Working from home offers a lot of pluses: a short commute, more control over when and where you work, the ability to save on day care or pet sitting, casual day every day, an ability to juggle work with chores around the house, easy access to your favorite foods …
Once the excitement of all that wears off, it can be a real drag for some people. We are, by our very nature, social creatures. We mirror behaviors we see, so we are more productive when we are around others who are working. We are motivated when we see others succeed. We need others to brainstorm ideas. We may find it hard to stay focused around distractions.
That’s why people all around the world are increasingly opting to cowork. But, for now, we are asked to work from home. If you’re among the many people who suddenly find their work world turned upside down, it’s important to find your footing – to figure out how to make working from home work. This takes creativity, thought, and discipline. Read on.
Establish a schedule
When your usual work routine is disrupted, it can be tempting to fall into another familiar routine – like the one for weekends, vacations or when you’re home sick. That might be OK for a day or two, but not extended periods of time like we’re facing now. It’s important to establish a work-from-home routine that helps you stay productive – and stick to it. This is especially needed when you work in an environment fraught with distractions, temptations, or when you may be a little off your game emotionally. Hopefully you already have a healthy work routine – one you can mirror into your working-from-home situation. If not, now is a good time to establish one.
Tap into established work habits
Your new routine doesn’t have to be the same as it was when you went somewhere to work (how could it be when you are asked to stay home?), but it helps if it bears some resemblance to your old work routine. In his article about habits, James Clear notes it takes an average of 66 days to establish a new habit (not the often cited 21 days). You can’t wait that long to be productive. Tapping into established habits is one way to shorten the time it takes.
Get up at the same time each day (if possible, your regular time to get up for work). Get ready, have a healthy breakfast, and start work at the same time each day. Take a lunch break. Take a breaks for a cup of coffee or other favorite drink or to simply relax and look out the window. Consider including some focused work sprints. Stop work at the same time each day.
Go to “Work”
Go to a location in your home you’ve designated as your work spot. Ideally NOT somewhere you already have a strong non-work habit or where you will be easily be distracted. Avoid the sofa where you usually watch TV. Whatever that spot is, say something to yourself like, “time to go to work” as you approach it. Fix in your mind that table, desk, chair, or whatever (but, seriously, not the floor), is where work happens.
Find a Balance
That new work routine should balance periods of focused work with periods of rest. This balance happens fairly naturally while working around others, whether in an office, as part of a construction team, or in a restaurant. When our ability to focus wanes, we get the urge to head to the break room, suddenly notice the stiffness in our legs and get up and walk around, or become aware of a conversation happening nearby and join in. Our brain is talking to us – these breaks are needed to maintain optimal productivity. When we work from home, we can lose our balance. We may try to power through our day, hurting the quality and quantity of our work. We may take too many breaks, distracted by what’s around us. We may dizzy ourselves with constant spin between work and home. Find your balance.
Goals provide a sense of purpose and direction. Goals are always important. In times like these, they can be a great tool to keep you motivated and give you a sense of accomplishment. If you’re teleworking for an employer or you have existing clients, odds are you already have work tasks tied to things you need to deliver to them. You may already have a clear set of goals established by your employer or client. It’s equally important to have goals for yourself. This article provides some good tips on goal setting. I’ve developed a pretty effective system that I’ll talk more about in a follow-up blog. For now I’ll share this: In the context of a broader goal, each day I pick one thing and to get it done. Of course, we all do more than one thing each day, but setting small goals and achieving them creates a feeling of success that motivates us to keep going.
Establish boundaries on your time and your space. Your schedule creates your time boundaries. Whatever that schedule is, it’s important to separate home time and work time. If you’re not careful, the two will start to bleed into each other and you won’t do either well. You also need boundaries around your work location as well. If you can’t close a door, consider hanging curtain or putting up a room divider. Doing so will help prevent you from being distracted by what’s going on outside your work area and will provide others with a boundary they (hopefully) understand they should not cross while you’re working. This is important for everyone, but perhaps more so for those working around roommates, spouses, or children.
Unless your work requires you to match the schedule of others, once you’ve done the above, you can start to observe what works best for you and adapt. If you aren’t focused and don’t feel productive, don’t force it. Take some time, go for a walk, get some space, and then go back to the drawing board. Do you feel more creative in the morning? Shift that work to early hours. Have you determined your child is going to come find you every afternoon, no matter how many times you tried to establish boundaries? Schedule some play time.
We’re here to help.
Cowork Frederick has launched virtual events to help. Events will evolve as we determine what people find most useful. For now, there’s a 9 AM Morning Goals to replace the usual “good morning’s” and share you goal for the day (nothing like a little accountability in the morning!). There’s a 10 AM Work Sprint to create some hyper-focused time on getting something done. There’s also a 3 PM coffee break. At 3:30 PM we set aside 15 minutes of calm to refresh us and sustain us through the last hour or two of work.