

        OP Here. I relate so hard to this and you’re so right. After I wrote in to AAM I started to think about my routine and how it’s changed (I also moved to a different city at the start of the pandemic so that’s probably also part of the inability to focus). Like you I would get up about 2 hours before work to get ready and then commute and I didn’t realize how much I needed that time for my brain to kick into gear. Since I’ve been home I started to do some light yoga in the mornings when I can and that’s really helped kick my entire body into gear. Thank you for your input!

        1. allathian*

          Glad you’ve found something that works for you!
          I’m also a morning person, and my commute was only about 45 minutes door-to-door. I took about 45 minutes every morning getting ready for work, having breakfast, etc.
          The best thing about COVID and WFH was that when I went to the office during standard time, I’d get up at 5.30 and be at work by 7. When we switched to DST, I didn’t try and force my body to adjust, instead I started getting up at 6.30 and then at 7. Now I get up and spend time with my family while we eat breakfast. I’m usually sitting at my computer by 8 and that’s fine. My employer has a flexible working hours policy, so as long as I keep my calendar updated on when I’m working, everything’s fine.

  19. IL JimP*

    I struggled initially to work from home but once I created a dedicated space for me to do my work it really improved my ability to stay productive. I know it’s not always a possibility to have a whole desk setup but at least someplace that you can say this is where I’m going to work hopefully not near a TV would be ideal.

    Otherwise people’s ideas above are also great ways to move forward. Most people say tackle the hardest thing first but maybe for you try doing the easiest thing first to get rolling and then do the hardest thing 2nd

  20. EAD*

    When I struggle with this I usually force myself to commit to working for a certain amount of time (I usually pick a half hour) and then set a timer. And then I get rid of my main distraction, for me it’s generally my phone, so I downloaded an app that prevents me from using it (but that is easily overridden if I actually need to use it for something). Then I work for the allotted amount of time. If I’m still not feeling it , I take a timed break and then repeat the cycle. But generally after getting started it’s much easier to keep going.

  21. Coping*

    I get to fill up my cup or glass every time I accomplish something.

    In the morning I get a second cup of coffee with Baileys.

    By noon orange juice and vodka.

    In the afternoon I switch to water with bourbon.

    What’s scary is that I am also super productive, with very few if any misspellings.

    1. Morticia*

      A small amount of alcohol can actually help you focus, so this can make sense. It can also lead to trouble, so know yourself and your limits.

      1. Coping*

        Somewhat tongue in cheek, but there is an element of truth to it, as Morticia says. Small amounts of alcohol really can help one concentrate, and I have been known to employ this method. As long as it isn’t abused or used as a crutch, it is remarkably effective.

    2. Space Cadet*

      I read this comment, stood up, and made old-fashioneds for my boyfriend (who has been creating layoff packets all day) and myself. Cheers!

    3. Well...*

      For me during grad school a beer was a really helpful companion to a stack of papers to grade. Sometimes alcohol helps a mindless task feel relaxing, especially if you push it to the end of the day and spend your peak energy on more energy-intensive tasks.

  22. Lori*

    I “schedule” my time on my outlook calendar. 30-60 minute blocks to get my “work” done. If I finish my task early, fantastic – I get a small coffee break or time to flip the laundry. Sometimes I find that I get sucked into my task and it bleeds over into the next one, and that’s ok too.

    I also use a diffuser with a “motivational” oil blend, or a nice smelling candle. And if I truly can’t focus, I walk away and take a mid-day shower or longer lunch break until I’m ready to dive back in.

    1. 3DogNight*

      Yes! Scheduling time in Outlook (or whatever calendar you use) is incredibly helpful. We have so many things pulling at our attention right now, that every reminder of what we were doing/need to be doing is needed, at least for me.

  23. LDN Layabout*

    For me a strict starting routine helps because I do it every morning and it clicks me into gear. Mine is:

    – Turn on laptop
    – Log in
    – Fetch breakfast/drink
    – Open email and Teams
    – Eat breakfast

    If I haven’t done the work log in/opened those tools? No food for me.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, by now I have a fairly standard routine down – my alarm goes off, I head to the bathroom to put my glasses on etc., come downstairs, drink a glass of water, and check my personal email/phone for about 10-15 minutes till my husband comes downstairs. When he comes down with the dog, I turn my work laptop on, get the dog breakfast, get MY breakfast, and eat breakfast while looking at my work e-mails. I do save a shower for a little later and start doing the “real” work after my shower, but my brain is in work mode at that point.

      (It helps that at my last company, I worked from home two days a week and this routine is similar to what I did then, so my brain recognizes it as “work mode”)

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Yeah I feel the repetition has helped solidify it into a routine just like commuting into work was for me.

        It helps that I don’t go near my desk set-up unless I’m working and also that the desk is free of line of sight distractions, even if there are slower days that I regret that…

  24. LadyByTheLake*

    I’ve always worked from home and when (for whatever reason) I’m having trouble getting down to working I do the Pomodoro technique which is to set a timer for 25 minutes. During that 25 minutes you must ONLY work. No internet surfing, getting up to get something to eat, checking email (unless the task you are going to do is clearing out the Inbox). It’s only 25 minutes (I keep telling myself that when I’m tempted by a distraction). It is amazing what I can get done in 25 minutes. And often, if I just get into that groove, when the 25 minutes are up I just keep going. I note that this also works well for household chores.

  25. Web Crawler*

    I try to get started, and if I can’t get started, I take a shower and plan out what I’m gonna work on while showering. Somehow being physically removed from work while planning makes it easier to do and stick to.

    Also, I try to separate “work” and “break” states. If I’m on break, I can’t be in my work chair. If I’m at work, I have to be doing work things, and I put my phone somewhere far away.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, definitely take breaks! Give yourself half an hour or so to get started once you’re sitting at your computer, and if you really can’t kick in, step away and go for a walk. Or do whatever else you need to trick your brain into resetting into “work” mode.

    2. Emilitron*

      Yes, I need to do better at that! It’s funny how my work computer’s browser history used to be completely devoid of any personal info or non-work activity (well, ok, except AAM), but now I’m checking news websites, virus statistics, etc, and my search history drifted to include things like “why is my cat bugging me” to shopping for household stuff. I then started keeping my phone more at hand to keep that crap off my computer, and now I can’t get off my phone. All as symptoms of the fact that my focus is horrifically bad these days. I like the idea of declaring that no breaks can be taken while sitting in my chair, they have to be walking or sofa breaks.

  26. WonderMint*

    I’ve found adjusting my work hours from traditional 9-5 makes me more productive. I complete my 8ish hours of the day sporadically, taking breaks to exercise, prep dinner, read, draw. I actually find myself most productive form 7-10pm, and that’s when I get my most thoughtful work done.

    This won’t appeal to everyone’s lifestyle. I’m incredibly advantaged being childless and having the type of work that’s generally not dependent on other people’s tasks. But maybe you’re like me and not succeeding working for a single uninterrupted period.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yes, If the work allows for a less structured work schedule, then I agree that you can find what does work and do that. I work in small bursts and take big breaks, but I keep going till later in the evening. Some people may be horrified that I’m working in the evening, but that is where my groove is.

      1. Antennapedia*

        This, absolutely. When my office is in the office our “work hours” are about 2 hours earlier than I would like for them to be (my most productive kind of day is a 10 to 6 but we’re an 8 to 4 kind of place.) Aside from my meetings, I just… work the schedule I want to work while I’m home. Nobody knows the difference and as long as my deliverables are getting done at the same rate as they would in the office, who cares?

  27. Lizzy May*

    It depends on what the rules are where you live but if you can go for a walk at 8:30. I don’t work from home often but when I do I find it’s a reset. I can mentally trick myself that I’m out of my home space and into my work space. Plus I’m a bit more awake and alert. You go for 20 minutes and then when you walk through the door it’s like walking into your work.

  28. Dream Jobbed*

    I treat my home office like my work office – there is a time I need to be there (flexible – try for 7, 8 at the latest) and then I make sure I get there and start answering e-mail. I agree, getting there is harder than staying there. Sometimes I can psych myself into just sitting down to send an e-mail and look up three hours later.

    I’ve also just started making a to do list the night before, and making sure I have something, usually an e-mail to send, to do right when I turn on the computer. Of course, after I get those preliminary tasks done, I get a coffee break with AAM. :)

    But it is hard. Just figure a trick or reward to get you started. Maybe a check-in e-mail to a co-worker who’s going through the same thing? Maybe no coffee until you open your e-mail?

    The important thing to keep in mind is that you are getting your work done! Don’t lose sight of that, and just keep reminding yourself of the schedule you want, so achieving it feels like a reward. You’re doing well!

  29. Emily*

    One thing that has worked for me is working out in the mornings with a friend (via Zoom! Not breaking distancing orders!). I am NOT a morning person or a fitness fanatic but doing a little 15 min ab workout every morning has done wonders for my focus and productivity. Doing it with a friend helps keep you accountable, and I’m much more alert and ready to go this way.
    I also get SO distracted by my phone, so while I’m working I silence alerts and I actually put on Netflix on it. It seems counterintuitive but it’s become my office background noise, and I use shows I’ve already seen so it’s not a new distraction. I also use the episodes to track time – one more episode and then you can (insert break here). Good luck, I agree it’s so hard!

  30. Batgirl*

    For me the Pomodoro technique works really well. The OP sounds similar to myself needing to be ‘in gear’ and not being great in the mornings. I tend to tell myself ‘just do twenty minutes’ because that sounds very doable even to tired me. My problem then is stopping for ten minutes for the break side of the technique because I tend to be in hyperfocus, but I make myself stop when the timer goes off because my productivity is better when I don’t marathon, which makes me reluctant to start work again the next morning. During the ten minutes, I will make tea or do laundry: I find if I do something physical my work thoughts keep ticking over, I get ideas, and I am keen to start the next twenty minutes up and to work quickly on my idea before I have to stop.

  31. Searching for a New Name*

    Create a routine for yourself. One of the things that works for me is to have A Task that starts my day. So, for example, I log in for our checkin, and then once that’s done I go directly to checking my schedule for the day and verifying where I’m starting — processing, taking inbound calls, making outbound calls, etc. That serves as a sort of trigger in my mind for being Now At Work. Okay, now I know what my task is, time to start it.

    Basically, be conscious about building a routine. Once the routine is established, it’ll be easier for you to continue following it. I’ve also had good luck doing this with other household tasks — ie, okay, I put the coffee on to brew, now it’s time to clean the cat’s litterbox.

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I find having a set task or activity to bookend the day works well too. So for me that’s making sure I get up in time to ‘commute’ to work in the morning, which involves going for a walk outside (30 minutes if possible, 15 if I’ve snoozed my alarm too much). Then when I get back I’m at ‘work’. At the end of the day I pack down my workspace and go for another walk for my evening commute, then when I get back I’m ‘home’. I am fortunate that we are still permitted to be outside for exercise, but evening just getting some sun/natural light and a bit of movement in the morning helps, and the clear start/end routine makes it easier to delineate between work and home time.

  32. MicroManagered*

    OP once you get going, are you able to be productive in the afternoon?

    I’m having a hard time in the morning as well, but once I get started, I do better. I’ve been just trying to accept that this is how it is: I’m a little slower to get started in the morning, but once I’m going, I’m fine. Right now I tend to just meet the minimum (logging on for calls, doing deadline-focused tasks) in the morning, but I’m more focused in the afternoon. This is kind of a reversal for me–normally in the office, I’m really focused in the morning and less focused as the afternoon goes on. I was a bit alarmed by it at first, but I’ve learned to roll with it.

    1. BookLady*

      Echoing this. If you’re still getting things done on time and you aren’t having to work late into the evening/night to do so, just roll with it. I have never been a morning person, and I work best under pressure, so my afternoons have always been more productive than my mornings. Now that I’m at home, I still need time to “ramp up” into the day, but it looks different. I check email first thing (between 8:30-9am) and answer anything urgent, but then go make breakfast, read AAM and other websites, etc. and don’t really get going on work stuff until 10:30 or 11 am. I’m still able to get everything done during the day because I know how to work efficiently.

      P.S. I also have inattentive ADHD, so the lack of routine the last couple of months has really thrown my systems out of whack. I’ve had to stop beating myself up for it because it was really starting to decimate my mental health. It’s been so much better to just let myself ease into my day. I also now realize that my 45-60 minute commute was excellent transition time for me that allowed me to fully wake up, get my brain functioning, and transition into the workday. Now, I still need the 45-60 minutes to ramp up, but it happens at home.

      Good luck!

