Working from home can be a rewarding experience. You don’t spend time on stressful commuting; you may sleep better (and often longer), eat healthier and even exercise more. However, still, many find remote working challenging, especially now, during the covid-19 pandemic.
At Me Time Away, we’ve been always working remotely as we believe that physical presence in the office isn’t critical for delivering great results. This approach also has a positive impact on our planet as we minimise CO2 emission by the business.
During the last few months, we used the trial and error method to understand what really helps us stay organised, motivated and efficient. The below article is the essence of the learnings. It’s a list of actions that will not only make your workweek more productive but if applied permanently, will improve and boost your wellbeing in the long-term.
1. Create a permanent workspace & set up the equipment
Don’t Work in the Living Room
Working in a living room is usually too distractive. This is where the “family life” takes place and where everyone in your household gathers to spend time together. Yes, it might be different for those living on their own or for couples without children, but the centre room of the house is usually filled with that “entertaining vibe” which is a distraction on its own and doesn’t make a living room a good place of work.
If you live in a studio or one-bedroom flat, try to divide the living room (or the bedroom) into two areas: the entertainment (or sleeping) and study area. Hint no sofa (nor bed) should be part of the latter. That brings us to the next essential- the workstation.
Get Comfortable Office Furniture (or at least a chair or a table)
Working on a dining or kitchen table doesn’t always allow you to maintain the best position for writing or computing. An adjustable desk or chair, so you can use the keyboard to allow comfortable typing whilst keeping your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor, could make a significant difference to your posture. Setting it right, might be connected with additional cost, but it’s a long term investment with a very high return. When we finish work, it’s time to relax and spend it with loved ones. It’s your time, but if you find yourself in pain after a whole day of working, your wellbeing will be affected. Consider upgrading your workstation if this is the case for you now. There are many not essentially expensive stores like Ikea, which offer good quality furniture at affordable prices.
When talking about the desk set up, we should not forget about the importance of proper lighting. It has a substantial impact on our focus and productivity. In fact, a recent study reveals that there is a significant link between light and circadian rhythms known as “built-in clocks” which is what determines our sleep cycle, relaxation, mental health and even our weight and ability to learn. Lighting has also been said to decrease depression as well as improve our vigour, mood, attentiveness, and efficiency. It is recommended that the lighting levels in the desk area should be between 300 to 500 lux.
Invest in a Good Pair of Headphones
For those, working from home, who live with families or flatmates, the noise might be the main reason of losing concentration. In such cases, a headset becomes an essential piece of kit. Modern headphones not only offer a great sound quality to play music, but they also allow for the noise-cancelling, let you communicate easily with colleagues, whilst loved ones are able to call you and get through immediately. Systems like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Skype for Business all allow you to keep connected even when working from home- and a good quality headset lets you take full advantage of this.
Listen to Music
Although it depends on the type of work you perform, the monotonous tasks may become more enjoyable when accompanied by favourite music. Music can bring us back to the present moment and cut the noise out and help us concentrate. There is a number of playlists on Spotify that can help you achieve just that.
Plants are the new pets
You may have heard that Plants are the new pets. This analogy has been everywhere lately, but there is a lot of truth around it. Like pets, plants make you smile and provide the opportunity to nurture and care for a living entity, whilst still allow for a fast-paced life of work and even extensive travels. Plants have a positive impact on our happiness, comfort and overall physical wellbeing. They purify the air (check out areca palm, Chinese evergreens money plant, snake plant, aloe vera) and remove all of those nasty pollutants, making your office a brighter and healthier working environment. A recent study also indicates that indoor plants reduce stress and blood pressure and even help drive productivity. From a purely aesthetic perspective, the use of plants helps to add colour, texture, and softness into your home study.
Sit near the window.
Have you heard about ‘refuge and prospect’ concept? Lily Bernheimer, the author of ‘The Shaping of Us: How Everyday Spaces Structure Our Lives, Behaviour, and Well-Being‘ says we are usually more comfortable sitting with our backs leaning against the wall and a view of the door or window. We evolved to prefer this position because it features could have contributed to our survival by being the safest places we could be. She also adds that if we sit in the front of a wall, hanging a picture of green scenery can make a difference to your mood. A view of any kind of nature has the ability to lower blood pressure and decrease your stress levels.
2. Set up a daily schedule and stick to it!
Set a morning routine & regular working hours
One of the main benefits of working from home is the ability to stay flexible. Flexibility is definitely not something any of us would like to give up and we do not need to. We can have a routine whilst keep it flexible. Exercising in the morning can be swapped to an evening Pilates if unplanned calls or suddenly scheduled. Generally, it helps if regular activities like phone calls, creating to-do list are scheduled at similar times to makes sure It might be tempting to head directly out of bed and onto the sofa to start browsing email, but it’s important to establish an agenda when it comes to working from home. Set an alarm clock, prepare a healthy breakfast, take a shower and get dressed as if you were really going into work. Decide on regular working hours and factor in breaks and meal times (a little more on this in the next sections).
