Working from home can be a dream come true for a certain kind of person (i.e. the introverted kind). Beyond getting to work from the comfort of your own home, working for yourself means having the freedom to set your own hours. By cutting out a commute, you actually have more wiggle room in your schedule for breaks, too, which will boost your energy and efficiency. So whether you’re starting a home-based business or got the go-ahead to work from home sometimes, you need to know how to set up a home office that truly encourages productivity.
While it may be tempting to set yourself up on your couch and call it a day, creating a dedicated home office promotes efficiency, organization, and focus, and helps you tune out the myriad distractions that can arise when you work where you live. So keep the following nine tips on how to set up a home office in mind as you design, plan, and organize your remote working space—and as you join the legion of 3.7 million people (and counting) who work from home at least part of the time.
These nine tips on how to set up a home office will help you create a comfortable working environment that boosts your focus. And once you’ve settled into your home office, we’ll also show you how to organize your office (both digitally and physically) and streamline your processes so you can work from home efficiently and maintain that focus.
First, you need to find the room or space in your home that best lends itself to a dedicated office.
Ideally, your home office will be a dedicated room with a door. This is just as important for getting yourself into and out of “work mode” mentally as it is for physically shutting out the distractions lingering all over the rest of your house. But if you don’t have a spare room available, find a place that can fit all your necessary furniture, like a desk large enough to accommodate your computer, a comfortable desk chair, and a file cabinet. Then, consider setting up a standing screen or other piece of furniture (either decorative or functional), if space allows, to clearly demarcate your office space.
Whether you have a room or just a corner of your studio to spare, it’s important that your home office is as far removed from your living space as possible—that means not setting up your office in your bedroom or near your living room couch. Importantly, too, your home office should have a window for air circulation and plenty of natural light to keep you energized and focused throughout your day.
You might end up spending more time in your home office than you do in your living spaces (that is, if you can be as focused and undistracted while working from home as you set out to be—we believe in you!), so it’s worth investing in comfortable, functional, high-quality furniture and office supplies.
First, take stock of exactly the furniture and gear you need, which will depend upon your line of work. Make sure your desk comes with drawers for extra storage space, and that it has ample workspace for your computer and documents. Since you’ll be spending most of your time sitting, it’s worth investing in an ergonomic office chair to mitigate the adverse physical effects of maintaining that position for hours on end. You might even consider a standing desk so you can both stand and sit throughout the day.
To keep your workspace—and your mind—free from clutter, organizational furniture should be at the top of your to-buy list. You’ll need a dedicated storage unit or cabinet to organize your documents. You can also consider either a desktop, standing, or wall-hung organizing system to keep track of odds and ends.
Lighting is crucial, too. At the very least, you should have ample overhead light, as well as a standing lamp or desk lamp. Depending on the type of work you do—if you’re an illustrator, write longhand, or often read paper documents—then you may need additional task lighting. As we mentioned, it’s ideal to situate your office in a room or space with lots of natural light. But if that’s not possible, you might want to consider buying a light therapy lamp to keep your mood and morale high—and you motivated.
With your space carved out and your functional furniture set up, you can get creative and decorate your office space. Of course, this step is inherently subjective, so think seriously about the kind of working environment that’s inviting, cleared of distraction, and that you really want to be in.
That may mean keeping your walls and desk bare, decorating your windowsill in crystals, lighting a candle or setting up an essential oil diffuser, throwing a comfortable blanket over your office chair, framing inspirational images and messages on your wall, or bringing the outside in with potted plants and flowers. You can even consult color therapy principles and bring colors into your office that promote the emotion or intention you need as your work—like orange for inspiration, blue for tranquility, or yellow for energy. That said, we’d recommend keeping the tchotchkes and knickknacks to a minimum to mitigate distraction.
When you’re decorating your home office, make sure you strike the right balance between comfort and functionality: You want your home office to be a place you look forward to entering every day, but it shouldn’t be so cozy that it’s basically sedating (which, obviously, is not conducive to getting your best work done).
As we’ve mentioned several times already, one of the biggest challenges of working from home are all the distractions you may encounter there. It’s one thing to contend with a chatty officemate, but it’s another to be confronted with your personal demons—we mean, distractions—like your crying baby, your energetic pet, or your piles of unpaid bills, unwashed dishes, and unfolded clothes, to name a few.
Even if your office has a door you can close, you should still try to organize your space and set up your work processes to be free from distraction. It may help to put your phone on silent, keep it in a separate room, and disable the Messages app on your laptop. If sound is an issue, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and hit play on a soothing, focus-boosting Spotify playlist. Keep trappings of your personal life—like bills, to-do lists, and books and magazines—off your worktop. And if you can’t stop online shopping or refreshing your preferred news website, consider downloading Freedom, a scheduled app and website blocker for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome.
Unless you’re beholden to your clients’ or customers’ schedules, working from home means creating your own hours—which can be both a boon and a challenge. If you’re working from home for the first time, it may take some trial and error to discover the routine that works for you, which may or may not be the 9-to-5 model you’re used to. And if it’s not, don’t be afraid to discard that notion and build a schedule that’s actually conducive to your energy and attention levels.