      1. MicroManagered*

        Excellent point about how the “commute” (which I put in quotes because I am going to count time spent showering, getting ready for the day, and actually traveling to work as “commute”) being a a transition into the day that is now absent.

        1. BookLady*

          And that whole “take a walk in the morning to replace your commute!” thing doens’t really help me, because I’m still coming back to my apartment which feels like “coming home” rather than “showing up at work.”

  33. LGC*

    So, obvious lead: LW, don’t be that 0ther LW. Be you, because that’s all you can be. And it sounds like you’re doing fine

    That said: like, what I’ve done – and I’m not in an ideal WFH setup, I’m using my personal laptop to VPN in right now – is to…set up separate desktops on my computer. I have one “work” space and one “personal” space. I start around the time I’d normally start work if I were in-office. And I try to connect EVERYTHING when I start and disconnect EVERYTHING when I’m “done.”

    I’ll also usually try to get some small things done like maintaining workflow. Bigger picture things are kind of…I’ll get to them when I get to them.

    1. MayLou*

      This was really helping me, especially as I have an external monitor so I was able to have Complice running on my personal desktop over in the external monitor and work stuff, including work Chrome browser (so none of my personal links) on my laptop screen. Except that management has been sending emails and I even got a call one day to say I was using the VPN too much. Apparently we’re only meant to use the VPN when we need to access files from the server, and we’re not allowed to access the internet through it because it slows the server down. So now I can’t keep work and home stuff walled off, and it’s a lot harder to stay focused.

  34. Ryn*

    Honestly doing a quick 20 minutes of yoga in the morning has been incredible for me just getting grounded and focused. I’ve also been breaking my to dos into “Must Do,” “Should Do” and “Nice to Do.” As long as I get everything on the “Must Do” done, I consider it a successful day, and then everything else is gravy! I think a big thing is just going easy on yourself.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I walk my dog before and after “work;” it takes place of my commute. A quick walk wakes me up and I find it easier to start.

  35. Two Dog Night*

    Ha, I’m having one of those mornings right now! It’s 10am and I’ve hardly done anything.

    I WFH full-time, and I don’t do this often. I’d suggest blocking out some time before you stop work in the evening to put together your to-do list for the next day, and after your morning meeting, pick the first thing on the list and dive in. It might be easier to get started if you don’t have to think about what to work on. Once you get some momentum it will probably be easier to keep going.

    You might also find it works better to get up earlier. Take an hour or so before your morning meeting to eat breakfast, make coffee, check your personal e-mail, whatever… then the 9am meeting becomes the signal that personal time is over and work time has started.

  36. V*

    Yes, I struggle with this. Finding the activation energy to start tasks is difficult. One thing that I’ve been working on is the reset. I tend to drift for a bit and then I’ll think “oh well, it’s already 10:20, guess I’ll really get started at 10:30.” No reason, just starting on round numbers seems to make sense to me. So now I’m trying to stand up, do something nice for myself, or do a small home task, make sure I’ve had a snack or got a drink, and then I’m more geared up to actually start at whatever arbitrary time I noted. As opposed to staying slumped distractedly surfing until the arbitrary time. If I’m not going to immediately leap into work, I might as well use the time to take care of my physical and emotional needs.

  37. blink14*

    I’m having similar issues in the morning, and what I’ve found in looking back at what was my normal routine in the office, I usually did not do work in the morning that required a lot of thought. I usually would do things like respond to emails that require just a quick response, returning phone calls, etc. This is also the time where I would chat with a co-worker, put my lunch away, organize myself, etc. The afternoon is really where I do the most work.

    So I’m looking at it this way – being available and online during my normal hours and making sure I’m getting my tasks done, but doing those tasks when possible at the better time of day for me. I’ll be honest, after my daily morning meeting, I usually check on the news for a bit, eat breakfast, etc. The one thing I have been a stickler on is taking my lunch break at the same time every day, and that just helps keep a schedule so my co-workers know when I’ll be off my computer for an hour or so.

    1. juliebulie*

      Same! I use my mornings for scheduled meetings (if any), replying to email, simple tasks that I can do quickly… and kinda farting around until lunch time when I watch the (bad) news. Not because I’m lazy, but because the meat-and-potatoes of my job requires sustained effort and focus, and I’m just not capable of that in the morning. I’ll work a little late if I need to, to make up for my slow morning.

      In short: morning is for sprints; afternoon is for marathons.

      1. blink14*

        Yes! I like the way you word this. Also, I think something to remember is that in many work environments, people aren’t working every single moment of the day. There is downtime or simple office chatter that isn’t happening in the same way at home.

  38. Bibliovore*

    It can help to try to pay close attention to what kinds of things tend to make it harder, and think about specific changes to minimize those problems. For instance, if the chair you’re working from is uncomfortable or the desk is the wrong height so you’re in pain or get fidgety sooner or just don’t like the thought of sitting down there, maybe you can put the desk on risers or put cushions on your chair or work from a different spot or see if your office would let you pick up your usual desk chair or purchase a new one. If your neighbors make distracting noises, noise-canceling headphones might help. If you feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start, try a task list where you can see and refocus on it throughout the day. If it’s harder for you to stay focused on work when you have all the distractions of home around you, consider some ways to make your workspace feel more distinct/official/separate, or if you’re working from your personal computer perhaps create a separate work login so your recreational bookmarks and social-media alerts aren’t available while you work. If the changes to your morning routine are making it harder to start your day, recreate as much of your old routine as you can or focus on creating a new one that works for you now. Etc. Hang in there, and good luck.

  39. KJ*

    I don’t work from home, but I have ADHD (only recently diagnosed within the last year in my early 30s!) My tips are:

    – Download a browser extension to block any tempting websites
    – Set your phone to silent (especially the vibrate!!)
    – Set a timer to work for X amount of minutes then take a 5 min break. (45 + 5 works for me usually)
    – Get up and leave your desk at breaks
    – Write a list of everything you need to get done. You can do that square method (urgent, important / urgent, not important / non urgent, important / non urgent, non important) and try to work through them in that order
    – Use lists so you can tick them off when done (this really helps me as I love checking off a completed item!!)
    – Ensure you have enough social engagement in your life. This could be talking with coworkers, attending a non-work Zoom meeting away from your desk, talking to your neighbour from your driveways, etc.
    – Wear work clothes every day!
    – Get some sun. I work in a window-less office, so I try and go outside or at least walk to the windows a few times a day.
    – Stay hydrated, caffeinated, and fed

    I had a majour breakdown last summer and am just recovering from it. Without these things, I’d still be in a non-work mode all day.

    1. SansaStark*

      I was also recently sort-of diagnosed by my therapist in my late 30s. I say sort-of because I didn’t need any treatment so we didn’t go through the formal diagnosis process, but it’s been helpful to see different patterns of behavior, etc. Anyway, the square method is so helpful and I do it every time I start to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks to do. It’s really helped me see what actually needs to get done and what can wait. I can’t reasonably do all 30 things, but the 2 urgent/important things are doable today and it helps me get started when I know that I’m not trying to actually do every single thing.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Do you have any recommendations for browser extensions? I’m also struggling with tempting websites.

  40. Lucy*

    I had this problem, too, and I started two things that really helped:
    1) checklists, because I love being able to check things off. I have checklists for what I need to get done today, end of the week, end of the month, etc.
    2) productivity app. I use “Forest,” which I’ve liked so far. This is especially helpful when I really need to concentrate on tasks.

    But I also am curious if you need to get more done. You say that you have no problem completing all of your tasks, and as long as your work is good and you have no deadline issues, you don’t necessarily need to push yourself. I know that I’ve been having focus issues not only because I’m working in a different environment, but because the stress of the pandemic has been pulling my focus elsewhere. It’s normal and okay to be not as productive as you used to be at this time, and maybe giving yourself some grace would be helpful.

  41. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    I’m sitting here eating popcorn – I hate working from home and have the same issue. I am someone who is a homebody but working from home isn’t part of that desire to stay home all the time.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      At first, I really hated how work intruded into my home life. It was quite the adjustment.

  42. Ali G*

    For me, I have to start working before I do anything non-work screen time. So until I have gone through new email, and gotten a plan for the day, no news, internet (including AAM!), etc. I find if I start off avoiding work, it’s so much harder to get started and keep on top of it all day.
    Also, this may not be feasible for everyone, but I changed my schedule. I found I was working longer days because of a lot of reasons and by Friday afternoon I was burnt. So I work an extra hour Mon-Wed and then only work 3-4 hours on Friday. It’s helped a lot because having only a half day on Friday is very motivating. If I haven’t finished what I need to for the week, I can’t just log off-so i need to use my time wisely so I can enjoy an early weekend.

  43. DW*

    There are two things I do to get/keep myself in a work mindset:

    1- When my office was open I’d usually walk to work (with or without my dog). It took about 30 minutes, so now I take my dog for a 30-minute walk before and after work. We use the travel time to our workspace to get into the work mindset and going straight from bed to desk with no physical time outside your home will blur the barriers between home and work. And you don’t need a dog to do this! Going outside for a walk is always great, but especially important nowadays. Audiobooks are a good way to let the time pass. Wandering is good for the soul.

    2- Give yourself more breaks. I spent the first week working from home constantly thinking about all the chores that were physically present around me. There wasn’t a physical barrier between my workspace and my home chores anymore. So I time-block now – take a 5-minute break every hour to walk around and get something done, then a couple 30-minute breaks throughout the day to make lunch, clean the car, sort the mail, etc.

  44. lmary*

    It’s helped me a lot to start each day (or at least every few days) by writing up a TODO list and adding things to my calendar. It’s easier to work and keep a sense of time when I have “10 AM – 12 PM: work of project A”, ‘2 PM – 3 PM: review work on Project B”, and “3 PM – 4 PM: catch up on emails and deadlines” rather than just a blank calendar with no structure.

    Also, while I don’t have an office I have been working from my dining table. I have found it very helpful to “set up” for work at the beginning of the day and “put away” my work in the evening. I set up my monitor and laptop, layout my notepad and headphones, get my coffee and my water. At 5 PM I put ALL of the stuff away in the corner so it isn’t in my line of sight and I have my dining table back.

  45. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I am an early morning focuser … if I don’t distract myself, I can get a couple of hours in before I really realize that the day started. Pre-pandemic, my favorite routine is to do my weekend chores without stopping to get out of my pajamas or enjoying the coffee. (Or start a roadtrip at 4 am so I’m taking a breakfast stop halfway there.)

    But at 2 or 3 in the afternoon … I’m a hot mess unless there’s a high energy project and structure.

    I think it’s important to know your own personal rhythm, especially when WFH because you can’t lean on the energy of other people to keep you organized. Is there any reason you NEED to be productive in the morning? Are coworkers depending on your morning output for their tasks? Can you time shift a bit so that you can lean into your stronger times?

    Definitely do a day-starter activity that sets the tone though, whenever you start. Even if it’s a start of the day theme song with lots of energy. (Personally, I know that I’m trying to focus because I put on Hawaiian music. I don’t know why that works, but it does.)

  46. Jean*

    Keep a routine. Get up at the same time every day, get dressed, have a coffee (or whatever your preferred AM thing is), brush your teeth. Start up your computer and log in at the same time. Do your first tasks (email, signing in to whatever systems you use, etc) in the same order, to whatever extent you can. I find that establishing that routine makes it much easier and less mentally draining to do these things. They become habit, and then it’s easier to do them than not to do them.

    I also suggest being kind to yourself and cutting yourself some slack emotionally. There’s no value in pressuring yourself to be the best on your team, or pressuring yourself to find some secret wishing fountain full of motivation. It’s ok to just hang in there and exist right now. These are messed-up times we are living through. There are many things you can’t control, so just keep on top of the few things you can, and you are good.

  47. Delta Delta*

    I find I work best if I have a deadline. During Normal Times, suppose I have a meeting at 10. I am generally very motivated to get a lot of things done by the time I need to leave for that meeting. Right now, since I’m not really leaving, but I do have a lot of scheduled phone events, I like to try to do as much as I can before the phone event.

    I also have to wear clothes. I feel icky if I wear my pajamas all day. I have to change into clothes or I don’t feel like I can get anything done.

    I make rewards for myself. If I X then I get to Y. sometimes it’s as easy as “if I finish those three spreadsheets I get to make a cup of tea.” But because also of how my brain works, I do the three spreadsheets which leads to doing a few other things, and before I know it I’ve done 6 things.

