Monday, January 6, 2020

How to Have a Productive Day Working from Home

It seems as if it should be straightforward – if you have the whole day to work at home, you should be super productive. Just work all day, long, right?

If you are able to consistently have days where you sit in front of your computer and write for hours on end, then kudos to you. I, on the other hand, find that if I am not mindful about how I spend my time, a day that is free of appointments can end up being a frustrating, unproductive day.

I love my home office!

My very best writing days are the ones I have at my annual writing retreat, where I am in a beautiful location, surrounded by amazing women writers. I try and replicate that experience about once a month by meeting up with friends at a mountain café and then going on a hike with them afterward. Alas, I can’t do a mini-retreat every day or even every week.

I can, however, work my schedule such that I have at least one day where I work from home. And, how I cherish those days!

Here is my recipe for a productive day of work from home:

Wake up: 5:45am (I know … I am an early riser)

5:45-6:00am: Prepare my almond milk latte and sit on my couch and savor it.

6:00am-7:00am: WRITE!

7:00-7:20am: Take my daughter to school (We live in a small town so I can do a round trip in 20 minutes)

7:20-8:30: Go for a run and have breakfast.

8:30-9:30am: WRITE!

9:30-10:00am: Shower and get ready for the day (I always need a little break after a long writing session)

10:00-11:00am: Reading and/or data analysis

11:00am-11:30: Lunch prep (I do love putting things in my Instant pot and then getting back to work).

11:30-12:30pm: Reading and/or data analysis.

12:30-1:00pm: Lunch

1:00pm-2:00pm: Email (It is important to avoid email for most of the day to stay focused but I can't ignore it all day, so after lunch is a good time to check it.)

2:00pm-3:00pm: Review papers. Take care of administrative business.

3:00pm-3:30pm: Youtube Yoga session

3:30-4:30: Meet colleague for tea or have phone call.

4:30-5:00pm: Final email check of the day

5:00pm: Shut down work for the day

If you are counting (and I know some of you are), that’s 2 hours of writing; two hours of reading and/or data analysis; 90 minutes of email; one hour of meetings; and one hour of administrivia.

For me, that would be a super-productive day at home. What is most important to me about this schedule is that I get all of my focused work done in the morning. In my experience, the single most important thing I need to make this happen is to avoid email and social media before finishing all of my focused time. The second most important thing is to have a clear cutoff time for email – where I stop checking email for the day.

Having this schedule is also helpful because, when I am writing, I might start thinking: “I really should put a load in the laundry.” If I have some light housework on my schedule, I can just tell myself that I will do it at the scheduled time. Likewise, if I remember an email I have been meaning to send, I can make a note and then send it when my email time comes around.

I also will schedule phone calls in the afternoon of my stay-at-home days because I often can take those calls while going on a nice walk around my neighborhood. Having this schedule in mind makes it easier for me to time those phone calls well.

How about you? What does an ideal work-from-home day look like for you?

PS: We have had a couple of cancellations for our retreat in Belize this June. Apply here today and we may be able to get you a spot!


  1. just loved your the way you manage your daily schedule..!

  2. Hi Tanya! Thanks for sharing your schedule. I wanted to ask you how you balance your own writing and data analysis with revising the work of graduate students, and how you manage to keep up with your email in the assigned time slots. These are things I currently struggle with - and they are related (if I need to revise work of my grad students, it will be in my inbox, so I have to at least go in there and search for it... ). Additionally, how to you balance your research and teaching work with service? I analyzed all my tracked time of 2019 and found that service takes me a lot of time. I somehow find myself obliged to help as much as possible now that I've made it through the tenure track, but I see that the time I have left for the actual number crunching (and what attracted me to academia in the first place) is less and less... Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

    1. Hi, Eva. I hear you! The way my writing works is that I do a lot more writing than data analysis. One reason is that I often I have graduate students do data analysis.

      What works for me is to set aside two hours each morning during the semester for writing. On those days that I do not have to go to meetings or teach, I will do one of these things in the afternoon when I have less energy: review other people's work; catch up on reading; and data analysis.

      As for email, I count as email time the time it takes me to respond to email requests from students, colleagues, and administrators. That is always at least one to two hours a day.

      When I have tasks to do that come through email (like my students' work or paper reviews), I usually put them in todoist. That way, I can access the files directly through todoist.

  3. Wow i impressed with your time management.

  4. Amazing! My problem with scheduling time is that - everytime I fix a time for something, the activity rarely fits in that time I've allocated for it. So, I came up with prioritizing the most important activity and dedicating most parts of the day for it. But, ...sometimes I still find myself struggling. Do you ever have days which don't go as per schedule or as planned?

    1. Yes! That happens all the time. What I try to do is just schedule "60 minutes of writing" and see what I get done in that time period. In other words, the schedule is based on time spent as opposed to tasks accomplished.

  5. Way to be productive and share with the rest of us. I haven't gone to 1 workday from home, but I have carved out 1 day without meetings. My goal is to use that as my writing day. I will think about your schedule as a model for how I might structure that day. Continue to thrive!

    1. Wonderful. I have found that one day where I can just focus on what I need to do without meetings or teaching helps keep the balance.