First things first, keep up the excellent work. We know it’s not been easy to make that transition from the company office to the home office. That commute, that buzzy office atmosphere, the kitchen banter and that stationery cupboard on tap, we know you’re missing it all.
Hang on in there; you’ll get the hang of it, I promise. I’ve been working from home for nine years now, so I’m used to it, but I remember all too clearly how it felt when I left an agency office full of creativity, talented people and company all day long to work, for myself, at home.
When I worked from home at first, it was surreal, unprecedented, lonely and strange so I can relate to how you will be feeling. Throw into the mix, your spouse and children in the house. The stress of not being able to go out and voila, the feelings are 100% compounded.
But, for now, it’s the new normal, for at least the next couple of months, so, I thought I’d share with you some of my hints and tips of working from home that I’ve picked up along the way to help you stay focused and as productive as you can during this time of change.
There are plenty of people that dream about working from home and foregoing their commute in favour of more sleep. But working remotely is a double-edged sword.
It can be harder to focus when it’s new to you and specially compounded with the situation we find ourselves in. The washing can suddenly look more appealing than your to-do list or you think a quick three-hour binge on Netflix won’t kill your day job, right?
Working from home and staying focused takes a little extra effort I am afraid, but, if I can do it after 16 years in an office environment then you can adapt for a couple of months and who knows you might just end up preferring it!?
Not one of us is powerful enough to stop the march of time, slow it down or do much about the situation we find ourselves in; all we can do is make the most of it. Working from home is about being the master of your time to:
- Getting more done
- Staying energised
- Making sure you find that all-important work/life balance
01 – Location, Location, Location
Find the right space
Try to find yourself a dedicated space, a comfortable spot to work that you can associate with your job and somewhere you can leave behind when you finish the day’s work. I’m afraid this means getting off the sofa, and definitely out of bed!
Kitchen table working
Ideally a room with a door so at the end of the day you can shut the door and move away from ‘workspace’ to ‘home space’. If there is no spare room or you live open plan, don’t worry, just collect all your work files and laptop and store out of sight until the next day. A lot of business are started at the kitchen table! The most important thing is to pick a particular place you are going to use as a workspace and sticking with it, so that space becomes associated with doing work. Eventually, you sit at the workspace, and you develop a mindset ‘to be at work’.
02 – Get Ready
It’s so important to get dressed and keep your morning routine. I know it’s tempting to sit in your PJ’s but honestly getting dressed really effects your mindset and productivity levels and psychologically prepares you to start work. At first I dressed in the same way I’d dress if I were to go into the studio but over the years, I’ve relaxed that now and realise ‘am still able to be as creative without the full face of make-up and outfit I once wore.
03 – Daily Distractions
They’re one of the biggest challenges of working remotely. It’s tough not to get distracted by the dishwasher beeping to get emptied or the washing saying ‘I need hanging up’ but don’t, before you know you’ll have cleaned the bathroom and done some ironing.
Try to separate work life & home life
Try to disconnect the two to keep your brain in the right frame of mind; avoid doing nonwork tasks during your work time if possible. Schedule a separate time to do your washing instead of tackling it while you’re finishing a work presentation.
I get it; I get distracted if the house is a mess or I know the pots need putting in the dishwasher so when I go down to make a cuppa first thing I’ll set off the dishwasher, put some washing in, tidy up, feed the choc lab, whatever needs doing to set my mind at ease. I can then relax and go to work, knowing it’s all under control. I don’t touch this stuff until either lunchtime or until the end of the day when I have finished my work.
Nettie Owens, a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization and founder of Momentum Millionaire Network, tells us to think about these distractions and plan your work around them.
Cut out the noise
For example, will noise be an issue at home? If so, noise-cancelling headphones are a must.
Set a schedule to let your family know, “I am going to be working from 8 am until 12 pm, then take a break for lunch.” This scheduling will help ensure you focus without being interrupted (too many times!). You’ll also find it useful to set up some structure for the family and to create a timetable for them to work to and/or tag team working with your partner.
- Is social media a distraction?
Then download a social media blocking tool and set your “work hours.”
- Are you hungry?
Decide on designated snack times.
- Unwashed laundry?
Plan to do chores before and after work.
