If you are working from home right now, and a few weeks ago you weren’t, I salute you. That’s such a huge transition and you are doing it. My hat’s off to you!
If you’re doing it in conjunction with your other half, the kids, the dog and the budgie, two hats off to you!
I think the transition has been variable for people because of logistics like IT and staying connected to your teams etc, so hopefully by now the basics are in place and you’re able to carry on.
You might be in the camp of enjoying being at home and in your own environment. I’ve talked to people recently who have been gunning to be able to work from home for ages, and now suddenly they are! How awesome.
You might also be finding the combo of working from home with a household to run and kids to look after all A BIT MUCH. That would be completely understandable. Lordy, it’s a lot.
After working from home for most of the last fifteen years and talking to a number of clients this last week about how to fine-tune how it’s working for them, here are some top tips to be productive, have good boundaries, keep the balance and basically stay sane – and even enjoy working from home.
It’s amazing to me how different everyone’s circumstances are right now, even though most of us are working from home. It makes a huge difference if you have kids or not, live alone or not, etc. Depending on the age of your kids, how self-sufficient they are and the layout of your house, the dynamics will vary. Some of these tips may or may not apply to you and your circumstances, so whatever your situation, take what fits, modify, or leave the rest.
Create Simple Work Boundaries
Any Survival Guide for Working from Home worth it’s salt will talk about setting good boundaries …
Ignore the washing pile
First up, one of the biggest and earliest lessons I learned about working from home was to ignore the washing pile. When it comes to tasks of any kind and certainly housework, many of us are visually triggered to act. That means we see something out of place or to be done, such as a pile of washing to be ironed or folded and we go sort it out. And it’s very automatic; it is literally a default brain setting for most of us.
Now, I’m not about to advocate for living in a mess and letting your housework go out the window right now, so bear with me. The trick is to un-learn the auto-pilot mode of folding the washing during work hours. I taught myself to ignore household stuff during my work day even if that means passing the unfolded washing on an armchair numerous times in the day. I now celebrate the fact that I can just let it go!
Have set work hours
This is going to sound obvious to some, and to others, not so much. Boundaries between work and home can’t get any more blurred than when you work from home so it tends to trip people up.
It’s just so convenient to sit down at your laptop before you’ve even had breakfast. It’s so easy to finish off that document while you’re eating your dinner. But you must call on your internal rudder to steer and shape your day and week.
What hours feel truly right for you at the moment? And over what part of the day? Do you have a couple of hours off in the middle of the day to get some sunshine and have a spacious lunch hour?
Your work and the nature of your business will influence this of course, but you have a fair amount of scope for shaping your day.
The other element that helps make this work is to let other people know. If you decide to work until 4pm each day, let your key clients/customers and anyone else so they know what to expect. After working with people in business for over 16 years and in over 12 countries, I can tell you that people don’t mind too much when you’re available or not, they just get frustrated when they don’t know. The key is communication.
Use blocks of time for certain activities
I’m not a highly structured or hyper-planned person, I’m more fly by the seat of my pants, but for years now I’ve had a certain structure to my week that I think serves me well and works well for many of my clients. The overall structure is to have blocks of time set aside for certain activities such as meetings, coaching sessions, consultations, team meetings, admin, etc. Rather than having meetings or client calls scattered all through the week randomly, see if you can corral them into groups. For instance, I have certain days and mornings/afternoons that are for coaching, some for writing/designing, some more marketing, etc. This allows you to be in a certain flow of thinking rather than hopping between several different ‘modes’ throughout the day.
TOP TIP – I realise in some organisations this is trickier, especially if you are managing large teams and need to coordinate a lot of people. The other thing I’ve seen happen in larger teams though, is that if you can corral your own meetings into a certain time slot, you can also do that for everyone else. It can end up helping a lot of people be more productive.
I know of a law firm team and an accounting practice that both practice ‘quiet time’ for several hours of the morning (eg 9-11am) where they have a group agreement that they don’t make lots of calls or have clients in for meetings at that time, or if they do it is done quietly because they are protecting one part of their day for productive, focused work.
When you’re choosing the blocks of time, consider when you do your best thinking, when you tend to need some social/contact time and go from there. Leave room in your most mentally productive time of the day for intellectual heavy lifting, and use other parts of the day for meetings, admin, etc.
Have an office and close it out of hours
Depending on the layout of your house and whether you have a study, office or spare room, you may or may not be squirreled away from the rest of the house. Your office might be the dining room table.
