How to Work from Home (Without Losing Your Mind)

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So you’re working from home. You and other first time home-office workers may think this is a dream come true. You don’t have to wake up early, dress up, and that hour-long commute is history. It’s time to celebrate!

However, before you whoop it up because you’re now working at home, I’ll let you in on a sobering fact – It’s a challenge, even for singles.

Whether you’re forced to or given the option to work at home, a lot will conspire against you. Chores that need to be done, a pet dog begging for attention, preparing food (if you prefer home-cooked meals), calls on your phone, the doorbell ringing … never mind the fact that your mind may wander to Facebook, YouTube, the fridge, or Netflix!

However, getting more done while at home isn’t really hard. It’s all mindset and some common practices I will share here. (And if you’re starting your own business at home, we have an article on self-assessment as well as tips on rapid business growth while at home.)

After I developed a routine, I discovered I could accomplish much more, and be tempted less to get me off track. Here are some tips you can adopt to be more productive in the comfort of your home.

Remind yourself you’re still on the clock

Or an Apple Watch …

You are not on vacation. Get out of those PJs, but still wear something comfortable. You don’t have to dress up unless you have a virtual meeting.

Many people new to working remotely fall into a trap – no one’s watching, so they can do anything they want. With their new-found “freedom,” they indulge in unrelated activities such as social media binging and even having a drink or two in the middle of the day.

I’ve seen it happen (I’ve even done that in my earlier years working from home), and I can tell you that you will eventually be faced with the consequences of missed deadlines and projects half-finished.

Focus on what you have to do – work.

Assign a Work Space

My dream view …

My home office was set up more than a decade ago. I am very productive very early in the morning. Hence, I need a working space that has everything I require.

I have an office chair and filing cabinets. I use a desktop and two monitors. A window on my left lets in the morning light and allows me to look at the horizon from time to time. The view is average, but I can see for miles. It is relaxing after staring at the screen for hours.

Finding the right working area at home can be tricky. Unless you live in a studio, steer clear of the bedroom. Our brains associate the bedroom with rest and relaxation. If you can’t find a suitable corner, the dining table or the kitchen counter are good candidates. You alone can decide where at home you can be most productive.

Everything in your area should be dedicated to working. This means no TV or video game consoles. Music is fine as long as it sets the right mood and is not too distracting. You’ll be spending hours sitting, so choose a comfortable chair.  Or, try a stand-up desk.

Having a separate area for your work also gives you that psychological separation between work and home life. It’s tough working in the living room when you associate that room with watching television. If you can’t have a separate room, create a space in a corner of a room and designate it only for work.

If you only have the dining room table, sit on the side of the table where you usually do not eat. This “side” and this “chair” is only for work.

Enjoy the Silence

Depeche Mode knows …

It can be really quiet at home. This could be jarring for people who are used to the activity and noise typical of any workplace. Gone are the sounds of conversations, laughter, footsteps, phone rings, notification alerts, etc.

My advice: get used to it. It’s your new normal. And it’s actually better for you.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t play music during work … I do this all the time. However, if this is your first time, and especially if you live alone, it can be disconcerting during your regular office hours.

This peace and quiet is actually quite healthy for you. The hectic and loud office life you are used to actually leads to higher blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia. After a period of adjustment, you will very likely find that you will enjoy the calm and silence, and you will better be able to focus on your work.

Conquer Procrastination – Your #1 Enemy  

“When there is a hill to climb, don’t think that waiting will make it smaller.

Anonymous

You may be driven and motivated, but procrastination will still be your biggest hurdle. It’s a deadly habit that will slowly take over if left unchecked.  

It can be hard for you to get out of bed once you realize you don’t have to travel to your office. A few more minutes of sleep could quickly become another hour. Finally, you arise from bed, take a shower and eat breakfast. It’s now 10AM. You slump in front of your computer. Procrastination retakes hold of you.

How do you cure it?

Set Deadlines and Have an Accountability Partner

At home, there’s always a temptation to move self-imposed deadlines. I’ve done it a few times. But, I always keep in mind that a rushed job is often lacking. If you care about quality like I do, you won’t put off work that needs to be done today.

A boss who can look over your shoulder (virtually) can keep you on track. If your boss is more hands-off, or even if you don’t have a boss, my cure is to have a friend, colleague or even spouse monitor my progress.

This is also known as an accountability partner, and we meet once a week to discuss what we have done, what we haven’t done, and our future plans. That way, even if you are tempted to move your deadline, you know that in doing so you will have to report this to another person.    