Don’t Start Your Work Day in Your PJs
Always get ready like you are about to go to the office. Create your “work uniform”, ideally clothes which make you feel comfortable but also amazing. It’s simple- if you wake up feeling unpleasant and put on clothes that reflect that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you put on something that raises your game, it will have a subtle effect on how you feel, think, and behave, therefore more likely on what you achieve during the day.
Avoid Work Creep
Wikipedia defines job creep as “a phenomenon in which employers continually require increasing amounts of work relative to the normal requirements of their operations”. In facts, it’s the gradual addition of responsibilities and duties, which eventually becomes unrealistic and overwhelming. In a “working from home” scenario, it manifests by constant email checking and replying to text outside of working hours as well as socializing with co-workers on work connected social media channels during the leisure time. According to the latest study, engaging in work-related activities beyond regular work hours results in employees having too little time to replenish their energy through leisure or sleep. Try to set a strict schedule for work-related activities, outside of those hours, spend the time if your family or flatmates.
Avoid Family, Friends, and Pets
Leaving with others whilst working from home might become a challenge due to constant interruptions from the loved ones or flatmates. Creating a few simple rules will help you avoid unnecessary stress and conflicts. Start from setting up fixed breaks and share their schedule with your spouse and kids to allow for regular catch-ups during the day. If possible, close the door when working – this will give a clear signal that you are busy. Teresa Douglas, co-author of “Secrets of the Remote Workforce” says that it’s all about setting the right boundaries for children. To help her children understand when she needs to be left alone, she puts a “STOP, in a meeting” sign on her door which means if her door is closed, kids can knock one time, and when she doesn’t respond it means she is in a meeting. When all of that is agreed and you still hear the noise coming from other rooms, use the headphones to cut it out.
Discover Your High Productivity Periods
As previously mentioned, we all have our circadian rhythms known as “built-in clocks”. Our internal clocks are unique- almost individually “designed and “manufactured” with “Swiss precision”. Your body has a specific preference for how your circadian rhythm (biological time) align to the day and night. If your body is more active after waking up, you are the “early bird.” If your body is more focus in the evenings, you are the “night owl.” Pay attention to how you react and feel during the day, when do you stay focus and when learning or dealing with repetitive tasks comes most naturally and organize your tasks around those times. Working from home is a great opportunity to learn about yourself too.
3. Organise your workload
Create a Vision Board
In order to stick to something and stay motivated, you need a clear PURPOSE for doing it. You need to understand your WHY. It will enable you to focus your efforts on what matters most, compelling you to take risks and push forward regardless of the odds or obstacles. Whatever it is, write it down on a post-it or notepad and put it on your desk or a cork memo board so you’ll see it when you start your day.
Create a to-do list
When working from home, in fact, you become your own boss. It might be easy to lose sight of priorities, activities, timelines and deadlines.
You might have read that in order to be successful, you should start your day from creating a to-do list. However, we believe, it would be even better if you prepare it a night before so nothing is missed the next day. Start your morning by reviewing your to-do list priorities for the day. Then set goals and time limits for each action you need to take. After each task is done, cross it off the list. This simple technique is both practical and satisfying.
Use a planner
Calendar or planner is also a great addition to your to-do lists. Use the planner to set up your long-term objectives, keep track of deadlines, calls and online meetings. When overwhelmed with the number of tasks, group them into projects. As they say- plan the work and work the plan.
Stick to One Task/Project Management and One Productivity App
When you just start working from home, the vision of being fully responsible for your entire day schedule might seem exciting. The time or tasks management apps can be very handy to make the process of creating an efficient schedule… more efficient:) But there is a catch- there are many great apps and each has its pros and cons. Review a few of them and choose just one. Don’t aim for the perfect match, you can always switch later. Here, at Me Time Away, we love Trello and Asana for project management and Pomodoro and Toggl for time management. All of them offer free and premium versions.
Stay Off Social Media
Online socializing is one of the most tempting procrastination techniques. Stick to your schedule. If social media is actually your work, make sure you plan each task and give it a scheduled time, so you are not lured into those kitten videos or memes and conversations. Let yourself socialize, but do it after working hours.
4. Eat Healthy Lunch & Snacks
No unhealthy snacks
When your daily commute is equal to 30 steps between your bedroom and your desk, the biggest threats to your weight and health are lack of movement and the temptations of a fully stocked fridge. During the coronavirus pandemic social distancing with your kitchen doesn’t have to be an option:) To avoid weight problems, fill your fridge with healthy options and choose whole-food alternatives filled with protein and nutrients. Many will keep you full throughout the day and completely eliminate cravings for unhealthy meals.
The fact that you can snack whenever you fancy can be beneficial, but the same freedom can lead to unplanned eating and snacking without paying attention to when you last ate and when you plan to eat next.
Put all your daily meals on your planner, the same way you would for conference calls or meetings. Doing so makes you pay attention to when and how often you’re eating and gives you a way to plan when your next snack is (so you don’t just leave your desk and head to the kitchen cupboard whenever the mood strikes).
