For years I have longed for a job that allowed me to work from home. I had this vision in my mind of how wonderful it would be; I’d get up early every day, do a workout or go for a walk, be super productive, answer all of my emails, get all of my work done, propose new projects, clean the house, do the laundry, prepare dinner and switch off my laptop at 5:30pm, content in the knowledge that I was highly successful in my job, I was fairly fit and my house was a veritable paradise of organisation and comfort. Happiness, success and contentment would permeate my life!
When the pandemic hit and the UK went into lockdown in March, my dream finally came true – I could work from home! I remember feeling ever so happy, thrilled at the prospect of being able to roll out of bed in the morning, jump in the shower and walk the 3 steps to our spare room, rather than enduring the usual 45 minute commute to work. Bliss! I had it all planned out. I was going to use that extra hour in the morning to get fit and get organised. I was going to fulfil my super productive dreams for work and life and clean the bloody house more than once per week.
Did that happen? Did it bollocks. I was soon to discover the reality of working from home is quite different from how I thought it would be. It’s so far away from my original fantasy it might as well be in the Himalayas. Working from home can be HARD, especially when you’re not used to it.
That extra hour in the morning that you usually use for your commute? When you work from home, it’s really easy to sleep in late and barely make it to your desk on time. All that productivity that you envision in your head? Well, it’s hard to stay focused when you’re at home surrounded by a million and one distractions. Getting a few chores done throughout the day? Forget it, Zoom rules us all and it becomes ever so easy to work through your lunch break.
What I thought would be a fantastic, productive opportunity soon turned into a frazzled, stressed, unhealthy way of living. I was really dreadful at working from home. I couldn’t switch off at the end of the day, I had a ‘to-do’ list as long as your arm and I put on over a stone in just a few months.
It is only now, six months later, that I finally feel I’ve got the hang of it. It’s not the super productive, mega healthy, organised lifestyle that I originally fantasised about in my head but it finally works. I’m less stressed, fairly organised and have gotten into the habit of doing some form of exercise every day. That’s the realistic kind of perfect that is actually achievable, rather than trying to force myself to be some kind of superwoman.
I’m fairly positive that I’m not the only one who has experienced the working from home blues. Let’s face it, at the start of this year many of us had never experienced it, so I’m sure there have been plenty of teething issues for all of us. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect when it’s actually okay to just ‘be’.
Now that I’ve discovered what works for me, I thought I’d share some working from home tips with you. If you’re still struggling, I hope they’ll be something in this list that makes your life a little bit easier. It’s a work in progress for all of us!
Create a Personal Workspace
At first glance, this seems like an obvious one but you would be surprised at how many people out there still haven’t set up a proper working space for themselves at home. Find a place in your home that you can go and sit at every day to do your work. Make sure that your working area is comfortable and affords you a relative amount of privacy. The last thing anyone on a video call wants to see is a naked family member strolling past the camera.
If you can work out of a room with a door on it that you can leave and shut, this will really help you psychologically to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day. If you’re struggling for space and privacy at home and don’t have a spare room, why not invest in a room divider so you can section off your work space from the rest of the house? It’s almost like having a little work cubicle of your own and hides all of your work stuff from view when you’re done for the day.
If possible, get yourself a desk and chair to replicate your office set up. Make sure that your laptop is at eye level and your back is properly supported. It’s amazing how stiff you can get sitting in the same place all day so try and minimise your discomfort from the outset.
It’s probably not the best idea to set yourself up in front of the telly. It’s so easy to think, ‘oh I’ll just put it on for background noise’ when in reality you can easily get sucked into the latest boxset on Netflix. Make sure there are as few distractions around you as possible. The book you’re halfway through reading? Put it in another room along with the remote control.
Don’t even get me started with your mobile phone! How many times a day are you looking at it now that there is no one to watch you do it? Unless you need it for work calls, just pop it somewhere out of the way and only look at it when you’re ‘on a break’.
