By Melissa Diane
Since the beginning of 2020, we have all faced the “struggle” of adapting to working from home.
But is it really a struggle?
I have put together my TOP TEN tips on how to work from home effectively and manage your time with all the distractions of the ‘at home’ lifestyle.
“Successfully working from home is a skill, just like programming, designing or writing. It takes time and commitment to develop that skill.” – Alex Turnbull
Before we get into my top tips, I would like to share my personal standpoint on remote work. For many, myself included, we have been forced to make remote work the ‘new normal’, and this topic has come up in many a conversation; be it with colleagues, friends, family, or that one stranger in the queue who does not understand the term ‘social distancing’.
Well I am here to tell you that working from home, or remote work is not “new” at all. You have been training for, preparing for and DOING this your… whole… life…
Let me explain 🙂
From the day we are born, we are directed into a routine and given a set of so-called life rules to follow. We are taught from a young age that you need to be a good person, grow up, study hard, get a good job, and so on.
From this, we have all unknowingly been given the toolset to work remotely and manage our own time effectively, right from pre-school.
Schools commence at a certain time, the same as a general 9am-5pm job does. We are given different classes to attend, there is a certain level of work that is expected from us, and this increases the older you get. You receive lunch and recreational breaks and at the end of the school day, we retire to our homes or go to aftercare where we are often required to complete homework, study for assignments/ exams and prepare for the following day. We are expected to submit projects at a specific time and a certain level of competence in each subject is expected in order to receive good marks. You have followed this formula, this routine pretty much your whole life. Before ya’ll come at me with ‘but what about home schools?’ I am going to go ahead and say the same core principles apply in terms of different subjects, taking breaks, and being expected to complete tasks by a certain date.
Let’s now take this same formula and apply it to adult life – BUT with a remote working spin.
Effectively, you get up at the same, or similar time everyday and follow your morning routine (if you are anything like me, this includes coffee, followed by coffee, then tending to a home zoo, followed by some coffee).
‘School’ hours can effectively be seen as ‘meetings‘, think of the different subjects as clients, breaks remain breaks and ‘homework’ is in essence meeting prep, completing projects or admin work. When it comes to the extra work we put in for ‘exam’ time, I would like you to think of this as hitting big deadlines.
Making sense so far? Good!
As a designer, I am going to apply these theories directly to my own line work to further explain my point. I have done this in the best way we know how, an infographic (is anyone surprised haha?).
Please have a look below! 🙂
TOP 10 TIPS
1. JUST GO!
What do I mean by this?
It is human nature to want to procrastinate, so the first and most important tip is to start! Just start! Don’t allow yourself the time to be okay with putting things off. Even if it is just reading your email during a morning coffee. Believe it or not, simply getting started as soon as you wake up can be the exact thing that makes or breaks a productive day.
A prolonged breakfast, or one too many Instagram Reels can often lead to a lack of motivation and trick your brain into weekend mode. It is best to avoid this at all costs.
2. My Life Skill Theory
Think about my analogy above. This is not new to you, this is in fact, to many of us – already second nature. You’ve got this!!
3. The Good old Notebook
There are few things in life that are as satisfying as having a lot to do and the relief you feel when it is all done.
Give yourself those small rewards through the satisfaction of ticking off a handwritten checklist. Yes, you may use an app if you must, the principle remains the same. Have a set list of things that you need to achieve that day and tick them off as you go! It is also really great to have this book at hand should you need to jot down any notes throughout the day, especially if you do find yourself with the distractions of kids, pets or an annoying neighbour. Be sure to keep yourself on track with a notebook.
I promise, by the fourth tick you will be gunning to see the whole list crossed off!
4. Take shorter breaks more often
This refers back to tip number one.
So here you are, you’re off to a great start, you’ve checked off half your to do list and your notebook looks like a pen exploded on it!
So you take a break. The problem here is we can fall back into ‘weekend mode’.
To avoid this, I recommend smaller breaks in the form of a quick cup of tea or to sit outside for ten, maybe fifteen minutes between tasks and then get right back on your list. Do not fall into procrastination mode.