    I try to clean up my work space as much as possible. I know I’ve been productive if it looks like a tornado hit. but it’s hard for me to get restarted if it looks like a tornado hit. I take 10 minutes to tidy up, and that somehow makes me productive.

  48. Anon Anon*

    I think if you haven’t created a dedicated work space for yourself that is a great idea. Ideally it’s something that is in a different room so you can close the door when you aren’t working. But, if another room isn’t available then an area that you only sit out when you work.

    However, for me it’s plan, plan, plan…

    I have to break down what my goals are for the week, and then break down exactly what I need to accomplish each day. I find planning my work helps keep me on task. Obviously, there are things that come up that can’t be planned for, but if those things take more than 10-15 minutes then I add it to the list, so I can account for the time. Which also allows me to move another task to another day.

    So Friday afternoon I make a draft of what I need to accomplish the next week, and then on Monday morning I work on that list and refine it and create a task list for each day of the week. It takes some extra time, but it helps keep me in check.

    1. Phil*

      I was going to suggest the dedicated workspace. Really gets me in the right frame of mind, and also helps to disconnect at the end of the day.

      I also bought a whiteboard that I use for to do lists.

  49. HoHumDrum*

    LW, I feel you so much. I have ADHD and I find working from home endlessly distracting and frustrating. Here is some stuff that I’ve been doing, with mixed results:

    Do you *have* to get stuff done early in the day? For me the only benefit from working at home is that I’m a night person by nature, so now I sleep in late, lounge around for a bit, then I just work until much later in the evening (when I’m feeling more productive). That approach has trade offs (I do kinda feel like I am always at work because the mornings don’t necessarily *feel* like free time since I’m sleeping for a big chunk), but it has helped my focus at least to just admit to myself that I’m honestly much more productive later on in the day, and it saves me time to not to try to fight myself to be in bed when I’m not tired, and hen force myself to get up while I am tired.

    Along the same lines, I also work in bursts. So I work a bit, take a break, work, take a break, etc. So I am working much longer hours, but I’m not working that whole time. Again, YMMV with this because it’s definitely rough to feel like I spend all my waking hours “on the clock” but for me I’m trying to find ways to work with my brain chemistry, not against it. I get distracted easily and have a short attention span, so working for long interrupted chunks of time was always something I struggled with in the office. Now I sorta lean into that and try to let myself bounce back and forth between work and distraction. My projects are due by the day rather than by the hour, so this works ok for my work but obviously varies for other types of work.

    Can you work with other colleagues? In the Before Times, when I had a big project due I’d go to a public place to work because it kept me accountable, and being in the office where other people can see my computer had the same function. Being at home makes that hard, plus my work is often collaborative in nature and I find that my work is so much more fun and higher quality when I work *with* other people. I found that a lot of other people on my team also miss working together, so sometimes we just get on google hangouts to quietly work “together” and we’ve all been collaborating a lot more. I stay way more focused with them and get things done faster.

    Finally, I do find lists to be helpful. Captain Awkward just made a post about a great list system to help you prioritiZe tasks, I’ll link in a comment.

      1. Lilyp*

        I second that post suggestion, especially the part about dissecting the “why” of things on your to-do list. Possibly taking some time to think/journal about your big-picture career/life goals and how the stuff you do day-to-day contributes up to them could help you shift into a positive, goal-focused motivation instead of the negative fear-focused motivation of berating yourself for not getting enough done

  50. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I think all the techniques recommended for getting past ordinary procrastination would work here.

    Tackle a small task first thing in order to get a sense of accomplishment and break the ice.

  51. drpuma*

    Before logging off at the end of the day, could you schedule your first task of the next day? Put an entry in your calendar that at 9:30 right after your team’s standup for “Run QR Report” or whatever it is? Just to get yourself started.

    I second the folks who are recommending routine. Think back to what got you in the groove at the office, or how to engage more of your senses at home – maybe the smell and taste of a particular kind of tea can be your “signal” to get started. I used to work at a standing desk, and I noticed as soon as I put my laptop on a box so I could stand at home I got more productive.

    Alternately you could lean in to the morning being your less work-productive time of day. Respond and be present for essential things, and then buckle down in the afternoon. Precious few of us are more productive right now, or need to be. How could you set up your day to capitalize on your strengths, rather than giving yourself a hard time for not being productive right off the bat?

  52. Horrified*

    try an erasable whiteboard. I have small versions attached to my fridge.
    One has squares for Sun–Sat =. I use this one for days of the week to-do lists.

    I have two others that each measure 6″ x 12″. One is my ongoing grocery list, I just add to it as I run out of stuff, and the other is misc. long-term to-do’s (scrub balcony!) and miscellaneous notes.

  53. ccb*

    I struggle with this too. The “pomodoro method” is usually the thing that gets me going on any given day. You can read more about it, but in short: ” The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have—rather than against it. Using this method, you break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros.”

  54. Data Maven*

    Routine. Having a “morning routine” that for the most part does not change tricks me into getting started. It’s really hard to generate one, but once you do I’ve really just found my brain is tricked into just opening a project and dealing with it. Personally, I have to write each step down when I’m creating a routine so that I follow it exactly. Eventually it becomes habit. This will look different for everyone but mine is:
    1. Eat breakfast while watching a short show.
    2. when show ends, put dishes away and walk to computer
    3. Log in, check email. Flagging important ones to respond to
    4. Read ask a manager
    5. Begin the first task on my list (which I create the night before).
    I find that after I finish step 4, I just instinctively open my list, and open documents associated with the first thing on it and before I know it I’m working.

  55. Liz*

    I struggle with this as well. I am a procrastinator, and can do so until the cows come home! So a lot of what my job entails isn’t really deadline-driven, but just needs to get done within a reasonable amount of time. So i make sure I DO get my deadline stuff done first, and then try and tackle the rest of it, but break it down into chunks.

    Like right now; part of my job is populating a database with items in different categories, from a weekly report. I used to do one week at a time, then move onto the next. Since I’m behind, what I ‘ve started doing is one category at a time. They’re smaller, so when I finish all in category A in on week, i feel like i’ve gotten something done, and so on.

    I’ll also focus on ONE task at a time, instead of a little bit of one, a little bit of another, and so on. it just helps my brain process things better and i actually feel like I’ve accomplished something.

  56. sal*

    I find timers to work really well for this. I set a timer for 20 minutes and then tell myself I can take a break. It makes it easier to get started with just a goal of 20 minutes, but once I get into it I often don’t even need a break then. I struggle with this too, though.

  57. Phoenix*

    One thing that’s helping me is reminding myself to stay flexible. What works for me to get some stuff done today might not work tomorrow or next week, and I need to remember that up front so I don’t get frustrated when something stops working.

  58. Regina Phalange*

    I’m someone who needs to ease into the day (unless there is an urgent task waiting for me). I sit down with my coffee, check work emails for anything that might require immediate reply, then do my morning time-killers, which includes checking AAM, Carolyn Hax, and perusing my personal email account. Then I start my real work! Once I get going I’m productive, so don’t feel to guilty about starting off slow.

  59. Lynn*

    Some things that have helped me ….

    I wake up earlier than I want — I wake up with my husband — but drink two cups of coffee and clear the mental cobwebs of sleep while doing nothing for a bit. I am not a morning person and it is nice to get up and immediately feel the impetus to be productive when my brain isn’t there.

    When he leaves, I do some floor exercises or take a walk when the weather is nice. I also have found that I weirdly LOVE doing dishes or other housework at this time — I think there is something nice about starting the day with some small tangible accomplishments, especially since it requires no brain power.

    When I start working, I like to start by catching up on emails on my patio and getting a lot of natural light.

    When I move inside, I use an essential oil with a rosemary oil. I don’t super think it is effective, but it is a pleasant aroma, and one I have begun to associate mentally with work.

    When I am really just not feeling it, I give up a bit. I take a walk or watch a short video and come back to it without so much dread.

    These are all things that work for me — alone in my apartment with a good work station, in a job that currently doesn’t have a lot of tight deadlines– so I know that they will not work or translate for everyone, but I think the key thing is finding what works for how your brain works and accommodating yourself as much as possible, and also being forgiving to yourself when things just aren’t working — great problem solving starts with identifying the problem, not by calling yourself a moron.

    Good luck!

  60. Alton*

    Do you find that mornings in particular are a less productive time for you? Does focusing get easier as the day goes on? I’m a night owl and don’t feel like I’m at my best in the morning, so one thing I try to do is let myself work on some less thought-intensive tasks first thing, if I’m able to (obviously, sometimes I have to be flexible about that).

    If it’s more a problem of focusing in general, I know a lot of people find it helpful to work on a task for short blocks of time with short breaks in between. And if the problem is getting started, spending ten or fifteen minutes on a task can be enough to get you going for a longer period.

  61. AvonLady Barksdale*

    It sounds like you would benefit from a real morning routine and as much separation as possible between home space and work space. When you went into the office, what time did you wake up? Set your alarm for that time. What did you do at home? Shower? Breakfast? Get dressed? Do all of those things. Do not work in your pajamas– some people can do it, but you may not be one of those people. Putting on pants can help you create the separation.

    What’s your regular commute like? If you live in a city and there’s walking involved, go for a walk. If you drive to work, go for a walk. (A pattern!) Do it after you get dressed. If you usually stop for coffee, do that if you’re able (my local Starbucks has a pickup table set up in the doorway and takes app orders, ymmv).

    Is your laptop in another room than your bed? If it’s possible, it should be. If it’s not possible and you live in a studio apartment, set up a workspace. That can be a designated side of your sofa or even a square on the floor. Do not keep the laptop by the bed. Make yourself stand up and take some steps to turn it on. At the end of the day, turn off your work laptop. If you use the same one for personal use after work, ok, but shut it down before bed. Do not keep it on all night; make it more difficult to wake it up just to join your meeting.

    But first things first: set your alarm to get yourself up earlier and at the same time every day. You have a daily 9am check-in? Wake up at 8:15. And after your check-in, get a drink or a cup of coffee and then go back to your workspace.

    These things may not work at first, or they may stop working, but it sounds like the place to start is in setting a routine that puts you “in the office” rather than rolling out of bed and joining your meeting.

  62. Abogado Avocado*

    First, forgive yourself. We all have had these foibles, but we’re not as good as you in discussing them. Second, please know that some of us are even worse procrastinators. (I’ve been known to hand-wash every crusty dish in the office sink or unload the office dishwasher just to delay starting on a project.)

    I have two strategies for emerging from a procrastination cycle. First, I set a timer and see how much I can get done in 15 minutes. Then, I take a 3 minute break (setting a timer again; thank goodness for cell phones) and then I go back to do another 15 minutes. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re on a timer. Eventually, you get tired of turning off the timer and just set to work. Second, I tell myself: I’m going to do as little work as possible in the next 15 minutes and I set a timer. Then I tell myself: no, I cannot think about how I will write that report that is due; no, I will not review the stats for evidence. What ends up happening is that, in about two cycles of this, I’m raring to go because I cannot stop thinking about what I want to do and how to do it.

    I hope this helps. You are not alone. And, really, procrastination is not all bad: it may just be a way of your brain telling you that you need to do something pleasureable.

  63. Sled Dog Mama*

    I’m not WFH right now, (thanks to being an essential worker and a computer virus–Long story) but I have struggled with the getting motivated part in the office. Having a strict routine has helped, for me it’s:
    Turn on monitors/Login (I have 2 computers/3 screens)
    Go get hot water for 1st cup of tea and start it brewing
    Check in with production team for anything strange
    Check email for anything that came up since I left the office
    Do whatever low stakes task I left for myself at the end of the day before (This is usually printing a document or something similar)

    By the time I finish this I’m done with my tea and really to dive into more complex tasks

    1. 3DogNight*

      I just wanted to comment on your user name! I have 2 huskies, and I love them! I get super excited talking about dogs, so… LOL

  64. bananab*

    For me it comes down to getting started. Once I get going I can stay there, so it’s usually a matter of knuckling down like..come on…open the spreadsheet…

  65. Ama*

    My short term memory is totally shot these days so I definitely echo what other people say about the lists but some days I find even remembering to write something down on the list doesn’t happen. Since my work email runs through Outlook, one thing I’ve started doing is if a work email comes in that I don’t want to/can’t work on right then, I quickly set up a reminder for whatever time I think I can start on it — it could be later that day, first thing the next morning, or another time. The nice thing is if the reminder pops up and I can’t work on it that second, I can either snooze it or let the reminder screen just sit open as my auto to-do list until I get to everything on it.

