Welcome to Ask Shopify, a series where ecommerce experts tackle real questions and challenges from store owners who are trying to launch, build, and scale their stores. We’re here to help with every aspect of your store, from marketing to HR to accounting.
Who’s we? We’re the ecommerce experts both inside and outside of Shopify. Between our team, who spend all day immersed in the world of ecommerce (and who sometimes run stores themselves!) our squad of Shopify Experts, and our amazing customers, we have access to world-class expertise—and now you do too. So let’s dig in and get to your questions, because they’re good ones.
I work on my business from home, and I'm finding it hard to focus—it feels like there's always something else I could be doing, and I can't afford to rent office space just to have someplace dedicated to work just yet. Do you have any tips on how to make working from home productive?
When you’re building a business, it’s common to snag workspace anywhere you can find it, and for many of us that means some (or, ahem, many) hours put in from the couch or the kitchen table.
But getting into a groove when you’re seated right next to a fridge full of food, or in the same place you binge Netflix, is easier said than done.
Luckily, we’ve got many remote workers on our teams at Shopify who live this day in and day out. With employees working from home in Canada, Ireland, and other countries, lots of people at Shopify have figured out how to be productive in their living space.
So we sent them your question, and got some great advice in return.
There’s no one, universal answer
Before we dive into the tips and advice our team shared, one thing quickly became clear. Even when it came to tips that most people swore by, there were others who piped up with a quick “That doesn’t work for me!”
One of the biggest perks of entrepreneurship is that it gives you the power to design a life that works for you. While these tips can help you craft a productive work-from-home experience, it’s not a prescriptive list, and you should take each tip as a suggestion—not a mandate.
Build a routine
When you’re working from an office, there’s usually a routine involved. Get up, get dressed, commute into the office, guzzle some coffee, rinse, repeat. No matter how much you may have hated the forced nature of that routine, the sheer fact that you had a routine helped prepare your mind that it was time for work. Bringing back elements of routine, customized to what you like to do every day, can help do the same thing.
“I make sure my routine is just like going to the office. I wake up in the morning, get dressed, leave my house for coffee (or a walk) and when I come back, I’m not coming to my home, I’m coming into the office. I feel like the little disconnect between the two gets me into the right headspace. I do the same thing to end the day: leave for a little walk and come home, disconnected from my work.”
Financial Services Support Specialist
“Routine is so important when you're at home. Waking up at the same time, keeping the same morning routine, using that special mug, putting those headphones on, and getting to work. It’s all a mental motivation game.”
Set clear expectations
When you’re home and accessible, it’s easy for your family, your roommates, or your pets to think they have unfettered access to your time and attention. That can lead to a series of interruptions, which is why setting clear and consistent expectations around your availability can be so key in getting work done at home.
While a one-time conversation about your work hours is good, an easily-updated communication tool is even better.
“We used to have a chalkboard on the door to our office to update our status, like, “I am in the office” or “Out of the office today.” It prevented people from just barging in or assuming because we were at home that we aren’t actually working.”
Have a dedicated workspace...
It’s a classic piece of work-from-home advice for a reason: setting up a dedicated workspace can help you make the transition from “I’m at home” to “I’m at work” in a matter of seconds.
“Creating a working space was the best idea. I got a cute desk from Ikea, bought a few plants to bring in some greenery (and oxygen) and made sure to put up pictures and inspirational stuff in the room. Also, I made sure to get a good desk chair.”
And no need to panic if you don’t have a spare room or vast, open space waiting to be transformed into your new home office—there are ways to make this work for living spaces of all sizes.
“In my case, I work out of my bedroom. I only sit at my desk when I'm working, and I do my best not to use my desk to hold other things that aren't work-related. If I'm on my laptop for personal projects or downtime I'll sit elsewhere rather than my desk.”
...or work where you’re productive
Just because a piece of advice is a classic of the genre doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. A few remote team members piped up to share that the dedicated workspace tip wasn’t a must.
