create a productive environment at home –
It’s Thursday evening. As of the start of this week, my team are officially working from home in due diligence for the care of both ourselves and others. I have been working from home since last Thursday since both my parents have serious health issues. At the start of it all, it seemed great: the idea of being able to work in my own space; to have back the hours I spend every morning and evening on my commute, and to get those extra couple hours in bed before my day starts… sounds like a dream right?
But I’m here, sitting at my desk with a stomach full of caffeine and sugar, earnestly trying to self-motivate in a silent room in a still house in the muted countryside. The most I hear when I stop typing is the occasional vehicle driving past and the faint sound of nature. My parents are also at home, going about their day, popping their heads in every so often — but after they leave the room, it’s… quiet.
Working from home isn’t easy, especially when I’m used to operating in an extremely synergic & exuberant office. My days are full of conversations and endless laughter. I miss the trips down into the high street for the occasional chocolate run, or Gregg’s sausage rolls or a bags of Percy Pigs from M&S. I miss the shite radio selections and the sometimes questionable personal playlists. I miss the office dogs, the weekly team lunches and the side-eyeing over desktops when overhearing something funny. I miss that daily morning debrief where sins of the night before are purged over the steamy plumes of a freshly stirred tea & coffee. And, goddammit, I even miss the drollery over illegal consumption of office milk in things other than hot drinks, (so fondly named ‘milk-gate‘)!!.
It’s day seven for me and in this short time, I’ve learned (through trial and error) the few best practices for feeling as switched on and as motivated as possible. These are changes that I have made to my routine, as I transitioned into working at home, that I found conducive to heightened productivity.
work from home woes: I miss the company of my team.
1. Dress the part
I put some lipstick on this morning and it made me feel more like myself than anything else that I’ve done this week. Having breakfast, taking a shower, and getting dressed is essential to feeling and staying productive. Even if you’re just changing into leggings and a jumper, the act of getting out of your pyjamas will signify a change in the day, from off-work to working hours.
2. Keep lists of three
Staying on top of your day makes it feel more routine. I don’t like step-by-step plans for the day; in fact, it only makes me procrastinate more. What I found does help is smaller lists of tasks to be completed.
The first list has three things you will do today. The second is three things you’d like to get done, but aren’t essential. The third is three things that need to be done at some point during the week. That way, when you’ve ploughed through your day’s important work, you don’t end up sitting twiddling your thumbs. Even though your manager and team aren’t there, you’ll feel confident and accountable for what you have to tackle at any given moment.
3. Stay active through the day
Taking inspiration from my break schedule from when I worked in retail; instead of taking the traditional hour for lunch, try to do two separate 30-minute activities. This not only breaks up your day but also provides opportunities to do something active. You may not be walking around the office as normal, so a quick walk in the garden or a home exercise like yoga will keep you from feeling lethargic.
4. Make your home a place where you want to spend time
It goes without saying that a lot of us are spending more time at home than usual. Make it a beautiful place where you want to spend time: a relaxed vibe and a clear space will keep you motivated. Light candles and keep the space tidy. A tidy workspace helps keep a tidy mind, which helps make your day more productive.
5. Maintain your office social habits
Social distancing isn’t easy, especially if you are used to a bustling office. Offices are more than just a place for work. They’re also an essential part of our daily dose of social interaction and a source of many friendships.
Continue using your inner-office communications tools, like Google Hangouts or Skype Business or Slack; text your friends and keep conversations open in order to inspire creativity and retain a sense of normalcy.
This has definitely helped me feel like I’m not always working.
6. Define your space: separate work, from home
Maintaining a separate, dedicated sleep space makes it easier to fall asleep when it’s time for bed. That’s because your brain will learn to associate your bed with sleep so that the simple act of getting in bed helps cue the body that it’s time to wind down. Your bedroom should remain a sanctuary and possibly the only place in your house or apartment where work doesn’t exist. Have a room dedicated to working. Don’t do it wherever you happen to be. Set aside some space to be your workspace. That way, when you enter it, you know consciously what you’re there to do: go to work. It changes the state of mind from “I’m at home” to “I’m at work”.
7. Put on a good playlist
No matter who are you, there are probably days when you could all use a little extra help getting from nine to five. (Or, more realistically, nine to six, seven, or even eight.) Music, TV, the news, the weather… just about everything will influence your mood. Whether that is a Netflix series on a quiet volume on the background or a chill playlist; put on something that will surround you with things that give you the best frame of mind for whatever task you need to tackle.
8. Get your chores done
There never seems to be enough time in the day for all the things we have to do. Now, there’s just a little more. Between meetings and calls, throw a load of laundry in or run the dishwasher. You’ll feel more productive and get key chores done. It’s a win, win situation.
9. Plan in short breaks
Don’t forget to take breaks! Taking breaks is a natural part of being at an office, but when at home you can easily work the entire day without stopping since there are fewer distractions. (Or maybe, there are more distractions and so giving yourself breaks encourages setting aside a separate time for other activities.)
For every hour you work, have a 10-minute break and enjoy something not work-related; whether that’s playing with a pet or making a snack in the kitchen. You may actually find yourself more productive and inspired when you do so. Give your mind time to digest what it’s just done, then come back. You’ll improve the quality of what you produce a hundredfold.
10. Know when to log off
This is absolutely vital when in self-isolation and working from home. If you normally clock out at 6 pm, then shut that computer screen down at the same time while working from home. Don’t feel obliged to work longer to offset the fact that you are working remotely. As long as you avoid major procrastination during the day, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be able to complete all the tasks you do at work, at home in the same amount of time.
It’s about quality, not quantity.
Enjoy the time you have and make the most of it! As much as I am grumbling over my social isolation; I also acknowledge that my low spirits are psychosomatic. At any other time, I would have relished the occasion to work from home for a week; but it’s the plight of it being out of my control and choice that makes me as agitated as I am.
But, I am grateful.
I am beyond grateful to be in a position of privilege where I can continue to work remotely without it affecting my livelihood. I know that in the current climate others are far worse off so I acknowledge how lucky I am.
… But here’s hoping that things will return to normal sooner, rather than later!