    The other thing that’s been helping for the larger projects I have on my plate right now is designating a particular day of the week to work on them. I currently have every Tuesday afternoon blocked off on my calendar to work on a project with a lot of disparate elements that needs to be done by the end of May. It doesn’t mean that’s the only day I can work on it but it guarantees me a several hour chunk of time each week to focus just on that which helps me not get distracted (and having the time blocked off also helps with my anxiety about not getting enough time to work on it because of other meetings).

  66. AppleButt*

    Every night before leaving my “desk” I take my notebook and pen and write down Any tasks that come to mind that I need to do the next day. That way 1. Im thinking them much less during the night and 2. The next morning it is a but easier to start. And in the morning, I number them from easiest to most challenging and start with the easy ones. These habits have worked wonders for me! :)

    1. AppleButt*

      Oh, and one thing: at the office I usually started my day with Coffee. At home I find it easier to start without and have an actual coffeebreak about an hour later. It’s like “clean start” with work, no slowly strolling in :D I don’t know if that makes sense, but its worth trying!

  67. Non-profiteer*

    This is such basic/boring advice, but I think what most helps me with this issue is having a dedicated workspace. I have a desk and a chair, and I sit there for 8 hours, and when I’m sitting there, it’s work time. If I’m sitting somewhere else, it’s NOT work time. And no I don’t have a palatial house – I got a foldable desk that sits in my bedroom.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Good advice — you become habituated to, “when I am sitting at my desk, I am working.” When I was in grad school, I had three work spaces, one at home, one at the library, and one at a coffee shop. At home was for when it was snowing. Library was for concentrated do not disturb me for any reason work. Coffee shop was for editing and noodling (loosen up, day dream = some of my best and most creative ideas). So it doesn’t have to be a desk or look like an office, but it has to be That Place Where I Work.

  68. Alex*

    I end my day with making a list of “start” tasks for the next morning–small stuff that I do while I sip my coffee and ease into the day. Then I don’t have to think about what I’m going to start with or feel otherwise at loose ends.

  69. Third or Nothing!*

    I’ve found that keeping a routine works really well for me. I wake up around the same time each day, get dressed and brush teeth and all that jazz, get my daughter ready for the day, get breakfast for both of us, prepare coffee, and fill up the water bottle I keep at my desk (OK it’s the kitchen table but whatevs). I take several breaks throughout the day to take my daughter on walks in the neighborhood, which also helps a lot. There’s something magical about getting outside – it really does rejuvenate my mood and gives me energy to get stuff done once I get back home. (Plus it wears out Badger Cub – win win!)

  70. Jen*

    Absolutely start the day with some kind of physical activity. You don’t have to run 10 miles, but going up and down the stairs a few times, some yoga, or a walk around the block will clear out some of the leftover tiredness. Then shower before you start working. Hopefully you’ll feel refreshed and more prepared to take on what the day has in store.

  71. A Kate*

    Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but if you’re getting your projects done on time, does it even matter if you “dive in” right away each morning?

    The point is that the work gets done, right? So does it truly matter when it gets done? If you freed yourself from the guilt of not working when you “should” be working, what would that do for you? Would you be able to relax/participate in a hobby/enjoy the free time you’ve taken in the morning without stressing over the fact that you are technically “on the clock” if you just approached it as deliberate “I’m taking a break” time instead of what you’re doing now, which seems to be trying to split the difference between knowing you’re “supposed” to be working but haven’t begun yet. When you do that, you’re neither productive for your company NOR happy for yourself. No one wins. But if eventually your company gets what it is paying you for, why not free yourself to enjoy the time you take not doing work?

    (This advice is for the salaried, I’d say, since of course if you’re hourly then things are different, but hourly workers tend to have more oversight than what you’re describing, so I’m making an inference here).

    1. Sharkzle*

      OP Here. I’ve been kind of thinking about this need/drive to “dive in” well. The work is getting done and if there’s something pressing that needs to get done it gets done. I was definitely feeling a little guilty for not working when I “should” be working – i.e. between 9am-5pm. I’ve started to give myself more leeway and flexibility to do some work tasks and then some home tasks and I think that’s helped. We also just moved to a different city at the end of March and I think the stress and anxiety from all of that was seeping into everything. It’s been a little while now and I’m feeling much better being more kind to myself and acknowledging that as long as the work gets done and handed in on time it doesn’t matter at what time I’m working. Thanks so much for your insight!

  72. Matilda Jefferies*


    It may sound a bit frivolous, and I’m sure there’s an entire Masters dissertation somewhere about how lipstick is a tool of the patriarchy, but it really does help me.* I’ve found over the years that wearing good lipstick helps me get into the mindset for work, and it helps me feel strong and prepared if I have something important or scary to do. Even if nobody is going to see me, and even if I’m in my “dressed down” work from home clothes, lipstick is like my secret superpower to make everything better.

    *If you’re interested, check out an article called “Why Wearing Lipstick is a Small Act of Joyful Resistance” for a much more articulate analysis of what I’m trying to say here!

    1. Aria*

      I do this too, and I work at as “granola” a nonprofit as they come. It makes me feel more put together, and it’s kinda like “stage makeup” for video calls- defines your features a bit and makes it easier for others to follow what you’re saying

  73. CupcakeCounter*

    When are you naturally more productive? One benefit of WFH is that if you are naturally an afternoon person, you can start your day a little later and work longer when you are at your peek (assuming of course that you don’t have core hours you need to adhere to for reasons).
    So if mornings aren’t your thing but you “turn on” at like 11am…just adjust your hours accordingly for the time being.
    Do your 9am check in then do some household stuff – take a shower, throw in a load of laundry if you can, pop in a yoga video, or even go back to bed. Then work the hours you are more naturally productive and you probably will be that person you want to be.
    I tend to be more productive early then hit that 2-3 slump. So what I use to do was work from 7:30/8am until 1 or 2 and then take my lunch hour. Then the afternoon when I was sluggish wasn’t as big of an issue since I got so much done that morning. My former coworker was the opposite. Mornings were her mortal enemies but our work didn’t do flex hours (just flex lunch hour). So from 8-11 she was subpar at best even with multiple cups of coffee. She would go to lunch around 11 and when she returned it was like her twin showed up. She has been thriving with the WFH because she can naturally start a little later due to lack of commute and school drop off.

    So figure out what schedule you thrive in and see how that fits in with your company’s needs.

  74. Annie*

    Like others, I’ve been using to-do lists (written on paper). I prioritize what has to get done by the end of the day. It’s hard though. Once all the “need to dos” are done – it’s not easy to take some time and do other things that are useful but not pressing (like watching videos about a competitor’s product, etc…)

  75. nuqotw*

    I always struggle with starting things and it’s even worse at home. Lots of sympathy.

  76. Zett*

    I think it depends on what type of work you’re doing, but here’s what works for me!

    I started a new job in mid-Feb, and shortly after I got my mind around things I had to work from home. I do documentation on all our procedures, so for me it seemed like I was going to work on a huge, daunting, blank page every day.

    I use two main things: planning and the Pomodoro method. For planning – I spend time each week breaking out all my tasks into their smallest piece. So instead of “write this doc” I note “write section A of this doc”. Then, when I start a new Pom I sort of take a breath and figure out what tiny task I’m going to work on. I always have the big list of tasks I created to fall back on if I finish before the Pom is done. But that kind of gets me going down the productive path. Each day I write a handful of things I want to accomplish, and at the end of the day I do a quick written reflection on how my productivity was each day (so I can ID triggers). Finally, I have a goal of doing 10x Poms per day, and 50x per week. Now, that’s only 5 hours of “work” per day, but factoring in breaks and meetings, it’s around a productive day for me. But it really has motivated me to keep going and hit that target each day/week.

    I tried time blocking in March, but found I would get frustrated if I didn’t finish something in the time I allotted. This still gives me a goal of being productive x amount, but also working off of a rolling to-do list instead of “finish x at this time”.

  77. Senor Montoya*

    AGreeing with all the advice about task lists, check lists. I am not naturally a list-y person, but I find them so helpful.

    I have the last half hour of every day on my work calendar blocked off as “planning and agendas”. I don’t answer the phone or look at email during this half hour, and I don’t do any other work (I stop what I’m doing, if need be). Then I make a list of what I need to do for the next day, checking it against my weekly to do list (which I make on Friday at the end of the day) and noting any meetings on my calendar and things I need to do to prep for those meetings. I put that list in priority order, then get together all my materials for the next day, put my list on top of the stack, and set it aside. Now it’s ready for the next day. Then if I need to finish up anything, I go back to that.

    During the day, I refer to my list and put a big heavy line through things that I finish because that feels goooooooddddd.

    I am not a naturally structured person, I really prefer doing my own thing when I want to do it — I’m loving WFH’s flexibility — , I chafe at “you must do X at Y time” especially when imposed from others. When I make these lists for myself, I feel really in control of my own time. I’ve been doing this since sophomore year in college — never did it before that, but it has saved my butt many a time.

  78. Dancing Otter*

    I’m going to focus on where you say you “get up just in time” for the morning meetings. You ought to get your sleep schedule back closer to your usual. Surely you couldn’t sleep until 9:00 when commuting. Disrupting the body’s normal diurnal cycle is bad for both physical and mental health.
    Set an alarm to get up in time to have your shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and have coffee (or tea) at hand for the meeting. (If you can put the coffeemaker on a timer, that might help.) Maybe even build in fifteen or twenty minutes to check email or read the news, whatever you did during the morning commute. Going back to do your usual morning routine AFTER the meeting means getting out of work mind-set and having to recover it afterwards.
    This may mean going to sleep earlier. I am struggling not to stay up later and later, then sleep later or spend the day sleep-deprived, with less external constraints on my time. Setting a bedtime/do not disturb timer on my tablet helps some.
    No one is at their best when they’re not well rested.

  79. OhGee*

    Why would you want to be like the person who outworks their coworkers? Really ask yourself that. I think that may be the thing that you’re getting stuck on.

    How about just getting *something* done? I’m with everybody else here who has mentioned lists, choosing just a few key things to get done each day, starting the day with an easy win. Try a few different techniques and see what feels best for you. Right now is a hard time for many people, and switching to remote work is also a pretty tough change for some of us — don’t hold yourself to the standards of the overachiever. It’s fine to be just okay at work right now.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Why would you want to be like the person who outworks their coworkers? Really ask yourself that. I think that may be the thing that you’re getting stuck on.

      Hard agree here. I think OP may be setting themselves an impossible goal right now.

  80. Aquawoman*

    I have ADHD and sometimes it’s manageable and sometimes it’s extra. I use two methods for the “getting started” problem: one is something I call “do a thing.” Where I get in the mindset that I’m just going to do one thing. If the idea of that report is overwhelming, then I’m just going to work on paragraph 1. If that one thing is going to take an hour, I promise myself I can bail in 15 minutes. Plenty of times that gets me past the hump and I wind up doing more. If my issue is more that I have 27 things to do and can’t figure out which to do, I write them down. Usually I discover it’s really only 8 things and none of them are going to take that long and either there’s an obvious priority or I can just do whichever –easiest because it’s easiest, most annoying to get it out of the way, the thing someone is waiting, etc.

  81. Quickbeam*

    A side note….I’ve gone from being an over producer, 50-60 hour a week person to a 40 hour at home person….and everything is still getting done. It’s definitely given me pause about work flow and time waste.

    I make myself tackle the rote stuff when I first log in, leaving the more taxing challenges to spread out in my day. By my lunch break my goal is to be 75% done , then I spend the rest of the day j til I log off at the other 25%.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I have found this to be true as well. It’s a lot easier to get things done when I’m not constantly being interrupted.

  82. Person from the Resume*

    I feel you LW. I struggle with this for work and for personal tasks. I recommend that you start small in the morning. I personally have a good bit of email to go through first thing in the morning. I go through it and try to complete everything/respond to emails (so I can delete the email) that can be dealt with in under 5 minutes. The emails requiring more work than that stay for my second or 3rd pass of the day.

    I have also locked my phone up in my car on my carport so I can’t just pick it up and start surfing (my procrastination method of choice after AAM and other advice columns) on days where I really struggle with keeping focused. I don’t look at social media or my other big time wasters on my work computer at all. Never.

    Getting started on working is often the hardest part. Conversely, though, sometimes I have found starting a complex project that requires thought is better than smaller tasks because it sucks me in. At the end of each small task, you have to find the energy to start the next one. So maybe try to get in the zone with something that will take a while. It’s hard to psych myself up to get started, but once I’m started I’m good.

  83. KEG*

    For my job, people are requesting things from me regularly; review this contract, what are the bill out rates for these people, etc. So I have an external accountability of needing to be available for other people. I think it would be much harder to motivate myself without that.

