Seeing as a lot of people are working from home right now, for maybe the first time in their lives, and working from home doesn’t naturally suit all personality types, I thought I might offer some advice in the hopes it might help at least some of you. I don’t consider myself an expert in this, but I have been working from home for several years so I do have relevant experience. (Other people’s experience can and will differ. As with all advice, take the bits that work for you and feel free to ignore the rest.)
Your (Physical) Space
It may be that working from home really suits you (and your home) and you’ve been wanting to do so for a long time, but have never been given the opportunity before. The world as it is right now obviously isn’t ideal for anyone, but if it’s given you this small consolation, then at least there’s that.
For everyone else, it’s going to be a much bigger adjustment. So, here’s what I recommend: as much as you’re able, try and create a distinct area in which you work. This distinct area will vary depending on who you are, how and where you live – it might be a section of your dining room table. It might be a section of your couch. It might be your garden shed, or your laundry room, or a hundred other possibilities I don’t need to spell out. You get the idea.
The point is, whatever your little area is, it needs to be defined if you’re to have any level of success at this thing. If you have lucked out and already have a home office, garden shed, or spare room, you won’t need to worry so much about packing away your things at the end of each workday and setting them out again the next, but if you’re working at your kitchen table or in bed, tidying things away and putting them out again will be something you need to think about. Sure, it’s annoying and time-consuming, but it might actually work in your favour when it comes to setting a routine – something I’ll talk more about in a second.
So: Tip One – think about your physical space and how it might work best for you. This obviously gets trickier if you live with other people, especially if those other people are now trying to work from home as well. This is again something I will come back to touch on later. For now, think about what you need and how you might get it.
For some people, getting a lot of light behind them – i.e. sitting at a window – is what helps. Some people will prioritise structure over comfort, while others will be the other way around. There is no wrong way to work, so long as you respect your own needs and the needs of those around you.
Speaking personally, I have a home office/library that includes a desk. And I cannot settle at said desk unless my back is to a wall. If there is a door or window behind me, I feel weirdly insecure, so I orientated the furniture to make me feel good about being in that room. I also put up a notice board with relevant pieces of info, as well as inspirational quotes, on it.
All that said, I don’t always want to work at my desk. It’s great for some things, like when I’m studying or doing my taxes and need lots of files and folders spread out, but outside of that – if I’m working on a story or a poem – I prefer a much more casual setting, like my living room or even bed. I know I said it’s important to have a distinct space, but it’s okay to switch things up now and again, too.
The key takeaway I’m going to keep coming back to is: find what works for you. If what works for you changes, that’s fine, go with the flow. Keep experimenting. Keep exploring, and discovering. This is a learning process.
Your Digital Space
If you’re working from home, I’m gonna go ahead and assume you’re working in some shape or form with a computer. If that is indeed the case, I wanted to add a quick note that thinking about your space can and does apply to your digital space, too. It’s something small, but a tidy desktop can make your brain feel less cluttered. I know it certainly does for me.
It could be worth setting some time aside to put all your documents (or spreadsheets, image files, whatever) in well-defined folders and moving them off your homescreen. Just a suggestion.
Routine & Cues
A thing a lot of people who work from home (myself included) struggle with is maintaining some kind of work/life balance. It can be tricky at the best of times, even when you work outside the home, but having things all under the same roof really compacts things.
So, what can you do about it? Well, as the heading of this section indicates, it’s all about creating (and sticking to!) a routine. Before you leap into the middle of work, decide what needs to get done for the day and how much time you’ve got to devote to it. Without having a boss looking over your shoulder, you might get bogged down in work, lose all track of time, and not realise you’ve skipped all your breaks and suddenly it’s dark outside. (You may laugh, but it does happen.)
The other, more likely option, is that you’ll procrastinate and get nothing done at all. Sure, how can you concentrate when the cat is meowing at you to be fed, the dishwasher needs emptying, and there’s that little odd job you’ve been putting off since you moved in – six years ago – that’s suddenly niggling at you, demanding all of your attention?
This is where you’re gonna have to be firm with yourself. Set timers on your phone, or use an egg timer and leave your phone in another room. Take breaks, and make sure you’re back at your workspace when your break ends. An extra one or two minutes here or there is a slippery slope! Maybe you could ask your partner or parent, (or particularly time-conscious child?) to keep you accountable.
If possible, consider turning off the WiFi. Use an app that limits your time on certain websites – there are plenty available.
Turn off the TV. Turn off the radio. Limit your access to the constant barrage of news. You do not need to hear updates on the world every ten or twenty minutes (unless you’re maybe a newscaster and that’s exactly what you need to be doing? I don’t know you. I don’t know your life.).
I’ve heard that some people struggle to get in (and out of) the right headspace when they start to work, so use something like lighting a candle or incense each time they do to trigger an association between that scent and work. For others, it might be listening to a particular song to signal to their brain that this is the start of the workday.
If you’re in a house full of other people and trying to focus, it could be as simple as closing your door and putting up a ‘do not disturb’ sign.
Other People & Boundaries
Speaking of being in a house with other people: what you need here is communication. Unless you’re dealing with a newborn or a cat, the others you share your space with should be able to respect your need to work, but you might need to sit them down and explain what it is you need to do, and how you need to do it because – news flash! – they’re not telepathic. Maybe you’re spouse, or grandmother, or goldfish is super excited about the prospect of you working from home, because they think you’re now going to have a lot more quality time with them, when what you really need is more time or your own than ever before.
Be clear, be kind, and consider the upset to their schedule, too. This is a two-way street, folks. You’re gonna be stuck indoors for a while, it’s best to start off on the right foot and chat about what you both expect working from home to look like.
And for the love of God, do not fall into the trap of thinking that housework or looking after kids doesn’t count as ‘real work’ and therefore your partner should have all the time in the world to do all the things you can’t fit in. Perhaps it would be worth sitting down with your loved one and actually going through, step-by-step, what typically went into their day before all this. You may be surprised (and find yourself with a new respect for all they do).
All any of us can do at this time is our best. Take deep breaths. Take breaks. Talk.
If you’re working from home all on your own without any human interaction, make sure to schedule calls with friends and family. You’re not alone in being alone.
Bonus Tip: Not really related to working from home, but still very important – stay hydrated! When’s the last time you had a glass of water? Feeling rotten? Drink!