Updated: Mar 28, 2020
This last few weeks have been hard.
The world seems to have turned turtle and spun off its axis. In the space of a few weeks, everything has changed.
One of the biggest changes for many is that they now have to work from home. Given the circumstances it's definitely the right thing to do. But if you've been working from home for a few weeks now, you'll have discovered the pitfalls that come with the territory. You may have left your office jumping for joy, excited about your new-found freedom and productivity, only to find the reality is not what you thought it would be.
As much as we moan about our 'daily grind', routine actually keeps us sane. Without it we feel 'floaty', 'off', 'out of sorts', and 'ungrounded'. So, when you find yourself unexpectedly working from home, establish a routine right from day one. It doesn't need to be the same as your regular routine - in most cases that's not possible - but you can set a new 'working from home' routine.
I've worked from home for years. I've learned to be good at it. But it takes practice. So that you can be productive, stay sane, and keep your waistline, I thought I'd share with you some of the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.
1. Prepare your network
Before you leave the office, consider the things you may possibly need while at home. For example, IT and admin support, finance, legal etc. Think of the departments you interact with regularly and make sure you have contact information for someone in those departments. If they're also working from home, find out how you can contact them. This will save you multiple headaches when you need something - and you will - while working from home.
2. Brush your teeth and get dressed.
No, I'm not trying to sound like your Mum! It's all too easy to fall into a routine of opening your eyes five minutes before you're due to start work, and sitting on your bed in your jammies with your toast in one hand, and your laptop or phone in the other.
Set your alarm for the same time you would if you were leaving for the office, exercise if you usually exercise, shower, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, put your make-up on, and get dressed in smart-casual clothes. Really, don't work in your jammies or your sweats. Those are your comfy, relaxing, cup-of-cocoa clothes and I guarantee that's exactly how you'll feel if you put them on. You'll disappear down the social media or Netflix blackhole if you're dressed for it! Prepare yourself for work so that your mind shifts and you're ready to start your day.
3. Set a schedule
Before you start, decide what time you're going to begin work, end work, and take breaks. Keep as close as you possibly can to your regular work schedule. It may not always work and if that's the case, schedule your day including any 'non work' activities you have to get done. Be disciplined with your time, set alarms for breaks (because you'll work through the if you don't), and stick to your plan. Avoid the temptation to work beyond your scheduled time; if you do it will become a habit.
4. Dedicate a work space
I used to keep horses. And there is a general rule with horses that you never exercise them in the same field in which they graze. Their grazing field is for rest and relaxation; not work. The same applies to humans. When you have to work from home, dedicate one particular space to work. It could be an entire room or it could be a particular seat at your dining table. Wherever it is, dedicate it to work for the time you're working at home and try to avoid using it for anything else. I realize that's not always possible, so choose your space wisely. Which space in your house could you use that you don't use often? You may eat at your dining table every day and you probably sit at the same spot. So if you have to use your dining table to work, choose a chair you don't sit in for eating. Find or create a dedicated working space and keep it for that one purpose for the duration of time you work from home.
5. Keep your home clean and tidy
When you're living and working at home, it's very easy for your space to get cluttered and messy very quickly. Remember this: Environment determines function. If your space is a mess, your mind will be too. If there's laundry on the floor it will distract you and cause your mind and attention to wander. If there are dishes in the sink, they'll catch your eye just as you're about to hop on a conference call and you'll lose focus. A cluttered space equals a cluttered mind (and vice versa). Keep your space neat and clean and your mind will follow suit.
6. Minimize disruptions
If possible, tell everyone else in your house that you will be available for them to chat to you between the hours of x and y, and then make sure you are. If they know when you'll be available, family members are less likely to disrupt you when you're working. A two minute disruption generally results in thirty minutes of lost productivity and before you know it, your day has passed by and you've achieved nothing. Train people how to treat you. Be firm with your time and assert your boundaries. Sometimes disruptions are unavoidable but by being disciplined with your schedule and letting everyone know when you'll be free to chat with them, you'll keep disruptions to a minimum.
7. Prepare your food the night before
For any of you new to working at home, I'm sure you've already experienced the dreaded 'snack attack'. For some reason, you sit down to work and immediately feel hungry. So you pop over to the kitchen and grab a cookie. An hour later, you do it again. Two weeks in and you're baking cookies and cup-cakes, and your clothes are getting tighter by the day (another good reason not to wear sweats or jammies; too much room for expansion!). Prepare your food the night before. Have your snacks and lunch ready, and have your meal times built into your schedule. Drink plenty of water during the day and take a pitcher to your workspace so you can avoid repeated visits to the kitchen to refill your glass.
8. Get fresh air
Either first thing in the morning or at one of your breaks, go for a walk; even if it's only around your garden. Get some fresh air, clear your head, change the scenery, and your mind becomes more creative and alert - and more productive - when you return to work.
9. Stay off social media, Netflix, and YouTube
Keep all social media and entertainment for non-work hours. Avoid catching up on your latest show during your lunch break because you're guaranteed go over your allocated time. Unless your work involves social media, keep away from it. You'll get sucked into a blackhole it will take you hours to pull out of. When you're at home, the temptation to take a 'mental break' is huge. If you must take a break, see point number eight!
10. Talk to your colleagues & customers
Working from home can be very isolating. We humans need social interaction; even the introverts among you. Rather than send lengthy emails, call your colleagues and customers. Use video-conferencing (such as Zoom) whenever possible, and interact with people at least once during your day. Generally speaking, small challenges become much larger and more complex with distance so shorten the distance by speaking - rather than emailing - people. You'll resolve challenges and issues far faster and you'll be far more productive. Plus, you'll nurture your relationships with people.
One final though: Isolation can make you feel a little 'loopy', so make a determined effort to connect with another human. Not only will it help you, it will help them too.
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