If working from home is a new experience for you due to Covid19 then WELCOME TO MY WORLD. As part of the ‘reasonable adjustments’ to my work because of PTSD and fibromylagia, I spend about 80% of my time working from home. I am going to share some of the rules I have learned that work for me, so you can save yourself the four years it took me to learn them.
- Have a designated work space, even if that is just the corner of a desk
This is not the time to carry your laptop around with you, and definitely not the time to start working in bed. If you can, keep all your work stuff OUT of your bedroom. Otherwise the boundaries between work and sleep get very confused, and you’ll find yourself with anxiety-induced insomnia. In fact, now is a good time to adopt a clean sleep routine
It doesn’t need to be neat or tidy, although if you are the neat and tidy type, choose somewhere that no-one uses or it will drive you nuts. In fact, if you are OCD, don’t look at these pictures, because this is what my desk in my living room looks like right now:
On the left you can see a pile of articles I have been using to write my latest article, plus some notecards I have been using for analysis. This is the other side:
Here you can see my coffee cup (important: see later), a pile of student dissertations, and my daughter’s taekwondo kit. Why am I showing you this? the crucial thing is that the article and the dissertations are what I am working on right now. As soon as these are finished, I will clear those away and the next ‘pile’ will replace them. Never leave things to pile up beyond the immediate task otherwise you spend half your morning clearing your desk, then the other half clearing up the room. Which leads me to:
2. Do not let the procrastination monkey get you!
Have you ever met this guy?
This is the proscratination monkey.
Basically we all are looking for immediate gratification rather than to do the thing we actually need to do that might take time and concentration. So we get easily distracted. In the office we are surrounded by things and people that remind us what we are there for. At home there’s just us, and a myriad of things and people that demand our attention. So, have a schedule. Use something like Outlook Calender which I like because it syncs with my work email, and I can easily populate it with the documents I need for tasks. Schedule things in 90 minute chunks (or less) and for that 90 minutes DO THE THING. And DON’T DO:
- the hoovering;
- the childcare;
- the organising of the cupboard under the stairs;
- the laundry;
- the playing with of the cat;
- the loading of the dishwasher;
- the ordering of the shopping off the internet;
- Facebook, Twitter or any social media;
- coffee making (you can DRINK coffee while you work. In fact it’s mandatory).
Guys, I realise, you have drifted off because you don’t do any of these things anyway 🙂 but seriously WOMEN, particularly MOTHERS, I am talking to YOU. This is WORK. You need dedicated space and you need childcare. Even if childcare is your teenager next door with Finding Nemo on repeat. Teach your kids to respect your work time and your work space. Those of you middle class enough to have an office or a shed, use it. The rest of us, develop selective blindness and deafness. Do. The. Work. Do NOT do the Other Things.
3. Keep to your routine
Get up. Get dressed. If you would wear makeup to the office, wear it at home. If you would shave and wear a suit do that (particularly if you are going to do zoom or skype meetings. Have a thought for the rest of us. No one wants to see your sweatpants Jeremy, or your pyjamas, Karen.) Use your commuting time as your lie-in but be at your desk when you would be at work. Otherwise – and I speak from experience here – you will stay in bed all morning looking at Twitter on your tablet.
4. Take breaks and get outside
If in COVID19 isolation times you aren’t ill but you can’t get to the gym, get outside anyway. I got a dog specifically for this purpose
If you haven’t got a dog, go for a walk or run around the block even – especially – if it’s raining. If your neighbour is self isolating and has a dog, take them. (the dog, not the neighbour). Seriously. Your mental and physical health will thank you. I do this at lunch time then eat last night’s leftover dinner for lunch when I get back. This is one of those unspoken perks of working from home. Get good at using tupperware. Otherwise lunch will consist of your 4 year old’s gummi bears and you’ll order in pizza. DON’T DO THIS. That’s what the weekend is for.
5. Use social media sparingly
I treat Facebook and Twitter as my coffee break. After actually getting up and making coffee (and if you like coffee now is the time to invest in a proper coffee maker. I personally like the Tassimo – yes, Bosch, you can send me free stuff – because you can make nearly-as-good-as-Costa cappucinos and also get a load of decaff stuff for it) or tea (ditto, go mad on proper tea if you are middle class enough, T2 – yes, you may also send me free stuff, any version of Early Grey will do – is my go to for this. Make a ritual of it because you aren’t going to cafes with your friends. Treat yourself) sit yourself down for 10 mins, catch up with your friends on Facebook, start an argument with a stranger on Twitter. Then STOP AND SWITCH IT OFF. That was your water cooler moment. Don’t switch it back on again until the end of the work day or your next 10 mins break.
6. Don’t start the day with emails
I should have put this first. Have a 90 minute task set up at the beginning of the day that doesn’t involve email or social media and DO THAT FIRST. Then have coffee or tea, your Facebook break, THEN your emails. Sort these into a) things that take less than 5 mins to sort, do these immediately b) things that take more time but are urgent-ish – attend to these after your next 90 minutes productivity time and c) things that take more time but aren’t urgent – schedule these into your Outlook Calendar or whatever for the end of the week. Trust me. This is adapted from the amazing Getting Things Done approach and if you are, like me, constantly anxious about the list of things you are sure you’ve forgotten to do, check it out.
7. Look after your mental health
If this is new to you because of Covid19, and you are anxious about things (and if you aren’t anxious what is your bloody secret, mate??), then now is an ideal time to learn and practice mindfulness if you don’t already. It’s tough to learn: it took me 3 attempts! You have to stick with a 6 or 8 week course and practice every day. But now is a good opportunity: it takes 20 minutes a day. And that’s probably not even half the communting time you are saving. A good online free course is here and there are further resources here. I am the world’s biggest sceptic, and it’s no substitute for proper treatment and therapy for serious mental health issues, but I found it so helpful I trained as a mindfulness teacher so I could use it with my students.
Do little things that make you happy. Try not to make these things involve spending too much money on the internet, eating too much, or drinking too much/taking too many drugs. But find moments in the day to be grateful, to breathe, to light a candle, read a book, phone a friend and actually talk to them, stroke the cat…..
Be kind to you, and others.
Peace and strength.