Mindful eating: do nothing but eat
For the midday meal, take a full, ideally an hour break. Leave your desk and enjoy the experience. Mindful eating is about developing awareness of your experiences, your feelings around food and sensing our physical cues. It’s about approaching food in a focused way, thinking about the ingredients, where they come from, how they smell, then examining how they taste, how they move on your tongue. It sounds overly holistic but in practice, pretty sensible. It has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating, and overall will help you feel better.
5. Keep it clean and tidy
Research conducted by Harvard University found that students who worked in a clutter-free workspace are able to work steadily for 7.5 minutes longer than the students attempting the task in a cluttered workspace.
Working in a clean and tidy room means you are less likely to be distracted by objects around you, hence a clean desk can lead to increased focus. De-cluttering your workspace may also lower your stress and anxiety levels. Too many items on your desk can result in trying to focus on too many things at once, therefore increasing stress levels.
Missed deadlines despite having a reasonable schedule, could be the first signs of not having a productive office setup. Ask yourself if you feel overwhelmed? It could be that stack of papers, plates, or other stuff piling up on and around your desk.
While the constant emails and apps notifications never seem to end, the clutter on our desks is the kind we can pretty easily fix. Rather than letting things accumulate, tidy up your desk regularly and avoid letting things get so bad that you start cleaning as a form of procrastination. Cleaning up your workspace is a very useful task that could be closing your to-do-list every day.
6. Create a Rewards System
When your to-do list for a day is longer, a simple rewarding mechanism may help you deliver task quicker and stop procrastination. Find ways to make each task more gratifying and rewarding in itself, as well as giving yourself “treats” when tasks are delivered. For example, allow yourself your favourite herbal tea for completing a task successfully.
Exercise & Stretch Regularly
The researchers have linked prolonged sitting with obesity, elevated blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, excess body fat around the waist and many other conditions. Some even say that sitting is the new smoking.
When you sit, try to keep your back straight and your core engaged as much as you can. Consider using the stand-up desk or sitting on an exercise ball, as opposed to a chair, this can help you use more muscles and to keep a straighter posture.
When working from home, exercising once a day is crucial to stay in shape and keep the energy levels high. Physical exercise causes chemical changes in the brain, such as the release of endorphins, which can positively change your mood. This, in turn, can positively impact your level of motivation and self-esteem, boosting your energy levels. Pilates and any type of yoga are particularly useful when exercising at home as they do not require a lot of space.
Take Short Breaks
As well as stretching, you should also leave your desk at least once an hour and have a little walk, even if it’s just to go to the loo. Taking a break, even for 10 to 20 minutes, is a proven way to sustain concentration and energy levels throughout the day.
It’s also useful to mix your day with different tasks- if one of the jobs is to work on something creative or doing brainstorming which allows you to stay away from your laptop, plan in between the “laptop-based” work, so you break your day naturally.
Leave the House
Leave the house at least once a day to catch some fresh air and change the scenery. You do not have to take extremely long walks. A brisk 10-minute daily walk can help boost creativity and productivity. Walking can also help you become more mindful. When you aren’t looking down at a screen on the bus, you can pay more attention to the things around you, often discovering sides of the area where you live that you hadn’t noticed before.
If you can, try working in your garden when the weather allows or at a nearby coffee shop.
Use Video Chat
When working from home, the only way to communicate for group meetings is through video conferencing. It’s important to keep your camera on. There are many great (and free apps) like Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom. Make sure your desk is free from clutter and you look fresh and neat to make the right impression.
Make an Effort to Connect Beyond Work
Relationships at work matter and it matters even more when working from home. Getting along with your co-workers not only makes your days more enjoyable but also makes you better at your job. It’s important to make a conscious effort to set aside time for relationship-building. Set up a half-hour or hour-long blocks a few times per week to talk to your colleagues. Make sure you reach out to others regularly; especially those who you know live on their own.
Check-In With Co-Workers Frequently
One of the best forms of keeping touch with colleagues is to attend the daily stand-up meeting each morning where you share what you’re working on for the day. It’s a natural way of reviewing your to-do list too.
9. Communicate- Assume Positive Intent
Although assuming positive intent extends to all areas of your life, it is especially important to be conscious of it when working from home. It means that you deliberately choose to assume that the people you work with have good intentions and that they’re operating to the best of their ability.
If you assume negative intent, you become angry or frustrated and if you think these things to be true, your feelings will start to manifest within your behaviour. Since negativity already casting its opinion before you know the facts, it’s crucial to stop those negative presumptions as soon as you notice they appear.
It isn’t easy, especially if you’ve had past negative experience with that person, or in a similar situation. We all are full of insecurities and negative past experiences but we need to put more effort into colleagues’ interactions when working remotely. Communicating badly affects behaviour and leads to being misunderstood. It will take practise to master it. It will not only improve your communication but will also positively influence your mood, hence improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
How do you find remote working during the pandemic? Do you have any working from home tips to stay productive & boost wellbeing that you swear by? Share them with the Me Time Away community in the comments below!