Having a work-from-home schedule can mean a lot of freedom — but it also poses challenges. Many remote workers find that their work hours mysteriously expand when they work from a home office.
But with remote work becoming more common, it's important to embrace good work habits and learn skills that make working from home productive but also sane.
Learning to create your own balanced work schedule is one of those skills. In this article, we’ll cover the elements of a healthy remote schedule and good practices to help you create it. You’ll also find a schedule template you can use to plan your remote workday.
Why Is It So Important to Have a Work-From-Home Schedule?
In many ways, working from home makes it easier to be productive and enjoy work. There are no colleagues to distract you from what you need to do. You're less stressed when your boss doesn't look over your shoulder to monitor your progress. And of course, you get unlimited access to drinks and snacks in your own kitchen.
At the same time, it means there's no one else there to keep you accountable. Remember all those boring meetings and check-ins with other team members that you used to frown at? They can actually do a really good job of keeping you on track to get things done on time.
When you work at home and by yourself, you're in charge of your own schedule. You're the one responsible for deciding what daily tasks need to be prioritized and what can be postponed until the next day. In essence, this means you need to create a plan for each day of work to ensure you keep moving forward.
That's why creating a work-from-home schedule for your workdays is one of the most basic time management tips. Without a plan, it's hard to decide what to work on at any given time. Plus, not having a schedule invites procrastination. At the end of the day, you may feel like you worked a lot but didn't really accomplish much.
On the contrary, when you have a plan, it's easier to focus on the most important tasks. You eliminate the decision fatigue that arises when you have to make too many decisions during your workday. It also keeps you from feeling overwhelmed by various commitments, which translates to protecting your mental health and helping you avoid burnout.
Hopefully, that's reason enough to convince you to keep a work-from-home schedule. Now, let's move on to the practical part of how to do it.
7 Elements a Remote Working Schedule Should Include
Different people have different working styles. This often influences how they structure their workdays. Some like to start with small work tasks, such as email or admin, to "warm up" before diving into bigger tasks. Others prefer tackling big, hairy projects right at the beginning of the day.
No matter what your style is, we want to encourage you to do what's best for you. To figure out your optimal working schedule for a productive day, you should be aware of its basic "building blocks." The ones below appear in almost any remote employee's workday.
You can see those as movable parts of your work-from-home schedule. Take the blocks, try arranging them in a different order, and see what works for you. Also, you don't need to fit all of them in one day. Maybe some of these will be a part of your weekly routine rather than your daily schedule.
1. Morning Routine
A morning routine is a steady sequence of activities that sets you up for the day ahead. Studies show that waking up early in the morning is connected to being more proactive. A lot of people agree that spending some of those early hours doing something meaningful sets them up for success. Examples of activities can include stretching, meditating, going for a morning walk, reading, journaling, or eating a healthy breakfast.
2. Short Break
This is a moment in your workday when you get to take your eyes off the screen and momentarily engage your brain in an activity other than work. It takes you away from your task long enough to release tension and recalibrate your mind but short enough not to lose sight of what you're working on.
For most people, a short break is between five and 10 minutes long. Most experts recommend taking this type of break once every 50-90 minutes. Some research suggests that taking more breaks early in the workday allows you to preserve energy for the second part of the day.
3. Long Break
If you work full-time days, at least one longer break is essential to replenish your energy. Most likely, this will be your lunch break. In the U.S., most states guarantee a minimum 30-minute break for a meal. As a remote worker, you may be able to take up to an hour off, giving you time to include a short walk or a bit of human interaction in your work-from-home schedule. A quick visit to a local coffee shop or a check-in with a friend can give you that dose of indispensable human contact.
4. Focus Work Time
These are the blocks of time that you dedicate to getting your most important work done. We recommend tuning out all distractions during that time — turn off social media apps and put your phone in another room. Focus work time can be achieved by blocking out moderate time intervals of 45-70 minutes in your schedule when you're only allowed to do focus work.
5. Responding to Messages
We're big fans of batching your emails, messaging apps, and other communication into 1-3 daily time slots, depending on your needs. Having your Slack or inbox open all the time can be a massive distraction from more important things. It's more productive to plan specific times for responding to messages into your schedule.
You will also need to plan for meetings in your workday. Although lots of productivity gurus out there advocate for getting rid of meetings completely, this isn't always possible. Especially for team members who need to collaborate closely, meetings are an important part of work. For example, daily stand-ups are indispensable for many software development teams.
