18 Best Tips and Apps for Working From Home That Will Help You Stay Focused

female freelancer working from home

Working from home may sound like a dream come true to many people, but in reality, you might face some challenges from time to time. And that’s ok! It’s amazing to have the freedom to organize your own schedule and start the day in your pajamas, not commuting to work, being close to your family and kids and setting up your own desk and making it pretty. But it can also be a big challenge without the right tools and the right mindset!

Maybe you’ve never worked from home before but now you have to do it, once the Coronavirus pandemic hit the globe. Trust me, it CAN be done! The transition can actually be very easy once you follow some very simple rules. So if you’re wondering How can you be organized in times like these?, I’m here to help.

working from home

My name is Romina and I’ve been working from home for 7 years now. And today I want to help you with my most useful tips, apps and online tools that will make your life 10 times easier! The secret to avoid the stress and pressure of working from home and to remain super productive (and sane as well) is to be organized.

In 7 years of remote working I have tried almost every app and online tool out there!

We have heard your feedback on MissTourist social platforms and under my careful supervision we compiled a full list of services and resources I can recommend to make your life easier and more productive during these hard times!

Are you ready? Let’s go!

working on laptop

If you’re just starting working from home, get comfy, brew a cup of coffee and let me tell you: there are a couple of things you should know. Remote workers need to organize their time wisely, to create the right environment and to make sure they keep in touch with the rest of the team. You may find this hard now that remote working has been imposed due Coronavirus and you might feel a lot of pressure on your shoulders because you’re doing something you’re not used to, but don’t worry, we’re all in this together!

As a veteran remote worker, I’ll share my knowledge with you today. Here are my top 18 tips for increasing your productivity while working at home:

1. Create the right environment for working at home

working from home

This is my workspace!

Because I’ve been working from home for quite some years now, my friends come to me for advice these days, when they’re faced with remote working. The first and most important tip I offer to each and every one of them is the following (and I cannot stress this is enough): set up a proper desk at home. Yes, exactly like you would have in your office building (okay, maybe prettier, why not?). This means I advise you not to work from your bed or sofa while the TV is running in the background, but from an actual desk and on a comfy chair.

Setting up a special work space that’s meant for work only is super important for your mindset. Ideally, this space would be in a separate room (so maybe not use the kitchen table as an office desk if you can), maybe a spare bedroom, with the door shut, and with the proper atmosphere for work. Having a quiet place where you can focus on your tasks plays a key role in your productivity!

2. Invest in gadgets and furniture for your workspace

home office

Next, after you’ve decided on the ideal room for your desk, you’d need to set it up properly. This might mean you’ll have to invest in a new table (or even a proper desk) and, most importantly, a comfortable chair. Posture is super important and you don’t want to give that up just because you’re at home. Staying in an uncomfortable position for an entire day of work will not help with your overall mood and with your health either!

You can buy a simple desk such as this one or desk this one or maybe even this writing desk with additional storage space if you feel like you need it. You can also buy these if you fancy some organizers for your desk.

As for the chairs, it has to be ergonomic and comfortable. I recommend this one, but I actually use a gaming chair similar to this one at home, as I find those to be the comfiest and with the best lumbar support for my back problems.

I also recommend investing in some high-quality headphones – these are going to be super useful during the calls and video calls with your coworkers. Some noise cancelling headphones are ideal in this situation, especially if you have kids who are at home and playing in the background or if your partner has some calls as well. Last but not least, don’t forget to check if your headphones have a microphone, as some of them don’t.

These ones have a very good value but Sennheiser are definitely my all-time favorites, especially if they’re wireless and they have noise cancelling. You can also use them on the plane once we’ll all be able to start traveling again – they’re like magic against the annoying engine sound!

3. Set up the proper mood for working

home office

Now that you have your office space all set up with furniture and maybe even some nice plants, it’s time to set the right working mood! As a writer, I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to be distracted at all during working hours. This means that I don’t listen to music at all while I write and I don’t like having people around that might distract me.

Remember what I said about the shut door to your office space, right? Well, that might not be possible in your house for different reasons, so we’ll need to find some useful tools and apps that will help you be focused on your work even when your kids are playing or screaming in the other room. It happens, this is real life and we need to adapt to it!

