We’re living in unprecedented times. Not only are we in the grip of a crippling pandemic, but the lives of millions of people all over the world are being changed for a significant period of time.
One of the less negative and painful ways our lives are being affected is that people are suddenly being expected to isolate and work from home. I’ve seen a fair few blogs and social media posts about people’s struggles and tips for home working.
After having spent the last two years exclusively working from home, I thought I’d share my insights and my 5 top tips.
1. Create a work zone
When you first start working from home the excitement and opportunity can take over. Rather than sitting in an office or your usual place from work, you can now sit on your sofa and watch TV while you work. We all think we can multitask!
The reality is that the vast majority of us cannot multitask effectively. You might’ve taken away the noise and disruption from your co-workers, but you’ve replaced them with an even more distracting background.
My first top tip is to create a work zone. If you’re fortunate to have a spare room or bedroom, convert it into an office. If you’re not so lucky, just dedicate a corner or a zone of your house to be your workspace. Keep it away from the TV and other distractions.
The psychological benefits are obvious. As you enter your zone and sit down you will naturally slip into ‘work mode’. It’s more successful if you ensure you don’t wander into your office or zone when you’re not working. Keep your private and work environment separate, even when they’re in the same building!
As comfortable as a sofa is, how easy is it really to work on? In your zone ensure you’ve got a surface for a PC, laptop or paper (depending on what you’re working on). Then you’ll need a comfy chair. Avoid hard wooden dining chairs and go for comfy office chairs. Anything to avoid back pain and discomfort.
If you can begin your home working odyssey with a comfortable and productive working zone, you’ll be set to succeed.
2. Task not time
This second tip isn’t exclusive to home working. How do you judge your day as a success? How do you judge what you’ve done as a success? Always judge success by tasks completed not time spent.
Before any working day, set out a short list of very achievable tasks you must complete today. Then set out a second list of some tasks you could complete. Ensure that you work to complete all of the ‘must’ tasks and try one or two ‘could’ tasks as well. Do not judge your day by the hours you’ve worked or the hours you’ve spent on any one task.
As long as your employer doesn’t expect you to work specific hours, you can set out your hours and work at your tasks at your own pace. With a productive working zone, featuring few distractions, you might find you can complete all of your tasks in half the time you’d expected.
Don’t feel you need to work 12 hour days now you’re no longer commuting. Set your tasks and work to complete them. If you ‘only’ spend 4 hours working and 8 hours tidying the house, as long as you’ve completed your goals for the day, today has been a success.
3. Work your own hours
The third point very much is a continuation of the previous. As long as your home working hours are not being fixed or monitored by your employer, you can work your way now!
Some people find they’re very productive in the early morning, some late in the evening. Find what works for you and work to your strengths.
I personally find I can concentrate best earlier in the morning. Once I’m fed and full of caffeine I can work very well. I know that after lunch it’s a bit of a lottery for me. Some days I can work well, most days I find I’m not so focused in the afternoon. Therefore, I make sure I’m up early and crack on with work and power through until lunchtime. What I can complete in 4 hours of focussed, prime time can often be the same as I would complete in a longer 8 hours day.
By working to my strengths and my peak performance time I can ensure every day is a successful day and I still have plenty of time in the day to complete other, non-work tasks.
Now that you’re in charge of your time don’t think you need to work a 9 ’til 5. Work the hours that are best for you.
4. How do you work?
Once again, this fourth point is a continuation of the previous points. It’s important to think about how you work.
Did you ever have a time when you were at school and you stopped to think and whilst thinking you were told off for daydreaming? Just because you weren’t working with your head down, your teacher thought you weren’t working.
When you are working at home you can work your own way. With no boss keeping an eye on you, you can find a way that’s best for you.
When I’m designing a website or coming up with ideas for marketing, etc, I often find sitting in front of a computer to be the worst way to think. Staring at a blank screen is so daunting!
What I have discovered over time is my brain works best at problem solving and creative tasks when it’s distracted. I might go for a drive to the supermarket, do some cleaning around the house or sit and watch inane videos on YouTube.
To anyone observing me that might look thoroughly unproductive, but I know that my best creative ideas pop out of the depth of my brain whilst it’s primarily focussed on something else.
As I’ve already said, it’s important to judge your time by tasks completed. It’s also important to not judge your day by how you work. If breaking away from your productive work zone and doing something else helps you think, then do it and don’t feel guilty.
However you get to the end goal of completing those tasks, don’t judge the process, judge the success. Find what works best for you.
5. Rest and recover
It’s very tempting when you’re at home to just sit and work. If you don’t need to work specific hours to get the best out of you, you can be tempted to work longer days.
It’s important in home working, as it is with office working, to consider the physical and mental impact of the hours you work.
Don’t sit staring at a screen for hours at a time. Your eyes and your back will not thank you for it. Don’t work longer days, you’ll just burn out faster.
When you’re working from home, especially under a quarantine, time can become a more abstract concept. You can eat lunch when you want and you don’t need to worry about catching a train. Time can be a bit more fluid and less of a concern.
However, you still need to be your own Health and Safety manager. Set yourself those tasks and work to complete them. If you’re finding yourself to be extra productive today, do push on a bit further, but protect yourself from overworking. You can’t run a marathon every day!
If like me you find you often work best on tricky tasks when you give yourself time to think, build in a natural break from your screen and chair and take a rest.
It can be tempting to see distractions, such as TV and social media, as being evil and an afront to productivity. However, you should use them as ways of breaking away from your work and to give your eyes, back and brain a chance to rest and recover.
Working from home can be the most enjoyable and successful period of employment for you. You can become your own boss, or own line manager.
Ensure you’ve got a productive working zone. Work to achievable tasks and judge your day by the tasks completed not the hours spent. Find out how and when you work best and work to your strengths. Most importantly, take breaks and don’t beat yourself up about being ‘unproductive’. Some of the best productivity can come from periods that might look to others as being unproductive!
Ultimately, embrace the opportunity and enjoy the new environment you find yourself working in.