Working from home – the good, the bad and the focused

Many people say to me “It must be great to work from home”. And I do feel blessed. But it isn’t all Disneyland either. There are lots of pitfalls, including an incredible array of temptations into procrastination… you know you’re avoiding something when cleaning the bathroom jumps to the top of the list.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, and with COVID-19 seeing many of us working from home more, I thought it would be helpful. So here are some of my tips from my own experience of working from home over the past 7 years – hope it helps you stay focused and productive!

  1. Start as you mean to end
    Isn’t about your work but getting your body and mind ready for the day. The best start is enough rest – 8 hours of sleep. I’m often tempted to stay up late working or watching movies but I know that I need my 8 hours to function well.
    The beauty of working from home is that there’s no commute so you can make the most of it by doing your daily exercise first thing, especially as being at home means there is much less movement in your day. A 30-40 min yoga session (I love Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube), following your favourite fitness app or busting out in your home gym if you can.
    Get dressed for your day too, even it’s just into a tracksuit, I find it helps draw a boundary between my work and home time.
    I create a to-do list every Monday morning and then add to it each day, either the night before as I’m finishing up or first thing in the morning. Then when attention wanders I can keep myself focused or know just how much of a break I can take.
    A small morning process each day helps me check in with myself, how am I feeling on all levels, and which informs if I can out in a huge effort day ahead or need a gentler pace – then I arrange my calendar to suit if I can.
  2. Get your environment right
    Make sure you’re working in a place that has good light, a comfortable chair in a space without too many distractions and where you can claim that space for the duration. I try to keep my desk in s state of tidy that suits me, with everything at my fingertips… and I make time to tidy up when it gets messy as it can create background stress. Music, plants, flowers, oil burners, all these can help create a calm, productive environment.
  3. Keep some of your workplace habits
    Working from home at first can feel like drifting without an anchor, let alone with the unknown knocking at our door like it is right now. To add in some grounding, try bringing your normal work habits into your day. Do you check your calendar first thing? Or prioritise your emails? Create a task list to keep you focused? Keep doing that. Is there a meeting you always have on a Tuesday morning? Try finding ways to do that via video conferencing.
  4. Tackling isolation
    While being on your own does mean you can focus more, it can also be the hardest part. Yet, modern technology offers easy alternatives. Do you have a weekly team meeting or regular lunches with a colleague? FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom can all help keep the traditions going. Or perhaps you’re on the opposite end, and overwhelmed by ALL the ways your team is contacting you. Streamlining channels of communication into one or two options can help here. Turning off if you need to focus is ok too, as long as there’s one option for emergency communications.
  5. Creating Focus
    Talking about focus, our team or boss around us is a motivator to stay task-orientated, but how do you do keep that going at home? Starting my day with the small, easy to tick off tasks brings a sense of satisfaction that helps me move onto the bigger jobs at hand. Then momentum gets going, and hey presto, some days work is done by 3.30pm! Or a trick I learnt from Alex Pang’s book “Rest” is to do an hour’s creative work first thing, right out of bed, and then get to the more logical work later in the day.
    If that doesn’t work, the Pomodoro technique is usually my next step. This involves working out how long a task could last for and then breaking it into 30min increments. Set yourself a timer for 25 mins, work consistently at it for that time and then when your timer goes off, take a break. This could be a snack, dance-off or quick walk around your garden. Repeat this 3 more times, and then take a longer break for 30mins to an hour. Then repeat all over again. I don’t do this every day, but if I have a longer project I need to get stuck into, this is my go-to method for staying focussed.
  6. The importance of Snacking
    Or as friend and colleague Kelly Surtees‘ hilariously calls it, bum glue! Have a range of healthy snacks available that you can quickly grab a 5-minute break with or take back to your desk with you. It’s also good to prepare your lunch at the beginning of the day so it’s in the fridge and ready to go. Gourmet lunch prep can also be a way of procrastinating.
  7. Bring some energy back in
    A 10-minute dance party livens you up when the afternoon nods come on. Put on your favourite dance tunes or music videos and dance it out. Mark Kanemura (Lady Gaga’s backup dancer) is putting on dance parties each day via his IG live feed, so follow him via @mkik808 to find out more. Not a dancer? This is a chance to do some running on the spot, a quick stretch session or maybe burpees – or not!
  8. Avoid the temptation to keep working
    You’re in a quiet place, not being interrupted by your colleagues, and you’re flying through work that’s been on your list for weeks. You look at the clock, its 6pm, and think “I might just work for another hour”. Next thing it’s 8.30pm, your stomach is screaming at you and you probably haven’t been that productive anyway. Honouring your work day as a 8-9 hour day that has a start and a finish time is important. Often working too long one day means your attention is off the next day too. If you do need to pull long days, schedule a shorter day the next.
  9. Take a break if you need to
    If you find yourself in front of the TV watching reruns of Friends, don’t despair, you may need the creative break. Put a time limit on it, maybe you need a few hours of relaxing to then get back to it tomorrow full steam. But don’t let social media be a break, because right now it isn’t, it’s a vortex into a time suck

Do you already do any of these? Have you got any tips of your own you’d like to share? Is this the way of the new future?

2 thoughts on “Working from home – the good, the bad and the focused”

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