In case you don’t have any noise cancelling headphones, I have found this software called Krisp that does just that – it cancels the noise around you during calls with your coworkers (it works with any communication app, which I will talk about below) just like magic!

If, on the other hand, you have problems focusing on your work because of the background sounds, I can recommend this platform called [email protected] that has personalized focus music – and some awesome 50% discounts during these times! An alternative solution is Brain.fm which basically does the same thing – enhancing your focus with music.

P.S. I hope using these tools you will be more productive and, if you still have some time to learn cool new skills online, I have collected all the resources for you in one post!

4. Set some boundaries with your family

people talking computer

Here comes the hard part, am I right? When you’re sharing the same house with one or more toddlers and a partner that is probably trying to focus just as much as you do, you know it’s time for boundaries.

Try to explain the situation to your kids and tell them about what you’re doing and why you need to focus. Communication is very important and I’m sure they are able to understand if they have the proper age. In case your significant other isn’t working during this period because of whatever reasons (mine isn’t, no judging here!), explain the same thing to him as well. Set up a proper schedule for your family and let them know which are the hours when you’ll be available for lunch, dinner, chores, play breaks and more.

Your family is basically your team, so make sure you make that clear, while still trying to make time for them before or after you’re finished with your work tasks! 🙂

5. Create distractions for your kids (if you have them)

happy children paint together

Kids tend to have a lot of energy, especially now when they’re not allowed to go outside. This means they’ll use all that energy inside by jumping, playing, running or screaming. If your kids are at that age when energy is a problem, a wise idea would be to create some distractions for them. Maybe offer them some new games to try such as this fun one or a Nintendo Switch (all the hype about Animal Crossing is real!) some new cartoons or TV shows to watch while they’re inside. Looney Tunes are some of my favorite ones out there and my little cousin loves them as well!

By the way, you can find my entire list of online entertainment during the pandemic in this article, I am devoting a whole section to kids entertainment in the house!

6. Set up an efficient alarm clock

woman waking up

The way you wake up in the morning may greatly affect your overall mood and efficiency for the rest of the day. That’s why having an efficient alarm clock is crucial, especially now that you can spend more time in bed as you’re not commuting to work! Also, sticking to a strict schedule and waking up at the same time (exactly as you would do if you would go to the office) helps a lot.

Honestly, waking up early in the morning has always been one of my struggles. During the years, I have tried different alarm types, from the classic iPhone alarm (which does nothing for me and my deep sleep, sadly, I just sleep through it like a baby) to the ones that force you to walk 20 steps to stop or snooze them. For example, Alarmy forces you to take a picture of your sink, so that it ensures you’re out of bed already. Similarly, FreakyAlarm uses fun games that you have to solve in order to wake up more efficiently.

Another good idea would be to leave your phone away from your bed, maybe on a table or chair. This way, when you wake up you’ll have to walk to it in order to stop the alarm. Or you can buy a smart alarm with Google Assistant included, that you can activate using your voice.

7. Make a schedule and stick to it

woman writing schedule

Another one of the most important aspects of working from home is to find your most productive hours during the day. This may be the classic 9 to 5 or it may be earlier or later. If your work schedule allows it, try to organize your tasks during those parts of the day when you know you’ll be more efficient. This may be after you feed breakfast to your kids or maybe you’re most likely to work more efficiently if you have a 1-hour break at lunch to watch your favorite TV show. You just need to discover the best option for you!

For example, I have a couple of friends that wake up at 5 AM and start working then, when the world is silent and everybody else in the house is asleep. By breakfast time half of the days’ work will already be done, so this might come with a great feeling of achievement! Needless to say that I was never able to do that, but I only have admiration for people who can sustain such a schedule.

After you discover the ideal schedule for you, you’ll have to stick to it. Don’t prolong your breaks for nothing or delay your tasks thinking you can be fast and efficient in the late evening, as it may not happen and you’ll end up working late and inefficiently.

PRO TIP: I like to make my to-do list each evening for the next day – this way I know that the next day will already be organized when I wake up! Also, try not to overcrowd your schedule and keep your plans realistic (read about the task managers I recommend for this at #15).

