It’s five years since I left the world of regular payslips and set up Keefomatic in my own home office. So, if you’re facing the prospect of home working for the first time, here are my top tips to getting stuff done and remaining sane at the same time.
Create a comfortable working environment
Remember those ergonomics talks from the health and safety rep you probably paid no attention to? Turns out they were quite important. While it’s tempting to sit on the sofa with your laptop, do that for too long and you’ll knacker your back and your neck.
Instead, create a clear working space. It could be a desk, but if you don’t have the space use the kitchen table. Find a comfortable chair (an office chair if possible), try to keep your screen at eye level and sit up straight. I have used a wrist rest for years, and without it I think I’d be struggling now.
Try not to set up in the same room as the TV, and ensure your space is well-lit and ventilated.
Dealing with distractions
It is so tempting, when working from home, to just put the washing machine on, or just empty the dishwasher. It’ll only take five minutes, right? Then there’s the doorbell – you don’t have a receptionist to deal with post and parcel deliveries any more (or the door to door sales people).
Then there’s the distractions caused by family members. Try to remind them that you are working, and therefore not available to chat, help with chores or deal with trivial problems.
By far the worst distractions for me are technological – email and social media. A good tip, if you’re like me, is to leave your mobile in another room while you’re working. I deleted Facebook and LinkedIn from my phone last year, and that made a big difference to the amount of time I was wasting every day.
When I worked for my last company, an ad agency, I had my email set up on a second monitor so I never missed a new message the instant it came in. Today I check my email every three hours, and quit the email app in between. It allows me to focus on what I’m doing.
I even know people who tell their clients they only accept phone calls at certain times of the day. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself focused.
While the freedom of working from home can seem liberating, I found I was more productive if I set myself a routine. My current one goes something like this:
8.30 – Breakfast
9.00 – Start work, check email
10.00 – Coffee
11.30 – More coffee
12.30-1.00 – Lunch, check email
2.00 – Tea
3.30 – Coffee
5.30 – Finish work, check email
As you can see, I have a caffeine problem! But seriously, don’t go mad with the coffee. I bought myself a bean to cup coffee machine when I couldn’t justify the non-recyclable waste of my old Dolce Gusto machine. The temptation to have a third and fourth cup of steaming, fresh coffee in a morning was not good for my health, so now I restrict myself to two.
I also can’t work without music. I tend to mix it up – some days it’s Spotify, other days I’ll listen to the radio (currently either BBC 6 Music or Classic FM). I also have a huge iTunes music collection to keep me amused. If you’re surrounded by family, a pair of noise cancelling headphones is an absolute must. My top tip is to avoid listening to talk radio – it’s impossible to concentrate while you are also seething at whichever idiot is spouting the latest ill-informed nonsense.
There are days when I barely see a soul, and the cat is the only interaction I get for hours on end. As inviting as that might sound to someone who is used to a cubicle in an open plan office, working from home can get pretty lonely.
Find a way to keep in touch with people. If you’re being forced to home-work from a regular job, you’ll be in touch with your colleagues. As a freelancer, I found various online peer groups on Facebook, and also on Slack. You can use Skype or Zoom in place of face-to-face meetings – it’s always good to see who you’re talking to, but make sure you look presentable (that means no onesies – get dressed you slob!).
Being on your own for long can leave you at the mercy of the destructive voices in your head. If you start to struggle with loneliness or anxiety, reach out to someone – don’t keep it all to yourself. Mind have created a useful guide here.
Finally, remember to exercise
I am the worst person to advise on this, as I always forget to get out of my chair. Regular screenbreaks are important, and sitting at a desk all day does nothing for your waistline, except expand it.