    Further, I enjoy being at home, so I’m viewing working from home as a privilege and I want to show that I can be just as productive while at home so that I can continue to work from home in the future (something my company did not support previously). I don’t want to reinforce their outdated views.

  84. Jane*

    I struggled with this too because I got caught up on deciding what tasks to do for the day. Now I use the Productivity Planner and the pomodoro technique – it helps so much to have almost all of the decision making done already and to run down my task list. Pick something, set a 10 minute timer, and start. Work your way up to 25 minutes of consistent attention.

  85. Hey Nonnie*

    As a place to start, try focusing on projects instead of on time. You say you’re still meeting deadlines, so I’m not sure that “can’t get started right at 9am” is as big a deal as you think it is.

    Since this has been a consistent issue since before work-from-home, it wouldn’t surprise me if your natural circadian rhythm falls outside the typical 9-5. What if, for now, you decided you were okay with that? What if you take a few days to really observe what times during the day (or night!) you feel most productive and motivated? What if you lean into it and work with your rhythms instead of against them?

    If it turns out you feel zero motivation at all times, then looking into coping techniques or treatments for depression wouldn’t be out of line. Beyond that, cutting yourself some slack for being stressed over some extraordinary circumstances isn’t out of line either.

    Please note I’m not saying that you should work all hours of the day/night, just that the advantage of working from home is that you are less tied to an external schedule, so you can figure out an internal one that makes sense for you. Maybe you are most productive in four hour blocks separated by a break of a couple hours. Maybe it’s several hours in the afternoon and a couple hours in the evening. You don’t need to put in extra hours, just consider restructuring your 8-a-day into something that works better for you.

  86. Lady of Lasers*

    Lots of good stuff here. Something to consider Op: do you have any ideas of why you’re having trouble getting into gear? Is it a mental thing, where your brain takes awhile to switch modes? Is it an emotional thing, where you’re dreading the start of work so you’re putting it off? Are you at a loss of where to get started, so it takes awhile to pick a task and get going? Do you just think better later in the day?

    If you can figure out the why, it’s going to make the how a lot clearer.

    For example, I will often get stuck either because I’m emotionally dreading the task, or because it’s hard for me to pick a starting point so I’ll spin my wheels. (Adult ADHD makes me prone to both those things.) Either of those cases, lists and pomodoros and rewards don’t help much. When I’m emotionally stuck, it helps me to either move or meditate and be gentle on myself. If I’m overwhelmed and not sure where to start, I’ll go through my to do list, mark the most important tasks, and then break them up into as small steps as I possibly can.

    Long story short, try to find the technique that best fits your stuck point! And if something works for someone else and not you, don’t beat yourself up! You’re not a bad person, you’re just trying to use the wrong tool for you.
    You’re doing great, hope this helps.

    1. Lady of Lasers*

      Oh and another thing I do for myself that helps: I set periodic alarms on my apple watch. It helps me keep track of how much of the day has gone by, so I don’t get too lost.

  87. Lora*

    Routine that focuses on the parts of working from home that I really like a lot – when I had to go to the office, I had a horrible commute and rarely had time to eat more than a gas station sandwich and coffee, and lunch was a pre-prepared thing in Tupperware that was rarely less than 24-48 hours old. I had to be in the office at a set schedule more or less, and didn’t have a ton of discretion to adjust my hours, so if I had to get up at 3am for a meeting six time zones away, it meant doing extra work rather than adjusting my hours like a reasonable person, because I was expected to be available for consultation and meetings often ran to 5:30-6pm.

    I get up at a reasonable hour since I don’t have a monster commute to get up early for. Walk dogs, run a load of dishes or something. Put on a nice shirt and then fix a really nice breakfast – I have time to do the whole bacon, eggs, toast etc. and fresh good quality coffee. I was doing omelets for a while, now I’m on hashbrowns with poached eggs, salsa and sour cream with buttered toast on the side. I take my very nice breakfast on a tray up to the home office and shut the door and check the day’s emails / zoom schedule while I eat, check in with the folks on my projects for the morning quickly (sometimes not quickly if a thing happened). Then do meetings or whatever for the morning (they’re often earlier time zone, so morning is reserved for meetings).

    Lunch is another “hey, I get to have a freshly cooked meal! I can have whatever I want!” deal – and I can eat it on the patio with whatever I want to drink, instead of being limited to the soda and bad coffee the work cafeteria offers. Yesterday was linguine carbonara with spinach salad, iced tea and pistachio ice cream for dessert. Haven’t decided what I’m feeling today. This is a huge deal for me, as the commute meant I spent every weekend either doing batch cooking meal preps or cleaning, and it was all I could do to squeeze in a hobby project or exercise class here and there – I’d end up spending my PTO to do like…routine cleaning and chores, which was really no fun at all.

    Afternoon is for coding and I try to make it as uninterrupted as possible: the music is on and nobody is bothered by my choices, and it comes out of the Bluetooth speaker rather than headphones. The end of the day is defined as “when the dogs need another walk” and includes plenty of time to stop and smell the flowers (in the dogs’ case, pee on them…). There is a distinct switch from Caffeine Time to Wine Time. This is also the time when the news websites update their information and publish the transcripts of whatever new rules we’re following now, which change pretty frequently so are worth checking (wine is required for this part, to find the courage to read the news…).

    Mostly it’s just finding what I like a lot about working from home, and basing my daily routine around that, and sticking to the routine long enough to make it a regular habit. It takes a solid 3-6 months to change your habits and expect to screw up a lot until the habit is changed – it’s only been a month and a half to two months for most people. So, still in the screwing-up adapting phase. It takes time.

  88. Temperance*

    I bought myself a 5-day taskpad from Amazon. Writing things out is so, so helpful to me.

    What I’ve also been doing is getting dressed. Not in work clothes – but yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a bra. It gets me out of bed and out of the relaxing mindset.

  89. B*

    It was mentioned in the response, but it might help to stop and evaluate how you are feeling. Anxiety and depression impact productivity. Do you have an eap? If you don’t have access to distance counseling there are help/crisis lines. People often overestimate how big problems need to be to justify calling. If you are struggling it can be a good resource.
    Also I read something really powerful. This experience is a trauma that we are continuing to navigate. We can’t really begin to heal until we are through it. For now we can take care of ourselves and others, engage in self care, lower our expectations a little.

  90. Squidhead*

    I’m not WFH (I’m an inpatient nurse) but I sort of use a reverse-Pomodoro method to get through the thing I drag my feet on the most: charting. Basically everything I do with a patient needs to be recorded on their chart. By the end of a 12-hour shift I have filled out a multi-tabbed (between 7 and 10 tabs, usually, with data columns at least every hour if not every 15 minutes). It’s time consuming and sort of repetitive if I had the same patient the day before, but I have to do it every day for every patient. If I get really behind it becomes a monstrous task that will keep me at least an hour late. It’s also easy to put it off: “I have to give a medication in 10 minutes, no point in starting to chart now!” But if I can turn that mindset around and say “I have to get up in 10 minutes…how much can I get done before then?” then I can keep myself much more up to date.

    Now, I realize that not all jobs have tasks that can be accomplished piecemeal like this. But the flip from “just keep at it for 20 minutes, you can do it” to “I only *have* 20 minutes, how far can I get?” is helpful for me.

  91. Colorado*

    I hate working from home but am grateful for my job. I hate being a home school teacher but am grateful for my kid. I hate the fact that my husband leaves everyday and lives his normal life while I’m stuck home grappling a high stress job and home schooling. Today, I just want to drive far away. This all sucks so bad. I’m with you.

    1. CM*

      Hugs, Colorado! I totally relate to what you said. (Even though around here, no one leaves every day… or EVER.)

  92. Molly*

    Hi friend! I know this might be some weird advice, but hear me out. For one, I really encourage you to give yourself some grace. You’re not just working from home, you’re staying at home during a pandemic and trying to work. It’s okay that you’re not operating at 100% productivity. I also wonder how much flexibility you have from your employer. I’m definitely not logged in and on my A game at 8 or 9am every morning. A lot of us aren’t sleeping well anyway, so I’ve shifted my hours back to 9:30 or 10:00…I’m super blessed to have a great work environment, but maybe you are putting pressure on yourself that your work doesn’t require?

    All I’m saying is, please please please be kind to yourself. None of this is normal. None of us are thriving. It’s really okay to change your routines and your schedule right now.

  93. cmmj*

    I am not saying the LW has a specific disorder that impairs executive functioning, but I do think that looking into information for people with executive dysfunction might be helpful for tips on how to get started in the mornings. It sounds like you’re fine staying on task since you mention not missing deadlines, but it’s just the getting into gear that’s harder. I deal with similar difficulties, and while there are plenty of specific things that help, you know your life and what will work for you best. As a personal example, when I am finding it difficult to just get to my workspace, I visualize the steps (getting changed, washing my face, settling in) and it feels less overwhelming. Having a morning habit or ritual you do right before working–using a specific mug, spraying a certain scent, making a to-do list in the same notebook with the same pen–can help built a solid sensory habit that clicks your brain into work time after enough repetition. There are a lot of starting strategies, and I wish you the best in finding something that works for you and that you can carry into your office once we’re back. Take care!

  94. Wendy Darling*

    My partner was having a tough time getting started in the morning so he started having a “commute”. He goes for a 10-15 minute walk every morning before he starts work and most evenings when he finishes work. It seems to have REALLY helped. I’ve been working from home for years but he’s suddenly working in the same room he relaxes in and it was throwing him for a loop.

  95. DataGirl*

    For me, I try to start my day with something nice. I try to get up early enough to do some yoga/stretching before I have to dive in to work. Then I have coffee and breakfast and check messages, then check my running to-do list and add anything new. Put a star next to urgent stuff for that day- and try to keep that to 5 or 6 items or less. I schedule breaks, and have a goal of finishing work between 4-6 so that I can enjoy my evenings. That end time is probably the best motivator, because I know if I don’t get to work I won’t finish on time and then it cuts into my me time.

  96. Law student from home*

    I know I’ve struggled with this as well! Something about getting dressed, commuting, and being around colleagues has a motivating impact that is lost right now. What’s worked for me is getting up as if I did still need to commute, and doing something during that time (read non-COVID related articles, or go for a walk outside). It separates sleeping/relaxing time from work time and creates some of that “commute” space between work and home life. Best of luck!

  97. Sara*

    In addition to all these fabulous suggestions, if you haven’t been in a while, you might check in with your doctor. At different times in my life, I struggled with energy and focus and found out that I was anemic (once) and another time that my thyroid levels weren’t up to snuff. I realize that getting an appointment to see your doc might be extra challenging at the moment but I’d like to open the door to the possibility that you may be struggling with energy and lack of focus because of something that is going on physiologically.

  98. CM*

    I first encountered this as a fiction writing tip, but it works well for me as a work practice too.

    The fiction writing tip — the name of the author who I got this from is escaping me at the moment — is to stop writing for the day just when you get to a part that is exciting, that you’re enthusiastic about writing, or where you know exactly what needs to come next. Then when you pick up again the next day, you’ll have a starting point that is clear and easy to dive into.

    You can see how this applies to work. It’s the same concept as ending your day with a to-do list, but you can take it a step farther by starting to do a task, then lining up very clear next steps for yourself. So the next morning, the planning part is done for you, you’ve already started thinking about it, and you can have the satisfaction of completing the next steps.

  99. Bsp*

    I struggled with this at first, mostly because WFH for me in the past was only ever a day each month at most, and for a specific task (data handling, drafting documents, stuff like that). With an open field of potential tasks and no real deadline or end in sight, it was hard to get going. After a few weeks, two things above all others have helped, with the caveat that I have no kids, my husband is out of the house as a key worker, and I have a workspace at my kitchen table which is both too isolated and too near the biscuits and kettle. Anyway:

    1) I roll straight out of bed into a HIIT program workout. I don’t have a choice about what exercises to do, I just have to crack on. It’s great for blowing the morning cobwebs out and I feel so much more awake. I shower, fix a bit of breakfast and then I’m straight into my 9am visual check in with work.
    2) I’ve started using my Google calendar to block out time for either planning task time or recording task time, and blocking out time for lunch and breaks for housework/unspecified break time. It not only helps me focus on what I want to accomplish but at the end of the day/week I can better account for what I’ve spent my time doing and it staves off that feeling of non-productiveness. If I have meetings, I usually have a 30-60 minute slot after for ‘follow up’ which could be a task to do while the purpose is fresh, or it could be making a cup of coffee to decompress. Be kind to yourself.