“I don't have a separate work space—I work on my sofa with my feet up! I just put on some music to get in the zone. My partner and son just understand that I need quiet to focus during work hours. I will shut myself in the bedroom if I have a meeting, but otherwise I can easily work with a couple of people around as long as they respect what I need to be doing.”
Social Care Guru
Build breaks into your routine
In an office setting, you don’t glue yourself to your chair for eight hours, and there’s no reason you should try to do it at home either. Planning intentional breaks throughout your day to grab some caffeine, chat with a friend (or your dog), or just step away from your desk can make a big difference in creating a sustainable and productive work session.
“One thing I find helpful is to take small periodic breaks, and not always sitting in the same place. It's nice having a workspace, but sitting at the table in the kitchen for a bit, then on the sofa to relax a little really helps me.”
You can even use your breaks as rewards for tasks completed, or triggers to do something active.
“I used to do 20 push-ups every time I finished a task on my to do list! It was like taking a short break while staying active at the same time.”
Plus Sales Concierge
Set clear, measurable goals
What does productive really mean to you?
That question is critical if “productivity” is your measure of success for your home office. To help define it, set measurable goals each time you sit down to work, whether it’s for a few hours or a full day—and remember, to be truly productive, you’ll need to make sure you’re working on high impact tasks, not just ones that are easy to check off your list.
“I find it's helpful to have goals for the day to keep myself focused and productive, so I set a number of daily goals that I check off as I go, as well as a few long term goals that some of these work into. As a business owner, you could make your goals things like ‘call your supplier’, ‘fix an issue on your website’, or ‘place an ad’.
Pay attention to your energy levels
Different tasks on your plate will require different amounts of both focus and energy, two things that can vary greatly over the course of the day. Make the most of the flexibility you’re afforded as the boss of your calendar, and schedule your tasks based on when you’re most prepared to tackle them.
As a remote employee myself, I make sure to know what times and states of mind are best for getting in the zone to write. Before those times, I make sure I have everything I need to make the most of it, including coffee and a fully-outlined skeleton of an article. When I sit down, all that’s left to focus on is the writing.
Invest in the right gear
The right gear depends on your work, but if there’s a piece of equipment you find yourself yearning for to make your job easier or save you time, it’s likely a good investment in your business.
“Noise cancelling headphones help me manage distractions and be heard clearly during meetings, and I find a high quality webcam is key. I have plenty of meetings, and relying on the built-in laptop camera doesn’t cut it.”
Escalated Technical Support Lead
If you work with remote team members, wholesalers, or suppliers on video calls, those might be great investments. If it’s just you, think about the other major tasks that take up your day. Spend a lot of time packing orders? A shipping label printer might make your day much more efficient.
Have childcare available
If you have children, you know that caring for them is important work in and of itself. Trying to do that alongside working on your business may not result in the productivity you want to achieve.
“I thought working from home would mean a reduced need for childcare, but we still have to do daycare and have babysitters. It’s nice to be around in case of emergencies or for occasional check-ins, but involvement mostly has to be limited to that for me to work effectively.”
And since childcare is an expensive addition to your budget, flexible options like a part-time nanny or a list of baby-sitters who can help out for a few hours may be an option to consider. It could also be worth reaching out to friends, family, or fellow entrepreneurs in your network to ask if any of them might be interested in swapping days of childcare: for one day, you handle the kids, and in exchange, the next day you get a solid day to work as they do the same.
Take advantage of the flexibility
No matter which of these tips you implement to help make the most of your work-from-home time, the beauty of the situation is that the choice is entirely yours. As an entrepreneur, you can structure your workspace and your days exactly as you see fit, to maximize your time spent on high-impact work that actually grows your business.
No matter what your current or future office setup looks like, figuring out what a productive workspace looks like for you, and building habits to support it, are efforts that will pay off over the long term.