Maybe you have already been working from home for a while, or maybe you are new to this? Whichever the case might be, working from home is a subject that often brings feelings of comfort and distress, and quite often in equal measures.
For many of us, the idea of working from home seems like a dream; you are working in your own time and to your own schedule, and you could do so in your pyjamas if you wanted to. Gone is the stressful commute and annoying co-workers, the "what to wear" dilemma and the puzzle of dropping-off and picking-up the kids while actually getting something done.
The truth is, we can often be more productive when working from home. Why? Because there is (ideally) no one interrupting us in our work, no colleagues or boss popping by your desk for a chit-chat and no one interrupting you with a question, right when you are in your "flow".
We can also, as it turns out, be less productive when working from home? This one is more obvious. Because we tend to procrastinate, to find things that need doing around the house, and instead of co-workers interrupting us, it might be the kids. Or the pet.
So here are some useful tips in how to successfully work from home. You will be more productive than when you are in the office, because when you sit down to do your work (after that 1 minute commute), you are ready and focused. You're welcome.
1. CREATE AN "OFFICE" SPACE
Although you are not leaving your home to go to work, feeling like you're going to work can still be useful. So if you can, carve out a specific spot in your home to use as an office. Keep your computer here, and set it up with pens and post-its, pads for note-taking, your calendar and anything else you would usually have in your office. If this space has a door that you can close to get more privacy, even better.
2. LOOSE THE PYJAMAS
Yes, you heard me right. I know staying in your PJ's all day sounds like a dream, and might in fact be one of the reasons you want to work from home, in reality we often need something as subtle as changing your clothes to put us in "office mode". I am not saying you need to put on a suit and tie; but actually getting out of what you slept in that night, and putting on different clothing (or putting anything on, if you are a naked sleeper) signals to your brain that you are going into work mode. Ideally have a certain type of clothing that you only use when you are working, but if that feels too much to ask, putting on anything else but your pyjamas, but which is equally comfy can do the trick.
3. KEEP REGULAR HOURS
There is a real risk that 'work-from-home'rs indeed work, and think about work all the time because there is no clear distinction between work life and home life. This is why Point #1 and Point #2 are so important. But so is this. Although it is tempting to work a little here and there, and especially into the night, try to set limits just like you would do if you were in an office. Sure, if the only time you have to work on your projects is after the kids have gone to bed, schedule this time in - but don't let it interfere with your sleep. You need to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night for the body and brain to be functioning optimally, and for it to process and sort all the experiences of your day. If you cannot get it all in one go at night (and ideally between 10pm and 2am, that time is the most crucial), supplement with naps during the day. You will not do yourself any favours by trying to work sleep-deprived. But do keep your work times scheduled and stick to them every day. Perhaps it is 9am-12 noon and then again 7-10pm, or 6am-2pm, or as in my case; 9am - 1 pm and 2-6pm. Whatever works for you; consistency and routine is key. If you follow tip #4, chances are you will need to work less hours to get what you need to get done, well done.
4. WRITE "TO-DO LISTS"
A big fan of lists myself, I strongly recommend this. There are few feelings as satisfactory as checking something off a list. However, there are lists, and there are lists. Meaning that there are lists that make your productive, and there are lists that bog you down and make you feel like there is no end in sight...
The trick is to write only a few items on your 'to-do' list every day, and then actually DO them!
Make your list for the day the first thing you do in the morning, or ideally the night before. This way, what you need to do the next day doesn't interfere with your sleep (see tip #3). Often when we cannot sleep, it is because our brain is busy with things we need to remember to do tomorrow. Having a plan already written down helps taking that strain off. Keep a notepad by your bed if you come up with something more while you are trying to fall asleep, jot it down straight away and then go to sleep.
As I mentioned above, an important thing to remember with to-do lists is that although it is tempting, to not put too much on each day. You will never manage to do it all anyway, and it will only make you feel bad. And no one likes to feel like a failure.
I like to keep a daily to-do list and as well as a weekly one. On the daily one I put things that absolutely need to be done that day, often no more than 3 big items, and on the weekly one I put things that can be done at any time during the week. Check these things off when you have some spare time or when you need a break from a daily task.
5. SCHEDULE BREAKS
Another thing that is incredibly helpful I have found, is to schedule tasks in 45-minute or 50-minute blocks. We are often not able to keep our concentration for longer than 45 minutes anyway, so it is better to actually schedule the time this way, rather than longer blocks and you end up browsing social media or drifting off in thoughts halfway through. After the 45 minutes have passed and you have (ideally) finished your task, check it off your list and take a 15-minute break. It is important that you get away from your desk if you can, to signal to your brain that you are no longer working. Stand up, stretch and go get a glass of water, make a cup of coffee, or do a short meditation. Take a walk around the block or if you absolutely feel the need to, check your social media. This 'allowed' time to do so means you will be less tempted while you working on your task.
By scheduling in these breaks, it will mean you work more focused and with better attention as you know you only have 45 minutes to finish the task at hand. It will also enable you to sit down with renewed energy for your next task once the first one is finished. If you have a more complicated task that you know will take longer than 45 minutes, schedule it for 90 minutes and take a 5-minute mini break somewhere in the middle. It is amazing how even a short toilet break or a quick stretch can make your mind relax and rejuvenate. Several long, deep breaths are also a great mini break. On several occasions a solution to a problem or a new idea has sprung into mind during these breaks away from the desk. Try it today!
6. MAKE SOCIAL INTERACTION A PRIORITY
Even if you are working from home, try to make social interaction a part of your day if you can (obviously not during lock down). It could be calling a co-worker to bounce some ideas, an online meeting, or a networking event in person. Working from home, as wonderful as it is, can make one feel isolated and shut off from the world. It is important to interact with other people, even if it just means taking your computer down to the local cafe and work there for and hour or so while having a coffee, or your lunch. Sign up to finally go to that networking event!