You may need to get creative about claiming space for yourself and I comment on this below under ‘For the Parents’. One risk of having your office space in the living area or one end of your bedroom is that you can never quite get away from it. I highly recommend closing your laptop down, placing everything away somewhere or even draping a piece of fabric over it all when you’re not working. It’s more ritualistic and real but it can really help you switch out of work mode and feel like you can leave it all behind you for the evening or the weekend.
For the Parents
A typical challenge I’ve heard from parents is having constant interruptions from the kids and husbands/wives (more so the husbands to be honest!). This is about boundaries, my friend. You will not be productive (copious research proves it) if you have to stop-start all day, and let’s face it, it will eventually do your head in.
Are you hyper-available?
A big factor in this is – are you a hyper-available person/parent/partner? Do you find you respond to everything and everyone automatically? Do you try to keep everyone happy?
This period we are going through is bringing forward for everyone one of us our patterns, habits and preferences, and people-pleasing and being hyper available is one of them.
This is a chance to change out of these old patterns and start bringing in more balance and more self-care.
It is totally fair and reasonable to have space for yourself to work, think, relax and do whatever else you need. I’m not a parent yet, so I’m not professing to be an expert about this, but I can tell you that just through observing my friends and family that the parents that take time for themselves, set boundaries and encourage independence, have more self-sufficient and well-rounded kids.
A solution one of my clients is using is running a roster with her husband about who is on ‘children duty’ for which part of the day so that she can dive into work for the morning and be undisturbed and he can do the same in the afternoon.
Even if you do this, someone is going to come to your door at some point. This is why it’s great to have a wee reminder sign to say you’re unavailable. It’s basically a sign that says unless the house is burning down please don’t disturb me! It could be a beautiful message that says, I love you, but I’m working, Go away. Hugs later.
Whatever feels good for you – and perhaps whatever kind of lingo is likely to land with your tweens or teens!
Melanie Medland works with parents of depressed or suicidal teenagers. She has some great additional advice for parents working from home and managing more complex family dynamics:
- Take time to explain your new working arrangement with your family. Include family ideas in this conversation and try the ones that will help everyone out.
- Include morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea breaks in your schedule. When it’s break time leave your desk and spend time with your family. Your family will appreciate being able to see you and talk to you during that time. If your kids are having trouble adjusting to the change, try a visual cue like wearing a hat during break time.
- Be kind to yourself, and to your family. This is a change that affects everyone in the household and it may take a little time to adjust to it.
Check out her full blog here
The feel-good factor
Get dressed for work – when it makes sense
I’ve written articles from my bed in my PJ’s, cleared emails in my yoga pants (and other clothes – obviously) and I’ve spent days on end designing materials in a stupor of creativity wearing whatever was on the end of my bed that morning, but on my client days and when it really counts… I dress for work.
It gives you a sense of being the professional you are, it’s obviously more pleasant for your clients and colleagues you video call with – and I also find it’s a little more comfortable for the odd courier driver who is much more comfortable with you in your work get-up than your dressing gown. Believe me!
In all seriousness, while you might have some days dressed more casually and that is the pleasure of working from home, for me at least, it also feels good to get dressed, tidy up and feel the energy you bring to your work – whether you’re at home or not. So check out for yourself each day if this is a ‘dress for work’ day and go to it.
We are so much more productive when our brain has regular breaks, when we are away from screens and devices and properly in the here-and-now of our surroundings. How much device-free time are you having?
There are many ways to spend time in your day free of devices including making a meal, going for a walk or run, having a bath, doing some yoga or resistance training, reading a real, hardcopy book or magazine (you know, old style!) and making or fixing stuff like DIY activities, craft etc.
We can also listen to music, meditate, chant, sing, play charades or boardgames – many things that basically don’t require an iPad.
Celebrate each day
One of the best ways you can end a workday is to do a 2 minute download onto a piece of paper everything you’ve achieved in your day. So much of what we do in a day is essentially virtual now. That report you produced this morning, the solution you gave a client, the budget that’s been finalised – they’ve all occurred on your computer, via email and through digital activity. You mightn’t have even printed any of it out to feel it in your hands and have a good look at it!
For this reason alone it’s worth logging in a full and complete way, each day, just what you have achieved and completed. It helps us go into our evening feeling more satisfied with the day we’ve had, more able to let tomorrow’s to-do’s wait for tomorrow and to really enjoy our downtime – and what is actually our life!
And for more tips on working from home, go here to my Tips for extroverts working from home blog.