How do you stay sane and focused when working from home?
Managing oneself can be challenging, especially in stressful times. Over the past week, I’ve heard several people say:
“I’ll go stir crazy if I have to work from home!”
I’m here to tell you that working from home can be a lot of fun.
This way of life can provide a huge amount of flexibility and freedom. You can start work when you want and finish when you want. You can wear whatever you want. If you want to take a 2-hour lunch break and multiple power naps throughout the day, then you can do just that!
But you also run the risk of your usual routines going out the window.
I’ve always been my own boss, so I’ve had to develop routines and strategies to stay focused and get stuff done.
Here are some strategies I highly recommend to help you work at home and win the day.
1. Create a morning routine
Select three to five small activities to do first thing in the morning.
Here’s what my morning routine looks like:
• Get up and make my bed
• Exercise session (20 – 45 minutes)
• Shower and get dressed
• Have breakfast
• Meditate for 10 minutes
After completing my morning routine, I feel good. And when I feel good, it’s much easier for me to stay focused.
As Tim Ferriss says in his book Tools of Titans:
“If I hit 3 out of 5 [activities], I consider having won the morning. And if you win the morning, you win the day.”
Note: The worst thing you can do is start your day by checking your phone, scrolling through social media, etc. All this does is put you in a reactive state of mind (and this “Always on” state isn’t good for you).
2. Give your day some structure
What is it that you need and want to get done today?
Grab a piece of paper or a whiteboard. Jot down the things you need to do. Be specific.
Don’t go overboard with your list. The problem with long to-do lists is they can be demoralising. You can’t help but think, “How will I get all of this done?”.
So try this instead . . .
Take three tasks from your to-do list and write them on a post-it note or palm card. Put your to-do list away (out of sight).
By doing this, it makes it less scary for your brain. But that’s not the only reason you do this . . .
When you see two out of three items crossed off your to-do list, this is motivating for your brain. You’ll want to keep going. When you’ve crossed them all off, add three new tasks to your palm card.
Throughout the day, check your list to make sure you’re staying on track. This is half the battle when it comes to working from home (staying on task).
3. Implement tech rules
If you’re not careful, social media and sites like YouTube and Netflix can consume a huge chunk of your day. So set some rules. For example, I allow myself to watch one 30 minute show a day (only after I’ve completed the most important task for the day).
Consider using technology to help you stay off technology. I highly recommend an Internet blocker application called Freedom. This app locks me out of certain sites (e.g. Facebook and YouTube) when I need to be working.
Once you’re in control of technology (and not the other way round), you’ll feel a lot better.
4. Factor in time for fun and self care
Working at home can be isolating and draining. So this is where you need to apply Fun Theory. Any task you engage in, try to make it fun and/or interesting for your brain.
For example, if you’re mind mapping, grab your favourite coloured pens and/or make yourself a delicious smoothie to sip on while you work. Use a whiteboard, get dressed up in a crazy costume and teach a younger sibling or pet a concept. If you’re organising and cleaning, crank up some music.
5. Take regular breaks
Taking breaks isn’t a waste of time. Consider that regular rest breaks will make you more productive.
Here are some activities you could do on a short 5-15 minute break:
• Have a power nap
• Do some stretches
• Have a conversation (Note: face-to-face or on the phone is best)
• Play with your pets
• Go for a walk outside and get some fresh air and vitamin D
• Make yourself a healthy snack (e.g. a smoothie)
• Make a cup of tea
We all know how easy it is to take a break and never get back to work. This is where a timer can help. A timer going off is your cue to get back on track and knock off another item on your list of three tasks.
6. Mix things up
If you’ve established a good work routine but find yourself getting bored, shake things up a little. Try working in a different location and in different way around your house. In her brilliant book Use Your Words, Catherine Deveny suggests the following:
“ … shake things up occasionally when you are writing. Move to a different room to write. Drink something different, handwrite for a change, spend your first five minutes drawing about what you are writing about, then change hands and draw with the non-dominant hand. If you write inside, write outside for a bit. Change rooms. Write in the bathroom for thirty minutes. Normally sit in a chair? Try cross-legged on the ground. Write for an hour every day? Try two blocks of half an hour. Or try seventy-five minutes.”
7. Tame your inner slob
Stay on top of mess and clutter. If your study space starts to feel out of control, you’ll start to feel mentally out of control, too. Don’t make life harder than it needs to be right now.
8. Use effective study strategies
You can slash your study time in half by using highly effective study strategies. You can slash even more time off your study by staying focused on one task at a time (i.e. no multitasking). Check out my list of highly effective study strategies here and ideas on how to stay focused here.
9. Remember your Why
You are working from home for a reason: to protect you, your family and communities’ health. When I am feeling a bit of cabin fever, I say to myself:
“How would I feel if I went out, caught COVID-19 and infected my ageing parents and elderly neighbour?”
Obviously, not good.
So I choose to stay at home to work and study.
10. Practise gratitude
It’s easy to focus on the negatives. It’s human nature to do this. Yes, these are scary and uncertain times. But let’s not forget to be thankful for what we have in our lives. For me, I have a roof over my head. I have great cooking skills and time to cook. I also now have time to read.
What are you grateful for? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
To sum up
We are living through a 1 in 100 year event. This difficult period will pass. But it may last longer than we anticipate. The faster you can establish an effective daily work/study routine the easier it will be for you and everyone else in your household. Remember, we are all in this together.