Where to work, how to stay focused, how to look after yourself, and how to make the most of working from home.
Be honest, have you ever tried to work from your bed? You may be in the small percentage of people who can be more productive while propped up against some pillows, but for the majority of people, it’s not the ideal work environment.
There’s a good reason offices aren’t filled with four-poster beds – quite simply, it’s not good for you.
So ditch the duvet, it’s time to set yourself up for positivity! The same goes for the couch. Sorry to say it, but if you’re going to do business properly, you’re going to need to sit (or stand) like you mean business. And that means a dedicated home workspace, as far away from distractions as possible. Now, not everyone has access to a home office, garage, motorhome in the driveway, or simply a spare room – but if you do, it could be time to relocate to it. Wherever you choose to work from, it needs to be a dedicated workspace. Somewhere quiet, where you can focus on the task at hand. And somewhere with proper lumbar support for your back.
“It's crucial to have a separate, designated workspace (not your bed or the couch where you watch Netflix) that's free from distraction. For me, this means my desk faces a wall, and I also have a white noise machine available when there's distracting noises like construction or loud neighbors.” - Scott Swedberg, The Job Sauce
If you share your home, you may need to have a chat about boundaries. After all, no one needs their relatives wandering past their conference call in a dressing gown. Ambient noise – or even white noise – can help you concentrate and improve your focus, but daytime TV will be a distraction (trust me on that one! - ed).
"Treat your home office as the name says – as an office – with one little benefit. Get out of bed on time, shower, have breakfast, do push-ups. Whatever your normal morning routine would entail, do it – and get properly dressed. When turning on your computer, pretend you're in your office. Don't watch TV or start vacuuming. Stay focused on your task, do your work until you're done." - Chris Kaiser, Click A Tree
The most important thing to remember when you’re working from home is that, well, you’re still working. Take a shower before you start work, dress and groom properly, and you’ll find yourself feeling ready to start the day with a positive attitude to work. Little things like this can go a long way, especially if you’ll be working from home for an extended period. It’s especially useful if you’re going to be using video chat to keep up with your colleagues – which you should, because it will force you to pay full attention, and of course, help you feel better connected to your usual routine.
Now, with no one potentially popping up over your shoulder, it can be easy to get distracted and sucked into social media. A quick scroll on Instagram can see you emerging from a rabbit hole of posts 25 minutes later. One YouTube video can turn into eleven. You get the idea. Just as you would in the workplace, make time to keep up with what’s going on, but do it on your own time – not your scheduled work time.
So, how can you stay focused? Well, starting with a to-do list isn’t a bad way to go. Write down everything you need to achieve, prioritize, and then set to work. Which brings us onto…
Your work day is structured more than you might think. From your commute to your coffee, your meetings and meals, humans are creatures of habit – which is why a routine can work wonders when you’re spending the day at home.
It may seem like an obvious suggestion, but having set work hours will help you make the most of your day. If you know when you’re likely to be most productive, work around those hours and manage your schedule around this. If that means starting a little earlier, start a little earlier. Or if you want to finish a little later, finish a little later. As long as you’re getting the work done to the standards that are expected of you (and your timings fit with your colleagues' tasks) then the most important thing is that you have the structure in place to do so. This includes factoring in breaks for meals, exercise, and whatever other responsibilities you have, too.
At the end of your pre-planned day, stop.
Shut down your laptop. No more looking at your emails. Leave your home office. Switch off and recharge for the next day. You’ll thank us. Your team will thank you. Don’t allow work to creep into your downtime, and the downtime won’t have to creep into your work hours.
Sometimes, working from home can be a drag. That’s when you need some inspiration and work motivation. So, remind yourself of why you do what it is you do. Are you looking to take over the e-commerce world? Buy that house in the country? Save for your children’s future? Or take that holiday you’ve always dreamed of? Whatever it is that drives you to do what you do, put a visual reminder there on the wall. It doesn’t have to be one thing, it can be loads – you can have more than one dream! Vision boards1 will help motivate you through the tough times, and put a smile on your face when you achieve the goals you’ve set yourself. Can’t hurt to try.
