The freelance community knows all about working from home – and as a freelance content consultant and writer, I have spent my own fair share of time holed up at home working on projects, taking part in video calls or attempting to write blogs whilst also doing the laundry.
But for many office workers and corporate professionals, working from home on a regular basis is still the exception rather than the rule… well, at least it was until the coronavirus pandemic hit the world and companies began telling all their employees to self-isolate and stay at home.
So, if you’re new to ‘working from home’, here are a few key steps for ensuring that you’re not just productive, but that you don’t end up crawling the walls!
1. Get up as if you’re going to work
Yes, you don’t have to catch a commuter train or drive your car to the office, but you DO have to get your lazy backside out of bed still. Getting out of bed at a regular time ensures that you make the best use of your available time, and also allows you to create some form of structure to the day.
Obviously, you don’t need to factor in your commute time, but try to get up at least an hour before your agreed start time. Giving yourself this extra time allows you to shower, eat and drink enough coffee to bring you close to being fully conscious – without having to rush around pulling on shoes and stuffing toast in your mouth like a late-running commuter.
2. Have a routine (and stick to it)
As already mentioned, it’s important to have some structure to your day – to mirror the same kind of routine you’d have when working from your office.
Decide what time to wake up, start work and when you’ll clock off. And factor in breaks, lunch, dinner and – importantly – when you’ll stop and go to bed. Some people find it hard to stop when working from home, working into the night and ruining their sleep pattern as a result. Having a routine with set targets and times gives your day a workable form and structure.
3. Make a to-do list – and work through it
If you’re going to get through your workload, you need a to-do list of some sort.
This could be as simple as writing your top 10 priorities down on a bit of paper, or it may be as complex as using a dedicated project management tool. There’s no right and wrong in this scenario, but being able to plan out your work and prioritise the most important projects is key to staying efficient.
Set yourself a target of working through the top 3, or the top 5 items on your to-do list before the end of the day – and cross them off when completed so you can see the progress you’ve made.
4. Don’t put the TV on!!!
Turning on the TV in the morning is an absolute no-no, I’m afraid. Once the television is on, it’s incredibly hard to drag your attention away from it – just think how hard it is to ignore a TV that’s on when you go to the pub. Tricky, right?
Before you know it, you’ll have fallen into a wormhole of watching the very worst of daytime television, and will have done precisely NOTHING on your to-do list. So, steer clear of This Morning and leave the TV-watching until the evening, when you need to chill out.
5. Turn off non-vital phone notifications
Our smartphones want our attention. They are constantly pinging, beeping and buzzing to tell us about the latest incredibly URGENT notification, and that stream of constant interruptions can become exceptionally distracting.
So, turn off your notifications on all but the most critical of apps. Maybe limit yourself to email, SMS and, possibly, WhatsApp – so you can be reached, but won’t be distracted by the latest likes on your Instagram feed, or your aunt’s latest Facebook opinion on millennials.
6. Listen to instrumental music (no lyrics!)
Having music on can be calming and helps to create the right working atmosphere. But it’s got to be the right kind of music if you’re going to stay productive.
The human ear and brain are naturally attuned to voices, so if we hear someone singing we’ll naturally pay attention. As such, music with lead vocals or with lots of catchy lyrics are not going to be the best backing for a productive day of work. Try listening to soundtracks, orchestral music, ambient or chillout tunes and anything which creates an atmosphere – and if you’re not home alone, then PLEASE do plug in your headphones.
7. Stay in touch with colleagues and customers
Feeling isolated and alone is one of the biggest gripes about home working. If you’re used to being part of a busy team in an office environment, then being at home on your own can be rather disorientating. The key is to stay in touch online, to replicate this team vibe.
Use a team sharing app like Slack to stay in touch with your colleagues throughout the working day – allowing you to send short messages, work files and (yes, of course) GIFs to each other. Not only does it help you all stay efficient from a work perspective, it also preserves those ‘water cooler moments;’ by allowing you to chat, gossip and maintain your legendary ‘bantz’.
Video chat is a good way to connect with customers too, so tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype can come in handy for replacing meetings, having one-to-ones and nurturing those customer relationships.
8. Take plenty of breaks and reward yourself
If you finish one of your target pieces of work, reward yourself in some way for hitting this goal. Treat yourself to another chocolate hobnob, have a break to listen to the radio, or go for a walk around the garden. Something to break up the day and give yourself a rest.
The human brain can only concentrate for 90 minute periods without getting fatigued or losing focus. So, it’s actually far more productive to take occasional breaks and lift your energy levels, rather than chaining yourself to your desk for 8 hours without any respite.
9. Break the day up with domestic chores
As you’re working from your own home, remote working can be a great way to catch up on your housework and domestic chores.
If you plan those dreary domestic chores like laundry, shopping or vacuuming around your work to-do list, you can use your breaks to deal with the everyday domestic tasks that need doing. Not only does this give you a rest from work, it also means you can avoid doing housework in the evening and can properly relax once you’ve clocked off.
10. Get more done in less time
One of the biggest benefits of remote working is that you remove several hours of commuting time from your day – essentially giving you more time to get on top of your workload.
When you arrive at the office 45 minutes late because of a broken-down train, you’re then playing catch-up all day. By starting the working day at the same time, with no travel time, you suddenly have far more time to play with – meaning you can breeze through your workload and actually finish for the day on time.
Remote working can be a challenge at first – and it will definitely take a few days or weeks for you to hit your rhythm. But the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks, and will see you carving out a routine, schedule and workflow management technique that fits your lifestyle.
So, happy remote working! I hope you enjoy your time working from home.
Going Freelance: Building Work Around Your Life
There are plenty of tips on remote working and remaining productive in my new book ‘Going Freelance: Building Work Around Your Life’.
The book is a comprehensive guide for anyone setting out on the freelance journey, with clear advice on setting up your own self-employed business.