PRO TIP 2: If you had a certain routine at work before the pandemic – for example a certain day and time for brainstormings, or maybe Wednesday mornings were reserved to talk about new marketing strategies – try to stick to it while you’re remote working as well.

In case your employer wants to track the time you’ve spent working each day or if you’re a manager or employer that’s looking for solutions in order to monitor the working hours of your people, I can recommend Hubstaff. This is an employee-tracking software that’s super reliable and easy to use. In fact, the entire team at Miss Tourist uses it! The way this app works is by taking automatic screenshots of your screen to track your activity. Time Doctor is another alternative that works in the same way as Hubstaff.

8. Create an entire routine for your day

person filling out a to do list

It’s wise to create an entire routine for each day, not just a work schedule. Have some fixed hours for breakfast, lunch or dinner or for walking your dog, dropping off or picking up your kid from school etc.

The most efficient way for humans to be organized is to have a routine and a fixed schedule. Trust me, it will help, regardless of how much you love your freedom. Especially during these stressful times we’re all living!

9. Share your errands and housework with your partner and kids

cleaning the house

Again, this is a super important aspect and it can easily be done if you have a partner that’s supportive and attentive. Don’t try to do everything by yourself, as you’ll never be able to fit your work tasks and cleaning, cooking, washing the dishes, doing the laundry and playing with your children all at the same time without feeling burnout at some point. And we don’t want that! 🙂

Delegate tasks between you, your partner and even the little ones if they’re old enough to start helping around the house with even the smallest things.

There are also some awesome apps that you can use together with your loved ones in order to make things easier for all of you. Todoist is one of my favorite apps out there and I use it every day. You just add all your tasks there, divide them by categories and you can also give access to other people in the app and delegate the tasks. I use it to keep track of the groceries, my reading list and my everyday tasks.

Yulia, the founder of Miss Tourist, uses TickTick and she loves it as it follows the GTD (Getting Things Done) approach which helps her a lot in both her personal and professional life!

Google Calendar is another good idea to use together with your family or coworkers to schedule certain activities or calls. Plus, it’s free!

10. Communicate your working hours with your coworkers

video meeting

Now that you have a fixed working schedule, it’s important to communicate it with your coworkers. It’s very important for them and your employer to know during which times you’ll be online and available for work, calls and questions. If you make that clear right from the start, you can avoid confusions and unpleasant situations. Plus, if you don’t set strict hours, you may end up with the feeling that you work all the time!

Chatting with your colleagues is also a great way to boost your morale and keep in touch with your old office life.

Slack is a great work chat that you can use if you don’t yet (we use it here at Miss Tourist as well and it’s great). Apart from exchanging messages, you can also have in-app calls, you can add other app integrations such as Google Drive (or Google G Suite, which is a more professional version of Google Drive meant for work teams; all documents and files you create and upload there belong to the organization, so they will never get lost).

Using these services you can create different channels for different topics and have different people in each of them. Chanty is a very similar alternative, as well as Microsoft Teams and, one of my latest discoveries, Pure Chat.

If, on the other hand, you want to record your audio calls, you can use Otter. If you have received an audio note and you need the written version of it, I recommend Descript – a software that does transcripts from audio files.

11. Check in with your coworkers and don’t be afraid to ask for help

conference call

As I mentioned above, it’s important to keep a connection with your coworkers during times like these. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re feeling, to provide support or just to ask for help yourself about different tasks or setting up your computer, app or whatever else.

And what better way to do this than by doing a video call, am I right? Zoom is one of the most popular programs out there and we use it here at Miss Tourist as well for our team meetings. It’s super easy to use and, unlike other video conferencing apps, it allows you to add up to 100 people in a single meeting! It is free, but if you get a paid version, you will be able to record all the calls directly in cloud storage – might be very useful for some people who would like to go through the conversation again to refresh some points. The classic alternative is, of course, Skype, but I find Zoom to be much more stable.

If Zoom is too simple for your needs, you can try Avoma – a more advanced type of conference app that includes an AI meeting assistant, recordings that track which person is speaking, reminders about your agenda and more.

