How to work effectively at home
Updated: May 27
COVID-19 has altered the way many of us work. ‘Working from home’ is no longer a euphemism for sitting in your pyjamas and watching cricket. Instead, it is now what many of us are being forced to do as we are ‘locked down’ to slow the spread of the disease
So, what are the best techniques for making sure you work productively and yet still look after your physical and mental well-being?
As people who work from home, we have a lot of experience in good strategies for remaining productive. We have all heard the call of the teapot for the tenth time in a day, or the lure of ‘Loose Women’ when you are feeling a little under the weather. If you work at home, you must have techniques for stopping this happening. Here are some we’ve found useful.
Top Tips for working productively at home
Maintain routines – it is important to mentally differentiate between work and ‘being at home’. Our advice is, get up at the normal work time and get ready for work as if you were going to the office. I’ve known people who have walked around the ‘block’ before starting work at home in order to recreate the feeling of commuting and therefore differentiating between home and work. The key is to get your brain into the head space where you know you are at work.
Have an ‘office’ – whether it’s the spare bedroom or a table in the dining room, have an area that is dedicated to work. This should be away from distractions, especially the television. Whatever we tell ourselves, it is impossible to work with focus if there are voices/images in the background.
Set goals – daily, weekly, and long-term lists of things you are going to do not only help you to organise your day, they also give you a sense of achievement when you tick each item off – visible signs of productivity mean professional fulfilment.
Remain in contact – it is too easy when you are working at home, on your own, to get isolated from work colleagues. Skype, Zoom, even the old-fashioned telephone, all help us to stay in contact. So long as the call doesn’t become a distraction or an avoidance technique, it can also help with productivity. How often have you not been able to solve a problem and yet as soon as you vocalise the problem to a friend the answer becomes apparent?
Take breaks – these should be regulated – there is no benefit in having a break that is longer than the time you are working. On average, just as you were probably told at school during revision, you can work effectively for between 45 and 60 minutes in one push. After this time, you become less efficient. The answer is to take a 10-minute break and do something else.
The writer Irvine Welsh keeps a jigsaw on a separate table in his office because you cannot do a jigsaw without total focus. His brain is doing something else for a short period and he therefore feels refreshed when he goes back to work.
Stay fit – a healthy body means a healthy mind. Working at home may mean you aren’t sitting in an ergonomically designed chair and therefore you may get back pain. Exercise will help this. It will also increase your concentration levels.
Don’t be scared of new technology – we’ve all had to learn how to use bits of software we previously declaimed as ‘too difficult’, when in fact we just couldn’t be bothered to work out how they operated. Video conferencing has really taken off during lockdown and it is amazing how many people who previously couldn’t use it are now on it all the time.
Be prepared – make sure you know how the technology you are using works before talking to customers. Make sure you’ve set it up correctly – learning where mute is can be a godsend if children are in the house. Also, think about what is behind you. If you are talking to a client, you don’t want an inappropriate calendar behind you. Many people choose to have bookcases behind them – it makes them look intelligent – just make sure the books that are on show give the right impression.
Keep to your normal work schedule – one difficulty in working at home is that you have no commute home during which you can decompress. It is too easy to continue ‘working’ after you should have stopped.
This isn’t helpful, for two reasons. Firstly, you are not getting the rest to recharge your brain for the next day. Secondly, if you have a family/partner, they will resent you not being mentally there with them. Which brings us to…
Keep housemates/family informed – the chances are the other people in your home are also on lockdown – kids, partners, housemates. If you tell them what your routine is going to be, they will feel they know what to expect and will therefore leave you alone to work.
With so many of use working at home now, we are all having to find ways to work efficiently and productively. At the same time, it is important for us to maintain a healthy balance between our professional, personal, and familial lives. Maintaining a routine, social relationships with colleagues and friends, and looking after our health, will all contribute to making lockdown easier. After all, if you feel productive, you feel fulfilled, you feel happier, your relationships with others are stronger and happier, and that feeds back into giving you the energy to be more productive.