WHF Working From Home – Tips From Some Seasoned Pros!
If you’re now working from home for the first time, you may be loving your newfound freedom, but you might be struggling to stay focused or to maintain a healthy work-life balance. As seasoned remote workers, we have gathered tips and best practices to keep you in cheerful spirits and at peak productivity.
Separate Work From Home Life
Working from home affords many benefits, but the blurred lines between your job and leisure time can become a real drawback, unless they are managed well. It’s important to establish clear boundaries and routines to mark the beginning and end of the workday – so you can properly focus on your job, but then leave it behind (physically and mentally) and really switch off. Here’s how…
Create a Workspace
It might be tempting to stay in bed or slump on the sofa, but you’ll be far more productive if you create a workplace separate from your relaxation area. Make the environment as comfortable and pleasant as possible, with all the normal essentials to hand.
Light & air
Ideally, choose a spot with plenty of natural light, which keeps our circadian rhythms in balance, making us stay alert. Open windows for some fresh air and add a couple of pot plants for their purifying calming properties.
Desk or table
Try to find a desk or table free from distractions and clutter(!), which will be better for your posture and help you focus. Or create a standing desk to keep the blood flowing. You could simply use a pile of books, a sturdy cardboard box or a strategically-placed shelf.
We should say that whilst most people recommend a dedicated workspace, a few of us prefer a flexible approach:
‘I am far more productive roaming around the whole house, from kitchen to dining room to living room to garden and only occasionally stay in my office! I like different rooms for different reasons (light, view from the window, noise/silence, how tidy they are!) and I need a regular change of scene.’
Emily & Julie (we’re both Gemini – we wonder if that has anything to do with it?!)
Listen to music
If you’re used to working in a busy office, you might prefer some background noise to the unfamiliar silence of an empty room. Listen to music that complements your work style. However, it’s probably best to avoid TV/radio with constant news updates of the pandemic, which will inevitably draw you in and distract you from the task at hand.
Have a Routine
Keep things ‘normal’
We’re creatures of habit and though it might sound dull, having a routine allows us to create structure and certainty in our lives, so we feel more in control and able to cope with change. Routine is all about being in our comfort zone and functioning effectively. So, in these unpredictable times, it helps to stick with your usual rituals as far as you can e.g. reading the news first thing, eating your 5 a day, an evening dog walk. Adapt where necessary e.g. swap your regular gym session for an online workout, hold your regular business catch ups but do video meetings instead etc.
Dress for success
It’s not just a catchphrase, it really matters – resist the temptation to lounge around in PJs, it will wreck your productivity! Wake up at your normal time, get showered and dressed – not only does it make you feel better, but psychologically, your morning routine puts you in the right mindset for work. (Also, PJs inevitably means staying indoors all day, so you’re more likely to get cabin fever!)
Keep on top of housework
It’s hard to work in chaos! Alex suggests: ‘To keep your partner happy and your home clean, assign a 30-minute slot per day to housework and blitz one room at a time. Then the call to clean won’t be a distraction!’
Set & Stick to Working Hours
One of the ultimate perks of remote work is flexibility. If your boss allows it, you can set your own hours, but be disciplined about sticking to your schedule for the sake of your work and your home life.
Work when you’re most productive
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Your motivation naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day, so plan your work around your peak productivity periods e.g. Charli is an early bird, starting work as soon as she wakes up when she’s most alert, the house is quiet and there are minimal distractions.
No multitasking – don’t let chores interrupt your workflow! Resist the urge to put on another laundry load or prep tonight’s meal while you should be concentrating.
Similarly, stay off social media until you take a break.
If you’re sharing a house with other people, try to work in separate rooms/areas and just enjoy their company for prearranged breaks or ‘after work.’
Avoid work creep
When you’re home-based, just as daily life can interrupt work, there’s a risk that your job can invade your personal life, but only if you let it. By sticking to specific hours and then keeping work out of sight, you will increase your productivity and maintain a healthy work/life balance.
When it’s time to clock off, shut down your laptop, close the door and ‘go home’ – relax, rest and recharge.
Plan Your Workday
You might not have your boss breathing down your neck, but a clear action plan will keep you organised and focused. Start the day by reviewing your priorities, updating your To Do list and setting realistic objectives for the day.
Plan your work around getting exercise and fresh air, to increase energy levels and boost mental wellbeing. As Emily points out: ‘If I plan the breaks, which essentially means there must be a time limit to getting work done, then I’m much more laser focused on the tasks to be completed.’
