Working from home takes a bit of getting used to. Some people love it, others hate it. In the light of the Covid-19 crisis, I thought it might be worth sharing what I’ve learned over the last few years of home-based working.
In addition, work adjustment is one of the areas that career coaches are trained to help people deal with. Under normal circumstances, a client might experience work adjustment challenges such as:
- being given a new manager they don’t get on with
- working in a new environment that doesn’t suit them
- taking on new responsibilities that feel overwhelming
- transitioning to a management role
- transitioning to senior leadership role
- coping with a new job alongside relocation to a new part of the country
But given what’s happening at the moment, here are some suggestions about how to maintain productivity, health and sanity during Covid-19:
- This may seem obvious but introverts and extroverts react to working from home in very different ways.
- Introverts: may love being out of the (open-plan) office; away from noise and distraction; able to knuckle down and get on with work without being disturbed. What they may find hard is noise and distraction from other people in the house.
- Extroverts: may enjoy being at home with the family and the contact with colleagues and clients through online meetings. They may go crazy if they’re living alone and can’t see anyone except online. The day may drag on endlessly because there’s little or no social interaction to break it up.
- Tip: think about how much social interaction you need in order to be at your most productive. Put in place routines and structures to ensure you get it. E.g. A highly extrovert person may feel they can only be productive if they have regular social breaks. The Pomodoro technique of having breaks every 20-25 mins may help.
#2 Light & air – a few essentials
- This is what I’ve found essential:
- a south facing window to get enough light. If that isn’t possible, watch how the light moves round your home during the day and move with it if light starvation is going to affect your productivity.
- a blind that can be raised or lowered to avoid eyestrain either from too much light coming in behind the computer or sunlight bouncing off the computer screen
- dimmable ceiling light and desk light so that on gloomy days and in the evening, the light level can be adjusted to avoid eye strain.
- a window that opens – getting some fresh air into the room keeps the brain awake. If you’re taking a break, open the window when you leave the room and close it when you come back (assuming the weather’s cold!).
- a window to gaze out of. There’s something about facing a wall or being in a room with no window that stifles creativity.
- giving your brain and eyes a rest from the computer screen; sitting at a window with a notepad instead and jotting down ideas/thoughts as they come.
- Tip: think about what your body needs in terms of light and air. Too little little exposure to direct sunlight may leave you feeling depressed and insufficient fresh air will impede your thinking. Experiment with where you feel most productive in the home and if possible, use that spot as your designated workspace (see tips #6 and #7 as well though).
#3 Body clock
- When I first started working from home 5 years ago, I was finally able to get up when I felt refreshed and not at the ungodly hour determined by the alarm clock. It was a revelation to see how my energy levels and productivity shot up as a consequence of waking at the end of my natural sleep cycle.
- Our body clocks are all different. What I learned is that I am at my most productive in the morning. If I use that time for non-work stuff, I miss the best part of the day. If, however, I get on with work first thing, I can get loads done by lunchtime. A break is then in order, and I have another burst of energy in the late afternoon/evening.
- Working to my body clock rather than the ‘office’ clock, helps me to get a good number of hours of work done in the day but they’re spread out and I do the work when I have the most energy to do it.
- Tip: Observe at what times of the day you have the most energy for work and capitalise on those. Explain to your family that those are the times when you need to be working.
#4 Observe the 5-hour rule
- One of my first jobs was with an art conservation business in the USA. My boss said an intriguing thing when I started. He explained that although I was expected to work from 9am-5pm, I was only expected to charge clients for five of those hours. Realistically we couldn’t charge for eight that because there was always other stuff that ate into the day – phone calls, new client meetings, keeping the lab clean & tidy, dealing with deliveries, etc.
- His 5-hour rule has stayed with me ever since. If I can get five focussed hours of work done each day, I know I’ll make progress. I usually get quite a bit more than that done but five focussed hours is the minimum I aim for.
- Tip: Be realistic about how much you can get done from home. Use a timer app such as Toggl to log the hours you’re working. The beauty of this is that you can stop & start at any moment and the logged time soon adds up. It feels infinitely better than sitting down at 9am and seeing 8 hours stretching ahead… and it helps you to fit your work around other commitments.
#5 Daily routine
- If you live with others, it’s going to take a bit of time to work out who’s doing what & when.
- When I started working from home, my husband had already been doing so for a year before that. He’s the go-with-the-flow person and I’m the routine & structure person. He’s the lark whereas I’m the night owl. There was plenty of scope for us to want to strangle each other therefore!
- We had to re-think things like:
- Were we going to get up at the same time? (No)
- Were we going to have breakfast together? (Most definitely not…)
- Should he even speak to me in the morning (Nope)
- If I was working, could he interrupt with something non-work related? (Preferably not…)
- I had to set up a routine very quickly for myself but it was interesting to see how my pattern of working seemed to help my husband get into a routine too. Our daily pattern of working enabled us both to be productive.
- Tip: To a certain extent you’ll be able to work when you like over the coming weeks, but you’ll need to find a routine that works for everyone. Agree when you plan to be in the ‘office’ & stick to it. Your routine may create stability not only for yourself but also for others in your home.
#6 Designated workspace
- It helps enormously with productivity and focus to know that you have a designated place for work.
