Working from home these day? Same. It’s one of the best things that we can do right now in light of the global outbreak but… it’s challenging and it can be lovely.
I’ve been working from home 3/5 days a week for a long time. I won’t be immune to the loss of social interaction, either, but I do have tips to help you get started.
Most importantly, if you only take away from thing from this post I hope it is this: don’t be so hard on yourself. Working from home is much different than being in an office. My hope is that be sharing some of the differences you will see them coming and it will make the transition a bit smoother.
Tips for Working from Home
Start your day with a little bit of sunlight! Light in the morning sets the stage for the rest of your day. It helps you be more alert and productive during waking hours, but also helps you sleep better at night.
That little bit outside time and sunlight that you get on your morning commute makes a bigger difference than you probably realize. Without replicating in odds are you’ll start to feel groggy.
Plan Around Your Brain
There are a lot of work activities in most offices that, while often necessary, don’t actually involve a lot of cognitive effort on your part.
Here are some important things to know about your attention span and productivity:
- you can focus without interruption for about 20-25 minutes.
- you can do about 4 hours of really cognitively demanding work in a day (there’s variation in this research. Some studies say 4, others 5. It depends).
What does this mean for working from home? First, don’t beat yourself up for getting distracted every 20 minutes. Second, don’t expect yourself to get through 8 hours of top-notch productivity.
I typically block 4-5 productive hours (writing, working on projects), 1-2 reading hours, and 1-2 logistical hours (e-mails, paperwork, forms, setting something up) per day.
Wear your work clothes.
What? Work clothes? I know how excited you were to work in your PJ’s. Or at least half of your PJ’s! The fact is that your brain is hard-wired to respond to things like this. Wearing your PJ’s signals your brain that it’s still watch-Netflix and cuddle-your-cat time.
That’s not to say you can’t wear comfy clothes! Just wear different clothes than your regular attire for hanging out at home.
- You’ll be more productive because you’re helping yourself shift in to work-mode.
- It’s surprisingly helpful in maintaining work-life balance at home.
I love to wear track pants and a hoodie when I work from home. When I’m done working for the I change in to PJ pants. It’s an official signal to my brain that my workday is done.
Move around regularly.
One of the things you will quickly notice about working from home is that it can be even more sedentary than working in an office.
- Washrooms, kitchens, and other facilities are often further away in an office.
- Home has larger uninterrupted time blocks of sitting.
- Those meetings that could have been e-mails? Well, they forced you to get up and move from one chair to the other.
These things sound so small but trust me – there’s a good chance you move around your office a bit. You don’t have to move around at home hardly at all. The way your body processes energy changes after 30 minutes and it is super unhealthy (check out Amanda Stercyzk, MA, CPT for great books and content on this) but to combat this… you just need to move around a little. Set a timer, stand up, go put some dishes away, and then get back to work.
Use apps to limit distractions.
The power of distractions at home is real. I have discovered that having no one nearby who might judge you for going on social media means you will definitely go on social media more.
My favourite way to limit distractions on my computer is an app for Mac called Self Control. It lets you create a black list of sites that you cannot go on and then set a timer for how long you want those sites to be inaccessible.
It’s a game changer for productivity! When I’m having trouble focusing I set Self Control and put my phone in a drawer.
Work in time blocks.
Rather than deciding exactly how much of a task you’re going to accomplishment dedicate a certain amount of time to a task.
This is particularly relevant if you work on long term projects with deadlines that feel really far away. Decide how many hours you’re going to spend on each of those projects instead of deciding what phase of that project you’re going to get to. Example:
- 2 x 1 hour on Project A
- 1 hour on Project B
- 1 hour responding to e-mails and doing paperwork.
Join online community pages.
The social isolation is real – get ahead of it. Depending on what kind of work you do, there are probably already online community pages on Twitter and Instagram that you can be part of.
I’m in academia so I love
- Academeology on Instagram
- Academic Chatter on Twitter
During March and April Nina Near and Far will be hosting Instagram chats for anyone working from home in any field.
I don’t know all the threads but with a bit of searching (i.e. “best twitter accounts for [insert profession]) you will probably find some communities.
Keep Meal Prepping.
Time will never get away from you more than if you start cooking during the middle of the day. Whatever your current system is for lunches, I suggest you keep it up.
I personally eat leftovers from dinner the night before or throw a salad together in the morning before leaving. Keep doing this!
Once you start messing up your kitchen and cooking during the middle of the day it’s very difficult to get back to work.
Create a specific office space.
The more distinct your office space can feel from the rest of your home the better. This can accomplished in a lot of ways, even if you don’t have a specific office space.
Have a desk and bookshelf? Make a nook (this is my current set up; a book shelf separates my desk from my bed and I love it. One side of the shelf is my office. The other side is restful).
Got a dining room table? Use your house plants to create a table divide.
It doesn’t have to be fancy it just has to be a spot that you only use for work. This improves productivity and helps you feel like you’ve left work later.
Connect with work teams and friends.
Who do you normally work with? Talk to your work teams and decide how often you want to check in with each other.
This doesn’t actually have to be work teams either – get a little pod of friends together and talk to each other every day. And you don’t have to talk about work. At all.
Set up a regular Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or other method of conference call. If you yourself are a team leader in an organization take this initiative.
The other thing that is lost by working at home is those “hey just a quick question” office visits. Don’t stop doing that – most supervisors would rather hear from you then have you work along unsure of what you’re doing. One possible way to overcome this is a chat in Discord or a similar platform that feels less formal than an e-mail.
Maintain regular hours.
Maintaining a regular schedule helps you work more effectively and helps create distance from work when you can “clock out.”
It doesn’t matter what your hours are – just try to keep them consistent. If the night-owl life is calling you, go for it, provided you think you can transition back later.
Pre-determine when you take large chunks of time off like your lunch break and use timers and alarms to keep yourself on track.
Take a deep breath and accept this virtual hug.
I’m obviously writing this post now because of a pandemic. It is a global pandemic – people are dying, the world is scary, the future is uncertain, and everything is changing. You’re working from home, the kids are off school, museums, libraries, and gyms are closed, and toilet paper is sold out. I’m not saying this to overwhelm you, I’m saying this because I want you to cut yourself some slack.
You’re not always going to get through your to-do list.
If you have kids that pretty much is your to-do list.
You might be incredibly antsy and feel the affects of shut-in.
Just do your best.