I don’t know about you, but I had always found the idea of working from home incredibly appealing. I envisioned waking up early, having a cup of coffee on the patio and slowly easing into the day amidst the melody of birdsong, before cracking down and producing my best work in a familiar and comfortable environment.
Of course, my work normally requires me to be present in our office daily, so it was never a realistic possibility until the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown, which very suddenly had many of us having to set up office in our homes. To say I was unprepared for the reality of how challenging it would be, would be an understatement.
Maintaining a routine without the structure of the office environment that I was used to proved to be harder than I had anticipated – whether it be struggling to access my emails, my dog demanding a forbidden walk or someone in the household blaring music loudly – my previous idyllic dreams of working from home were quickly shattered.
By week two, I realised that I would need to recreate a new routine if I had any hopes of getting any work done.
Before I impart some things I have learnt in order to make the most out of my time working from home, it is important that we look at the elements that allow productivity to thrive.
Kristof Maeyens of HabitGrowth.com, a website that provides productivity and time management resources for those who run their own businesses from home, succinctly refers to these elements as the “META Framework” – the four pillars of productivity, namely the balance between the management of Mindset, Energy, Time and Attention.
Mindset refers to how we emotionally tackle our tasks – negative feelings of being overwhelmed, fear of failure or uncertainty can very easily lead to procrastination. Energy allows us the drive and enthusiasm to complete a task. Time management and the ability to prioritise tasks ensures efficiency. Lastly, Attention is the ability to focus and fully engage with a task without distraction.
Based on this, I have tried to create a routine which keeps this framework in balance.
Going to bed early and waking up at set time everyday (Energy)
Without the pressure of having to be at the office at a set time the next morning, the temptation of binging Netflix series into the early hours of the morning is a dangerous downward spiral of sleeping in later, and therefore only sitting down to work closer to lunch time – this creates a mindset of the day already having been wasted and therefore impedes productivity. Starting the day early allows you to have enough space to manage your time effectively.
Get dressed for work & maintain your usual morning routine (Mindset)
While it is not necessary to don formal office wear for working at home, it is important to at least change out of your comfort clothes. Yoga pants and a hoodie are my usual relaxing homewear, therefore changing into something a little less casual can make the transition from lounging to working more tangible. Also, don’t skip doing your hair and neatening yourself up, so that you have a period of getting ready for the day.
Plan your day (Time/Mindset)
I like to take 15minutes, over a cup of coffee, to lay out everything I need to do. It is imperative to create a plan of what I need to do for the day, and also the week, while prioritizing time-sensitive tasks. Without the natural and constant progression of an office eco-system, interacting with co-workers and discussing what needs to be done, you have to create your own schedule otherwise you may find yourself either overwhelmed or alternatively unsure of what to do or where to start.
Ensure you have a work space conducive to productivity (Attention)
Before I start each day, I make sure my desk is clean and clutter free. I find listening to music helps block out the background sounds of the household. It is important to tell your family that you will be unavailable for the next few hours so that they can respect your space. If you have children, set them up with tasks and school work that they can do themselves, for at least 45 minute stretches. It is also important to avoid any online distractions, such as social media – there is a lovely app that syncs with your browser and mobile phone called Forest (https://www.forestapp.cc/) which grows virtual trees for a designated period you remain off your blacklisted sites – if temptation to check your Facebook inbox wins, your little tree dies and you have have to grow a new one.
Be flexible (Attention/Energy)
Separating home and work life is hard enough as it is without the two being thrust together unexpectedly. If your children need your attention, or you just cannot find your focus, do not feel guilty about leaving your work and returning to it later. Being too rigid in an environment not structured primarily for work will only lead to frustration, but on the other hand, also remain diligent enough to still be productive and not fall into a cycle of distraction and procrastination.
Throughout this time, it is also important to maintain communication between colleagues. A useful tool for this is Trello, which creates a shared board of tasks and projects, which gives an overview of who is busy doing what, as well as upcoming and completed tasks.
For my personal planning, I enjoy a fun little app called Habitica, which allows me to create to-do lists of once-off tasks, daily tasks and constantly evolving habits, but “gamifies” my checklists in the form of a little dragon-fighting adventurer – the more tasks I check off, the more dragons my adventurer slays, which is always a good incentive to do that little bit extra. In addition to this, I have a party of co-adventurers (aptly named The Anti-Procrastination Squad) with whom I share quests, which gives an element of accountability, while we constantly motivate each other to do our best. Who says you can’t have a bit of fun?
If you would prefer a planner app that is more straightforward, Any.do would be a great alternative.
Throughout this time, I have a developed a newfound respect for those who usually work from home, because in some regards, it is far more difficult to adhere to a work routine and requires infinitely more self-discipline, but with lockdown having already been extended and the COVID-19 pandemic still on the rise, it is imperative for us all to adapt to working from home for the foreseeable future so that we can keep our businesses afloat.
At the very least, we may come out of this a little bit more adaptable and efficient in our work lives, as well as having a greater understanding in how to effectively manage our productivity.