Several people have spoken to me about the challenge they have in working from home. There are those for whom this is a real boon and boosts their productivity. But there are those for whom it is something close to a living nightmare. Starving for connection and distraction, the thought of hunkering down, isolated, can feel very difficult indeed.
I do hope these tips help you, whatever your situation. It’s a fairly long post because I wanted to cover off as much of the common working-from-home problems as possible. You may want to skip to sections relevant to you, or read through the whole thing. It should only take a few minutes.
Of course you need to make sure that you have all the equipment you need: your phone, PC, internet connection, apps and specialist software.
The Basics of Working from Home
Make your workspace as professional as possible, ie if you’re working on the kitchen table, have your kitchen tidy (so you aren’t plagued by thoughts of cleaning it up or eating the biscuits you left out) and have your table clear for only work that you are attending to now, so it feels like a workstation and you can focus on one things at a time.
Avoid working in your bedroom as much as possible: it helps to make the boundaries between work and life clearer.
Make sure your computer is at the right height for you so you are not putting a strain on your back or your neck. Also that the lighting is appropriate for the work to avoid eye strain which can lead to headaches.
Mindset and Health
See the opportunity
Instead of focusing on the negatives, think of it as a time to get super organised without distractions from the outside world. What are those jobs you have been putting off? The ones you know are important but you have been so busy you haven’t had a chance? The ones which would have the biggest impart? It can become an opportunity to be a master of your time rather than a slave to it.
Create a routine
Make sure that you have a set routine that works for you. Try to keep it as close to your at-work day as possible. I just developed one with a client who has to work in his kitchen, struggles to get out of bed at the best of times and is easily distracted and tends to work on whatever comes into his mind rather than the priorities.
We have now built a good routine that allows him to meet short-term and long-term goals with rest periods and a sense of mastery and progress. But the first thing we did was get him to use an alarm to remind him to move to the next segment of his day. The alarm is being kept far from him so he has to move to turn it off. This serves as an unmistakable break and means that the shift to the next task is easier.
Playlists for productivity
Create playlists for yourself to support the various stages of your day: One to energise you, one to motivate you and another for concentration. They should not be distracting but support the mindset you want to create. Spotify has a lovely one for concentration that I use when I’m writing: it’s calm and non-intrusive. Music also helps you feel less isolated.
Exercise to boost
You may want to start your day with some exercise. It fuels your brain and gives you energy, which sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it really works. 15 minutes is fine.
Set an intention
A good thing to do before you start work will be to set an intention for a productive and enjoyable day and to set your priorities. Start with two which will yield the biggest results for you. This helps you to focus without feeling too overwhelmed by a too-long to-do list. It’s great for productivity too.
Alternatively, if you lack motivation, you may want to start with doing a quick-win – something you can cross off your list quickly which will give you a sense of energy and achievement.
Break things down
If there is a big task, break it down into small ones so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
A surprising way to stay focused
Diffusing oils can help keep you alert and focused. I like peppermint and lemon together. It’s uplifting too. I am currently using one which acts to clean the environment so I stay healthy. It is Doterra’s On Guard. Again, I find it quite uplifting.
Bring the outside in
You may also want to bring a flavour of the outside inside. A plant is said to aid productivity and creativity and reduce stress. They also help improve air quality.
Water for clarity
Drink plenty of water throughout the day. This is essential to keep a clear head and concentrate. Have only one cup of tea or coffee, otherwise you may feel sluggish and then have to rely on them more to perk up. This then will affect your sleep and it becomes a vicious circle.
A word on diet
Avoid bread, biscuits, etc as these tend to make you feel sluggish. Eat as healthily as possible, including some nuts as snacks to keep you going.
Busy-ness -v- Business
Many people working from home for the first time will find a sudden and urgent interest in the laundry, fixing that pesky door handle, removing the limescale around the taps, and organising their sock drawer to within an inch of its life.
This is rarely because they have become unexpectedly interesting activities which lift the soul and more about feeling lost, not knowing where to start and, of course of procrastinating.
The idea of a structure imposed can provide a comfort of some kind. This is why creating your own structure can help you, as will a list of priorities for your day.
If you struggle with distractions, remove as many as possible: switch off the TV and radio, turn off notifications on your phone as these will take you down a rathole that may take an hour to get out of. Instead, set times during the day when you will check for messages.
Remove all clutter and only have what you are working on in front of you.
If you are in the habit of interrupting yourself (guilty), the easiest way of dealing with this is to write down what you suddenly wanted to do and give yourself permission to do it later. You don’t have to be a slave to every impulse you have. It can be exhausting to stop and start important work so keeping focused is key.
Balance and Boundaries
Find a place in your home which is as closed off as possible. This may require some creativity but the more secluded and professional feeling the space, the more conducive to productivity it will be.
Dress for work
Dress for work, even if a little more casual – it gets you into work mindset and signals to family members that you are working. Dressing gown and slippers will be difficult for them to take seriously, even if they are comfy.
