Yeah, the world is ending, but before it does many more people are finding themselves working from home for the first time. If you’ve never worked from home before, you’ve probably got half an idea of getting shit done from bed, in your PJs, with Netflix on in the background. And some days, working from home is totally like that. But most of the time, it’s really not that fun.
Structure your time
At work, you probably move to a schedule even if you don’t consciously think about it. The start of your day probably involves commuting, catching up on emails, getting your first coffee, and a dozen other quirks and niceties before getting down to business. And then that business usually goes to a schedule. I know when I worked in an office, I’d approach the different tasks I had to complete in an order that didn’t change much day by day.
Losing that schedule can hit harder than you think it will. Suddenly it’s 10am and you’re still curled up with a cup of coffee and Reddit open (been there, done that). So how do you stay on track? Structure your time.
Keep to regular working hours. If you usually work 8-5, then get up at the normal time and be “in work” from 8-5. If you’ve got less work to do at home than you would have in the office, still begin at 8. That will give you an incentive to get your work done so you can finish early. The procrastination monkey will only come for you if you decide you’re not going to start your work until later in the day, and next thing you know, you’ll still be working at midnight (been there, too).
Unless you’re a night owl. For some people, working from home is a godsend because they’re really not functional at 8am. If you really, really hate getups, try structuring your workday from 10-7, or 12-9 instead (assuming this won’t get in the way of the rest of your household’s schedule). You might find a later start and finish actually works wonders for you. Just make sure whatever hours you choose, you are actively in work for the duration.
Your body might be in the office for 8 or 9 hours each day, but you don’t work consistently throughout that time. Everybody chats to coworkers, reads the news online, or sneaks a peek at Facebook. Plenty of people start working from home and think they need to be productive 100% of the time. Not only is this an unreasonable expectation to put on yourself, it’s doomed to failure. Take micro-breaks to unwind and recharge.
Just watch the clock as you do so. “Taking a quick break” can quickly turn into half an hour going down an online rabbit hole and next thing you know you’re arguing with some moron about how much TP is too much for a home quarantine situation. If you know you’re going to be distraction-prone, give yourself break times and set an alarm for 10 or 15 minutes so you know when to get back to work.
Or let an app do it for you. There are a ton of productivity apps available to help you stay on track. StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that will block any and all sites of your choosing, for as long as you decide. If you’re not sure where you’re losing time, Rescue Time will record what you do on your device(s) throughout the day and tell you where you’re going wrong. It has a forever free plan with up to 3mo tracking data available if you want to see all your bad habits laid out.
Stretch, and rest your eyes. Chances are you won’t be working at an ergonomically designed desk with you chair set just so when you start working from home, and you’re going to feel it in your back very quickly. Make a point of getting up, stretching, and giving your eyes a break from the computer screen.
One of the hardest things I found about working from home was convincing others that I was actually in work. We’re all conditioned to think that being a home = doing nothing, and you might find it surprisingly difficult to convince kids, partners, friends and family that you aren’t just sitting in your PJs watching Netflix all day.
Shut down requests for entertainment and errands asap. Hopefully with COVID-19 breathing down people’s necks there will be less demand for you to run to the store, but it’s astonishing how helpless tweens suddenly get when they think you’re home to cater to their every whim.
Make a dedicated workspace
Working from bed seems great, until you’re doing it every day. Not only will it wreak havoc on your posture, it’ll soon stop feeling like a sanctuary. Find a place in your home that you can turn into a dedicated workspace. You don’t need a big fancy home office, but make that corner in the living room or kitchen yours during work hours.
Dress up. (Really.) The best way you can train yourself to feel “at work” is to replicate the key schedules and sensations you’re used to in the office. Start at your usual time, and wear your usual clothes. You can skip anything you really dislike, but just putting on a button-up shirt, or wearing your work heels with your civvy clothes, will help put you into a work mindset and make it easier to get the job done.
I’m not suggesting you go around hugging strangers and catching the plague, but sticking your head outside from time to time will make a big difference to your day. If you work out of the home, you’re used to a varied environment, and to getting fresh air every once in a while.
Don’t underestimate the impact even a short commute has on your psyche. If you’ve got a garden or balcony, take some of your short breaks out there. If you don’t have an outdoor space, throw open a window (weather permitting). Get some natural light and feel the breeze on your skin.
Prep your food
At work, you probably get snacks and lunches the same way every day, be it a packed lunch or a stop at the sandwich shop during your break. Working from home, you have all the things at your disposal, and it’s reeeeeallly tempting to snack your day away, or take an hour or more making an elaborate lunch for yourself because having the time is a novelty.
It might be less exciting than the alternatives, but if you usually make your lunch in the morning, continue to do so. If you usually grab something on your way to work, consider meal prepping at night. These meal prep bento boxes are cheap, reusable, and have sections so you can easily control your portions and keep wet and dry food separate.
How many people do you talk to during a normal day at the office? How many little conversations do you hold with colleagues between phone calls and concentrating on your job? Working from home, especially if you’re on your own, will quickly drive you stir-crazy.
Background music definitely helps, so now is the perfect time to subscribe to a Spotify playlist or two, but it’s worth opening up a few more communication channels. Emails, Slack, Skype, and social media are all great ways of adding a little conversation to your day. Just don’t get carried away and spend all your time talking instead of working.
Face-to-face communication is also thought to be extra beneficial for our mental health, so turn a couple of your work meetings into video conferences if you’re missing seeing other people.
Working from home can be awesome. Really. I’ve done it for going on six years now, and I love the freedom it gives me. If I want a lie-in, I get one. If I want a day off, I take one. However the payoff is sometimes I’m working at 1am and sometimes I put in 15-hour days. For me, that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make. If you’re used to working a 9-5 office gig, it’s a shock to the system. By keeping your routine from work and translating it to home, you’ll adjust faster and be more productive, giving you more time to really lounge around in your PJs and watch Netflix at the end of each day.