    Otherwise, it’s just about building the routine. I didn’t settle into it easily or quickly, but after a week or two I felt I was in the swing of things enough. Right now, enough is good.

  100. Thankful for AAM*

    I have to have a routine. I see the routine as “rules” that I follow.
    I get up, walk the dog, feed the dog, exercise, shower, start the list of work, lunch is at a set time, back to work with the list, dinner, walk the dog, feed the dog.

    It is hard! But routine can really help.

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      Routine is what works for me to. Personally, I get up, get ready for work, get in my car and go get coffee at a drive thru. Then when I come home I go immediate to my WFH set-up and begin my day. That structure and physical act of walking in the door and going directly to my desk helps me separate home life from work life.

  101. Not A Manager*

    I used to do a lot of writing for my work. Like you, I could complete a project but not always get started on one.

    What I would do is nibble around the edges. Start with things that didn’t feel like the intimidating meat of the project – set up the cover page with the correct information. Write the table of contents (which was also an outline, so I was actually working on the project, it just didn’t feel that way). Write the introduction and the conclusion. I could do all of those things one at a time, circling back to them after doing other tasks or taking a break or having a reward.

    Once I’d done those things, I usually felt invested and energized and then the “completing the project” was pretty easy.

    I’ve used this “nibble around the edges” technique for a number of different kinds of tasks and it works well for me. What I like is that it’s not a procrastination project. These are all necessary steps to the actual deliverable. But they can be framed as “background” or “setup” or “infrastructure” so that I don’t feel so overwhelmed.

  102. Miss Muffet*

    I think sometimes that non-starter feeling can come when you feel like your time is more flexible, so I would recommend having core work hours – making sure you’re at your desk, say, by 8:30 so you can buzz through email and get a handle on your day before that 9am check-in, and then plan to log off at 5, just as you would at the office. Having worked from home exclusively for over 8 years, that structure was was really helpful for me. It’s all part and parcel with getting dressed in non-pajamas, maybe doing your hair, etc – to kinda put yourself in “work mode” that makes that shift in your brain a bit as well. And then at the end of the day, LOG OFF. Shut off your vpn, close the laptop, whatever makes it clear to your brain that “work” is over.

  103. 3DogNight*

    There are so many great responses here! I hope you have time to review them (I’m reading all of them and incorporating some, myself).
    I’ve worked from home for almost 10 years now. Here are the things that keep me on task, especially right now.
    1. I log into my system a little early. I’m going to surf the web for 30 minutes anyway, so I log in 30 minutes early and give myself permission to check the weather, AAM, the news and FB.
    2. I make a list of things to do at the end of each day. Through the day I mark off what I’ve done, write notes and otherwise mess up my list, so I start a clean list each day.
    3. I do the things I HATE the most, first. I have found that thinking about that thing I hate ruins my day, so I do it first and then it’s gone.
    4. Put lunch on your calendar, as a recurring meeting, and have it out there forever. Take your lunch at this time.
    5. Remember, if you were to be in the office, you’d spend time chatting with colleagues, and going to get a drink and whatever, so give yourself some grace when you do the equivalent at home (but, don’t take advantage).
    6. Don’t roll out of bed and go straight to the office. There needs to be a buffer between. Mine is to drink the first cup of coffee and read a bit, then go in.
    You may be burning yourself out if you aren’t shutting down entirely at night. If you do 10 minutes of work, then go back to home stuff, then 30 minutes of work, etc… stop. Shut down at 5 (or your normal time) and be done. It’s too easy to slip into the working 24/7 thing, where you’re not really working, but you’re not really taking breaks either. Stop trying to do both.
    Learning to work from home is a process, and takes time. You’ll get there, just keep trying the things that you hear and see until you have a routine that works for you. Good luck!

  104. Vega*

    As others have said, getting into a routine and having environmental triggers has been important for me. I don’t have a separate desk, so pulling out my work laptop and peripherals and getting set up on the kitchen table is part of my morning routine; then I break it all down and put it away at the end of the day.

    Music has always been a big part of “setting the mood” for my work day, and I have certain artists/playlists that are reserved only for working. Interestingly, I’ve gravitated into a different genre than I usually listen to at work. I don’t know why this new genre is working better for me right now, but it’s been a nice chance to explore new artists!

  105. foolofgrace*

    When you wrap up your work at the end of the day, don’t finish something. That way when the next morning rolls around, it’s easier to “dive back in” because it doesn’t require the mental effort of shouldering a boulder to get started. I learned this trick when I was researching how to write [a novel, short story, etc.] — you stop in the middle of a sentence so when you pick it back up it’s easier to get into gear and pick up your last thought. Hope this helps.

  106. notacompetition*

    You’re not competing with your coworkers–don’t worry about outworking anyone. Your main competition is with yourself.

    It sounds like you were having trouble with this pre-pandemic. A daily to-do list, or a running to-do list, is hugely helpful to me. Tracking deadlines so you finish what’s due first is always helpful and makes sure you are prioritizing what to work on. But also, please forgive yourself for lacking focus right now.

  107. Minimal Pear*

    I gotta be honest, my motivation is just, “Think about all the nice money you’ll get if you do this!”

  108. Keyboard Jockey*

    If you have any flexibility in your schedule, try working at other times of day instead. If I start a day off with meetings, I am in no way going to sit down and write code productively before about 3pm, but the hours between 3 and 6 are golden for me. If I try to force it earlier, I just end up frustrated at myself for not being able to get started and get way less done than if I just give myself the grace to take a walk for an hour and come back when I’m ready. I realize this is a luxury not everyone has, but if your schedule has any flex in it, maybe try finding your own golden hour.

  109. Windchime*

    I had to change my routine. When we were working in the office, I would get up and get dressed right away, then leave and have the drive to eat my breakfast, catch up on news or podcasts, etc. By the time I got to work, I was ready to work. When we first started working from home, I moved away from my routine and then found it really hard to get motivated.

    Now I do this: I get up and immediately get into the shower. No drinking tea and looking at Youtube. I shower, get dressed, make the bed, and THEN go get my tea and toast. I find that I’m ready to work a lot earlier and then I just go to my desk and start working. I’m lucky that I have a dedicated office space and I’ve tried to make it as “office-y” as possible. I don’t turn on the TV at all. I take occasional breaks each hour to throw in a load of laundry or visit with the cat, but other than that…..I’m being paid to work. So that’s what I do. I think there is a certain amount of “just do it”.

  110. GigglyPuff*

    Just want to say you are not alone! By nature all my projects are long, with very little oversight check-in dates on when things need to be finished by. It was already a struggle in the office, especially with my ADHD, but now, dear lord. The first couple weeks I actually did okay, cause it was finishing up the projects I was already working on in the office, and people were waiting on those/knew they would be finished soon. But now, trying to shift to new projects, that don’t really have a due date. It’s the worst.

    Now I’ve taken to setting my alarm like ten minutes before I’m supposed to clock in, getting out of bed, getting my laptop, getting back in bed, convincing the dog we aren’t getting up yet, and staring at the computer not really doing anything (for longer than I’d care to admit). It’s a really bad habit that I really need to break.

    I did well when I got up at my regular time, walked the dog, got dressed, made coffee, then it was time to clock in. Do my usual middling morning routine work, then take the dog for a walk around lunch. It usually made me feel better, so I’d be able to concentrate better. I also found doing some chore in the afternoon, like dishes or laundry, and then again during the time that would’ve been my commute, also made me feel better. Even if I wasn’t super productive at work, I got something done. Which in turn made me feel better day to day and then I find I concentrate better. But yeah, need to get back to my to-do lists, maybe set some benchmarks for myself (though I suck at holding myself accountable). But you’re not alone!!

  111. Sheila E.*

    For the most part I treat WFH the same as a day in the office. That means waking up at a set time about an hour before work “begins” (now that I don’t have a commute, I’m taking advantage of the extra shut-eye). Getting my coffee ready and then moving my laptop to my work area, also known as my kitchen table (which I rarely use for eating anyway). Since my computer is currently serving double duty personally and professionally, I have windows dedicated to work stuff and personal stuff and use appropriately. (Checking Facebook or whatnot during lunch, etc.) I have a ton of little notebooks – one serves as a to-do list, another to record meetings, conversations I need to remember, and another to keep track of what my staff are working and what my boss needs me to do. At the end of the day, I look at all of these and make my to-do list for the next day.

    It’s not fool proof, some days are more productive than others. But it helps me keep tabs on myself and prevents me from getting distracted or procrastinating.

  112. Kizzy*

    I’ve never worked from home before, so the last few weeks have been a lot of trial and error. What’s working for me at this point:
    – starting each day with the same set of short tasks (check email, check Teams, update to do list based on those). Routine, I know what to expect, I know I can get that done. Low-stress and lets me get settled in.
    – keeping a physical to do list and check things off
    – having a running list of small, low-stakes tasks I can still get done when I’m lacking focus and concentration
    – dealing with routine admin stuff in the morning, when my focus is less and I’m more easily distracted. Updating spreadsheets, answering emails, sending routine updates etc.
    – setting aside a block of time in the afternoon to work on development tasks that need more concentration (as that’s when I feel most focused and attentive)
    – taking regular breaks and drinking plenty of water (I found it helped to use my work water bottle – my brain seems to respond to it as a cue that I’m at work)
    – ending the work day by making tomorrow’s to do list. Acts as a signal to my brain that those things can wait until tomorrow. I used to start each day by making it, but found myself fretting about things in the evening and at night. Now it’s on the list so my brain can shut up about it. And the list can be updated once I see what’s come in by email/Teams.
    -marking the start and end of work time. Work begins when I go and fill my water bottle in the morning, and ends when I write the to-do list for tomorrow. After a few weeks, I’m in the routine and it’s become my new normal.

  113. CRM*

    There is some great productivity advice here, but also I would stop putting so much pressure on yourself to be a high performer right now. These are crazy times! Some people are going to be performing highly, some people are just trying to get by. It sounds like you aren’t missing deadlines or handing in error-ridden work, so you are still doing a good job. Don’t be so hard on yourself for not going above and beyond right now.

  114. Jennifer Strange*

    I’ve seen others mention task lists, which is my suggestion as well. I’ve specifically started tracking all of my projects on Trello (which is free for just a basic account). I have a board for long-term projects that I’m working on (those that have a definite end to them) and within each item I can add checklists of things to do, steps taken, and so forth. Once they’re finished, they move to the Done section. I also have a Board for tasks I do on a recurring basis (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) just to check in and make sure I’ve hit each one as needed.

    I also find that it helps to a) take breaks as needed and b) have a definite “done work” mode (which is hard when your workplace is now your home as well). You don’t mention what your work is, but if it’s something tedious, like data entry, I’ve been breaking those into chunks so that I know I need to get through, say, 30 pieces and then I can take a break or focus on something else for a bit.

  115. 'nother prof*

    I switched my hours (when possible – I can’t every day). If I don’t have a morning meeting, I exercise/clean/etc., then work ’til eight, sometime ten at night. Just moving around in the morning helps a lot, and I burn off enough energy to settle in with my (now more sedentary) work in the afternoon.

  116. mli25*

    Music and headphones helps me a lot. I run into this issue (more) in the afternoon, typically after my meetings are done for the day. Putting on music with my headphones tends to focus me a lot better. I am then able to work for an hour or more and not even realize I have done it.

    I have also physically moved my phones away from me to not distract me with emails/notifications/etc.

  117. anonymous 5*

    I take at least an hour every afternoon and go offline. No screens. That’s something I have the flexibility to do, and I realize others might not! But to whatever extent it’s possible to decouple yourself from the computer etc, especially if you can do it during what feels like the workday (i.e. play a little bit of hooky!), I highly recommend it.

    I’ve also done a tiered list system: “toDAY” (things I need to finish before EOD), “toDO” (important but less time-sensitive), “toDONT” (permission to, well, raise a one-fingered salute to tasks that don’t help/aren’t necessary/drain all the energy), and “toDONE” (noteworthy things I actually completed that day). The latter has actually been really reassuring when I feel as though I’m spinning my wheels and haven’t accomplished anything.

    1. triplehiccup*

      This is basically Kanban, which is my recommendation. I like the addition to “to don’t”!

      1. anonymous 5*

        It’s absolutely liberating for me (as someone who often has to fight off the more destructive manifestations of people-pleasing)!

  118. It's been a bad week.*

    Me, too, OP. Me, too.

    Although, if we’re being totally honest, I often struggle with motivation when there is no urgency. I have stuff I can do, but nothing I need to do. If that makes sense.