Take note of which times of day you’re the most and least productive, and build your hours around those peaks and troughs. Pay attention to the types of tasks you’re the most and least energized about during the course of the day and night, too. If you’re sharpest early in the morning, for instance, tackle whichever projects require the most concentration, creativity, and critical thought first. If your attention wanes by noon, carve out a long lunch period to refresh yourself, and save emails, invoice payments, and any other smaller, administrative tasks for the afternoon.
Of course, your schedule has to work around your personal responsibilities and preferences, too. But the great thing about working from home is that you can prioritize those aspects of your life—whether it’s dropping your kids off at school every morning or heading to your favorite 3 p.m. spin class in the afternoon—and build your work life around them. That may mean working later hours one day a week, or swapping a weekday with a weekend day. But again, that’s totally up to you.
And when you end your work day, really end it. As easy as it is to distract yourself from working, it’s just as easy to get sucked back into your emails or projects when you’re lying in bed at night. Make it a priority to maintain your work-life balance and stay logged off when you’ve decided your day is done, whether that’s at 5 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Once you’ve found your rhythm, stick to that schedule as much as possible. Often, repetition breeds efficiency—and by beginning and ending your day at the same time every day, you’re allowing yourself the time you need to achieve everything on your to-do list.
Perhaps just as important as scheduling your working hours is scheduling both your mental and physical breaks. Taking intermittent breaks, both mental and physical, has so many psychological benefits that enhance your focus and creativity. Getting up to move, stretch, or simply stand is also crucial for lessening the negative physical effects of sitting for hours on end.
But it’s especially important for people who work from home to actually get out of the house—otherwise, it’s literally possible not to leave your house for days at a time. No matter how introverted you are, that’s not a great thing.
So every day, make time in your schedule to do something outside the house. Running errands, going to a doctor’s appointment, meeting a friend for a drink or a meal, taking yourself to your local bookstore, walking around the block to take a phone call—as long as it has you outside and engaging with a person or task unrelated to your work, it’s worth making time for. And as much as you love your home office, you can also consider taking your laptop to work from a cafe or library to break up your day or week.
This one’s important: Every morning, get dressed as though you were going to an office outside your own home. Obviously, when you work from home it’s tempting to just roll out of bed and into your desk chair. But priming yourself for the day (brushing your hair, putting on real pants, and generally making yourself look presentable) has real psychological effects that improve your work performance.
Studies show that getting dressed as though you were going into an office automatically puts you into a “work mode” mindset, which boosts your productivity, professionalism, and concentration. By creating a physical distinction between your personal and professional life—which is so crucial for people who work from home—you’re also drawing that distinction mentally. You’ll be less likely to drift into doing chores around the house, and more likely to keep your head down and get your work work done. (It’ll also make the whole “prioritize getting out of the house every day” thing a lot easier if you’re already dressed.)
Just as setting up a home office maintains an important distinction between your personal and professional lives, it’s crucial that business owners draw a hard line between their personal and professional finances.
Maintaining a separation between your personal and business finances is important for a few reasons. Come tax season, you’ll save yourself a ton of time disentangling your personal and professional expenses; and depending on your business entity type, it may actually be legally required that you don’t mix business with pleasure, so to speak.
Luckily, maintaining this separation is pretty easy to do. Make sure to use your business credit card only for business-related expenses; and if you haven’t already, open a business checking account with your preferred bank. Then, a good accounting software can help you track and manage your finances. The software may be able to help you track and calculate potential deductible expenses, as well, like the home office deductions you’re qualified for now that you’re using your home as your workspace.
To diminish logistical confusion, we highly recommend setting up a Gmail for business account as soon as you’ve launched so your personal and professional correspondence remain squarely in their own camps. And remember that filing cabinet you bought in Step 2? Use it only to store your business-related docs, and keep your personal files in another spot.
As a small business owner, it’s likely that you’re also your company’s CMO, CIO, CFO, administrative assistant, intern, office manager, and a few other jobs that aren’t exactly in your job description. Juggling all those positions on your own can make it difficult to focus on the projects that you actually want to be focusing on. So when you’re setting up your home office, make it a priority to explore software that can automate those tricky, time-consuming tasks.
If you invoice your clients, look into an invoice software that can help you create, send, and track personalized invoices and accept payments. Service-based business owners can likely benefit from an appointment scheduling software that makes it simple for your clients to book a session with you, and for you to oversee your schedule and eliminate logistical issues. If you’re managing several projects at once, an all-in-one project management software (like Bonsai, Asana, or Trello) is crucial for keeping yourself organized. And we’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: Get yourself a trusted, easy-to-use accounting software to streamline and automate your finances.
Ultimately, the home office you should set up is the environment that nurtures your particular, healthy working habits. So if your initial home office space isn’t conducive to your productivity—if it’s too cluttered, too loud, or too rife with distractions, for instance—don’t hesitate to set up camp elsewhere in your house. The freedom to work wherever and however you want is just one of the boons of working from home.
Caroline Goldstein is a contributing writer for Fundera.
Caroline is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in small business and finance. She has covered topics such as lending, credit cards, marketing, and starting a business for Fundera. Her work has appeared in JPMorgan Chase, Prevention, Refinery29, Bustle, Men’s Health, and more.