I’ve been working from home for about 11 years now and I know from experience how hard it can be to stay focussed and productive. So I want to give you some really practical home working tips that, through trial and error, I’ve worked out and realised over the years in the hope that they might help you too… you can survive working from home, trust me!
Your work area: If you have the space, establish a work area - whether it’s a proper desk, the dining room table, a piece of board over your lap Roald-Dahl-style, whatever. That way you can walk away from it (or commute, if you will!). It’s important to be able to get work out from under your nose at the end of the day. If you can’t physically shut a door on the room you work in, make sure you clear and tidy your work area at the end of every day. Even if that just means stacking paperwork into neat piles, putting the lid of your laptop down and putting your pens in a pot, it will make it feel less intrusive when you walk past it during your days off or evenings, and it’ll make everything feel more controlled (in an already chaotic time). Working from home is all about creating divides between work-life and home-life. That’s easy to achieve when you work in a different building, but you have to consciously make the effort when you work from home - otherwise home and work can blend and you’ll never be able to switch off properly. At a time like this, when we can’t just go out whenever we want, that’s more important than ever.
Get yourself comfortable: Make sure you’re working in enough light - whether that’s natural light (ideally) or an improvised table lamp. If you find yourself frowning or working in your own shadow because the window is behind you, that’s far from ideal. You might be improvising with a dining chair that’s not the right height, so if that’s the case make sure you sit up straight (I’m world class at hunching over my desk, so I know how easy it is to end up with backache and a stiff neck at the end of the day!). Stand up and walk around the room at regular intervals. And don’t make yourself too comfy: whilst it might be tempting to put the coffee machine on the table next to you, it’s better to keep it where it is so that you’re forced to get up and move to get yourself a drink! But remember, chances are you’re going to be working from home like this for a few weeks, so make yourself comfortable and create an environment that’s as pleasing to work in as you can.
Keep to regular hours: If you’ve got very young children or others in your home that need attention I know this can be really hard. When I first started PhotoFairytales I worked from the kitchen table and my daughter Amy was very little. Even little things like her interrupting me to ask for a biscuit would cut through my concentration and it would take time to get ‘back in the zone’. If your children are old enough to understand and cooperate, try working in hourly chunks that mimic their own school routine. At the end of each hour you make yourself available - and maybe even have a 15 minute ‘playtime’ with them. That way they have a routine, the same as you. You might find yourself getting up a bit earlier to do some work before they wake up, or working later after their bed time - but just make sure you’re not tempted to dip in and out of work when you shouldn’t be. Turn your phone off, turn the laptop off, make yourself step away when you’re ‘out of hours’. When you go out to work there are structures to your day: the commute, the lunch hour, the clocking off time. But when you work from home those things can get blurred. You might not be able to stick to the same hours as usual, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of routine (having a proper lunch hour is a good place to start). Maybe think about setting an alarm on your phone to remind you when to ‘go home’ at the end of the day: bzzz bzzz, home time!
Happiness is still important: Bring in a bit of what my Amy calls ‘the aesthetics’… put a nice plant by your workspace, get yourself some nice pens to write with, a pretty pot to put them in, a nice ‘work’ mug. Whatever little touches you can add that makes the environment more pleasant to work in. Chances are you’re going to be working from home for a few weeks, so you may as well make the best of things.
Dress the part: It’s so easy to just work in your pyjamas - or even get so engrossed in work you forget to brush your hair or teeth (I’m speaking from experience here, trust me on this). So, every morning make sure you get dressed just as you would if you were going to work (I mean, you don’t have to do the full shirt-and-tie-power-suit thing, but dress like someone might be coming round to the house and you wouldn't want to be caught on the hop). It sounds crazy, but the act of getting properly dressed makes you feel like you’re going to work. And it means that in your downtimes like the weekends and evenings you can still get that relaxed feeling. For example, I work from home but I never wear slippers during the day. I have a pair of shoes that I never wear outdoors, but they feel like shoes and that makes me feel different - and act different - during the day. They’re less comfy - so at the end of the day when I’ve finished work I take them off and put my slippers on - and that’s my sub-conscious indicator that tells my brain it’s now relaxing time! (I’m confessing all my secrets here, you do realise that?!)
Bonus tip: This one is all about distractions… How houseproud are you? Do you make the beds every day? Keep the carpets hoovered? Keep things basically tidy at home? If not, you might want to get on top of things a bit. It’s hard to keep focussed when out of the corner of your eye there’s a pile of dirty plates in the sink. So every day, allot 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening to do a swift tidy. Make the beds, do a sweep of the rooms and pick up anything that doesn’t belong - even if that just means chucking stuff in a box until later, just get it out of sight. I’m not suggesting you do a full clean of your house, just a straighten up. Rope in other family members and get them to pull their weight too. It’s easy to get distracted by housework when you’re supposed to be working - personally, I find the washing is the main culprit for this: I’ll find myself dashing to the washing machine to get the next load on, or get it pegged in the garden while the sun’s shining. That’s fine, it gives me a reason to step away from my studio and straighten up and switch my focus - but I draw the line at shoving the hoover around when I should be answering emails. That sort of thing can wait - when I’m at work, I’m at work. You’re spending a lot of time in your home right now so keep it organised, delegate chores if you can, only do housework during out-of-hours - a tidy home is a tidy mind!
Also, does your phone constantly ping and buzz with notifications from social media? These might be a nice distraction normally, and you might have a routine of checking your Instagram or Facebook account during your lunch break, but they can cut across your concentration if you’ve got your phone beside you because you’re working from home. Think about switching it off or muting the notifications - you’ve probably got enough distraction going on in your home with kids and partners interrupting you, so you don’t want to add to it with notifications that an old school friend has just seen a squirrel in their garden (or whatever)!
Above all though, remember this isn’t going to be forever. It’s a strange moment in time that we’ll all remember, but it will become a memory and life will go on.
Stay in, stay safe.