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10 tips for working from home without having a breakdown

Published by Incomedia in Guides and Tips · 13 May 2020
For many of us, it was just a dream, for others, it was already routine. Now, it's become a necessity for most: the ongoing pandemic has pushed everyone to make the leap if they can, and we find ourselves working from home instead of going to the office. This shift even became a new buzzword: smart working.

But doing your job from home can be a challenge, especially if you're not used to it.

At home, distractions and the risks of falling into "mental traps" are everywhere, meaning that organization is the key for high productivity levels and reaching your objectives.

If you are able to do your job from home, and you're still struggling to separate your work life from your family life, here are 10 tips that can help you manage it all without having a breakdown.

Invest in technology

The technology we use at the office is often different from what we have at home. However, in order to do our work well, we have to be able to use all the tools we need, when we need them.

An old laptop, software that hasn't been updated, and slow internet connections are all manageable in theory: unfortunately, we don't always have the time, patience, or desire to wait, or to adapt to longer, more convoluted processes.

This is the classic, "save money by spending money" scenario. Invest in the right hardware, software, and bandwidth for your work: every cent you spend is a cent saved in terms of time and frustration.  

Carve out a dedicated workspace

Provided your home is large enough, the best strategy is to create a dedicated work area that's clearly separated from the rest of your living space. Turning a separate room into a home office can really make all the difference, especially if you have to take calls and you have children in the house.

That said, even if you aren't fortunate enough to have a spare room available, you can still create an effective work environment in other parts of your home, like a corner of the living room. In these cases, remember that:
not all rooms are equally appropriate. Avoid areas of your home that are meant for relaxing: our brain identifies bedrooms as a place for sleeping, not as a place for being productive.

  • If you don't have walls to guarantee a bit of privacy, try to find more creative solutions by using furniture, screens, panels, or plants.

  • Opt for areas near windows to benefit from diffused natural light: but make sure your screen is angled away from the light to avoid glare.

  • Choose the right chair, since you'll inevitably be sitting on it for hours on end. A chair that allows you to maintain good posture as well as being comfortable is key for your well-being.

  • Wires and cables can be tricky to navigate at home: set yourself up close to electrical outlets, and wear slippers to avoid getting tangled up in them.

Organize your work

Once you've taken care of the "logistics", you can move on to organization. A big part of working from home successfully depends on how well you can get organized, and therefore avoid the many, insidious distractions that lie in wait around the house: children calling for you, the laundry piling up, the dog begging for a walk, that slice of cake beckoning from inside the fridge, etc.

Follow these best practices to get organized:
  • Plan your day. Decide on a schedule for your workday, just like if you had to punch a timecard, and stick to it. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to start at 8 AM, nor does it mean you have to finish at 5:30 on the dot. What's important is setting aside time for work, concentrating on your work during the entirety of that time, then turning to other things afterwards.

  • Make medium-term plans. Use a weekly calendar to balance your days, alternating days of heavy workloads with lighter days depending on the deadlines you need to meet.

  • Set daily goals. If you have a goal to meet by the end of the day, you'll be able to manage your time better and also feel more motivated. Isn't it satisfying to cross a task off your to-do list? The more satisfaction you can find, the more you'll feel driven to keep going.

Dress professionally.

The way you get ready for work is just as important as having a place in your home to "go to work".

Although it's incredibly tempting to stay in your pajamas or in sweats all day, dressing as though you're going to work is key, even if you're just commuting to the next room. Dress as though you were leaving the house and need to look professional: this will help you fully make the formal and mental transition between "home" and "work".

It might seem minor, but try it: you'll see it makes a big difference.

Take breaks

Breaks are important. In the office, these pauses are often opportunities to chat with your co-workers over coffee, and although things are a little different a home, you need to find the compromises that work best for you: don't give in to every little distraction, but do remember to step away and recharge your batteries every now and then.

You might take a few minutes every hour, or use a longer break at mid-morning to do something else, like a little exercise. Most importantly, take a real break for lunch and absolutely avoid eating in front of the computer: there might be exceptions for actual work emergencies, but don't let it become an ingrained habit.  

Keep communicating

Working from home means missing out on the social aspect of working from an office: your co-workers aren't physically present, and you can't easily update each other at the coffee machine, or have a simple chat during breaks.  

Although it may seem difficult, at least at first, try to keep in touch using the various tools that technology makes available to us.

In fact, to keep the distance from impacting either your work or your interpersonal relationships, try to communicate more than you normally would: an extra message to make sure you've included all the necessary information and that you're all on the same page about various details is better than letting unfortunate misunderstandings arise.

If you're thinking about just using e-mail to handle everything, keep in mind that there are much more effective solutions. Basecamp, Trello, and Asana are just some of the most popular tools used by companies to manage projects and organize teams: they're easy to use, and they become indispensable once the whole team gets onboard.    

Learn to disconnect

The office has a set closing time, which is when you turn off your computer, say goodbye to your co-workers, and go home. The same thing needs to happen when you work from home: you need to be just as rigorous about setting an end to your work day, and sticking to it, as you are about getting to work and avoiding distractions.

Working from home shouldn't take away from your family life and life outside of work: so learn how to disconnect and keep time for yourself to continue to cultivate your personal life and passions.

Especially because it's so easy to fall into the trap of working all the time, taking time away from your hobbies or your family to do "just one last thing". You can't maintain balance for long without a clear division between the end of the working day and the start of your personal time.

Create routines and rituals

Some people work better early in the morning, others are more productive in the afternoons, or even at night. If you work in an office, you have to follow the office's hours regardless of your preferences, but when you work from home - as long as you meet your assigned objectives - you're free to organize your time the way you like.

Find out at which times you work best, and use them as the framework for your daily routine: you'll be much more productive than if you just try to replicate the schedule you're held to at the office.

At the end of your work day, reward yourself with a personal ritual like sipping a cup of tea or treating yourself to 10 minutes of relaxation. These habits will help you separate your work life from your home life, and prevent the former from taking over the latter.

Clear agreements, lasting friendships

Unless you live alone, you need to agree on some rules with the people you live with, whether they're your roommates, spouse, or children.

It's important for the people who live with you to know when you're available, and when you can't be disturbed. Determine times that are reserved for work, times that are reserved for your family or your hobbies, and above all, make sure everybody agrees and will follow as best they can.  

The trick is to tell them in advance about moments in the day when you need to be left alone: don't assume that others understand how important, urgent, or complicated your various tasks are. Being clear from the start will spare you the frustration of being interrupted when you need to concentrate most, and keep relationships in the house more peaceful and relaxed.  

Be patient

The last tip is probably the most important one: arm yourself with plenty of patience.

Sometimes, being patient is the only way you can overcome slow connections, miscommunications, children demanding your attention, or other snags in your routine.

After all, you generally also require massive amounts of patience - although perhaps for different reasons - to keep things running smoothly at the office.

So don't get discouraged: successfully  working from home is possible, and it can also be very rewarding. Take it from me: I discovered smart working just a few months ago, and now I've just finished writing this post from my dining room table.

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