Think about it, would you rather take smaller breaks, more often and complete your tasks for the day, opening up even more time for yourself, your hobbies, your family, and so on. Or, do you want to have longer breaks, lose motivation to work, and ultimately land up with a longer work day?
I think we both know the answer to that one, yeah?
This will also help your mental health, knowing that, not only are you accomplishing what you’ve set out to, you actively see the results (your checklist) but in the back of your mind, you also know that should an urgent task come up, or an unexpected meeting or phone call, you have the time to be able to work this into your day.
5. Choose a dedicated workspace
For those of us who have a home office, that’s awesome, you’re good to go.
But if you need to work at a dining room table or kitchen counter etc, and that space cannot be dedicated solely towards work. Or, if you are a gamer, and the only computer dedicated space you have to work with is your gaming environment, I suggest creating a visual workspace.
Um Mel? A What?
Bare with me here 😉
Give yourself mental queues in the form of a visual stimulus to psychologically tell your brain “it’s time to work now”.
There are proven psychological studies that visual queues and by extension, environments, create a certain response in the brain. A simple example of this is when you enter a place of worship, a corporate (yes, suits and all) meeting, a courthouse and so on, your demeanour, how you talk, act and even carry yourself get altered accordingly. You can achieve this for your home environment as well in the form of a dedicated visual set-up which can be taken down at the end of your work day.
This works brilliantly with eLearning students, specifically children, who also use the home computer for recreational purposes. Visual queues will help stimulate responses in the brain to associate these with when it’s time to work, and when it’s time to play.
An example of this can be as simple as a change of mouse pad, dedicated office stationary, change of screen background, work diary and notebook, even a cheesy, cute motivational cat poster (think Barney Stinson’s office – if you’re into that kind of thing… it’s me, I’m into that kind of thing) will work.
6. Organise and plan ahead
This is pretty self-explanatory, but still very important. Make sure you have a clear list of things you need to accomplish in a day and end every day off by planning the next.
7. Eat Properly
You have your whole fridge and kitchen at your fingertips! Use it!
It is a proven fact that you are what you eat, this works in terms of the nutritional value as well. Make sure your brain and body have the nutrients and vitamins they need in order to remain focused and for you to work well.
If you are anything like me and don’t like large meals three times a day, eat smaller portions during all your mini-breaks in the forms of fruit, a smoothy, a piece of health toast and so on.
8. Be assertive
Your family and friends are important, but so is your time.
Be sure to set clear boundaries with them, they too need to understand that just because you are at home, does not mean you are always readily available to be taken away from your work responsibilities.
The visual queues can be a great help here as well, especially when it comes to your children.
If the cat poster is on the wall, sorry, please try again later! It might take a while for everyone to catch on, so be consistent and set clear boundaries.
9. History Channel, What??
I am not sure why, but since having the History Channel on in the background, I am far more productive. Perhaps it’s the calming tone of voice most of the presenters, or voice-over artists have. Regardless of why, having something you find soothing in the background as “white noise” can be very beneficial for productivity.
This applies to music as well. Have set work playlists you can shuffle between to create audio queues during work hours as well.
I won’t lie, is also great to pick up on random facts throughout the day while you work. Did you know that whales can learn other languages and communicate with different aquatic species?
10. Set more personal goals
As I mentioned above, being productive with your time often leads to more ‘free’ or personal time. You also have more time on your hands now that the need for travelling to and from work has been removed.
Use this to your advantage.
The online course you have been wanting to take to further your career?
The short story you’ve always wanted to write?
That yoga class your friend keeps inviting you to?
Go to it!
That best selling novel you still have not managed to find time for?
That dish you saw on Masterchef’s Masterclass?
You know what’s coming… MAKE IT!
These goals do not have to be big, they can be as simple as reading that book, or making that dish. But have things that you look forward to at the end of your day to stay motivated, not just within your professional life, but your personal one as well.
That’s all folks!
What challenges have you faced in terms of adapting to working from home?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
Let me know in the comments below 🙂
Until next time,
Melissa Diane xoxo