Swallow the frog
‘If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the biggest one first.’
We’re all guilty of procrastination, especially when it comes to tasks we loathe. Smash those items early on – you will feel good and can then focus on less taxing jobs for the rest of the day.
Victoria has a 10-minute rule. ‘If there’s a task I don’t want to do, I make myself do it for 10 minutes, and then I’ll decide whether to keep going. By the time you reach 10 minutes, you will usually want to finish the task. Sometimes when working from home it’s hard to stay motivated, so that’s my top tip. ‘
Use a planner
Alongside To Do lists, a calendar or planner can help you stay organised, keeping track of task deadlines, important calls and virtual meetings.
Take regular breaks
Whilst it might seem counterintuitive, research shows that taking short breaks can actually boost productivity and creativity, as well as reduce stress.
It’s impossible to sprint through the whole day. If you’re struggling to concentrate or feel motivated, don’t force it. Take a break to clear your head. Leave your work and switch off for a while, so you can go back feeling refreshed: stretch your legs, grab a coffee, get some air, go and chat to housemates, try a mini meditation on the Headspace app or just relax; and ALWAYS enjoy a proper lunch break!
Many remote workers recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method which breaks your working day into 25 minute chunks ‘Pomodoros’, each followed by a 5 minute break (and a longer break after 4 Pomodoros). Over time, it can improve your attention span and concentration.
Emily uses the ‘Fabulous’ app. ‘It has a setting called deep work that lasts 25 minutes with a countdown timer and calming sound effects. The time limit really helps focus you.’
When you complete a task, cross it off your To Do list, which always feels satisfying. Enjoy basic rewards of breaks and treats to keep yourself motivated.
Working from home can get pretty lonely, especially if you live by yourself. Pick up the phone or video chat rather than email or messaging. Make a point of speaking to colleagues or clients each day. You don’t have to talk about work, it’s just as important to socialise with your team and connect as people; regular human contact is vital for mental wellbeing.
Also, you can still ask for help if you need it; don’t be afraid to get in touch if you need resources or have concerns, just like you would at work.
In the absence of work colleagues, Emily suggests getting to know your community. ‘I talk to my local shop owners, cafe owners, postman and neighbours. These people are the next best thing to co-workers and they keep you feeling happy and connected to the world.’
Look After Yourself
It’s more important than ever to take care of your mental and physical health.
Most people need 8-10 glasses of water (or equivalent) a day and it helps improve concentration and cognition. If you’re really focused on your work, it’s easy to forget, so keep a drink beside you. (Drinking plenty will also keep you moving as you’ll need regular loo breaks!)
Eat nutritious meals & snacks
What we eat affects how we feel; healthy eating habits and the right food choices can keep us energised, alert and in good spirits.
WFH makes it all too easy to pop into the kitchen, so make sure you have a stock of sensible snacks (e.g. fruit, hummus, granola bars), fix yourself a healthy lunch, and of course reward yourself with occasional treats.
Exercise releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings and help to clear your head, enabling you to tackle problems more calmly.
Take regular breaks and move around: have a good stretch, do a few squats or sit ups, try an online fitness class (e.g. Joe Wicks) or put on a great song and dance like nobody’s watching! Check out YouTube for plenty of no-equipment workout routines – Alex recommends this 6 minute Yoga At Your Desk video.
Get out & about (if you’re not self-isolating)
You may have less reason to go out when you’re skipping your commute, taking a few steps to your workplace and lunch is on hand. But working from home shouldn’t mean staying cooped up indoors all day.
Try to get out at some point to enjoy fresh air and a change of scenery; it can help undo mental blocks and boost productivity. Although we are practising social distancing, you can still take a lunchtime walk, exercise outside, go for a bike ride or nip out for food shopping.
Sufficient sleep is crucial for a healthy immune system and mental wellbeing. Aim to keep to your normal routine of going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking at your usual time.
Avoid caffeine and stop using electronic devices for a couple of hours before heading for bed (their blue light suppresses melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone).
See here for tips on getting a good night’s sleep.
Once the novelty has worn off and you settle into working from home, we hope you’ll find it enjoyable and productive.
Keep work and home life separate with clear boundaries and set hours. Stick to your usual routines as far as possible. Set realistic objectives and plan your workday with plenty of breaks, including exercise and fresh air, to keep yourself motivated and focused. Stay connected with your team and be sure to look after yourself well. Simple!
Who knows, you might enjoy it so much, you’ll never want to go back to the office…!