Working from home seems like the dream when you’re stuck at the office. Sweatpants! Pour-over coffee! Lunch at that cute cafe in the neighborhood! TV—whenever you want! And, work … well, that will happen sometime, right?
The reality is much less exciting. Sure, there’s freedom. But there are also distractions galore, all of which hamper your focus.
1. Make it look like a real office
We know, we know: The primary reason you’re working from home is that you hate real offices. But if you’re angling for efficiency, you’ve got to swipe some tricks from the corporate world.
“When working from home, it is important to have an organizational process just like at a regular office in order to be efficient,” says Florida designer Alicia Weaver.
Don’t skip the file cabinet just because it’s ugly. And don’t ditch the desk because you’re “not a desk person”—working on the couch or in the bed will kill your back and your productivity. Make sure to invest in a real desk chair, just like any proper office would. And most importantly, create a space you can leave behind at 5 p.m.
“It is important to be able to shut down and feel like you have left your work ‘at the office’ when stopping work for the day,” Weaver says.
2. Skip the window view
While we’re sure this point will have its detractors, author and stationery designer Zakiyya Rosebelle—who runs her brand Happy Rosy Day from home—makes a good case for ditching the window view.
“I have had my desk in front of a window and found that I got distracted by people walking by and activity outdoors,” she says.
When she tried a garden-view window, she wasn’t any more successful.
“I found that I’d rather sip my tea and gaze at the garden than work,” she says.
To minimize distractions, push your desk against a wall and choose art that fuels your creativity and inspires productivity.
3. Minimize the mess
For maximum productivity, “we like desks to look—or at least have the illusion of looking—neat and tidy,” says Keri Feeney, a designer who works with Weaver. “Less mess equals less distraction.”
The two biggest mess-makers are papers and cords. Elect for paperless statements with your banks, and keep the rest neatly sorted using desk organizers.
Feeney recommends drilling a hole in your desk to keep errant cords out of sight. Use Velcro to secure the cords to the underside of your desk and prevent irritating tangles.
4. Buy the right tools
For max productivity, outfit your desk with items that help you work harder, faster, and smarter.
If you can afford it, now’s the time to splurge: Buy yourself a gorgeous pencil cup, a file holder in a funky color, and a monthly calendar that you’ll feel excited to use.
5. Engage the senses
So you’ve stocked up on pens and Leslie Knope–inspired binders. But now you need something to get you in the mood.
“Create a soothing, inspiring work environment with a small water feature,” Rosebelle says.
Scientists agree: Natural sounds have been found to increase productivity.
Keep your nose happy, too. While the smell of coffee might keep you thriving in the morning, “an invigorating or uplifting aroma can also be a pleasant feature,” she says. Try lemon, which promotes relaxation, or lavender, which soothes jangled nerves.
6. Light it up
The home office isn’t the place for mood lighting. Arrange table lamps, pendant lamps, sconces, or floor lamps to light up every area you might use—from your desk to the overstuffed armchair where you read documents and reports.
“Having a well-lit area will not only give your eyes a break, but will help with your focus and ability to complete tasks with more energy than in a dimly lit space,” Feeney says.
Even if you’ve placed your desk directly beneath a window (against our advice!) you should still add extra lighting for those dark days.
7. Don’t skimp on the decor
Every item in your office should feel uniquely tailored to you—even the so-called boring stuff such as file cabinets and shelving units.
“We work best in serene environments that are pleasing to the eye,” Weaver says. Personalizing your space “not only helps your creative juices flow, but makes you more productive with the mundane tasks we face every day.”
Hang up funky art pieces, display your beloved elephant statuettes, or show off your collection of 12-sided dice. One of the wonderful parts of working from home is being able to cultivate a comfortable space.
8. Need energy? Opt for orange
Picking a paint color can be the hardest part of updating your home. If you’re struggling to decide, think about your ideal workday attitude. Do you need energy? Do you spend all day on the phone with clients? If so, consider orange.
“Fresh and muted oranges are ideal for workrooms filled with communications and chatter,” says Dee Schlotter, a color expert with PPG Paints. She recommends the company’s Peach Beauty, which is a “vibrant, energetic hue.”
Many designers also associate orange with creativity, and it’s not hard to see why. How could a bright accent wall—think Sherwin-Williams’ Adventure Orange—not spur your inventive nature?
9. Need focus? Choose neutrals
If a distraction-free zone is more important for your workday, Schlotter recommends “creamy neutrals, which are more suited for rooms where independent work should be the focus.”
If you’re a minimalist at heart, consider a stark, Scandinavian white such as Benjamin Moore’s Simply White. If you need your neutral walls to have some personality, try PPG’s Creamy White, which has subtle yellow undertones. Soft grays promise to center the soul, and taupes and tans feel elegant and sophisticated.
“Less disruptive color schemes allow focus and clarity of thought, especially in a very cluttered world of constant interruptions,” Schlotter says. “To achieve this type of space, try using the same color for walls, trims, and even doors.”