What I’ve Learned About Working from Home

Hello to you from day eleven of self-isolation. There is still no end in sight but there is plenty of hope, trust, and home projects ;). And, of course, there is also working from home.

working from home

Since I became the Happyologist nearly eight years ago, I have been working from home. I’ve tested a lot in those years, tried different approaches, and changed my routines many times. I have learned a lot about how I like to work and how to make working from home productive and fun. That’s why today I want to share exactly what I’ve learned.

I’m conscious that you might be one of the many people today that has been forced to work from home. It might be your first time or you might have had a few go’s at it before. You might already know what works or perhaps you have no idea how to get started. Wherever you are and however you are feeling, I hope these tips help you to feel more comfortable and confident about working from home.

1. Create a starting and ending routine.

Similar to what I said in last week’s blog about staying calm, routine helps you feel in control. It helps you to start your working day on a positive note and create a clear end too so you can go relax guilt-free.

This can be as simple as making a cup of tea or coffee, taking it to your laptop, and reviewing your to-do list. It’s recommended that you do some kind of initial routine that doesn’t involve checking your email or talking to other people as that can give you the sense that you are not in control and simply being reactive, not proactive. Obviously, you may need to check-in with your colleagues or clients, but if you can do this after even just a one-minute routine that you have just for yourself, you’re more likely to feel calm and in control.

Personally, I like to end the day by writing down what I have achieved (no matter how big or small!) and also setting my priorities for the next day. That way I end the day with a mini celebration and can switch off completely, knowing what I need to get started on the next day.

2. Have a clear list of top priorities.

Try to keep this list as small as possible to avoid overwhelming yourself. Personally, I put a maximum of two or three items on this list, and sometimes even just one if I’m working on a big writing project. I also have a master list full of all kinds of things that I know I’ll have to or want to do at some point but they are not a priority right now. Writing them down, and also categorising them, means that they are not circling around your head wasting brainpower and they are also not lost in space. It makes it easy to go back to them when the time is right.

If you’re working from home for a boss or employer, make sure that what is expected of you is clear too. They probably have a big role to play in what your priorities are and it’s important for everyone to be clear about them.

3. Uni-task. Do one thing at a time.

Do one thing at a time. If you don’t know what to start with, start with any one task. And stick to it. There are an infinite number of things you could do but if you try to do them all at once you’ll end up doing none, or doing them all poorly. Close all tabs or windows that aren’t related to the task at hand and turn off notifications for your social media or messaging services. Better yet, if you can, turn off email notifications and put your phone on aeroplane mode.

4. Communicate.

When you’re not in the same physical space, you might assume things from each other that aren’t necessarily true. Don’t be afraid to disturb each other’s flow or interrupt someone with a quick call, email or chat message. It’s better to be crystal clear about what you expect from others or ask for guidance or help when needed. At the same time, if there is a period you don’t want to be interrupted because you need to get something urgent done, don’t be afraid to let your team know that you will be unreachable for an hour or two, and urge them to contact you with any potential questions before or after that.

5. Create a little workspace (when possible).

If you’ve got a corner of a room, or even the corner of the kitchen table, that you can temporarily turn into a home office, it helps. Clear that space from distractions as much as possible. I know this gets more complicated if you’ve got kids or pets running around, and you just have to make the best of it.

Personally, when I feel stuck, I like to vary my workspace too. Sometimes I write at my desk in my study, other times on the sofa in the lounge, and sometimes from the table in the kitchen. There is no right or wrong here, only what feels right for you. And, sometimes, that will vary from day to day. Learn to listen to that.

6. Test different approaches and find what works best for you.

If this is your first rodeo, it’s going to take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you. This applies to your routines, to how you approach your to-dos, to how you communicate with your colleagues, bosses or clients. Don’t be afraid to test different approaches to find what works best. We are all unique and we all work in different ways. You’ve just got to discover what ways are the most effective and enjoyable for you.

7. Take plenty of breaks.

Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean that you have to be glued to your laptop and phone for 12 hours straight. In fact, taking regular breathers will help you to stay focused, motivated, and creative. Go get a drink from your kitchen – it’s important to stay hydrated for your brain and mental power. Watch what’s going on outside the window – it’s important to give your eyes a break from focusing on the screen(s). Get up and walk around your room or house – or if you can, outside. If you can do a lunchtime walk, that is gold. Moving your body regularly, even with slight stretches, a few jumping jacks, or a little boogie to your favourite song, will help you to feel well and focused.

8. Stay in touch with people.

Just because you’re not sitting next to people, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t interact with people. I learned this quickly working for myself from my home. Even as an introvert and loving alone time, there were times it was too lonely. So I reached out. I connected with other coaches, bloggers, and writers. I joined Facebook groups for support and encouragement. I did video calls. You can do the same with your colleagues. Talk to them – not just via email but via phone calls and video calls too. As a human, you need connection and interaction not just to survive but to thrive. Just because you have to self-isolate, doesn’t mean you have to disconnect. In fact, you have to connect more than ever.

9. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself.

Don’t expect to have the same level of productivity all day, every day. We all have ebbs and flows, and, sometimes, we just have to go with them. You can’t expect yourself to achieve the same amount of things every day. Some days you’ll be more productive in the mornings, other days the afternoons, and some magical ones you’ll be productive all day! On the other hand, you’ll also have days when you feel like you’ve got nothing to give and you feel like you’re not producing anything of value. That’s ok too. It’s a part of being human. It’s the beauty of being human. You’re not a robot programmed to perform everything perfectly every day. Which brings me to the final point:

10. Practice self-compassion.

Be kind to yourself here. If you’re new to this, working from home can be a real challenge to start off with. To be honest, even if you’re a working from home veteran, you’ll probably still have challenging days. That’s ok. Remind yourself that you, just like everyone else, is trying to figure this out as it goes. If you can, I really urge you to drop the pressure as much as you can. The world we live in right now is a bit mad and very unusual so it’s absolutely normal to have days when you find it hard to focus. I know you still have deadlines, responsibilities and things to get done. But you are also doing your best. You’re doing what you can with the knowledge and experience you have right now. Remember that.

Personally, I’ve totally dropped the pressure on getting things done and it’s really helped. I’ve listened to my ebbs and flows, and let my creativity drive how I wrote, how much I wrote, and when I wrote. I’m conscious this is a very luxurious place to be in and I am very grateful for that. But I’m telling you this because it’s actually helped me to write more, to create from my heart, and all this without exhausting myself to the ground.

So, with all that said, I hope working from home isn’t too much of a challenge for you. Eventually, perhaps, you can even find some joy and enjoyment in it.

Most importantly, wherever you are, I hope you are well. Stay safe and stay healthy. I’m rooting for you.

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