- If you have a laptop, it will be tempting to work at the kitchen table, or in the living room, or maybe even in the bedroom. If you do that, each of those rooms will subconsciously become associated with work which in turn will make it harder to switch off at the end of the day.
- Following on from this, if you live with others and keep moving your work around the home, you will inevitably be working in communal areas. This will put a strain on you if you’re constantly being disturbed, and it will put a strain on your relationships if your loved ones feel you’re requisitioning the shared space.
- Tip: Space permitting, try to find one place to work and stick to that. It will help you to focus when you are working & switch off when you’re not. It will also help those around you to know when you’re ‘at work’ rather than surfing the net, etc.
- Ok, this is one that I really struggle… It’s all too easy once you start working at home to get into bad sleeping habits that affect your productivity. Going to bed later, getting up later, feeling sluggish as a result…
- The result? Low energy + low ability to focus = low productivity (which of course means low income).
- Tip: If lack of sleep is lowering work productivity, DO take a short break & focus on something physical for 30 mins or so, or something that involves mental creativity in a different way (e.g. cooking, cleaning, exercise, talking to someone. Anything OTHER than looking at a computer or mobile. The physicality of the task and shift of creative focus clears the fog and helps to get one going again.
- For about 25 years, I was able to cycle to the various office jobs I had. Before that, I had had to drive or use public transport (the latter with a short walk at each end). It was remarkable what a difference the cycling made. It helped to wake me up; it got my metabolism going each day; it refreshed me at the end of the working day, I got fitter, and I gradually lost a bit of weight without even trying.
- I realised how important it was to integrate that daily dose of exercise without having to traipse off to a gym and add an extra hour or two of activity to an already packed schedule.
- When I became self-employed, the cycling commute stopped. But it had become so important, that I had to consider how to sustain movement and exercise while working from home. This is what I came up with:
- daily yoga stretches first thing to wake me up
- a walk after lunch (this proved to be invaluable not only for exercise but also for mental creativity)
- vacuuming the house (energetically!) as part of the weekly exercise regime – especially good on rainy days!
- weekly yoga class (to get better at doing it!)
- Tip: try to do (a) some stretching exercises each day to wake yourself up and avoid getting too slumped over the computer, and (b) some aerobic exercise to keep the metabolism going. Remember, you want to increase your productivity, not your weight! (See next tip!)
- When I started working from home, it struck me how much less I needed to eat. Whereas previously I had had to breakfast at 7am before leaving for the office (which, curiously, made me ravenous mid-morning), I was now able to get up, start work straight away, and then stop to eat at a more civilised time when I actually felt hungry.
- I didn’t need mid-morning fruit/snacks. Lunch became lighter because I hadn’t cycled to work and been rushing around all morning. And instead of getting home in need of a sugar fix, late afternoon became time for reflective cuppa and a healthy treat.
- The point here is that working from home slows your metabolism. You won’t be rushing around so much because you’re not allowed out. You’re therefore not going to need to eat so much.
- Tips: Here are a few suggestions
- Observe when your body is actually hungry and feed it then.
- Observe carefully when you’re satiated and stop.
- Know you can eat again whenever you are hungry.
- And do some form of exercise each day (at home or outside if allowed) that raises your heart rate and keeps the internal combustion engine going.
- (PS If having tried the above, you find yourself struggling with food, consider the possibility that the work itself is not nourishing you. Please feel free to get in touch if you need help with looking at that.)
#10 Dress for work
- One of the joys of working from home is that you can get up and not dress for work. For someone like me who’s not a morning person, just getting up is enough to think about…!
- In the current situation we’re in, you may be revelling in the new-found freedom of working from home and knowing that you can throw on any old thing when you work up. In fact, it may be tempting at times to just stay in your PJs all day.
- But my experience of ‘dress-down office’ when I became self-employed was that it very quickly felt unhealthy. A clear separation of work from home life was needed.
- I don’t wear office clothes constantly, of course, but I do have clothes that I wear for online meetings versus casual ‘at home’ clothes.
- In addition, dressing for meetings helps sustain one’s sense of professional identity. Furthermore, it ensures I create the sort of impression I want to make with the people I’m meeting with. And, it also tells others in the house when I’m in work mode.
- Tip: If you’re new to working from home, you won’t want to put the full office look together each day. But do be aware that not bothering at all to dress for work may, in an unexpected way, bring you down psychologically thereby impacting your productivity. Separating work from life is important. And if you’re meeting with people online, consider what their expectations of you as a professional will be. First impressions do count!
And one for luck:
- If you’re struggling with this, there could be a number of reasons but here are two to consider:
- You normally enjoy your work but even so you’re finding that being stuck at home is taking its toll. Self-care is critical for maintaining focus and productivity. The suggestions above can help you keep going.
- If, however, you’re really struggling with motivation, it may be that this lockdown experience is bringing to light issues with the work you do. There may in fact be very little in it that truly motivates you other than the fact it pays the bills.
- If that’s the case, then now may be the time to do some serious thinking about what it is that would make work feel more meaningful.
- Work that is meaningful is intrinsically motivating. Meaning, however, is different for each person. It’s determined by your unique mix of values, interests, skills, strengths, needs, and personality.
- If you’d like to start giving this some thought, get in touch to arrange a free initial consultation.