Work from Home Like a Virtual Assistant

Remote work how-to

As more and more traditional office workplaces start to understand some of the benefits of working from home, those of us who are work from home veterans can approach this news in one of two ways:

  • We told you so.
  • Welcome! We’re so excited you’re here. Let us know if you need anything!

It would be a lie to say I, personally, don’t partake in at least some of the Kermit-sipping-tea side-eye reaction of #1. But, shortly after my husband was put on work-from-home status until at least 2021, I realized that not everyone understands what working from home is and how to be successful at it in the long run.

Something that comes naturally for those of us in the virtual workspace just doesn’t translate well to those who either only know, or highly prefer, more traditional modes of work.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not saying one mode of work is better than the other. What I’m saying is, right now, one is more required than the other.

So, when I saw my husband struggling to stay focused, on task, and productive during his 9-5 work hours, it quickly became apparent that I needed to stop boasting about how superior working from home is and, instead, help the guy out.

Similar stories from the Don’t Panic team have emerged, as well as a lot of camaraderie, empathy, and understanding for those who have partners AND children at home. And for our VAs who are experiencing this new world with no one else in their home space, we empathize and sympathize with them, too.

This is hard for everyone and, at the very least, we can take some solace in the fact that in this particular way, we are absolutely not alone.

Alright, that’s enough pre-amble. Let’s get you to the listicle you came here for:

Physical Environment

1. Carve Out the Physical Space.

Ideally, we all want to have our own offices, with doors that latch (maybe even lock!) properly. The reality is, not a lot of us get to have that luxury.

So, maybe it isn’t a whole room. Maybe it’s a corner, or a desk, or a table. Heck, it might even just be a CHAIR at the table, a STOOL at the kitchen island, or a CUSHION on the couch. Whatever it is, make it yours and make sure it works for you.

Don’t Panic’s Leslie Salaj works from her kitchen counter because it’s convenient for watching her two kiddos. When she has deeper work to do, she shares her husband’s workspace that has not one, not two, but THREE monitors (which makes my little IT-nerd heart sing).

2. Gather Your Must-Haves.

One constant that remains true no matter if you’re in a traditional office space or working from home on your couch: you want your must-haves within reach. Water, snacks, even chapstick. You want to have these things in arms reach to avoid distracting yourself by getting up and walking away in search of them.

3. Research Your Most-Wanted.

I always wanted a standing desk, even before working from home. The offices I worked in never offered them or didn’t have the budget. So, when I transitioned into working from home I bought myself one of my most-wanted office accessories. My favorite thing about the standing desk? Physically moving helps me shift focus. When I move from sitting to standing (or vice versa), it’s a trigger in my brain that says, “Ok, now we’re resetting.”

Working from home might be the opportunity you needed to give yourself something you actually want to help your productivity.


4. Two Words: Time Tracking.

This is less about making sure you’re able to eke out every possible minute as the best most productive minute that ever happened, and more about keeping you motivated, focused, and on-task. Our team is constantly recommending the Pomodoro technique to help with this. In fact, I’m using it right now to build this blog post.

Even just knowing I’ll be working in 25-minute intervals is a lot less daunting, and therefore more motivating, than sitting down at my screen and committing to two full hours to get this from a blank page and into my reviewer’s lap. (And by the way, I only know that it takes me about two hours because I’ve time-tracked the task previously.)

But, there are SO MANY other time tracking tools out there. There are plenty of free apps and some project/task management software now has built-in time tracking features. Another Don’t Panic favorite? Timeular, as seen on Molly Mayer’s desk. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with good ol’ fashioned pen and paper either.

5. Structure Your Day.

Especially true if you have little ones at home with you, it might be time for a “come-to-Jesus” with the other adult(s) in your home—or even yourself—about what your daily structure needs to look like for everyone’s sanity. The easiest, most accessible solution for this is exactly what our Director of Calm, Jess Tyson, uses: a shared Google Calendar.

Big whiteboard calendars might be the solution for you and your family, or maybe all you need is a hand-drawn schedule posted on your fridge. Whatever works for you, works for you. The takeaway here is to have a collective way to log a schedule and hold both yourself and others accountable to it as best you can.

6. Rinse & Repeat

Do not forget the importance of auditing your schedule and the tools you use to keep on track. I’m the type of person who needs a lot of variety in my schedule (probably why I’m drawn to the virtual assistant world in general). What might have worked for me last month no longer gets the job done, feels stagnant, or restricts me too much and I need to find a new solution. Or, maybe your partner’s work or child’s eLearning schedules change and you need to look at your calendar to see what needs to be adjusted.

The BEST tool that I’ve come across for scheduling my days is a really simple, but not necessarily easy, mantra: Be intentional, but flexible.

Mind, Body, and Soul

This is where I get to spout a little bit from my soapbox. Bear with me, y’all.

We have the rare opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate what work actually is and means. American culture has been so entrenched with the concept that busy == productive, and productive == self-worth. Now that it’s easier than ever to work nonstop around the clock, it’s critical that we evaluate why we can’t seem to stop ourselves from doing so.

Is it possible that because we lack a lot of control and are scared of uncertainty right now, we are now latching on to old habits that, while known and possibly comforting, are actually very, very harmful to us holistically? I’m going to say yes.

In a culture where worth has traditionally been measured in “productivity output”, bringing that value into the home is detrimental.

So, even if you haven’t “done” anything yet today. Even if you have ANOTHER Zoom meeting in one minute. Even if the idea raises your heart rate and increases anxiety, I’d like to invite you to sit with that discomfort if only for a single moment and ask yourself what it is YOU want YOUR work to look like. And, then, maybe, close the laptop, put the phone down, and (as Adriene says) breathe like you love yourself.


Want to take a really good look at how you work? We’re here for you.

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