If you find meetings interfere with your ability to schedule focus time, you don’t have to do them every day. You may choose to dedicate one or two days a week for meetings and keep the other days meeting-free.
7. Low-Key and Repetitive Tasks
Almost every knowledge worker will have this type of task in their work routine. Completing reports, organizing files, or transferring data are just a few examples. If you're a self-employed freelancer, you may need to do more admin tasks that keep your business going (e.g., scheduling posts on social media, invoicing clients, etc.).
These types of tasks can be scheduled for small windows of time in between meetings or at the end of the day when you don’t have the cognitive resources to work on more complex things.
An Example of Work-From-Home Schedule Template
Although the optimal combination will differ from person to person, here's an example work-from-home schedule template you can start with. It assumes an eight-hour workday with a 30-minute time slot for a morning routine and one-hour lunch break. It also accounts for some shorter breaks in between.
You can copy this work schedule template and personalize it by filling in the third column with the specific tasks you need to accomplish during each block of time. Then, see if you want to swap things around to improve your workflow.
3 Bonus Tips for a Successful Remote Workday
In what order you organize different tasks and how much time you spend doing them is one part of the game. But scheduling a productive and balanced day requires you to also take into account a few other factors.
There are many things you could be doing to improve your work-from-home schedule. But go slowly. We picked three top tips for you to focus on if you want to be productive at home.
1. Stay Connected With Others
Working remotely doesn't mean you don't have to take other people into account. On the contrary, it can empower you to be proactive about your relationships — both personal and professional ones. Human interaction is essential for both physical and mental health.
At home, which is now also your workspace, you may need to set some boundaries with the people you live with. When you pop into the kitchen in between work meetings, your roommates or family members may assume that you're not working and nudge you into a conversation. That's why it's important to communicate your schedule to the people you live with so they know when it’s your time for work and when it’s your time for socializing.
As for your co-workers, make an effort to reach out to check-in and see how they're doing. Exchange feedback, so there's an ongoing flow of information between team members. And there’s no need for elaborate Zoom calls. In fact, swapping video calls for audio-only is less taxing on the brain and better for your productivity.
2. Transition In and Out of Work
A boundary between your personal and professional life is a challenge when you work from home. You may find yourself constantly floating in and out of your work mode and taking care of your home life while you should be working.
And vice versa. When time for rest and self-care comes, you feel guilty that you've not done enough. So, work also starts seeping into your evenings and weekends.
To avoid that, you can create a transition ritual that signals to your brain when you're at work and when you're off. It's important to keep that boundary. The ritual can be small and symbolic — such as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, changing in and out of work clothes, or lighting a candle. What's important is that you know what signals the beginning and end of work for you.
Another tip to draw a clear separation between your work and personal life is to decide on a definite time by which you finish work each day. This should be non-negotiable — leave work at an agreed time, just like you would when leaving the office.
3. Account for Natural Ebbs and Flows
When designing your work schedule, pay attention to your body and what it wants. You may discover that certain times of the day are naturally better for meetings, while others allow you to do deep work with little effort. Some times of day, like the infamous afternoon slump, may be optimal times to get a break.
The way we operate is greatly dictated by our circadian rhythms — the patterns of behavioral and mental changes we go through each day, dependent primarily on sunlight. Those patterns are slightly different for everyone, so it's important to observe your unique rhythm. This way, you can schedule your work around it, rather than fighting with it.
There are, however, some tendencies observed in most people. For example, one study found that, for most workers, their peak productivity time happens at 11 a.m. on a Monday in October. This is of course to be taken with a grain of salt and doesn’t mean you can’t be productive in March! However, it shows that there are generally more and less convenient times for being productive.
It's important to pinpoint yours — and take full advantage of it.
Track Your Time to Find Your Perfect Schedule
When you’re creating a work-from-home schedule, it’s important to know how you currently use your time so you can objectively see how the changes you’re making are improving your focus and productivity. But you don’t need to add another task to your plate.
This is where technology can help. At Rize, we designed a time tracker that does the job for you. At the end of the workday, it tells you where exactly your time went and when you were focusing on which task. Combining this with your work outcomes can give you valuable clues as to what changes you need in your work schedule.
Try Rize for 14 days for free, without giving your credit card details. We want you to experience the difference it can make before you spend a penny.