Almost three years ago now I quit my long term career and office life, without too much of a plan about what I was going to do next. I managed to find freelance work while working from home, which is what I had always wanted to do. Like most people stuck with the same old 9 – 5 daily commute and routine, I often dreamt about the joys of working from home. For me, and I’m sure for most people, this dream often involved sleep-ins and staying in my PJ’s all day, but I quickly learnt that this wasn’t always ideal.
With the current corona virus pandemic, a lot of people who are fortunate to still be working, and to be able to do so safely in their own homes, are also suddenly realising the actual reality that work from home life actually involves.
So, as someone who’s experienced and moderately successfully navigated this life for a few years now, here are my tips on how to make the most of it!
1. Stick to a routine, and plan your week and days
You know the feeling when you wake up from a nap and you feel more groggy than when you started? That’s how it feels when you attempt to not structure some sort of routine into your week.
Depending on the terms of your WFH arrangement, it can be tempting to be more flexible with your week, but this only works to a certain point. It can be great to be able to make appointments or go shopping in quieter times (not as relevant in our current corona restricted lives) and have a greater sense of freedom overall, but I’ve found it’s best to stick to some sort of normal routine. Not doing this means the days all into one big blah blob, and it can be hard to get things done.
I originally liked to do some work on the weekends too, to mean that my workload was stretched out a bit more over the whole week, but I found this meant I wasn’t making enough time for proper rest and relaxation which affected my overall work output. Now, I stick to a standard Monday to Friday routine, with occasional flexibility where I need or want it. Everyone is different though, so find a routine which works best for you.
On Sundays, I like to plan out all of my tasks for the week, and then assign certain ones for each day. Having a clear plan for each day also makes it easier to stay on track, and having all of my workload planned out also means I avoid overthinking about everything I need to get done. I like to physically plan things out on paper, and I love these Kikki.K planners for the week and their daily to do lists, Kmart have some great versions too!
Finally, it’s important to note that one of the best things about working from home is the ability to work when it suits you best. It takes a while for my narcoleptic brain to kick into gear each morning, so I usually start my day with basics like checking emails. By mid-morning I’m ready to go, so I save my biggest tasks for then. By the mid afternoon I start to get distracted again, so I switch back to less brain heavy tasks again, before finally wrapping up and getting in some exercise to finish up the day before relax time. Here’s a general schedule of ideal productivity times based on circadian rhythms, but again – everyone is different, so find what works for you.
2. Get up and ready for the day
I remember when I was about to finish up at my previous office life job, and most people said to me how lucky I’d be to be able to work in PJ’s all day. I already knew that this wasn’t going to work.
Same as it helps to have some sort of structure to the week, it helps to have a daily routine too. Of course, you don’t need to get up and put on a suit (unless you want to), but changing out of PJ’s definitely helps. Getting up and ready for the day helps to start kick your mindset into work mode.
Not having to commute and rush to work at a certain time is a huge plus, and I definitely advocate getting as much quality sleep as possible, however try to avoid oversleeping and ideally stick to the same waking time every day (again, routines are really key!).
3. Set up a dedicated working space
Just as it helps to get up and get ready for the day, it helps to have a physical work space too. If you can set up a desk or assigned working space which you’ll use each day, and try to avoid the couch (and especially bed) if possible. I have a rule that I don’t even sit on the couch during the day, because I know that if I do there’s a strong chance I’ll stay there for a lot longer than intended. Obviously this is harder for people who don’t usually work from home and have a dedicated space, but try and find somewhere which will be your spot during this time.
Working from the couch (or bed) also isn’t great for your posture, and it’s important to consider the same wellbeing tips you would when setting up an office space.
4. Avoid distractions
Once you’ve got your work space ready, avoiding distractions is the next task. Working on social media and with digital means that I often do need my phone, but I try and work just on my computer as much as possible. If you can, switch it into flight mode when working on large tasks. Of course, there may be times where you still need to schedule in meetings and talking to the rest of your team or clients, but a huge WFH plus is the lack of pointless meetings and catch ups which you’ll find (along with the lack of daily commute) will put so much more time back into your day!
If you’re like me, this also means minimising physical clutter distractions – I can’t work in a messy work space! Now that I work from home I actually clean the house a lot more, as I need to have a nice, organised space before I can start.
For other external distractions, try and work out how you can best silence these. For me, it’s my dog Monty always wanting attention, so I always make sure he has a good walk in the morning and an interactive toy to keep him entertained on days where he has more energy. Try and think about what your potential distractions will be, and come up with a solution. I find that outside noise can be a big one for me too, so I try to drown this out with music which also helps me to focus and get in the zone. Here are a couple of my favourite ones – try them out for yourself!
5. Meal prep and plan your meals ahead
There are two main things I’ve seen people working from home during this corona virus pandemic talk about. The first, is not having a concept of time or knowing what day it is – which can be fixed by my first point up above, and the second is about how much they’re eating and snacking.
Just as I know it’s tempting to sleep in all day and have the freedom to keep your plans flexible and just take the day as it comes, I also know the very tempting lure of the kitchen cupboards. In my office life I was already a habitual meal-prepper and while I had good intentions of keeping this up when working from home I thought it would be a great chance to be able to enjoy freshly cooked meals each day. Wrong. As nice as this idea sounds, doing this takes up a big chunk in your day, and most importantly means it’s a lot easier to just quickly snack on things from the cupboard instead. (If you’re new to the world of meal prep, you can check out my guide here)
So, the simple fix for this one? Keep meal prepping and planning your food as you would normally (or of course, buying some lunches too via delivery, to keep supporting local businesses). Even though this doesn’t completely eliminate all temptation, I hate wasting food and so if it’s prepared and ready to go then I’m going to eat it. Make sure you keep other quick and healthy snacks ready to go too like fruit, yoghurt and rice cakes.
6. Make sure to take breaks
As I mentioned above, just as I realised I needed to schedule weekend breaks in my routine, breaks throughout the day are just as important. They don’t need to be super long (and as mentioned, ideally not on the couch), but just as we need them on a normal office working day, they’re important when working from home too. Sitting outside to get fresh air, or even going for a quick walk is ideal.
During this current time, it’s ok to stop and process emotions too. It’s great to be productive and use time wisely, but remember that taking a break for your mental and physical health is just as important too. So if you’re having an hour, a day, or even most of the week where you’re finding it hard to process everything that’s going on at the moment, remember to take it easy on yourself. If there’s one thing I learnt from office life, it’s that work will always be there, but taking care of our health and happiness should always be the first on our to do list.
So that’s the basics for now! I’ll be sharing some more posts on practical tips and tools for working remotely, as well as tips for those who are currently stuck at home and not working (but desperately needing something to do). Do you have any work from home tips too? Let me know in the comments below!
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