Get into a Working Routine
I’m sure you have a daily routine when you’re working from the office. Why should it be any different at home? Sit down with a notepad and make yourself a timetable. If you start work at 9am, then make sure that you’re at your desk, laptop switched on and ready to go by 8:45am. If you want to take advantage of that extra hour that not commuting gives you back in the morning then do, but put it in your schedule. Make a commitment to actually ‘do the thing’ before you ‘do the thing’.
If you normally have lunch at 12:30pm, then make sure you schedule yourself lunch at 12:30pm. Get up from your desk and have your lunch hour. Structure your day as much as you possibly can. This will help you to avoid slipping into either an overworked, chaotic scenario or a spiral of procrastination.
If you’re working from home on your own and it’s taking you ages to get anything done then try scheduling your time in 20 minute bursts with a 10 minute break in-between. It may seem different from the way you work in the office, but is it really? How many times a day do you normally get distracted by colleagues or your boss or a ringing phone? Maybe you’re just not used to having so much uninterrupted time on your own. I wasn’t and my mind was constantly wondering!
Make a Daily ‘To-Do’ List
Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of being organised before your day begins. Working from home should ultimately provide us with flexibility to create a greater work/life balance so make sure that you use your time to your advantage. If you have a load of washing to put on, add it to the list. If you have a project due or a report to create, add it to the list. If you’re picking the kids up from school, add it to the list.
Assign times to each item on the list – a time for when you’re going to do it and a rough estimate of how much time it will take you to do it. Structuring your day is key and knowing the outline of your day in your head will make you feel more organised and in control. It should also help you feel more productive, especially when you’re crossing that item off your list.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though, not all lists are finished in a day! If you can cross off five priority work tasks throughout the day, then you are well on your way to earning a well-deserved glass of wine by the end of the it.
Seriously, get up and have a shower and put on actual clothes. It’s not the weekend, you’re not having a lazy morning and you’re about to spend the day on a laptop, with the possibility of multiple unexpected video calls. You may be working from home but you are technically ‘at work’. Would you go to the office in your pyjamas with greasy hair?
Look, I’m not saying that you have to put on a suit (unless you have a video meeting and you know the person on the other end of the phone does not do ‘casual’) but sitting around in your pyjamas all day will not help to get you in a working mindset. How do I know? I’ve tried. I got about two things crossed off my whole to-do list that day and I felt really grubby by the end of it too. It’s not good for your self-esteem and taking care of yourself and your mental health should always be a number one priority.
Talk to Other People
If you’re living alone and working from home, then life can seem pretty lonely. Even though you might be talking to colleagues about work all day on video or the phone, it’s not quite the same as having a good old natter about what you watched on the telly last night. Why not schedule a morning coffee break with your work friends or even your friends outside of work? We have the technology and there is nothing to stop you from having a good chinwag and a catch up with your mates. You could even ‘do lunch’ together over WhatsApp or just ring your mum for a ten minute natter.
If you are feeling alone, talk to someone. Most of us are all in the same boat these days. Make the effort to pick up the phone or send a message so you can get together and have a break in the day.
Take Care of Yourself
Within the hectic schedule of the day, don’t forget to make some time for you. Make sure that you get some exercise. Give yourself a 15 minute break after you’ve been in a long meeting, go outside and walk around the block. Remember to get up from your desk regularly and stretch. Even in the office, you regularly walk around to make yourself coffee, go to the printer etc. It does not need to be any different at home.
Take some time away from your screen every hour or so, even if it’s just for five minutes. You also have the opportunity to make yourself some genuinely healthy lunches – make sure that you eat them away from your desk. Most importantly, don’t forget to treat yourself as well. Got all of your ‘To-Do’ list finished? Say ‘yes’ to that glass of wine after work. Smashed that presentation? Order that jumper online that you’ve had bookmarked for over a week. Celebrate your victories and treat yourself!
I hope that something in this list will make your working from home journey a little easier. At the end of the day, it’s about making the situation work for you. Let us know how you get on!
Until next time….