    I am also my own boss (ED of a nonprofit) and the field I am in can sometimes just beat the spirit out of you.

  119. KnightHawk*

    I suggest getting up earlier. If your workday starts at 8:00, get up at 6:30 or 7. Go for a walk or get your body moving in some way. It will help you to have better focus and energy throughout the day. Eat a good breakfast before your day starts, this also helps the brain kickstart and fuels your day.

    I’ve been working from home full time for 5+ years and these tips are the difference between a “sluggish, hard to find motivation” day, and a very productive, “I can do all things” day.

  120. Dust Bunny*

    I would feel *horrendously* guilty if I weren’t working. My employer runs on thin margins, anyway–we’re a nonprofit recovering from a dud executive director–and has bent over backwards to ensure everyone can stay home, even if their jobs (mine is one of them) are not very doable remotely. I’m not even being asked to clock in–my bosses are just assuming I’m working full days. Which I am, but they wouldn’t know if I weren’t.

    Also, I find that having a “work day” is great for filling up time and making life less weird because it’s kept the basic structure about the same.

    I go for a walk early in the morning (before everyone else is out) to wake up and sort of get started, work until lunch, am done usually around 4:00. So I don’t have the commute time but otherwise, things are pretty similar.

  121. Chili*

    Oh man, this is also me! What’s helped me get better at is:
    1) Break down big tasks into their smallest components and do tiny things first. In the morning, get going on the smallest one. I’m a software engineer, so for me a lot of the time the first/ smallest task is just recreating the bug I’m fixing. I can do that while still half asleep. Usually, by the time I recreate it, I’m interested enough in the problem that I just get going.
    2) Morning routine. I’m not a morning person. I have tried for years to become one and finally gave myself the freedom to give up on it. I’ve found that even though I’m not a morning person, I still need a morning routine. When I worked in the office, that meant reading for 45 minutes on the bus. Now, that means taking a walk outside and fixing myself some iced coffee and a little breakfast.
    3) Plan fun things for the evening. I get into the bad habit of saying “Oh, I’ll just finish this up later tonight” and then kind of not working but not really doing anything but still kind of still being stressed during the day. Then I use my night to do work and I never get a true break. If I make plans for the evening, I can’t tell myself I’ll save something for the evening and have to do it during normal work hours.
    4) If you really are more productive in the evenings, talk to your manager about the feasibility of changing your hours. Some people’s brains really just come alive at night. If you’re working remotely and don’t have tons of meetings or things that you’re dependent on responses from others and you prefer working at night, sometimes its best to just lean into it instead of going all the effort of trying to train your brain for something it doesn’t want to do.

    1. Chili*

      I thought of another point to add. This one might just be a me thing, but sometimes I come up with all these plans about how I will deliver something perfect and even better than what is wanted before I even start the primary thing. When I stopped doing that, and focused on delivering the bare minimum first THEN thought of improvements, I had a much easier time getting down to business. When I was adding all these imaginary requirements and additions, all I was doing was making the threshold to entry even higher for myself. No longer was it a simple fix, it was a big ordeal that was intimidating my brain from being able to get started and focus.

  122. The Spiegs*

    This may sound a little woo-woo but when I find I can’t concentrate or am bored with the work I am doing, I put on my headphones and go to Youtube and listen to “concentration music ” and for some reason this really helps me just sit down and keep working. It’s weird, it’s not exactly music but more like tones (some of them say “alpha waves” in the title) and if I put it on low it just… helps. No idea why. I would love to know if anyone listens to this stuff!

  123. 867-5309*

    Several people have suggested making lists and I just wanted to share my favorite paper list: On the outside it says “List Makers Gonna List” and it’d adorable. I set up my list the day before so I’m ready for the next day. (My preference is to buy from this small print shop in PA but I think it’s also available on Amazon.

    Additionally, I set a standing time to go for a walk – rain or shine or cold – and for the first time in my life am tracking my steps. You can start with 2500, 5000, 7500… I went with 7500 because of my dog. Previously, I was lucky to hit 2500. About 3 weeks into all of this, I realized how fun it was to see that chart with my step count!

    Lastly, do you have to be on a strict schedule? I stay available to my team and respond on Microsoft Teams but some days, I spend an afternoon cleaning or cooking or vegging, and the work when I’m more motivated in the evening. If you have that kind of flexibility, use it.

  124. Roxie Hart*

    I’ve been having trouble with this as well, although the past week I’ve been able to focus more.

    Increasing my water intake helped me feel better.

  125. Kolgate*

    I often worked at places that had multiple locations, so that’s pretty much how I think of WFH. You’re just in another office location, not really at home. To me, everything for work is on your laptop/desktop, and maybe a notepad to write on, so it really doesn’t matter where I am.

    I guess in the back of my brain I imagine that people are working in their location even if they’re not physically right next to me. So for me wfh wasn’t much of a change from working in the NY office and they’re in DC. I would still have contact with people in other locations, email/phone, so I never felt like I was in solitary. In most of my work interactions, there would also be some social comments/chatter so to me having distance contact is completely normal.

    The perk to WFH is getting rid of the commute, and to me that was a part of the workday, it wasn’t leading up to it, and was probably the most difficult part of the day for me.

    When I was in the office I usually at least mentally thought of what I had to do that day, and would start working on those, get up every hour or so to stretch legs, get water/coffee/tea, lunch break, take a walk at some point in the day, and physically close the laptop at the end of the workday, even if you just restart your computer again for your personal stuff after work. So, that’s exactly what I do when WFH. To me, it’s only slightly different working from home compared to working in an office environment.

  126. Kaitlyn*

    I just did the notes for a podcast about productivity, and a few things really stood out to me:
    – Ritualize your start and end times. If you normally start with a shower and a coffee, have a shower and a coffee. Cue up your work playlist. End the day with a walk, or a sparkling water, or watering your seedlings, or whatever.
    – Sit in the same spot every day to work, and make it a work space: no working from bed, no working on the couch.
    – Put your phone in a drawer or in another room.
    – Work in sprints: set a time for 30/60/90 minutes, declare that your focus time, do a mini-ritual to start it (light a focus candle, listen to a particular song), and then just put your head down and work. I often say, “I’m sprinting until X:00 o’clock right now,” out loud to myself in order to set the mood.
    – Work in two three-hour shifts (9-noon, 1-4) instead of one full eight-hour day, if you can, if you’re that productive. If your job requires you to just be available, then be available; if it require you to get stuff done, then recognize that working from home is really different, with different relationship-maintenance protocols and office interaction methods, than in-office work.

  127. Awesome Sauce*

    Having a to-do list helps me, so I make a to-do list for the next day and the end of each working day, and then my first task in the morning is to check my email and make any necessary updates to my to-do list.

    For getting through the workday, I take a break every hour. And I tell myself I have to do at least one productive thing during the hour of work. Just one. It can even be a small thing. That seems to help get me over the hump of “ugh I have this entire report to write.” I don’t have to write the whole report right this second, I just have to draft out some section headings and make some point form notes about what’s going in each section, that’s doable, right?

    For the breaks, I try to have a specific thing to do each hour that is away from my work-at-home spot. I try to remember to walk a “lap” around the house (go into every room on every floor) on my breaks too, just to get the blood flowing a bit. So for instance:
    -start at 8am. I’ve already eaten breakfast, and I have a full glass of water.
    -at 9am, make some tea.
    -at 10am, get changed out of my pajamas. (who are we kidding – working in your pajamas is a perk of working from home and I am going to MILK IT!)
    -at 11am, refresh my water.
    -noon = lunchtime.

  128. Roja*

    Ooooh, an ask-the-readers where I actually have something to contribute!
    I don’t WFH exclusively anymore (well, I do right this minute but obviously not in non-pandemic life) but I used to, and my current job is a blend. I’m a person that needs outside structure and deadlines or I just procrastinate indefinitely, and that only got worse when I was going through bad bouts of depression. Some things I find help are as follows:

    –make lists! lots of lists. so. many. lists.
    –take frequent breaks
    –tell yourself if you work for 5 minutes you can take a break. Pretty much guaranteed that you’ll want to keep going once you get in the zone. If you don’t, it’s probably a sign that you need more of something (more sleep, emotional comfort, etc). This especially works if you do actually enjoy your job.
    –lots of people find they’re more focused when they make themselves sit at a desk, but I’m the opposite. If I’m comfortable, I’ll work for hours. If not, I count the clock. So experiment with different things.
    –have a place at hand where you can quickly jot down reminders for random to-do list items so they don’t derail your flow.
    –work on whatever you feel like working on. This is obviously job-dependent, but if you have some flexibility, start with things you feel inclined to do. That often builds up a lot of momentum, even if they’re not the most important or most difficult things.
    –conventional wisdom is to start with the most important or difficult, but if that doesn’t work for you, dump it. I love crossing off a bunch of small things to get momentum going, and usually it’s possible to do that with my workflow. So give a shot, if you haven’t already.

    Good luck!! I feel your pain, as someone who really doesn’t feel cut out for working at home but has to make it work.

  129. Heat's Kitchen*

    Do you feel like you do better with work later in the day? I’m wondering if you could talk to your boss about a slightly different work schedule. Maybe you login for the 9am check-in, but your day is really more 10-6 or 11-7 or something like that? Not always an option, but one to consider right now.

  130. Information Central*

    I’m struggling with this too. Some of the standard advice helps. Plan out the next couple of things that need doing, so I don’t have to decide in the moment. Work together with or at least ‘visibly’ so to speak to other coworkers, to keep some sense of time and reality associated with the work — that it actually does exist outside of my head and actually will have an impact if it doesn’t get done. Try to have moments of quiet at transition points or just when I’m struggling — no distractor apps, no ‘just a little’ chores, just sit with the quiet and reorient to the headspace where I can sink into the work. Sometimes it helps, sometimes I end up admitting that all I’m getting done just now will be rote tasks (if that much), and I’ll try again later for the ones that need more initiative. Lots of trial and error, lots of trying not get frustrated with myself when the standard advice doesn’t work.

  131. PNW*

    My sister swears that putting on shoes to work from home makes it feel more like a work environment and helps get her started. That didn’t work for me. I am fortunate to have a treadmill in my home office so I start out the day with half an hour on the treadmill which gets my blood pumping enough that I no longer feel like sinking into the couch and watching Netflix.

  132. Baska*

    Do you have a home office? If not, do you have a space in your home that you could set up as an “I only use this space for work” space? Even if it’s just a chair on the other side of the table from the one you normally sit on, it could be helpful. Essentially you want your brain to start associating that spot with working. And if you’re not working, leave that spot, do something else, and come back later when you’re ready to work. Eventually you’ll get the same brain-associations from sitting down in that spot as you normally would from going into the office. Maybe have a little “going to work” routine in the morning where you get dressed, make your coffee, and then sit down in your “office” to work. It works for me — maybe it’ll work for you!

    1. LizardOfOdds*

      Came here to say this! Having dedicated space made all the difference for me, and I now have a “going to the office” routine. I created an office in a small 5’x7′ space and rearranged a room to make it work. The important part for me was getting the space set up in a way that felt like an actual office – I bought a tiny desk and office chair, set up an extra monitor and other hardware, created a nice background for video calls, found the right lamp, etc. When I “go to work” in the morning, I stop in the kitchen to grab coffee, make a quick breakfast, walk to my office space, and open the curtains. When I’m done working, I close the curtains and don’t use that office space for anything else – not even watching youtube or ordering things on Amazon. It definitely feels more like “going to the office” now than it did 65 days ago when I started working from home, but it took weeks before I finally acclimated.

  133. it_guy*

    As an adult with Asperger-ish tendencies, when I did a WFH job several years ago, I acted as if I was going to my regular office. My morning routine didn’t change. The routine was everything. I got up the same time every day, did the normal morning routine and sat down at my desk at the same time and dove in. It helps if you have a room set aside where you can do your regular job stuff and at the end of the day, walk away and close the door behind you. I know everyone doesn’t have the luxury of a home-office, but you can do a metaphorical door shutting by closing your laptop or turning off the monitor.

    It’s work. The same as if you were in an office.

  134. I am not a llama*

    Maybe if you did cardboard photo cutouts of your co-workers and hung them on the walls around you and when you talk to them on the phone, look at the cutout of them…

    1. Sharkzle*

      OP Here. HAHAHA! Thank you for this, it’s silly and amazing and I just might do it. My coworkers would definitely get a kick out of it.