If, on the other hand, you need to explain something to one of your colleagues and it would just be easier to do it by recording your screen, I recommend Loom. They have some awesome offers until the 1st of July 2020 in order to help people during the pandemic: their free plan has unlimited video storage, the PRO version is only US$5/month and you can also try the free trial for the pro version for 30 days! I recommend using it in order to save time – sometimes it’s just easier to send a video than a huge email! Again, this is something we use at Miss Tourist almost on a daily basis!

Here’s another cool tool for you: if you or someone else in your team (or maybe your mom or dad, why not?) need help with setting up something on the computer, you can use Teamviewer to access their computer remotely, with their consent of course. I use it with my parents all the time! An alternative option would be Logmein, which offers remote access to another computer.

12. Take constant breaks

Sure, focusing on your work tasks is important, but so are breaks. In your work schedule, try to include constant breaks – maybe 5 minutes every 25 minutes you work or a 15 minutes break every hour. This will help you be more productive without feeling overwhelmed.

A great technique I discovered around one year ago is the Pomodoro technique and Pomotodo is a “pomodoro” timer (also known as a tomato timer) – a super easy and efficient technique to track your time and become more efficient and focused.

The philosophy behind it is pretty simple: you add your to-do list in the app, then the timer starts. You have 25 minutes to work on your tasks and your tasks only (nothing else, no distractions, no cheating!) and then you’ll have a 5 minute break. Then you continue with 25 minutes of work and so on. This really helps you be more focused on a single thing, be it working or studying. Honestly, this app really helped me on those days when I couldn’t be motivated to work on my tasks!

You can also try some quick 6 or 10-minute meditation sessions during your breaks – especially good for those days when you feel extra stressed or anxious. I use Calm and Simple Habit on my phone for this.

13. Get up and stretch

woman practicing yoga

Stretching is also super important, regardless if you start your day with it or not. You may not be one of those super active people that work out every day – and you don’t even have to be! Don’t beat yourself up on this, as we are all different and we have different preferences, but I still believe that getting up from your chair and stretching every hour is a very healthy habit that you can try. You have nothing to lose and you can use your “pomodoro” breaks for this. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better after this!

For example, StandUp! is a super simple app that reminds you to stand up regularly.

By the way, in this article I tell you all about my favorite fitness and yoga apps and programs to use during the lockdown!

14. Avoid social media

woman with cellphone

Yep, social media can be a real trap at times and a true time killer when you don’t want it!

I’ve heard about Freedom.to a million times before, especially from one of my friends that has a focusing problem because of different online distractions. More specifically – social media. It’s hard to keep focus when your Facebook notifications are popping constantly. And sometimes it’s just too hard to resist. No worries, as this app will block all the websites you want – or even the entire internet – for the amount of time you want. When you can’t help yourself from the distractions, just block them!

15. Use one task management app and update it every day

time management vector llustrator

Since I discovered task management apps, my life has never been the same. I used to be the type of girl that always had a notebook or yearly planner when I would write down all my tasks to-dos’ for each and every day. Until one day, when I realized that having all my tasks online would be much easier and faster – and accessible from both my laptop and my phone, wherever I am. Then I started researching task management apps where I could write all the things I had to do, broken down by projects and different categories.

Out of all them, I can recommend Asana, which is basically the app with which I start and finish all my working days, because it’s the project management app of choice here at Miss Tourist. It’s super easy to use and it has many different cool features such as different ways of structuring and seeing tasks, the option to leave comments and tag people, attaching files and images, and more. Some super similar and equally good alternatives are Wrike, Trello and Monday.

If you’re the handwritten-planner-type of person, I can recommend this simple planner or a bullet journal.

16. Use apps and tools that will make your life easier

evernote app

I know I already recommended some very cool apps that will help you create the best atmosphere in the room, track your time or organize your tasks, but my list of useful online tools doesn’t end here!

