How to be productive and happy working at home

I’ve had this languishing in my drafts forever. But, with the UK on lockdown and a whole load of new people working from home, or trying to adjust to working from home with added bodies in the house, it’s never been so important to figure out to be productive and happy working from home.

Commute

Let’s big up my friend Steve for this suggestion from when he was studying for his PHD. And what a game-changer.

Schedule a quick walk at the beginning and end of your day to simulate a walk to/from work. Not only will it mean you have to get ready for the day, but, it’ll get you some air, get you out in the world. And most importantly, bookend your day with an activity that signals it’s the beginning and end of the work day.

Obviously this isn’t a lock-down approved strategy – although, if you do have access to a private outdoor space, you could adapt it.

Get dressed (and made up)

OK, hands up, how many of you have skipped a shower, or just shoved your hair up into a bun, sat at your desk in your PJ’s and hoped that the post man doesn’t deliver something and discover you’re not dressed at midday? Yep.

Sometimes it feels totally pointless to get dressed up like you’re hitting the world, when you know you’ve got so much on you’re likely to not even leave the house. But, this one is mega important. Imagine you’re your own co-worker, would you be OK to face you in the state you often find yourself at your desk in?

Don’t just get dressed into lounge-wear, get outside world ready, including doing your hair and make-up (if that’s your jam). The bonus is, you’re more likely to actually go interact in the world if you’re already ready. Or, in the current situation, you’re more likely to jump on those video calls.

The Pomodoro timer

Time-blocking is my favourite thing. It can be so so easy to procrastinate when you’re at home by yourself…when you’re putting off that task you loathe and that Netflix show in the background is suddenly riveting.

I use an app called Focus Keeper, but, there are a variety of Pomodoro Timers. The basis of this is that you do 25 minutes on one task, then 5 minutes off and you use a timer to focus for 25 minutes. Easy, right? Just do one task, rather than skipping around a hundred different tasks where you achieve nothing, and you’ll get so much more done.

Move

Move and stretch. We know, right? Sitting is the new smoking… I like to use my 5 minute windows from the above for some movement, often I go pick up some very minor housework and get a drink. Then use the bigger breaks to eat lunch and also get some real world air with the dog.

This is also good for you to rest your eyes, reset your posture and clear your mind.

Eat

I don’t mean that mindless snacking because you foolishly left the biscuits on your desk. I mean proper meals.

I am mega guilty of this one – it gets to 3pm and I still haven’t eaten and then I have the, “is it worth eating now or should I just wait until dinner?” back and forth in my mind. And of course, this is paired with feeling a bit foggy and headachey in the afternoons and my productivity plummets.

Use your time blocking to schedule a proper lunch break and then actually take it. Or set yourself an alarm. Maybe plan something exciting for lunch. Or meal prep in advance so it’s less of a pain to get lunch made. Remember when you went on a budget kick back when you were employed and you made all your lunches the night before work? Do that if you need.

Objectives

Set objectives for the week, the month, the year.

Especially right now, this is so important – in light of the disruption from COVID-19, I’ve decided to set smaller, short-term goals, rather than focusing on my big 6 month/yearly goals because that length of time feels uncertain.

I would strongly recommend a weekly or 30 day goal, that will seem doable and help you focus up when you’re feeling lost.

And remember…a goal is not the same as a ‘to do’ list. Start with what you want to achieve – in terms of the result (this could be “I want to book one client this week” or “I want to grow my Instagram following/mailing list by 50 people this month”) and then figure out the steps you’ll need to tick off the ‘to do’ list.

Allocate space

This one came pretty naturally to me when I started working from home 9 years ago. Having always struggled with my sleep, I was big on sleep hygiene. In short, this is the act of keeping your sleep space for sleep, not filling it with screens and work that will mean you’re hyped when you get into bed.

Back when I moved out of home, I was very clear that I wanted a separate office…even if I was in my first year of business and I was on a minimal budget. I realised the value of being able to separate work and life pretty early on.

Keep your work away from your living spaces, so that you can have defined spaces and times for work. Being able to close the door on your work is a great separation. I try to stop myself from even straying into my office on non-work days.

If you don’t have a whole room available for business, try sectioning off an area. Or if you’re working from your kitchen table, get together a storage box where you can collect all your things and pack them away out of sight.

Keep Social

You know those co-workers, the ones who breathed too loudly, sprayed food all over their faces when they ate, and did weird stretches? You thought you’d never, ever miss them when you left employment. But here you are, sitting at home, missing the human contact.

Working from home can most definitely be lonely. Not being able to talk out simple issues, express frustration, or just escape for five minutes in mindless conversation, can be one of the more jarring aspects of working for yourself.

Create a community for yourself – go to networking events and meet other people in similar situations (maybe do some work dates, like those revision dates back at your university library); join online communities such as Facebook groups of other business owners and share experiences, give advice there; arrange lunches with your friends. Right now, try virtual co-working, or video chat coffee dates.

And when this is all over – work out of the house sometimes – whether it’s pushing the bounds of how many hours you can spend in a coffee shop for the one drink you purchased; or trying out a co-working space. Personally, even though I’ve tried, I haven’t loved these – I find being away from my well organised office disruptive, but I’m also an introvert so usually the occasional networking event and lunch date is more than enough socialising to keep my week feeling good.

Create boundaries

When I started working from home, everyone seemed to think I was available all the time – to take their calls, go for an impromptu lunch, do some errands for them… and it became very frustrating. I would end up working evenings and weekends to make up for the fact I had taken my Mum’s dog to the groomers, or spent a whole afternoon at lunch with a friend, or ended up having a ridiculously long phone call in the middle of the day.

While these are totally one of the perks of working from home, if you don’t set boundaries with other people, you’re likely to lose the whole day and have nothing to show for it.

Especially if you’re working from home with other people – your partner, kids, housemates – it’s easy for them to think if they’re not busy, you aren’t either.

This goes for chores and other distractions too – just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean you should be using your work time to make the house spotless.

If you have a separate space at home, shut the door. If you don’t, choose set working hours and let everyone know about them. Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and close any messaging apps on your computer. Don’t let your personal life leak into your workday unless you want it there.

Be flexible

That said, working from home does give you a lot of flexibility. And right now you may well need that – if you’re juggling other priorities – family, a disruption to your routine, etc.

Don’t be afraid to split your workday up. If you’re not used to working from home, you might be inclined to say “a work day is 9am-5pm” and try to stick rigidly to that. Which might cause a lot of stress and friction if you’re trying to home-school the kids, or get your exercise while it’s light out, or just give yourself some mental space.

When you work from home, you can choose to work at times where there are fewer distractions or where you’re more productive.

For me, I prefer to do personal stuff in the mornings – like walking the dog, housework, errands, etc. – and then focus up on work nearer lunchtime. That means I will usually work later into the evening and if something is outstanding, I might return to work for an hour or two after dinner.

That isn’t me failing, or being addicted to work, or having an unhealthy work/life balance – it’s the way I like to work. It works best for me. And because I’m not tied to the idea of a “traditional workday” I don’t make it mean anything. If you can let go of what you think a workday should look like, you can start to find a structure that really suits you.

How are you finding working from home?

How is working from home going? Are you struggling? Or wondering why you didn’t do this sooner? Or somewhere inbetween?

If you’ve got any top tips or questions, hop over to my Instagram and DM me.