Wondering how to make working from home work for you?
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen millions of people told by their government or their boss to become home workers overnight.
Even that boss who swore right to your face that this was not possible even a few short months ago...
But figuring out how to work from home comfortably isn't quite as easy as it sounds. After all, you have umpteen-hundred things to distract you.
Your TV is right. There.
It's easy to procrastinate too. Suddenly, given the choice between staring at that screen for five more seconds and doing some chores, those dirty dishes are starting to look mighty appealing.
As a freelance copywriter, my home has been my office for years now. I love it. And you will, at the very least, get used to it – and maybe come to love it too.
If you're having trouble adjusting to working from home, here's what you do:
How to work from home comfortably and happily
1) Have a routine
Most people imagine working from home as one non-stop pyjama party. And it can be if you want it to be...
But if you want to actually get anything done, I really rate sticking to some sort of routine.
You don't have to be strict with yourself (unless your boss is demanding you log on at a set time). You do need to give your days some sort of structure that works for you.
For me, this means aiming to get up around 9 am. I read some emails and mentally plan what I'm going to do today while I munch on some breakfast. Then, because I know it's my most productive time of day, I work as close to flat out as possible until lunchtime.
At lunch, I'll make sure I get out of the spot I've been sitting in (see tip number four for why this is important) and probably get some exercise (see number five) before getting back down to work in the afternoon.
Because the reality of working from home is that if you spend several days in your pyjamas, you will – I can only imagine – start to feel pretty dirty, pressured and uncomfortable.
You will also get a whole lot less done.
2) Work when you know you have the willpower
Part of figuring out how to structure your day will be getting to know your own working patterns.
In your “real” office, you probably have someone looking over your shoulder telling you to do that work right now. But after a few years in the workplace, you know yourself better than they do:
You know those times of day when it's probably going to take you three times as long to finish a project as it should.
Equally, you know when you are going to be able to knock out something really good in half the time.
Get to know yourself. Plan your routine around those times of day when your concentration and willpower are high.
For me, that's the morning in and around breakfast time up until lunch. The afternoon can be good too. But it's less reliable.
That said, I have freelance content writer friends who work from home and do their best work starting after lunch. I also know one guy who is essentially nocturnal.
Whatever works for you, try to make it work.
3) Turn off notifications
Unless the apps you are getting notified by are vital to your work, turn those notifications off.
I would go as far to say it's a good idea to lump all of the communication apps you only use for keeping up with your friends onto a device that's different from your work laptop. Then put that device in a different room.
Otherwise, those flashing lights are going to be distracting you every few minutes. This will break your flow and seriously impact your working from home productivity.
It's not so much that taking a minute to reply to a friend is going to take a long time. But getting back into the mental groove of “I am working now” afterwards takes longer than you might think.
4) Separate your work space from your home space
Using the same app in the same position in your house for work and for socialising is a big no-no.
More generally, working and living in the same exact spot in the same room all day and all night will, to use a technical phrase, “do your head in”.
Anything you can do to distinguish your workplace from your home place (even if they are in the same room) is a good idea.
For you, this might mean making a corner with an actual desk and putting all your work stuff on it. Then, when work is over, never sitting in that chair.
If I'm working from home, I usually sit at the same spot at the dining room table. When work is over, I do not sit in that chair.
I once made the mistake of working from home all day and then sitting in that spot when I had people over for dinner. It took me half the meal to work out why I was getting antsy. I had to ask someone to change seats.
Doing something which helps your brain know whether it is supposed to be in work mode or chill mode is very important. Even if it's just sitting in a different chair.
Couch potatoes are not happy potatoes. Without your normal daily commute (however little effort that took), you risk getting no exercise at all.
And if you want to sleep better, work better and be more relaxed during the day, exercise is something you really need to build into your routine.
Even going for a half-hour stroll might be good enough. Part of the reasoning is to get you out of the house.
But the main goal is to get your blood pumping and tire yourself out a little. I find that this way, I really appreciate sitting down in a chair again. Instead of feeling trapped there.
6) Take a shower and get dressed
Previous joking aside, I've never really felt the need to stew in the old jim-jams for multiple days at a time. The idea reminds me too much of that feeling you get when you've been too ill to get out of bed for a while. Know what I mean? Bleurgh.
Maybe you're not going to a ball, Cinderella. But you are at least making the effort to mentally distinguish that you are working instead of lounging about the house.
In all honesty, if I'm planning on going to the gym or for a cheeky jog (note: all jogs must be cheeky when working from home) I don't always get dressed until afterwards. That's why this tip comes last.
But as soon as you take a shower and get dressed, you will feel clean, refreshed and ready to take on the day of work. Even if that work is happening at your dining room table.
Also, you'll look silly on your group Skype meeting if you're in your jim-jams.
Bonus: working from home tips in a time of social distancing
Enforced working from home while social distancing is a little bit of a different ballgame.
One of the best things about working from home normally is that you're generally keen and free to get out of the house and socialise in the evening. When you're social distancing, that card is not on the table.
I recently came across these great social distancing mental health tips from the top charity Partners in Health. Check them out!
As well as having a routine, getting some exercise and bathing daily (see – genuinely a thing. I didn't just make it up!), they recommend that you:
Use technology to connect with people and spend time with your family if possible.
Limit your internet usage outside of this.
Engage your brain – read a book or learn something new.
Spend a little time alone, outside if possible – but remember, you don't need to completely isolate yourself.
Do the things you normally like doing which are still fun to do at home.
Don't spend much time watching the news on TV or the internet. (This is one I feel particularity strongly about. These shows are designed to make you pay attention by keeping the tension levels as high as possible. That's not healthy. Watch for short periods, then “cleanse” is what PiH say.)
Adjusting to working from home
Go on. Let working from home into your soul.
You might be surprised how much you like it. If you work out how to make it work for you.
Do you have your own great tips for working from home?
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