11 essential tips for working from home

(Image credit: Creative Lab / Shutterstock)

Many workplaces are erring on the side of caution to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which means you might suddenly find yourself working from home for the foreseeable future. But being productive in your home environment isn’t always easy, thanks to limited space, less-than-ideal work areas and everyday household distractions.

Fortunately, with the right routine (and the right gear), you can make working from home as efficient as being in the office. Naturally, everyone has their own method, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for turning your house or apartment into a place of productivity. But with countless hours of experience with working remotely, we at Tom’s Guide have pooled together our favorite tips for WFH like a pro. 

From hardware recommendations to everyday advice on staying focused and avoiding burnout, here are some essential tips for getting work done from home. 

Set up a dedicated workspace  

(Image credit: ESB Professional)

Having a dedicated work area is critical -- you’re very unlikely to get much done if you’re just lounging on the couch with your laptop. Pick up a cheap desk (such as this popular Tribesigns model) if you don’t already have one, and set up your laptop or desktop somewhere that’s ideally outside of your living room or where you do most of your relaxing. If you live with family or roommates, try to work in a room where you can be alone. - Mike Andronico 

Give yourself time before your workday starts 

Working from home doesn’t mean skipping breakfast and working in your pajamas. In fact, one of the worst things you can do is log onto work the minute you wake up. Try to keep a normal routine in the morning. Enjoy a cup of coffee, catch up on news/personal email, and then log onto work when your day begins. You want to create a healthy routine and not one that has you waking up and immediately beginning working. If you want to spend some of that time working out, check our our best affordable home gym equipment guide for finding ways to get fit at home. - Louis Ramirez 

Eat a nutritious breakfast 

One of the great things about working from home is that your entire kitchen is just a few rooms away. If you don't have to run out the door to catch a train, you don't have to settle for granola bars, microwaved oatmeal or cold cereal. Take some time to make yourself eggs, toast, sausage — maybe even pancakes or waffles, if you have the time. (If you make these early enough for your roommate or spouse to share, you'll be a household hero.) While you won't want to make yourself something decadent every day, taking some time to cook, eat and relax each morning can help you get into a productive mindset. - Marshall Honorof 

Have a dedicated monitor

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Barring some exceptions, it’s extremely hard to get most office work with a single screen -- especially if it’s just your tiny laptop display. Aim to have at least one external monitor (the Acer R240HY is a popular affordable option), so that you can easily bounce between spreadsheets, Slack chats and emails. - Mike Andronico 

Take your work computer home 

You might think that just using your personal computer is an acceptable alternative to bringing your work laptop home, but we need to talk about boundaries. I take my company-issued laptop home, so that I can keep work tasks separate from the personal projects and entertainment I enjoy on my main laptop. If you let work and play blend too much, you're possibly headed to burnout and sloppy work caused by being less focused. - Henry T. Casey

Dress like you’re going to work 

This tip isn't for everyone — hey, some people love life without pants — but the more I've had to work from home, the more I've seen my day benefit from acting like I'm at work. This is one of the more personal suggestions, but when I cut out the part of my routine where you actually get dressed, it begins to blur the line between your work life and your actual life. Before you know it, you've got your laptop in bed, or doing work emails while you're cooking, and your focus is completely split. - Henry T. Casey 

Invest in a good pair of headphones with a mic 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Meetings are easy when everyone's in the same room; they're a lot more difficult when everyone has to dial into a video chat. One thing you can do to make things a little easier is get a great pair of headphones with a built-in mic. All of the best gaming headsets have mics, but even some of the best headphones for music are getting in on the act these days. When you can hear what your colleagues are saying — and they can hear you, without feedback or static — meetings can be short and sweet, and you can get right back to work. Furthermore, headphones let you listen to music or white noise without making the rest of the household share your playlist. - Marshall Honorof 

Give yourself a set time to log off  

You leave work at or around the same time, right? Well, do the same with your sign-off time, because without rules in place, you might find your personal time slipping away. I'm all for working as a way to expend nervous energy, but to paraphrase The Shining, all work and no play makes self distancing even harder to endure. A routine, if applied properly, will help maximize efficiency and keep you from getting burnt out. - Henry T. Casey 

Keep healthy snacks in your kitchen 

Working from home means you’re just steps away from your kitchen. To avoid gaining weight during your work from home period, it’s a good idea to stock up on healthy snacks. This is especially true if you like to snack throughout the day. So rather than stock up on Pepsi and Doritos, you might want to trade them for slightly healthier snacks like granola, nuts, and healthy drinks. - Louis Ramirez  

Invest in a good office chair  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One of the most important purchases you can make for your home office is your office chair. Most people may be ok with a $50 chair from Staples. But if you work long hours — or if you expect to work from home for more than just a few days — you should invest in an ergonomic chair or at the very least, spend more on a chair than you would on a video game. Cheap chairs fall apart quickly. This is especially true if you’re tall or weigh more than 200 pounds.

In the eight years I worked from home I went through two sub-$100 chairs and one $300 chair before settling on a Herman Miller Aereon. It’s been the best home office investment I’ve made hands down. Also, remember not all Herman Miller chairs cost upward of $1,000. There are plenty in the $500 to $800 range. Also, chairs are based on your height and weight, so you may want to try one before you buy. Likewise, there are other manufacturers that make great ergonomic chairs that cost less. - Louis Ramirez

Don’t spend your entire day in your home office 

If you live in an apartment, chances are your home office will be a corner of your living room or bedroom. As a result, you’ll want to make sure you’re not in that room all day. (The last thing you want is to associate your bedroom with your office or work). So we recommend taking a break from your apartment and going outside. If your computer is in your bedroom, have lunch in your kitchen. If you have a laptop and you’re in a lot of meetings, take your laptop to a different room when on different conference calls. The idea is to switch things up so you’re not sedentary all day. - Louis Ramirez 

BONUS: Get out of the house if you can (and support your local businesses) 

You'll have to play this one by ear, but if you feel comfortable getting out of the house, it's not a bad idea to do so. Many workers, including those in retail and food services, can't work remotely, and their livelihoods depend on a steady stream of foot traffic. If you're feeling well, and your neighborhood seems fairly virus-free (my alma mater, Johns Hopkins, has a great map you can use to check this), venture outside now and then for food, groceries and whatever else you may need. Remember: After the pandemic is over, you'll still want a thriving community around you. (And really, any excuse to get outside when you work from home is a good one.) - Marshall Honorof

Tom's Guide Staff

Tom's Guide upgrades your life by helping you decide what products to buy, finding the best deals and showing you how to get the most out of them and solving problems as they arise. Tom's Guide is here to help you accomplish your goals, find great products without the hassle, get the best deals, discover things others don’t want you to know and save time when problems arise. Visit the About Tom's Guide page for more information and to find out how we test products.