As the coronavirus pandemic ramps up, more and more people are thinking about self-isolating, and as of today, Boris Johnson has asked that everyone who can should work from home. As a freelancer, I am very lucky that my job is location-independent, and I have been working from home for more than 8 years now. And let me assure you, it is awesome!
Of course, not every workplace can offer the option to work from home, but if you are going to do this, and you’re worried about how you’ll actually get any work done, here are a few tips from a seasoned pro.
Congratulations! Now that you work from home, you no longer need to wear trousers, shirts, ties or bras. Welcome to the wonderful world of loungewear – all day, every day. But even though you’re no longer obliged to wear normal, outdoor-person clothes, I still recommend getting dressed in the morning. You can put on anything – fancy dress, formal attire, another pair of pyjamas – but whatever it is, make sure it is different from the clothes you slept in. It is so much easier to work if you don’t feel like you just rolled out of bed and could roll back in at any minute.
Set up a work area
Some people can work in bed (or ‘soft office’, as they call it); some people can work on their sofa; some people can work sitting on the floor. I am not one of those people. If you are, more power to you, but for the rest of us, setting up a dedicated work space is really important. Your work space will need: a hard surface for your computer and a decent chair. That’s it. Obviously the dream is a spare room with a door you can close, but honestly any space that you can walk away from at the end of the day without feeling like it’s looming over you will do fine. (I live in a very small flat, and my desk sits directly next to my sofa, but I have had years of training in evening-desk-blindness so don’t expect to get on my level right away.)
It’s essential— Excuse me a minute, my Hypocrisy Alarm is going off. There, that’s better. It’s essential that you sit properly in your chair. Feet on the floor, back straight, top of the screen positioned just below eye level. I obviously don’t do this ever and it has only rendered me incapable of walking on two occasions, so take from that what you will.
Schedule your day
The number one thing people say to me when I say I work from home is, “How do you do that? I’d just watch Netflix all day.” And, let’s be real, there are times when I have done that. But most of the time there is work to be done, and a plethora of distractions to keep me from it (Twitter, books and a fridge full of cheese chief among them). So if you are going to work from home and you actually need to get work done, try scheduling your day. My rough schedule looks like this:
- Up at 7
- Hour and a half for coffee, reading, breakfast, shower, putting a wash on
- Sit down at my desk by 8:30
- Half an hour for admin/emails/faffing
- Start work in earnest at 9
- Absolutely not allowed to eat lunch until the time starts with ’12’ (usually 12:01)
- Absolutely not allowed to take longer than an hour for lunch (OK, a bit allowed, depends how busy I am)
- Tea break at 3
- Stop work around 4 or 5
Your schedule is obviously up to you, but pay attention to when you work best and when you’re most easily distracted, and build some rules to help you stay on the straight and narrow.
Aside from having a schedule, the number one thing that allows me to focus when working from home is the Pomodoro technique. This is 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5-minute break – rinse and repeat as many times as you like. I use Kanbanflow to keep track of my Pomodoros; it has a built-in timer that does a cheerful ‘ding’ when your 25 minutes is up. I find Pomodoros really useful for avoiding distractions. Want to check Twitter? Do some stretches? Listen to a song? Scream into the endless void? You can, but not yet ‘cos there’s 12 minutes left on your timer.
Don’t eat everything on day 1
OK, self-control isn’t something I usually have to deal with, because working from home usually means that I can pop to the shop/cafe/greasy kebab shop whenever I want, but we’re self-isolating now, people, and that means the supplies in your fridge are going to have to last. Therefore, your daily schedule is going to be especially useful – lunch happens at lunchtime, dinner happens at dinnertime, and you can stop yourself from getting up for snacks by hurling yourself into the iron clutches of yet another Pomodoro. Or you could disregard this advice and eat an entire box of Strawberry Cream Lindt Lindor in one sitting because there’s nobody around to see you do it. (Yes, obviously I have done that too.)
This is a scary time, and if you’re sick, or immunocompromised, or at risk, or really anxious about all this, my thoughts are with you and I understand. Fortunately, self-isolating is something quite a lot of us can do, right now, to help protect those who are vulnerable, and as a long-time work-from-homer, I would like to welcome you to our club. Come on in – it’s warm and cosy and we have snacks.