Communicating your needs
If your family aren’t used to you working from home, they may act as if it’s the weekend and keep interrupting you, asking you to “just do this one thing”.
Communication is essential and being clear what your workings hours are, is important. Don’t expect them to assume. Sticking to your working hours is even more important.
If you cave in easily, you are simply teaching them that your day is not important and you are up for anything. Stand firm. You can do this kindly. If they don’t take it well at first, just kindly stick with it and they will become used to your work hours, especially if you honour your family time.
If you have a separate office in your home it makes it easier because you can shut the door.
Balance comes from keeping these boundaries and sticking with your routine: as long as your routine has rest periods. Take regular, timed breaks. Most people find it helpful to set a timer for everything to remind them that this is worktime, this is breaktime, etc.
At the end of your day do make sure you pack up your work, out of sight. otherwise it will be a constant reminder of what is left undone. Think of it as leaving the office, though it will take you much less time. You may want to change into something more comfortable too. Or go for a walk around the block. This helps you to shed your work mindset and shift into you-time.
You may want to prepare dinner with the family so that you reinforce family time too. Whatever works for you.
And family time may change shape a little: perhaps less screen time in the evenings and instead some old-fashioned board games (honouring the distancing rule) may help bring more connection and fun to the isolating experience.
More on Kids
You may love your kids, you may do anything for them but working from home with kids around is difficult for most people.
So, knowing that you can’t remove your children from the area (unless you are lucky enough to be able to have someone take them out and look after them while you have uninterrupted work time), be clear with them that you will be working during certain times.
This is a good time to teach them about telling the time if they don’t know already. If they interrupt (you know they will), tell them that this is work time and that you will play, or attend to whatever needs your attention, during your break time.
This is a good skill for them to develop in them but it will need reinforcing, otherwise you will be teaching our children to ignore you. I know this isn’t easy but nor is having your children promoted to your work-time boss.
You could give them something to do: play quietly, homework, read a book, build a lego house to show you after dinner, see who can make their room the tidiest, do their homework and show you later, draw a picture, etc. Something which takes you to your next break. There are also lots of online learning resources available, ie BBC Bitesize.
Relationship Challenges During Isolation
Spending so much enforced time together when working from home can bring its own challenges. Some tips to help you along the way is first of all to agree on how to allocate workspace and resouorces so you can both be productive if you are both working.
If you have limited space, this may even mean taking turns at the workstation. Agree this in advance rather than wait until a situation arises. Agree any other groundrules which will support you getting along in this challenging time: taking turns with the kids, offering each other a cup of coffee, being particularly thoughtful if the other is feeling stressed (some will need space others will need a kind word).
If things are getting inflamed, take time out and when they are calm talk about how you can deal with this more constructively in the future. You will certainly need some time apart, so having coffee breaks separately is one way to achieve this. Or taking a breather in the garden. But you might find another way which better suits your needs.
At the end of the working day, put aside whatever troubles you had during the day and realise that everyone is doing there best and we are all getting used to a new normal.
Don’t allow workday stresses to get in the way of your downtime in the evening. This may be challenging but a good skill and habit to develop. There has been no greater time for collaboration and toleration. Remember this situation is not their fault and they are struggling just as much as you are.
Another tip is to ask each other, in advance, what one thing you can do to make this adventure easier for the other. Something small and doable. This will start you off on a collaborative footing and create an early win which will oil the wheels of being together for so long. This is a technique I use when working with couples and it really helps and is surprisingly easy to do.
Managing your Boss and Colleagues
Some of my clients report that their bosses don’t trust them to get on with things, assuming they are shirking instead of working. This may be an assumption and it may be a reality. But to manage it, agree with your boss the priorities you will work on and the timelines you will meet.
Agree also on regular check-in meetings so you can discuss progress, problems and priorities. This may be just the opportunity you need to improve your relationship with your boss, who knows?
One of the most challenging aspects of working from home, especially for extraverts, is the lack of contact with people. Staying in touch with colleagues is a good option. Office meetings will usually be replaced by online meetings. This is particularly important as well to make sure that everyone is aligned and on track. Also, make sure you spend quality time with your family – this is an opportunity like no other to really deepen the connection with them.
You may also want to think about having a work-buddy. Someone you can call for a quick chat if you need to, as a support to each other. Or you can plan regular catch-ups so that you punctuate the day with a 5 minute natter and a cup of tea.
If you feel that online coaching would benefit you in working from home, this is also available. This can be to offload, get perspective or create strategies to support you at this difficult time. Usually people want a whole hour but, I also provide half hour laser sessions if you need it. Until the end of April there will be a 30% discount if you mention the password ‘coronavirus’. Just call 0345 130 0854 to set something up.
Staying in Touch
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In the meantime, if you would like to know how I might be able to help you in working from home, do get in touch.