04 – Work, Work, Work, Work, Work
Plan out your day
When you’re not used to working from home, it would be useful to keep a more structured daily schedule than usual to help you get into your new daily routine.
Let me warn you now working from home can be invasive in your personal life, although you won’t have fallen into that trap just yet be mindful your work can so easily creep into your home life, but only if you let it. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps us maintain a work-life balance where we can.
Set your work hours
Setting specific work hours and sticking to them will increase performance and develop a normal work schedule. If you have children at home, creating a plan for you and one for them will help everyone.
On the flip side, we might think working from home means we can get more done because there will be fewer distractions (if you don’t have children!) Therefore, sometimes we end up over-committing and working too much, which also kills productivity. Been there, got the T-Shirt, it’s not pretty!
05 – Get the Right Backing
Think about your conference call background!
Take note of your backdrop while on video calls, people are aware you are working from home, and I’m sure will forgive the odd child interruption, but what’s in your background will say a lot about you and will deepen that first impression if you’ve not met before.
Watching TV the other night a top doctor was giving some critical advice, and in the background, she had boxes of Lego balancing on the top of a wardrobe and an extraordinary self-portrait on the wall behind her head, I was more distracted by the portrait to be fair! Consider what’s in the background; keep it professional.
06 – The Early Bird
Early to bed and early to rise
Taking advantage of early mornings to get through meaty projects or difficult tasks is one of my biggest tips.
Agency life, especially my London agency days, meant starting late and working late, often through the night sometimes, so to shift my working hours after all these years was a real effort, but as they say, it takes 21 days to change a habit, I persevered, and I did it, and I wouldn’t ever go back now!
My advice, if you need some real concentration-time, set your alarm, get up early, before everyone else. It’s incredible how much you get done while everyone else is in bed. If I do this, I must admit I do it in my PJ’s and get dressed a bit later on. Honestly, when you get to 10 am, and you’ve already nailed that arduous task, you’ll feel amazing and you won’t mind if the kids distract you so much as you’ll be ahead of the game.
Are you a morning person?
Having said that, everyone is different, and productivity levels will vary, some individuals are morning people, most productive and focused during the morning hours. For others, their most productive time in the workday is the evenings. So, work out when you are most productive and build your work schedule around your peak productivity periods.
Once you’ve set your schedule, it might be an idea to make it visible to your co-workers with a shared calendar. This way, they’ll know when you’re free to speak and when you’ve blocked out work and personal times. It’s also a good idea to make sure friends and family understand your schedule and respect it. Set boundaries and expectations by letting them know that working remotely doesn’t mean you’re free all the time.
07 – Find Your Flow
Your motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. When you’re working from home, it’s all the more important to know when those ebbs and flows will take place and plan your schedule around it.
To capitalise on your most productive periods, save your more laborious tasks for when you know you’ll be in the right headspace for them, for me the morning slot. Use slower points of the day to knock out the more straightforward, logistical tasks that are also on your plate, for me the afternoon after lunch. Verily Magazine calls these tasks “small acts of success,” and they can help build your momentum for the more substantial projects that are waiting for you later on.
The bizarre but true rule of productivity is that the busier you are, the more you’ll do. It’s like Newton’s law of inertia: If you’re in motion, you’ll stay in motion. I’ll be covering more on this in my next blog post.
08 – Switching Off
Plan your day, the night before; it’s a great way to end your workday and help you switch off. I used to miss my commute home as I used this time to calm down from the day and switch off. If you are working from home you won’t get that time so jotting down tomorrow’s plan, tonight, will help you let go and switch off from work. Doing this will make it feel more official when you wake up the next day, and you’ll feel in control and when you get to your desk (or kitchen table), and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
09 – Staying Motivated
You have to have a lot of self-motivation and drive when it comes to working from home.
A simple to-do list can do wonders for keeping you both organised, motivated, and productive.
Think about big, long-term goals as well as small tasks. Break up the list into:
- Stuff you need to get done today
- Tasks I can put off until tomorrow
- Next week’s problem.
Break it down
However, you do it, break big tasks down, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Checking off those smaller goals lets you know you’re making progress, which gives you positive reinforcement throughout your day. And work feels much more doable when it’s not all one big task.
