How to maintain structure to your days when you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder.

By Elaina Hundley

As someone who has lived alone for several years now, I would say that I face different work from home challenges than those with kids, live-in partners or roommates. With just the sweet love of a cat to keep me company, I am able to find peace and quiet very easily—I don’t have the distraction of people interrupting me or wanting to chat. But at the same time, it can be more difficult to get the day started, easier to get distracted and harder to officially end the work day. When you live by yourself, one of the biggest challenges to working from home is developing the structure of your day. Without anyone here to notice if I’ve blown off work, or worked too hard, it’s all up to me to create and maintain my routines.

Here are some ways that I am maintaining balance and structure while working from home, without the accountability of someone looking over my shoulder.

Establish A Way To Get Started

The biggest one is getting out of bed! I have to admit sometimes going to bed on time and waking up early can be hard when there’s no real accountability. I feed my cat, sure, but feeding your pet can become so automatic that I sometimes do it in a groggy haze—falling back asleep immediately after. So how do I get myself out of bed to start the day? Coffee! For you it might be some yoga or a walk around the block or a favorite breakfast. Whatever that first thing is, it has to be exciting enough to get you moving in the morning.

Create Structured Breaks In The Day

Don’t just wing your breaks—it’s easy to get pulled out of the work mode and distracted if your breaks are arbitrary. I find that holding myself accountable to a goal of getting X items off the to-do list by lunch, then taking the time to make a real meal—something that requires cooking or assembling—is a good way to avoid getting fully derailed with little distractions throughout the day. I also like to give myself a concrete end to my day by checking the mail then going for a walk. Having these planned punctuation marks can help provide the cadence to your work that comes naturally when you’re in and out of meetings or sitting in an office with other people who are working.

Keep Tidy, Clean And Organized

When my home feels like it is in disarray, I feel like I am in disarray. It’s just not conducive to productivity. If I start the week with a messy home, I stop working to get it back in order because I know that powering through just doesn’t work. Having house chores hanging over me is distracting. To avoid this, I try to allocate time every weekend to do a top to bottom clean and organize in my apartment, getting it out of the way before diving in to work. So, before you attempt to start working on any given day, make sure some of those distracting chores are off your plate—vacuum that spot you noticed, wipe down your counters. You’ll feel better if you do.

Play Music Or Create A Source Of White Noise

When you live alone, you generally enjoy peace and quiet. But sometimes silence can be deafening and, if you live in a multi-unit building or by a busy street, you might have actual noise around you to contend with. Even if it’s mild, the occasional hallway noise or car with loud bass passing outside can be distracting. I like to fill my space with the white noise of my air conditioner, the general buzz of birds outside by opening a window or pop on a playlist (some of the less dramatic movie scores work the best for me). Tuning into whatever I am listening to can help keep my brain from fixating on every single creak or bump I hear in my place.

Call Someone

Last but not least, make sure you talk to someone during the day—out loud. It can feel really weird to go through a full day without using your voice. I talk to my cat, but not everyone that lives alone has a pet or talks to their pet (although I highly recommend it!) and I also try to call my mom or close friend near the end of my day or sometimes at lunch. These types of calls are a great way to take a break, and fulfill some of the social interaction you’re missing from working with other people in person. You can do the same with colleagues: instead of sending an email to ask a question, pick up the phone or start a video call.

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