It can be quite the change, going from the mercy of the chilled aisle in the store to a fully-stocked kitchen. Unfortunately, if those cupboards are filled with chips, chocolate bars, and other naughty nibbles, it’s going to have an effect on your energy levels, your healthy eating habits and, consequently, your work.
You should absolutely take adequate time for balanced meals. If that means preparing them the night before, or in the morning, or even over your lunch break, it’s a small change that will make a massive difference. You don’t have to be perfect – in fact, a sweet treat as a reward for your hard work could be just the thing – but a little planning in advance will mean you’re full of the right fuel to tackle your day. Try a brain-boosting recipe such as Liquid Gold2 if you’re feeling low on energy.
If there's one person who knows about eating well with limited choice, it's Lee Nelson of The Travel Scribes. Having spent a year on the road with her husband travelling to all four corners of the earth, she's become an expert in the art of making a meal from what's available: "Given how hard it can be to find certain ingredients right now, I've found the Fridge Food app a massive help - you can just enter the ingredients from your fridge or larder and it finds healthy meals for you."
Exercising in the middle of the office? Frowned upon. Exercise in the middle of your lounge? Encouraged. Exercise3 boosts endorphins, and if you’re the type of person who might suffer from a dip in energy in the middle of the day, a home workout can leave you feeling revitalized and raring to go.
“The biggest tip I can provide is to invest in an exercise desk bike. It helped improve my productivity in the afternoons so much that I purchased the same bike last year for all of our employees who regularly work from home. Essentially, it's just like the exercise bike you would find at your local gym except it has a desktop that extends upwards for your laptop… it's definitely nice to get up from my normal desk and cycle a little bit in the afternoon after eating lunch.” - Matthew Ross, The Slumber Yard
Now, we understand that you might not want to do something as drastic as getting an exercise desk. Anything from a brisk walk outside to an online exercise class can do the trick, so find the one that works for you. Just remember to shower in time for your afternoon video calls.
Fitting in exercise is another area of expertise for Travel Scribes' Lee. She recommends short, simple workouts that can be done between work sprints, such as the Seven Minute Workout or Office Workout. If you just can't get away from all those conference calls, then the simple exercises they provide will help keep your body moving and your mind in the right place.
With no distractions around, you can really focus on your work, which is great. However, too much work can be bad for you, which is why you need to factor in breaks. Get away from your screen, stretch your legs, make sure you’re hydrated. By doing these things, you can reinvigorate yourself quickly and easily, so you’re ready to handle what comes next. The Pomodoro4 technique factors in a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of work, with a longer break every two hours, and that’s a pretty solid strategy to stick to. Give yourself a full hour, or more, for lunch, too.
“My number one tip for my team is to actually take breaks throughout the day. I encourage people to get some fresh air, or just look away from their computers every so often. At the office, you’re used to being interrupted times throughout the day, so setting reminders on your phone to allow for a mental distraction has been very valuable in our productivity.” - Erin Clark, Prevail Solutions
Working from home has a lot of positives, but it can also have some negative effects. It can cause some people to become anxious, so you need to be prepared in case this happens to you. This piece by the New York Times5 is focused on the coronavirus pandemic, and features some coping strategies that could really help you keep a healthy and positive mindset.
Now might be the time to finally see what all the meditation malarkey is about, even if it’s as simple as trying out some soothing music to reset your anxiety. Many of the big players in the industry, like Calm or Headspace, have put together free resources accessible right from your keyboard to help you relax without even downloading their apps.
“A trick I learned while travelling full-time that’s just as true for life in lockdown is to carve out time for mindfulness. It’s more than a buzzword – just ten minutes of deep breathing can help you refocus or, at the very least, distract you taking yet another biscuit break.” - Lee Nelson, Travel Scribes
Whether you’re working from home as a one-off experiment, or as part of a long-term plan, making sure you’re in a position to be productive, in a positive manner, is crucial to getting the most out of your time. We hope this article has been useful - you can find more insightful articles on working from home, and advice on a number of topics relating to your small business, at our productivity hub.