In this guest post, Desiree Villena, a writer with Reedsy, gives people that are suddenly finding themselves working from home because of the coronavirus a few tips on how to manage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into life’s well-oiled mechanisms in many different ways, and your work is probably one of them. Working from home before the spring of 2020 was often associated with freelancers who enjoyed hopping around the world, or relatively young startup companies. Now, it’s an inescapable reality for many businesses worldwide.
As a result, many people are having to adapt to this new worklife. Working from home can be such a disruption to your usual routine that you may be unsure if it can really be effective. Even those who have worked remotely for a while can still struggle to organize their days well! So how can you stay focused and productive in an environment that reminds you of entertainment and relaxation?
Luckily, there are plenty of tricks to help with this. Here are just five essential things you must know to set yourself up at your own home.
1. Have a distinct workspace
It doesn’t matter whether you are staying at home because of a lockdown or because that’s simply where you tend to work, having a distinct area for your job is crucial to your productivity. That’s step one to fostering a professional mindset — separating work from the rest of your life.
Do not work in your bedroom if you can help it. Keep that space for unwinding, relaxing, and sleeping. Don’t bring stress into it, and vice versa, don’t let that calming atmosphere infiltrate your work hours, otherwise you’ll just waste the day away.
A good space for setting up a temporary workstation is the dining table. You’ll have the table and chairs to help create a rigorous office environment, where you’ll have to sit up straight rather than slouch underneath your blanket.
Alternatively, if you are interested in long-term remote working, or are a freelancer, consider getting a standing desk or even a treadmill desk. There are plenty of healthcare issues related to office work, and too much sitting is the culprit of many of them. Save yourself from future back aches and neck aches by investing in something to help you stand and work at the same time. A bonus benefit is that standing up or walking actually increases blood flow and enhances focus!
Nikki: I use a red rose screen (see the photo) to separate myself from the rest of the family and also to hide any messiness in my room behind me from translation colleagues during video calls. I’ve also subscribed to focus@will. Not only does listening to the music help me concentrate when it really matters or I need to be super productive to meet a tight deadline, wearing the headphones also sends a clear signal to family to disturb me at their peril.
2. Maintain a daily routine
Working from home means there’s no one to tell you when to get up, when to start work, and when to take a break — well, no one except yourself. Of course, there are emails and meetings that will give your day some structure (you can’t ignore coworkers forever), but it’s all too easy to slip into a haze and end up not achieving much throughout the day.
Get your head fully in the game by creating a schedule for yourself, and commit to it as if there’s someone supervising you. Try starting in the morning, as you would if you were working at an office, even if you’re not a morning person. Most people tend to think much more clearly in the mornings, and a productive start sets the tone for the whole day!
You don’t have to begin with anything major if morning hours are not your productive ones — replying to emails or organizing your to-do list count as work, too. On that note, it’s important to figure out what the most productive time frame in the day is for you, because you want to save that time for work that demands the most attention and effort.
And then, of course, don’t forget to put in designated break times, preferably long ones for you to stand up and move around a bit. Give yourself an hour or so during lunch to eat an energizing meal, while keeping your mind off work so that you can recharge. Try to avoid having your meals in front of the laptop — it’s not good for your digestive system, it probably won’t be the most effective work you’ll do, and it leaves you feeling overworked rather than refreshed.
3. Stay communicative
Working at an office is a social experience; you’re never quite alone. Sometimes that means a lot of distractions, but it also creates a morale-boosting sense of community among coworkers. In contrast, working from home may create a distance between you and your coworkers, which can make you feel like those connections have weakened.
But of course, you’re far from alone when you work from home, even as a freelancer. You are always collaborating with someone, so keep in touch! Cut out email-sending and messaging as much as possible, and facilitate direct conversations through voice and video calls. Slot in meetings like this with your team at least daily, just to check up on everyone, see whether any tasks are not being covered or if anyone needs help, and generally stay connected and upbeat.
If you’re a freelancer, keep in contact with your network of collaborators through freelancing platforms. For long-term projects like book marketing, suggest having video chats with the author rather than relying on dry exchanges of email, the same as with your coworkers. You’ll be more motivated and productive when you know that the person you’re working with is an actual human and not just lines of text on a screen.
Nikki: My translation colleagues and I have found Zoom’s video conferencing platform useful for staying in touch. My daughter’s dancing and singing teachers are also continuing their weekly lessons via Zoom. They give her something to look forward to and a bit of structure to her day, and they also help her teachers keep their businesses going.
4. Give your phone a break
You should also keep yourself away from your phone as much as possible. In this day and age, there are plenty of desktop-based applications that help you communicate with colleagues so you can avoid texting and calling! You’ll have access to all the communication tools needed for work on your laptop, so basically, you don’t need to have your phone around.
In that vein, unless there are people who may urgently need your help — a parent or older friend, for instance — keep your phone out of your work station. Turn off notifications from disruptive applications (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…) during work hours. It only takes one hilarious Tweet to keep you scrolling rather than being productive. And even if you don’t actually look at the screen, each ping from your phone is still a distraction that pulls you out of work.
All this to say: leave your phone (and all other forms of entertainment) for later, during your breaks or when the workday is over.
5. Put (some) pressure on yourself
Remote working gives you a lot of flexibility, but it also requires a lot of self-discipline. There is no one hovering around to make sure you work, which may sound like a great thing, especially if you’ve always worked in a high-pressure office. But the truth is that most people work better under pressure, without which it’s just too easy to kick back and take it slow.
If you’re one of those people, then find new ways to pressure yourself. Your coworkers are still there and can still drop in to check on your progress, if you want them to. Alternatively, you can create very ambitious to-do lists, or even fill up your day completely using a technique called zero-based scheduling, in order to turn on your hustle mode.
These five tips cover some of the issues that come with working from home, from maintaining social contact to staying productive to keeping a work-life balance. The key to having a good remote work life is to find your own rhythm and your own ritual. And since you’re tailoring your experience to your preferences, you might just end up being much happier and more efficient as a home-based worker!
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with freelance editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She currently works remotely and tries her best to take her own advice!