The key to effective home working is creating physical and psychological boundaries and ways to contain the different areas of your life. These are my top eight tips to doing this.
I’ve spoken to quite a few people about working from home during the pandemic. There are many positives: more flexibility, less time traveling and of course greater health safety for you and your community. But home working also brings with it a range of difficulties. Most people experience some version of these challenges:
- Difficulty separating work and personal life
- Lack of time and space
- Overwhelm, anxiety and trouble staying focused
If you are facing difficulties adjusting to new working arrangements, you’re not alone. I know working from home brings with it a range of practical and emotional challenges. But you can create more space in your home and more vital headspace.
1. Contain your work space
Confine your workspace to a specific area. This will help you focus and not intrude into the lives of other household members. Can’t dedicate a separate room? Set aside a corner, somewhere away from the flow of people. Once you’ve established your work area, try to make sure you only work there. That means not checking work emails or messages on the sofa or at the dining table. And keep your work area at a distance once you’ve ‘clocked off’. As far as possible, only go there to do work-related tasks.
You can also create some digital separation. For example, try to use the computer you work on for work only, use a second laptop or tablet to check personal email, and only access social media on your phone. Only have one computer? Use separate web browsers for work and personal browsing.
2. Define your work time
This is especially important if you can’t create a completely separate work area. But is also invaluable even if you have your own home office.
- Design a schedule and stick to it. Never timetable in more hours then you’d do at the office, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Avoid sleeping in or lingering over a meal and treat your workspace as if it’s your office across town, even though you might be just walking into the next room.
- Schedule meetings for 50 or 25 mins rather than 1 hour or half an hour, so there are gaps between them.
- Build the habit of taking breaks by setting reminders on your phone. Then set a timer to make sure you take a full five or ten minutes. Or if your breaks are getting too long, use the timer to discipline yourself. That way you won’t end up stressed or working late to make up time.
3. ‘Walk to work’ every day
This is a great way set your work and personal time apart. I find it really helps to put on my shoes and coat and take a short walk around the block before I start work. The exercise and fresh air give me space to think and clear my head. Even if it is only a couple of minutes, the ritual of leaving ‘home’ and arriving back at ‘work’ a few minutes later can really help your mind to reset. Then do the same at the end of the working day. The getting dressed part is important too – don’t go to work in your PJs as it gives your unconscious a message that you don’t care. Give it a try and let me know how you get on.
4. Put things away
Practicing the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle is another great way to create boundaries. If you can shut the door on a separate work room, great. And keep it closed outside work hours to avoid the temptation to just pop in and finish that email. If you don’t have an office, always aim to tidy your work area and put things away. Invest in a small under-desk set of drawers. If it’s on wheels, even better – you can roll it out of sight when you stop work. Alternatively use a couple of box files to hold your paperwork, and store them away in a dedicated existing drawer, cupboard or shelf.
Putting away applies to your home stuff as well. If you’re using a space that you’ll be working in the next day for eating or family activities, make sure to clear it the night before. That way you can you can sit down and get to work immediately the next morning.
5. Keep talking
Many of us are sharing our space with family, roommates and even furry friends. Good communication about what your different needs are and how everyone can support each other is vitalStart conversations about how to make the space work best for everyone. Can you rotate working spaces or stagger times? Maybe you work best in the morning, while they are more of a night owl. Remember you’re in it together, so take the opportunity to practice openness, curiosity, and find some win-win scenarios.
I am a great advocate of what is known as non-violent or mindful communication, watch a great animated introduction to this here
If you are working home alone and feeling isolated, acknowledge this. On the positive side, consider that perhaps you now have more time and flexibility and to check in with friends and family. A lot of people are also scheduling informal chats with colleagues and co-workers. Now that you not physically together, it’s important to protect those moments of social connection.
PS Even if you’re both working at home, don’t forget to ask your partner how their day at work was.
6. Take care of your body
Healthy body, healthy mind is a cliché because it’s true. Take walks, stand up, stretch and move frequently. If you are struggling to get up regularly, here are some ideas:
- Drink plenty of water. As well as keeping you hydrated, it means you’ll be getting up regularly to fill your glass and pop to the bathroom!
- Put your mobile out of reach, so you have to get up to answer it. And if you can, take the calls standing up or walking.
- As a mentioned earlier, set a timer on your phone and get up during your break rather than clicking onto YouTube or your favourite news feed.
Aim for a healthy balanced diet, it’s especially important right now to boost your immune system. And when you do eat, get away from your work area and take a proper break.
There are loads of online ‘at desk’ exercise workouts. Try a few and find one that works for you.
7. Get your workspace set up right
Carefully consider how you set up your work area, creating an arrangement that works for you. That may mean getting rid of some old furniture, desk equipment and storage. Posturite have a lot of useful resources here https://www.posturite.co.uk/help-advice/useful-resources/learning-guides
Remember, your employer has a duty of care for your wellbeing when working at home, so they should provide you with any equipment you need. Make sure you have a proper work chair. I know how tempting it is to work on the sofa, it feels novel and easy. But you won’t appreciate it when you want to relax in the evening. I can’t stress enough how important moving around is to keeping your mind fresh, even if it is to a different corner of the room,
It’s easy to get stuck in spatial habits, so every so often try to move things around and see if that works better.
A supportive workspace is not just about physical ergonomics though. Take care of your spiritual wellbeing too and think about all of your senses. Make the best use of natural light and fresh air and have some plants to help you connect to nature as well as purify the air.
Invest in a pair of noise reducing headphones to keep out auditory distractions. They can also be a great signal to people that you are focusing on work.
Okay, you were probably expecting me to slip this one in somewhere. Working in a cluttered space will definitely have a negative impact on your productivity and wellbeing. A cluttered house is synonymous with a cluttered mind; the last thing you want when working from home.
If you’re like most people, your home was probably already pretty full before your started working from home. And it probably has got worse since then. If you are now asking your home to fulfil an extra function as a workplace, it’s vital to create space for that. And if you follow me, you’ll know that I’m convinced that decluttering is not just about making more physical space, it also means freeing space in your mind and your emotional world. That way you can focus on the things that mean most to you at work and in your personal time.
On the positive side, with the time you are saving on traveling and other activities you can’t do right now, you probably have more time to address that clutter. I am here if you need a booster to get you going!
PS My bonus declutter tip
Tackle your paper monster
With work papers intruding onto your home life, it’s more important than ever to slim down your personal paperwork and keep control over your work papers before they take over your desk or intray. See my blogs on weeding and maintaining your papers here.