How to manage working from home
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Working from home is increasing now more than ever due to the pandemic. We've been stuck at home for a while now, and so I wanted to share with you some general strategies I've learned and implemented to manage how I work from home. Read on to learn what those are and hopefully you can implement some of those strategies yourself.
As someone who runs an online practice, having good work habits at home are essential to keeping my practice running smoothly. These habits involve two aspects: managing my environment and managing myself.
Managing your environment
First off it's best to start by setting your environment up for success. Your environment is an important aspect of your work because your brain can focus on something more easily if it is primed to do so. In order to prime your brain for work mode, setting things up in a way your brain understands is work mode is essential.
Practically speaking, have a dedicated work space and make it really look like a place for work. When you are in that work space, the only thing you do is work. That way, your brain ties that specific space "work space" and what it looks like (desk, laptop, agenda, etc.) with the activity "work". That helps keep you focused and lessens the distractions that could otherwise occupy your mind.
Think differently about your space
Thinking differently about your home and having a clear divide between times and places in your home for home activities and times and places for work activities is a good way to stay in work mode. You can have that mental buffer for almost every activity like cleaning up, playing games, taking care of pets etc. Some home activities are more complex than others to time or put in a specific place, but if you do that with most activities you'll be distracted by just a couple of things instead of everything you come across in your home.
To clear things up for you, here is how I have set up my space and activities throughout my day to remain in work mode throughout.
First, I have a separate room in which I work, so the dedication of a specific space for work is done. Now when I go out to get a drink from the kitchen and there's a plate in the sink left there from breakfast, my first instinct would be to wash it. What I do instead to stay in work mode is ignore the plate and decide immediately that the plate can wait until the workday is done to be washed. If I want a break, the spot in front of my kettle is my coffee room. When I have lunch, my dining table is where I will have lunch and breaks.
This is what my actual workspace.
These are all decisions I have made about how I want to see my environment so it can suit my workday and how and when I want to work. These are decisions you make prior to to working from home, and then it's just a matter of implementation from there.
Finally, the last part of managing your environment is to make sure as much as possible that your home is not distracting. If the cleaning and organizing is done, you won't be able to procrastinate by cleaning and organizing. If the YouTube tabs on your browser are closed, you won't be triggered to watch a video every time you see them. This part is about learning how you procrastinate, what cues set you off to start and then removing them from your work environment completely while keeping them hidden in your home environment. Learn what your triggers and distractions are and do what you can. The rest falls into place.
Now onto the more personal aspect of working from home. If managing your environment was about minimizing outer distracting cues, managing yourself is about minimizing the internal ones. There is an art to being productive at home, and it is entirely subjective. I cannot stress this enough: what works for you may not work for someone else, and it is a process of self-understanding and working with your strengths and weaknesses that helps the most. That being said, we all have brains and brains tend to work generally in a similar manner unless otherwise specified. Therefore, there are certain strategies you can test out that are known to work. If they work for you then great! If not, tweak them accordingly.
How you start your day matters
The first strategy is implementing a solid morning routine designed to prepare you for the day's work. Depending on the nature of your job at home and its requirements, this morning routine will look different. However, most people working at their desks, myself included, find that changing out of their pajamas and getting dressed as if going to the office helps tremendously.
Again, we're working on the same principle as in managing the environment: providing "work" cues for the brain to initiate work mode. If you're in your pajamas, you are not going to work. Dressed, however, you have already done a shift in the direction of change from the usual. That will help your brain also understand that you're changing from one state to the next and it'll help initiate that change and make it easy for you.
My job requires that I practice therapy on video calls, so for me, I do the usual morning things like shower etc, then I get dressed and make myself presentable for my clients. I also enjoy meditating in the morning because it keeps me centered and attentive with my clients, so it is part of my morning routine to prepare for work. Of course, if your job has other requirements, do what you can. However, make sure you get dressed for it, and add in anything else that will help you make that shift from home to work.
Organizing your day for success
The second aspect of self-management is setting rules for your work, like having a set schedule, break times and planned activities to do for work. This basically means having a strict working hours policy for yourself, like leaving work at a specific time at the end of the day completely so you're free to enjoy your rest time better. It also means having a stand-up meeting with yourself and deciding what tasks will be done, and also what breaks you will take and when and where you will take them. When working from home, you are your own manager as well as the employee. You're even the CEO if it's your own company. No matter your position, treating your work at home with this level of discipline helps you stay on track in your productivity. It keeps you serious about your work and you stay motivated with the clear vision on how things are going and what goals you want to achieve.
This seems obvious, but it isn't as simple as having a to-do list. Having a detailed plan on how you will do the activity, when, how long it will take and having a deadline on it is what makes the difference. For example, I had to think about how to invoice my clients in a timely manner. It wasn't as simple as "invoice them after every session". I had to plan the time it would take, how I would be invoicing them, how this would affect my administrative activities such as accounting etc. Take your tasks seriously and give them the attention they deserve, as if you were in the office. It'll take some extra time to think about all these details and plan them out for yourself, but the increase in productivity and feelings of accomplishment that come with it are well worth it.
Finally, cut yourself some slack. Sometimes you won't want to wake up at the same time everyday. Sometimes you won't want to start the day as usual. Working from home offers certain freedoms like not having to commute and having extra time to just chill. If you're having a day like this, take it in stride and just enjoy the time you're taking extra.
That being said, don't let it derail you from your goals. Brains are organs of habit, and if you do something a certain way consistently then it'll just be easier and easier to do that way until you don't even have to think about it anymore.
All in all
Unfortunately, working from home still means sticking to a schedule and doing mundane tasks you don't enjoy. It means having to work when you don't want to. It isn't always the freedom people make it out to be. It is simply the freedom from having someone else dictate how and when you work. Now, however, this responsibility falls to you.
This is admittedly the hardest aspect of managing yourself and your work day. It's realizing that there isn't much of a difference between working at the office and working from home, and that sometimes it's actually harder. If you work remotely for a company, you'll definitely understand.
So set yourself some solid routines that make it easier to do your job, be as consistent as you can, and anticipate down days. Don't be tempted to overwork or not take vacation days because you're already home. Do the things that make you feel productive and stable in your days, and that's all that matters.