  135. animaniactoo*

    I’ve been giving myself a “reset” point after the morning meeting. Because honestly, that’s what I did when I was in the office after a meeting. Sit down. Doodle with something else, let all the stuff sink in. Have a break from that super-focused talking to everybody actively thinking about my stuff and their stuff, and then when my brain has had a rest, it’s time to pick up and get going.

    Depending on projects/how the day is going/etc. this time is either used for surfing the internet, taking 10 minutes on the exercise bike (want to build that up to 20, but taking the long and slow approach to doing that), or grabbing food then.

  136. Sharikacat*

    Start by not waking up “just in time” for check-in. Wake up at a reasonable time and go through a (more relaxed) morning routine, making good use of the time you’d otherwise be commuting. Have breakfast or coffee, shave, shower, etc. Dress as if you were going into work- because you are! Just because you *can* work in pajamas doesn’t mean you should, especially if you have a hard time getting in that work mindset.

    I think that the closer you can adjust your surroundings to make it more work-like, the easier time you’ll have getting into “work mode.” If you don’t already have a spare room to be the “office,” then try rearranging your furniture to turn a corner of a room into your cubicle.

    If things are too quiet at home, turn the TV onto a music channel if you have it (with the volume set somewhat low so it’s not too distracting!). Or find another channel you like but won’t get drawn in to and toss a towel over the screen so you don’t just sit and watch TV instead of working.

  137. KayDay*

    I am so glad you asked this, because I have the same problem! Because up until now people who worked from home regularly tended to self-select, it felt like everyone was saying they were so much more productive at home and I was the only one who would lose focus. Unfortunately, I am mainly here to read the advice, but I do have two tips to share.

    First, embrace the differences between working from home and being in the office. This could be a bunch of different things depending on your home/work/personal preferences. Maybe you start work earlier and condense your schedule. Or maybe you take a long afternoon break To make lunch and relax and resume work in the evening. Maybe you listen to music or have the news on throughout the day. If you have to do a lot of reading, You could set up a reading lounge separate from your desk. Set up as nice a home work space as possible, that is nice for different reasons than your normal office (for me I commandeered some of the nice old furniture in our living room so at least my home office is aesthetically pleasing). It doesn’t matter what, as long as it works for you and makes you really appreciate working from home.

    Second, if you are like me, part of the problem is you have habits associated with spaces. Home is my relaxing space and work is my working space, so I just automatically am in “work mode” at the office and “relax mode” at home. So try to set up a dedicated work space. Initially for me this was as simple as sitting in one spot at the dining table to work, and on the other side of the table when not working. Now I have made a little office in the living room by moving around some furniture and making a wall out of house plants.

  138. char*

    My strategy mostly involves having a routine that makes my work hours as different as possible from my off-the-clock hours, giving myself physical and environmental cues of whether I’m in “work mode” or “home mode”:

    I follow the same morning routine as I would if I was working in the office, minus the commute. This includes showering and dressing in work clothes. (I deliberately do NOT follow the same routine in the same order on weekends.) I change into more casual clothes at the end of the work day.

    My work space is as separate from my “home” space as I can make it. I sit at a desk that I ONLY use for work, in a room where I don’t normally spend much of my off time. (In my case, it’s my bedroom, which is not ideal, but it’s the only place I have other than my living room, which would be even worse, because in my living room I’m permanently in “video game/screw around online” mode.)

    I also spend my lunch breaks in a place where I don’t normally hang out (…sitting on the floor of my bedroom, because, again, I really don’t have anywhere else). I know myself well enough to know that if I took lunch in the living room in my comfy armchair, I’d never be able to get myself to get up and back to work afterward.

    If I find myself losing focus, I make note of a something that I need to do – but before starting whatever it is, I take a quick break to get a snack or walk around or something. I find it’s often easier to start something as the first thing I do when I sit down after clearing my mind a little, rather than trying to drag my focus straight from one task to another.

  139. No Regerts*

    I suck at mornings, so this has been particularly challenging to me.

    I keep an extensive to-do list in excel, but at the end of each day I write down 1-3 things that are my priorities to start the next day. I write it on a post-it note, and I stick it under my mouse. Then it’s the first thing I see when I sit down at my desk.

    There’s been some great ideas here, thanks for the question.

  140. Lilyp*

    This will probably repeat a lot of other advice but I want to put it all in one place. I’ve worked from home full-time for two and a half years and oh man have I Been There! It may not all work for you but here are some really specific suggestions:

    – Remove your phone from your morning routine — find a different alarm, keep it in a drawer at night. If there are other “distraction vortices” (computer, games, books, chores) try to physically move them so you don’t see them in the morning. Schedule a time to check stuff that needs attention over lunch.
    – Build a morning routine of a few specific, necessary, pleasant things you do in a defined order. This isn’t a place to be aspirational, the goal isn’t to give you more tasks to feel bad about not doing. Pick at least a couple things you can look forward to like a hot shower, making your favorite breakfast beverage, etc. I make a pot of tea, stretch for a few minutes, get dressed and go for a short walk up and down the block. I highly recommend a walk outside here if it’s feasible for you.
    – Set aside 10 minutes before your morning check-in to make your to-do list for the day. Start from a blank slate every morning. I like to be specific and plan my day including lunch/break/meetings, but I’ve read that just including your top 1 or top 3 items is a good idea.
    – Pay attention to how your energy and focus ebb and flow over the course of the day and think about how to order tasks based on that. E.g., I find that checking my emails and messages first thing leaves me distracted and frazzled so I try to block out something more focused in the morning.
    – Have a dedicated work space. You probably don’t have a whole office or desk at home right now and that’s ok, at least try to find a consistent place that you only sit when you’re working and never sit when you’re relaxing. If you don’t have a separate work computer, try to separate your digital work space also by making a different user profile or using a different browser for work. Move somewhere else for lunch and breaks throughout the day.
    – I also have specific music/sounds for when I’m working and even specific scented lotion. The more cues you can give your brain to be in “work mode” the better. Condition yourself like Pavlov’s dog haha.
    – If you have trouble just getting started, try setting a timer to just focus for 20 minutes and then take a break.

    Overall though, be patient with yourself. This is a scary and distracting time for everyone, even if you’re not the hardest hit, and working from home takes time and adjustment and practice. Be sure to notice and celebrate the things you *are* getting done and not just obsess over your to-do list or what you “should” be getting done.

    Good luck with it, I’m sure your doing great!

  141. Peachy*

    I found that being in regular communication with a couple coworkers really helped. There are three of us working on the same larger project for at least half of our time, and we keep a three way Skype chat open all day where we chat about everything. Sometimes it’s work related, like “Can you take a look at this case I have, his would you classify it?” but we also chat about television shows, gardening, family stuff, office news, shopping… Just everything. It’s mostly little bursts of conversation every hour or two, but it really helps me get into office mode.

  142. cosmicgorilla*

    When making your to-do list, make it as task-oriented as possible. Sometimes I have a hard time shifting into work mode because I have this perception that what I need to work on is sooo harrddd. Instead of putting “groom llama” on my list, I break it down to :

    Lay out brush and clippers
    Move 3 llamas from holding pen to grooming corrals
    Brush ears of first llama
    Brush right side of first llama
    Brush left side of…

    Sometimes breaking them up into these small chunks really helps me get started.

    I also have a problem sometimes because I see 10,000 things around the house that need doing. I alternate my to-do list, work thing, home thing, work thing work thing, home thing (work and home in different colors) so I feel productive on both fronts.

  143. Amethystmoon*

    I use Outlook to keep track of my tasks, but also I receive my tasks as e-mails. So I use the different color categories for priorities, and simply go by which one was received the oldest date and time unless someone tells me something is urgent. I have been trying to get people to be better at communicating urgent things. Generally my deadline is 2-3 working days on everything, but it’s a busy time of year and people have been swamping me lately to the point where I’ve been taking OT.

    So as for motivation, what is motivating me now is I don’t have any desire to be unemployed in 20% unemployment (or worse). Hope this helps someone.

  144. jbn*

    This was something I struggled with even in the office — I was diagnosed with ADHD last year & medication has helped with some of the symptoms, but that “just start” initiative piece is still a challenge (and not unique to ADHD).

    The thing that helps me the most is taking the *tiniest* step forward I possibly can with whatever the task is. For example, I have a lot of FAQ-type onboarding info that I send to new hires via email on their first day, but emails get lost quickly and I wanted to recreate the email in a nicely formatted document that could be in their inbox, yes, but also printed on their actual desk. BUT I COULD NOT DO IT. I thought about it all the time! I wrote it on my to-do list! I collected inspiration for how I wanted it to look! Nothing.

    Until I finally just… opened a blank document & named the file “Onboarding FAQ Document”. That’s all I did for the day. Once I did that, all I needed to do on other days *open* that blank file. Didn’t need to type anything, I just had it open. Eventually, the wave of productivity crashed down on me & I spent an hour or two knocking it out.

    During quarantine, specifically, I find myself more productive in the evenings. I know it’s important to maintain work life balance, but I just kind of admit that I’m useless from 2-4pm & trade those hours for a few in the evening. I’m still accessible in the afternoon if I have a meeting or if someone needs me, but I have a little bit of flexibility right now since I don’t have other obligations. (I do make sure to delay my emails until the next morning so I don’t set a bad example for my team by being on email at 7 or 8 at night.)

  145. MissDisplaced*

    Well, I like the WFH life, but it can lull you into complacency. Some things that help me are:

    > Routines. Get up, get showered, get dressed, get your coffee, and be at your desk at 8am (or whatever your start time is). Do not cook, turn on the TV, engage in lengthy convos w/spouse, or slog it on the sofa. Pretend and act like you have to be somewhere.

    > Task lists. Write down what you need to work on, prioritize it, and then work down that list. Update weekly.

    > Time lists. You can allot time for specific tasks you’re dreading. Maybe you allot 1 hour/day to Yuck Task, 1 hour to Task B, etc. Eventually you finish!

    > Take regular breaks at regular times. Just like at the office. Eat lunch, take a quick walk or whatever, but keep it to a lunch hour. End work day at normal time and logoff.

  146. Nelalvai*

    The thing that’s made the biggest difference is that I have a cup of coins on my desk, and every 25 minutes of focused work, I move a coin to a second cup. It’s satisfying to me, like checking something off a list, and it helps me track how much I’m actually focusing. At the end of the day I log how many coins I got. It gives me a number to aim for the next day, and a stretch goal. It also helps me go easier on myself on bad days, because I can see how well I’ve been doing.

  147. Heqit*

    I’ve sometimes found it helpful to leave a task ALMOST done at the end of the day, and then the next morning it’s right there in front of me: it’s clearly the first thing I have to take care of, what I have to do is still relatively recent in my head (I don’t have to start with a new project from scratch first thing in the morning), and it only takes a little work to get to the payoff of completing something and crossing it off my list. At that point, I’m usually into my work groove and I can go on to my next project (or someone has interrupted me with an urgent request that they need RIGHT AWAY, which is more irritating but just as effective at jump starting my brain). It gives me a little momentum boost for the times when a cold start to the day is just too big of a hill to climb.

  148. Anon the Under-Productive Analyst*

    OMG IT MEEEEE. Can you ask for more work, or involve yourself with anything time-sensitive to push yourself in terms of stakes? I’m a weirdo that needs some pressure, so I’ve been struggling with a lack of productivity with the “I can’t get started” feeling for weeks at my job with some of the more nebulous stuff I do with long not-quite-deadline deadlines. It’s bad enough that I’ve been putting off simple, rote data transfer and fact-checking tasks for about a month. I’m finally doing a bit better this week after getting involved in some higher stakes work that I volunteered for, all of which needed to be done on very tight deadlines.

    It’s also possible that your lack of motivation in this arena has to do with what’s going on in the world, and the heightened stress we’re all feeling! I keep trying to remind myself of something I saw on the internet the other day – “You’re not ‘working from home.’ You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.” That statement has really been helping me, especially when I’m feeling super depressed about my lower-than-usual productivity, in addition to the other stuff that sucks about this including constant worry that we’re not being careful enough to protect ourselves but wanting to be social so bad it hurts.

    Good luck OP – pulling for you! You’re not alone :)

  149. JB*

    Keep a routine, and set up bedtime and waking up time like you were working in the office. Try to keep your work space separate from your pleasure space where possible so you’re in the mindset of doing the office work. Don’t take five minutes to do some washing up in the kitchen or vacuuming the floor because that can blur the line between work and home, which is already blurred enough. If it helps your mindset to dress like you are in the office, go for it especially if that’s the encouraged dresscode over virtual meetings.

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