You’ve done it! Congratulations! You’ve finally escaped the clutches of everything you’ve been secretly plotting against for way too long. The grumpy boss. That sardine-like commute. The burning smell of the world’s worst instant coffee drifting from the kitchen. Office politics. Work that didn’t really matter to you.
But somehow it’s 6pm already. Another day has drifted past in a flash. Your feet are still bare because you didn’t feel the need to put socks on today. You’re in familiar surroundings and you don’t have to spend an hour getting home, but what have you really achieved?
Here are ten things you need to do in order to work from home like a boss.
1. Give yourself routine
If working from home is new to you this is going to take a little while to adapt, but the sooner you set parameters for the working day the better. Know where you’re going to work: this might change from morning to evening depending on how light shifts around your home office – let’s call it a hoffice. Make sure you’re at the desk by a set time and embrace getting up early, this is ok if you’re the one who decides you have to. Yep, you can play the snooze game, but boy it feels amazing to have nailed a ton of work before 10am.
Map your day according to how you think you’ll feel if you complete a certain set of challenges and let your measure of success revolve around tasks, not time.
2. Get up, shower, put clothes on
Don’t work from bed. Beds are for sleeping and other kinds of magic, let them be precious and special in their purpose. Wash the night away before doing anything. Getting straight to work because you can, doesn’t mean you’re on fire, because after a while you’re going to start itching. A sweaty homeworker is a silently disgruntled homeworker.
Blast your head with water, get fresh and don’t forget that you’re still a human even if you don’t have to spend your day with others. Now, put some clothes on. Yes, there’s a temptation to wander around in the nude and make phone calls, because you can. But don’t. Wear what you like as long as it’s not pyjamas, but wear something. Now, you’re ready to get started…
3. Focus: read, don’t type over meals
This is about honing your focus and ability to juggle different actions. If one of your hands is holding a spoon or a fork or a knife or a jar or a mug or a piece of fruit, you simply can’t type properly. Stop trying to do everything at once, we’re trying to make you into the most efficient working-from-home-beast possible. Open up a couple of blogs, articles or news pieces and read – this is stretching for your brain before you start doing cartwheels towards your own work.
4. Prioritise: Write a To Do list, yesterday…
Thinking ‘what do I do now?’ is the first step to potential boredom, and boredom kills dreams. Don’t be a dream killer.
To Do lists sound like they were invented by a cruel master, but they’re the key to self-motivation. This is your list and the summation of the day you’ve decided you’d like to have. Take ten minutes before you sleep every night to make the next day’s list – give yourself something to be excited about. Prioritise no more than three biggish tasks, and don’t be afraid to have a secondary list on a different page with things that need to be done, but not necessarily tomorrow
Know what you have to achieve and give yourself a timeframe to realistically do it well.
5. Set the musical mood
Your working environment is key. Be in a room with lots of light. Move your working space and direction around until you’re happy. Don’t have your back to the room, face it.
Working in silence is a distraction so get Spotify premium (other services are available) and find a Focus playlist. Vivaldi is scientifically proven to aid concentration but most classical music is perfect to start your working day (this isn’t about musical preference, it’s just clever ambience). If you’re writing don’t choose tunes with lyrics, you’ll only be tempted to sing along.
My personal favourite is Ludovico Einaudi – there’s something special about letting your mind switch off from everything other than what you’re focusing on – I’ve written three books to Einaudi, he never fails.
6. Destroy distraction
This is the difference between a good day and a bad day. Put your phone out of reach when you’re working or at the very least put it on Airplane Mode. A WhatsApp notification is distraction. So is a new match on Tinder. Or a new tweet or instagram or Facebook or advert or reminder. Stop it!
Save direct messages for break time and give your focus a chance to be relentless. Struggling not to automatically click onto Facebook to see how many likes that video of a kitesurfing squirrel has now? There are a couple of self-control apps that will physically stop pages like Facebook opening during the times you choose.
Basically, if anything during the day takes your eyes off the prize at any give moment make sure that you find a way to stop it happening in the future.
7. Work on, work off
If you’re running for a whole day with no stops to refuel, drink or rest, the person who chooses to run for only 45 minutes each hour will go further than you. Be a tortoise and rest your way to victory.
There are a bunch of ways to do this, but here’s a starter: at the beginning of each work session set your phone timer to go off in 50 minutes. As soon as it beeps, stop working for ten minutes. Stand up, move around, drink water, breathe. Try not to look at a screen but if you must, this is your window to check and reply to WhatsApp. Then after ten minutes set the timer, and get going again. Three or four hour-long sessions might feel productive, but you’ll do more if you have multiple rests in that period. Be smart, not relentless.
8. Be email clever…
For years I had a thing: my inbox is my To Do list – my work isn’t over unless it’s empty. At heart, this meant I got things done, but there was a downside because I never closed it. If you’re an inbox nazi just breathe. Every email you send out is potentially asking for another one back and if you’re in the swing of things you could spend all day on email without time for rest. A productive day is not a day spent online. An open email inbox is a destructive taunt and temptation, and the moment I tried a new technique I started getting more successful.
So now I only check email at certain times. The first window is 10-10:30am, which gives me two hours on a typical work day to write, create and not get waylaid. Half an hour is enough time to reply to urgent messages and to get a feel for other work or opportunities, but don’t get sucked in. If there are pressing issues another half hour of email in the early afternoon is ok, but I save the bulk of my email clearing until after the working day for most people who email me is over. This way they’re not going to be replying immediately, letting me get on with other stuff.
If you have a remote team and use whatsapp, slack or a similar app to communicate, try not to let it take over your life. Treat it like email, or only engage with it every hour.
9. Group similar activities
Group your skypes, conference calls and in-person coffee meetings. Block out a couple of mornings or afternoons each week for chats and leave the rest free for unbounded, undisturbed work.
10. Get Outside
Don’t forget to exercise. You don’t get it done on your bike commute any more and now that you’re in charge of your own destiny there might be a feeling that if you stop working you’re harming your chances of success. Here’s a newsflash: getting pale and porky in your home office is just going to make you tired and, in the long run, ill. Get some vitamin D, ride a bike, go read on a park bench, smell fresh air. Spend at least one day a week out and about. Go and see real people and get inspired by conversation.
For all the freedoms of working from home, if you don’t make it count that freedom might one day have to get shelved. It doesn’t have to be this way. Be good to yourself, work smart, learn as well as do and base it all on creating a habit to get things done. If you try and cook an elephant every meal, you’ll end up never eating* so break down the big stuff into smaller chunks and tick off hundreds of little tasks a day. Build momentum, be nothing but a doer and when you finally get to bed at the end of the day, make sure that you’ve made it count.
* Never, ever cook an elephant…
Featured photo credit: Neourban Hipster Office/Markus Spiske via flickr.com