Home Working Survival

I’ve had a few periods of extended home working over my career, which have driven me to develop some pretty robust skills for spending an extended period within the same four walls. Given the current shenanigans and that many of us are working at home I thought I’d share some best practices.  None of these are especially groundbreaking but they do, I think, correlate well with sustaining a productive, healthy work-life balance.

The main point is to reach out to colleagues, family and friends. We all need some form of human contact, therefore, arranging calls, on-line chats and the like can really help. One team I am working with have a regular Thursday night remote drinks and nibbles event, and I regularly play games over Google hangouts with friends in the evening. It all helps to lessen the feelings of isolation.

Keep to your routine

This is, for me, really important. Keep your usual times for waking-up, going to bed and taking breaks. It’s easy to allow time to blur and find yourself losing track of your day. Routine and a bit of discipline makes all the difference. Getting up as if you were heading into the office, getting ready and then using the commute time to have a good breakfast, or read can help set-up a great day.

Take breaks, away from your laptop

As much as possible, have a space away from your work area where you can take a break, stretch your legs and give your brain a bit of a break. For me, that’s moving from my desk to the kitchen for 10m every couple of hours. If you have a garden, then do a turn in that. Something that changes the context for your brain and eyes – go and stick a load of laundry on or take the bins out. A quick break from the usual.

Stand-up every hour

Spending the whole day sitting can be a killer. Even if you’re staying at your desk, remember to stand-up every hour. For me that’s usually when I have calls. If you’re doing a task that is more desk-based then stand-up for a couple of minutes, bust out a couple of air-squats  (Yoga pants and headband not required. Apparently), have a stretch and then crack back on.

Exercise

If you’re at home, then you aren’t getting the usual walking exercise. Try and fill this in with regular exercise, perhaps in the morning, before lunch and after work. 10-15m of simple stretches and something to get your blood pumping (Air squats!) will make all the difference. There’s loads of fun stuff on YouTube for this – like this from a pal’s wife. There are also some great desk-based stretches  you can do.

Protect your back

It’s tempting to work from your sofa or the like, but this is not great for extended periods. Try as much as possible to sit like you would at work , with a good posture and good lighting. Make sure you keep your workspace well-organised and tidy. This will stop you sitting in a way that will damage your body. This is how I have my desk set-up, in the corner of my lounge. You may not have the same space but try to keep what you do have well organised. Don’t forget your employer may help with additional equipment if needed, and the same DSE regulations apply as to office work.

Work around unavoidable distractions

If you’re home with children, then some distractions are going to be inevitable. Plan for these and work around them. For example, you may be able to block out time at different parts of the day or set rules for how and when you should be interrupted. This quote from Pamala Vaughan at HubSpot may be helpful:

“When I work from home, my 20-month-old daughter is home with me, too. It seems counterintuitive, but because I have to manage taking care of her and keeping her happy and entertained while still getting my work done, the pressure helps to keep me focused. When she’s napping or entertaining herself, I go into super-productive work mode.

It’s the same idea for why some people work better when they have very busy schedules — you learn how to manage your time VERY efficiently. The ‘distraction’ of my daughter (I mean that in the most loving way possible) means I can’t possibly succumb to some of the other common distractions of home”.

Be mindful of your mental health

Pay attention to your brain, and how it is reacting. If you find anxiety spiking, then these are two techniques my therapist taught me that I find extremely helpful:

Grounding

There are different approaches to this, but I like to sit quietly for two minutes with my eyes closed, and mentally inventory my surroundings. I try to breathe deeply and focus as much as possible on one sense at a time and identify:

  • Three things I can hear, trying to focus on each one for a few seconds
  • Three things I can smell, again focusing on each for a few seconds
  • Three things I can feel. I tend to focus on the ground first, then whatever I am sitting against, then what I am wearing.

Take 2 minutes to do this if your brain is racing and you’ll find it helps give a sense of calm.

Countering

It’s easy to get into a loop of negative thoughts. You can stop that by deliberately countering each with a positive thought, that counteracts the previous. For example, my brain may send me down a cycle of worrying about solving a problem for a client. I counter this by reminding myself that I have solved many problems before, I am surrounded by a great team and I can do this.

One approach I find particularly helpful is to reframe the negative thought as if it came from a particularly irritating lady I used to work with. That way, I can counter with “Or I could just keep doing the good work I’m currently doing, thank you Linda”. 

There’s also the Bob the Builder approach . Seriously, it works.

Yes, you can.