Reward Yourself

That fabulous glass of red wine will wait until I’m done with this article. For you, it can be a scoop of yummy ice cream, a cold beer, a nice walk with your partner, or a half-hour of video games. It’s an application of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We usually have drinks after a long day at the office. Why not reward ourselves while at home?

Work in Blocks of Time

The biggest procrastination killer technique I use is time blocking. That is, assigning blocks of time where I must just WORK. There are many ways to do this, and what I use is the Pomodoro Technique. Set aside a 25 minute block of time and concentrate on nothing but work. Then take a short break, and do another 25 minutes. I try to do eight of these per work day.

Plan Ahead

You must plan ahead. The night before … heck, the week or month before, plan in advance what you need to work on, so when you begin your first session you are laser-focused on what needs to be done. I use the “12 Week Year” planning method in my home business.

Often procrastination is simply because the project is so large that you don’t want to begin or know where to begin. Simply chop your project into smaller activities, that take around 25 minutes each if you combine with the Pomodoro Technique. This makes the project or assignment much easier, less overbearing and even fun to do. You can actually see your progress, and it will motivate you to jump out of bed early in the morning to continue.

Assign Your Best Time to Work

I get all chores and errands done in the later afternoon. Except for short walks around the block, I work from early morning (5 or 6 am) until mid-noon. I’ve long known that I work best at this time, because by mid-afternoon I’m mentally worn out and just don’t feel like doing any more “thinking”. That’s when I can do more “unthinking” chores or run errands.

You determine the best time for work, and the best time for chores and errands. You might find that you work best in the afternoon or evenings. What’s important is that you set the time and stick to your schedule each day you are at home.

Stay Connected

Humans are social animals. One of the worst effects from working at home for long periods is the loneliness. However, you’re not in isolation, even though you’re working at home. You have apps and software which enable you to check in with your colleagues and bosses. Don’t wait for them to contact you. Stay in the loop for important updates. Also, there’s no harm when you share a joke or two.

If you are your own boss, or are planning to work for yourself, get involved in Facebook groups relevant to your career, and look for local groups as well. Not only can you exchange ideas and marketing to further your own business, but you can create a network of colleagues to keep in touch with.

Spend Your Break Times Wisely

Breaks at the office are often spent in the cafeteria or smoking area, where you can chat with friends. At home, you get to spend more quality time with your family. Make use of your break to help your spouse who might be in the same boat – working at home. You can also use the time to check in on the kids.

Breaks allow you to stretch and refresh your mind. If you live alone, it’s okay to check on your social media accounts.

I advise you to strictly observe your allotted time for office breaks while at home. A University of California study revealed that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track after an interruption, which could include breaks.     

Exercise Your Mind and Body

The lack of exercise can lead to a lot of unhealthy complications. I don’t need to remind you that inactivity can result in weight gain, muscle atrophy and lethargy. You will feel tired after sitting all day. I take a 20-minute walk around my neighborhood each day. It keeps me fit and I do get inspiration while walking. If that is not possible, buy a treadmill or other way to exercise at home, and assign time every day for this.

Reading and solving puzzles keeps my mind sharp. Find something interesting that boosts your mental power. Remember the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” The same applies to our grey matter.      

Know When to Call it a Day

Are you worried that your boss or colleagues might think you’re slacking off? Don’t work yourself to death! I mean it. A recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Relations revealed that employees are working on average 48.5 minutes more a day at home during the current lockdown and quarantine. 

You’re not in a contest. You aren’t judged by the number of hours you spend in front of your PC or laptop. Results are what still matters, even while you work at home. Stick to your office schedule. Call it quits when you usually do. A solid time to end your day also helps with the psychological separation between work and home life.

Find your Work-Family Life Balance

Some say that spouses and children are distractions at home. I disagree! I see them as inspiration. You want proof? I’m sure you’ve seen photos of spouses and kids on your co-workers’ desks. If you have a family, aren’t you working hard for them?

You’ll soon discover the routine that works best for you. If you have a family, set boundaries and share tasks with your spouse. She (or he) might even be of help with what you’re trying to accomplish, and vice versa.

For single parents, juggling this can definitely be more difficult, but not impossible. You need to be honest with your kids, and if you are new to working at home, they need to understand your work time. Your boss also needs to understand your situation as well.

It’s best to carve your day into chunks, planning for play activities they can do themselves and with you. Most importantly, routine is paramount. Stick to it so your kids know what to expect and when to expect it. It’s amazing how quickly they can adjust, as long as you are consistent.   

The benefits of working at home outweigh the problems you might face. It may not be ideal for you, but if it’s your only option, it’s time to adapt. Responsibility comes with your new-found flexibility. Make the most out of it, and soon you’ll realize you might actually enjoy working at home!

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