You’ll find writing them down will help, you won’t have to devote any headspace to always remembering what you have to do, and the pleasure of crossing tasks off your list is just the best!
10 – Take a Break
I don’t mind admitting here that I was the worst at doing this and it had an effect on my mental wellbeing. As you’re no longer doing the tea run, or running into physical meetings, you’ll find yourself at your desk for long periods. Make sure you take regular breaks even if it’s 5 mins to stretch, fuss the dog or grab a breath of fresh air. You’ll thank me for it! Being cooped up without stopping for a break can mean your productivity levels drop, and you become less motivated.
If you have a phone call to make that you don’t require you to be in front of your computer, pick up your headphones and get outside. Exercise naturally boosts endorphins, which increases happiness, enjoyment, and interest levels, all of which are important for productivity and creativity.
11 – It’s Good to Talk
Phone a friend
Working from home can be lonely at the best of times, I have a delicate balance now between being at my desk and getting the work done and out at meetings or networking events to get my social fix. But when I first started, I didn’t see anyone. You could spend the whole day without speaking to anyone which can be isolating. So, if you are used to the hustle and bustle and having conversations and you’re feeling a bit lonely but don’t have time for a call I either put the radio on for a bit of company or check out the “moods” option offered by Spotify to achieve peak productivity while working from home.
If you feel the need, pick up the phone and have a real conversation, better still a video call rather than just relying on email and instant messaging, chances are the person on the other end is feeling the same. I’ve been booking in lunchtime Zoom calls with a friend or someone in my work network. We don’t talk shop we just have a natter, and that is enough to get my social fix and focus back onto work. You can always keep a close co-worker up on your monitor for the company and work together.
Try a pizza party!
Harvard Business School’s Prithwiraj “Raj” Choudhury, who studies remote work and the relationships between geography and productivity, found an exciting solution to boosting camaraderie among remote workers: pizza parties. While researching remote work habits at the U.S. Patent Office policy in 2011 — Choudhury discovered a manager who hosted weekly lunches via videoconferencing.
“She would order the same pizza to be delivered at the same time so the team would have that bonding experience and still feel like a team,” says Choudhury. “This is the future of work, so we cannot just keep doing stuff in the old familiar ways; we have to create new processes.” I love this idea!
[Credit: Time Magazine]
12 – Snacking
Another reality of working from home is that we have full access to the kitchen. When we work in an office, we are at the mercy of whatever is available in the cafeteria or whatever lunch we brought from home. However, research has shown that eating fruits and vegetables has a direct link on overall productivity levels. I don’t keep goodies in the house anymore; I’m too tempted, I’ve got zero will-power when it comes to crisps. Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks in; it makes such a difference. I try not to snack, but if I feel the need I’ll have fruit or nuts, I love snacking on blueberries. At least being at home means those office birthday treats won’t tempt you!
13 – The Commute
John Fitch & Max Frenzel, co-authors of Time Off Book suggest that we calculate the amount of time we usually have to commute and translate that time to our “rest” allowance. This is time for us to detach from our work. Instead of starting our day off by stressing out about getting somewhere on time, invest that time into either a relaxing ritual that gets you to a calm and clear state of mind or some exercise time to get you energised for the day. Invest it into winding down your day so that you don’t form a habit of working into the night. The authors explain how this commute time can be a time to set an intentional container for separating work and leisure at home.
14 – You can’t do everything, so prioritise
Trying to do everything is something that I have struggled with, so if I could recommend one thing, it would be to realise that you can do anything but not everything. It is just not possible, so stop trying and beating yourself up if something doesn’t get done. You have to strike a balance, and every day you must prioritise. Often working out each day what you’re not going to do is the most difficult of tasks.
For instance, while I am aware that I need my house to be clean and tidy for my mental health, I must reconcile myself to the fact that a spotless house is not a priority and I can’t always stay on top of it. Knowing this, acknowledging this and accepting this has been a real eye-opener.
Some days, you’ll have to let go of things, such as limits on screen time, and just put your children in front of the TV for an hour or two while you work. When you have done some work, you’ll feel, much better.
Come to terms with the fact you will never get everything done, that’s not the game anymore. Get the most important stuff done and lower your expectations.