As a freelancer who has worked from home for 17 years, here are a few tips for the new wave of homeworkers. Working from home has many advantages but it’s best to start with some basic ground rules. It’s a lot easier to begin with a healthy structure than to retrospectively try and fix things.
A simple rule, but I’ve recently spoken to a few new homeworkers who see staying pyjamas as some kind of perk. Fine, do it for a few days if you want to feel like a kid getting away with something, but then start dressing for work. I’m not suggesting a suit and tie or a power suit, just something comfortable, but respectable. Remember, it was a part of your working day routine and the more of this you can retain, the happier you will be. It will also help you unwind at the end of the day when you shed your work garb.
I think this is the single most important thing I introduced to my working day. I started freelancing by just getting up and getting on with it. It wasn’t until I started building in a morning routine of going for a bike ride or a walk I realised how much we need that little bit of head space between home and work. Get up, get out and when you come back from your ‘commute’ get on with work. Try not to plug yourself into podcasts etc, give your head time to process. You’ll find you will begin to switch from thoughts of home, family, shopping etc to work related tasks. When you come back, don’t empty the dishwasher, don’t do anything home related, just get to work and you’ll be much more productive.
Have a Starting Trigger
The first thing I do everyday is write down my ‘To Do’ list. I use it as the trigger to start my day and find the physical act of writing what I have to do very therapeutic. It helps me process the day, but more importantly, it’s what I always do first and helps me build my routine. Using this as your trigger might help replace whatever you did either consciously or subconsciously when working in an office.
Have a ‘Reset’ Procedure
The silence and solitude of working from home can be difficult. I often find my procrastination and prevarication the biggest challenges to the day. If I find my mind wandering then I get up and make a hot drink. I’m lucky in that I have an office at the bottom of the garden to the act of walking to the kitchen, making the drink and sitting back down enough to help me start again.
Take Some Time
Don’t be worried if you have some downtime. Offices are (or should be…) vibrant places where people are making noises and different interactions are taking place. I do freelance work in various offices and it can be fun. However, it’s noticeable I get less work done when working onsite for someone. This is because there are conversations going on, people dropping by at your workstation to ask a favour, etc. I get more work done while in my own office with no distractions, so if you’re new to working from home, you can reasonably expect to get your 7 hours done in about 6.
Use that extra time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty about connecting on social media or on forums. Don’t underestimate the importance of other people in your working day. We’re a sociable species and need that interaction. This is especially important at the moment as we isolate and quarantine.
Take Control of Your Availability
Use your working day effectively and work flexible hours if it suits you (and assuming your considerate employer allows). If you’re better at 7:30am, then start working then. Just make sure your work colleagues/clients know what hours you’ll be available. Again, especially important when we need to factor in taking time to support family and neighbours during this difficult time.
Impose some standards when using platforms such as WhatsApp, Slack or Skype. Make people aware you might be muting these while you work and definitely don’t answer work related conversations after you’ve finished for the day. You’re not on call.
Stay safe and I’ll see you on the other side…..