Working from home became more and more popular even before the pandemic and there are countless apps out there that will help solve different problems that you might encounter when you’re far away from your team. I have grouped them down below by categories:

Visual

Let’s say you need to create a quick image in order to illustrate something visually. You don’t need to be a graphic designer in order to do that! For example, you can use Canva, which is one of the most useful tools for me, and I use it frequently. It’s super easy to use! A very similar alternative is Easil, that has cute templates that you can use in order to create posters, banners, profile pictures and more.

BONUS: For all PROs out there or for people that want to start using Photoshop, I have some news – Adobe Creative Suite offers 1 month of free trial for all their programs. Worth a try!

Writing

I also have some awesome writing tools up my sleeve that I use in order to correct spelling or writing mistakes – we all do them at times, you must admit! My recommendations are Grammarly, which you can add as an extension in your browser and it checks your spelling everywhere, including your work chats or emails (so useful!) and ProWritingAid, which is very similar to Grammarly. No, these are not for writers only, but for everyone that can type on a keyboard. 🙂

If you’re looking for a note-taking app, I recommend Evernote – it’s pretty and easy to use and you can also have access to your notes on different devices.

dropbox app

File Sharing

What about those times when you need to send something to a colleague? Ah, there are endless solutions out there! Dropbox is one of the best ones I could think of, together with OneDrive – both of them are basically online clouds where you can upload your files and give access to other people so they can see, edit and/or download them.

If, on the other hand, you want to share your password to an account with somebody else without that person actually finding out what your password is, I recommend LastPass. Similarly, you can use 1Password which works in the same way. Both of them are super useful in case you forget your password frequently as well! It can also be used professionally (we use it a lot at Miss Tourist!) when you need to share your access to a site with someone, but you don’t want the person to see the actual password with that person. They will see the encrypted version and you can easily revoke access when the access is not needed anymore!

Scheduling

In case you need a tool that will help you schedule meetings and calls with your colleagues in a painless way, I recommend Calendly. You can just provide them with the links and they will automatically see your availability for a call (talking about setting up those boundaries and availability!). Or, if you’re working with some other people that are in different time zones than you (such as our team at Miss Tourist, as we are spread across the globe!), you can forget about math and calculating times and you can use Timezone.io. I find it so useful!

17. Dress nicely

working from home in pyjamas

So what if you’re working at home or in the kitchen? Our outfits have a real impact on our mood, so if you’ll keep your pajamas on for the rest of your day, you might not be as productive as puting 5 minutes into getting dressed in one of your favorite outfits! If you’re the type that uses it, make-up helps as well, trust me. 🙂

A nice idea would be to take 2 minutes each evening to think about the outfit you’re going to put on the next morning before starting work – just like you would do on a regular day!

18. Turn off your notifications after you finish working for the day

dek laptop closing

I’ll end my list of tips and advice with another important one. It took me years to understand how important it is to log out and turn off your notifications after you’re finished working for the day. Sure, there will be times with emergencies – these are just exceptions and shouldn’t be the norm.

Of course, it’s easy to open your computer and edit that text or send that file, especially when you’re at home, but remember what I told you about that fixed schedule and the work-personal life separation. In a healthy work environment, be it at home or in an office, boundaries are important and personal time spent with your family or simply relaxing apart from your work computer should be cherished.

How do you do this? Here are a few tips that can help you: try to not open your computer after a certain time in the day; don’t check your work notifications on your phone either; set your working apps to “Do not disturb” mode if possible.


Conclusion

woman with cat working

That’s it! No less than 18 useful and important advice that will transform remote working into a breeze!

As I mentioned before, I have been working from home since forever. If you’re just starting out with setting up your home office and having to be productive from the comforts of your home, in this article I have provided you with some very useful tips and apps that I gathered during the 7 years of experience I have with this lifestyle. Because it’s a lifestyle, after all! 🙂

Working from home means you’ll have to manage your work tasks together with your household chores and errands, while your kids and partner are at home with you all the time, while thinking about the next meal or video conference, while the dog begs to be walked and more. Sounds too hard? It’s not!

You can easily manage all these efficiently if you use my tips above! Yes, it might take a little adjustment and some research in order to set up your work space and find the right tools that will help you along the way, but I hope I just made things a bit easier for you!

I wish you the best of luck adjusting to working from home!

Romina

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