What Working From Home Has Taught Me
More people are working from home now than ever before. For some, it’s a welcome change of pace to a usually hectic lifestyle, while for others, it may be too large an adjustment to make to your daily life, resulting in increased stress and a lack of productivity. Either way, there’s plenty to take away from the experience.
For the last few years, I’ve personally been working in a customer service role at a busy tourist attraction – a job which, of course, became obsolete in the midst of the worldwide pandemic. It was only a couple of months ago that I decided now is the perfect time to get my foot on the ladder as a freelance writer, so working from home is an experience I’m still getting used to!
With that in mind, here are just a few things I’ve learned in my first two months working from home - though I’m sure there are plenty more lessons to come.
Clothes are your friend!
At first, the thought of being able to work bare-faced and in your pyjamas seems pretty appealing. Getting ready for work always took up quite a sizeable portion of my morning, so with the time you free up by no longer doing that, you can get so much more other stuff done, right?
Well, unfortunately, the reality is that sitting in our pyjamas actually puts us in a completely different frame of mind to the one you need to be in for working. When we’re in our pyjamas, we’re automatically in the mindset of winding down, relaxing… all things that don’t necessarily fit into a day of trying to be focused and productive.
Thinking back on my own experience of the past few weeks, I have to agree! There’s something about being dressed in the clothes I would usually just sleep in that blurs the line between working from home and just being at home a little too much. On the couple of occasions I’d chosen to neglect getting dressed in ‘out of the house’ clothes, I definitely wasn’t getting anywhere near as much work done as the days where I’d put a little more effort in. Even if that effort is for your own eyes only, it’s most certainly still worth it.
My advice? Just set aside a few minutes in the morning to get ready for the day ahead – not in the sense of full hair and make-up and your sharpest office look, but just enough to make it clear to yourself that you were in bedtime mode, but now you’re good and ready to take on the day. You’ll thank yourself in the end.
Oh, and before you say it – the same applies to working in bed. Bad idea.
Do Not Disturb
If, like me, you’re an iPhone user, you’ll know all too well the disappointment you feel in yourself every time you get your Weekly Screen Report, only to find you’ve yet again spent far more time on your phone than anyone really should.
We’re all guilty of it. Nobody sets out to lose hours of their day to scrolling through their phones, but we all tend to fall into the same trap – you go to reply to a single text, decide you may as well quickly check social media and, before you know it, you’ve been staring at Twitter for so long that you forgot what real life even looks like!
Phones are brilliant, of course, but they’re also a great distraction – there’s so much to look at that it becomes difficult, once you start, to get back into doing anything else.
Well, after numerous wasted hours of time, I’ve very much learned my lesson – my phone is switched to ‘Do Not Disturb’ from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and only comes out during my lunch break. Otherwise, I’ll truly never get one single thing done on time… I know myself too well.
Music to my ears
I’m sure by now we’ve all stumbled across the 24/7 YouTube livestream ‘lo-fi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to’ at some point in our lives. It’s an interesting space, and it’s exactly what it sounds like – continuous lo-fi hip-hop beats playing against a looped Anime clip of a girl writing away, next to her window. She’s deep in thought, and seems to be working much better than I ever do.
But even if lo-fi hip hop beats aren’t your thing, I’d certainly recommend getting together a playlist or maybe switching on your favourite radio station, and just working with your earphones in. For some reason, without my earphones, I’m distracted by every slight noise I hear around my house, whether it’s someone moving about upstairs, the washing machine, the microwave… you name it, I switch off completely when I hear it.
However, with my earphones in, I seem to be able to block the rest of the world out entirely. I can get into a good working mindset far more easily, and work consistently for much longer.
If, for some reason, you haven’t tried working this way – which, let’s face it, I’m sure most people do – then I would wholeheartedly recommend it!
It’s a little lonely
One thing I wasn’t prepared for when I started working from home was how much I would miss traditional social interaction with my workmates. The little exchanges you have with them throughout the day – whether it’s to ask how they’d spent the night before, or even if it’s just to have a little whine about something – really keeps you going and helps to pass the time.
At home, you don’t have workmates, and that can be a bit of an odd change to wrap your head around, as colleagues can often make or break your enjoyment of your job. I can’t have an interesting conversation with myself to break up the day a bit, can I? I mean, I could try, but it would be a bit odd.
Instead, I try to check in with my family and friends whenever my brain starts to feel a little bit lonely. It’s much better to be distracted for a little while by someone that will lift your mood than it is to be distracted by a whole lot of nothing.
Starting in the morning is much easier than re-starting after lunch
After breakfast, I always feel ready and raring to go for the day ahead. Once I get sat down at my laptop, I can work all morning without so much as even the tiniest bit of brain fog to momentarily stop me.
Of course, that’s just the morning, and one thing from traditional working that I carry over to home-working is taking a proper lunch break - stopping work completely for half an hour (which turns into a full hour, more often than not) in the middle of the day for a little break.
The issue is, once it’s time to get back to it, I just can’t focus! I don’t seem to be able to get my brain to shift into gear, or my fingers to start typing at a speed any faster than a sloth after an all-nighter. Maybe it’s the food I’ve just eaten making me feel a lot sleepier than I was, or maybe it’s just the last few hours of looking at screen catching up with me – either way, I’ve still not managed to crack this one.
Potential fixes I’ve tried include: stretching, going for a walk around the block, listening to my party playlist, making another coffee, even making a cocktail at one point… I’m sure I’ll find a solution to my post-lunch laziness at some point.
Although, I’m actually experiencing that post-lunch laziness as I type this, and it’s currently 3:30 pm, so it’s not looking particularly promising.
It’s much harder to do as you’re told when you’re the one doing the telling
I don’t have a single authoritative bone in my entire body, so to go from a job where I was always told what my next task was by someone else, straight to a job where I’m in charge of my own time-keeping, organization, productivity… it’s quite a big change. I’ve never been particularly renowned for my get-up-and-go and was always something of a lazy teenager – a habit I’ve had to work fairly hard to break in my early twenties – so to suddenly have to manage my own working hours is a strange thing to get used to.
I have a bit of a bad habit of congratulating myself over the slightest achievement, too. Of course, this isn’t such an issue in itself – it’s just that the reward is often counterproductive. Did I write a whole six sentences without getting distracted? Well done. Time to reward myself with a YouTube video.
I’m hoping that, with the passing time, I’ll learn to work with my best professional interests in mind, rather than allowing that lazy teenage side of me to keep taking over every time I complete a single productive task.
The days feel longer
Having come from a job where I was on my feet all day, working in a hectic environment, working from home is a huge lifestyle change. I’ve noticed recently that an 8-hour day at home feels almost as long as a 12-hour day in my previous workplace, possibly because there’s just not nearly as much going on at any given time.
Having said that, it’s a welcome change. To look up from your computer and see a familiar environment, specifically one which puts you at ease is a lovely feeling. It’s just that it slows the pace of the day down as a whole. Although this isn’t particularly a negative thing – when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work at all – it does make it a little harder to keep your focus, especially in the late afternoon.
What I’ve started trying to do is find little things to break the day up slightly. Whether that’s playing with my dog for five minutes, taking a moment to just go over to the window and look outside, or doing a bit of ‘face yoga’ to try and get rid of my ‘typing neck’ which, unfortunately, is a thing I’m becoming more aware of at the moment. Little five minute distractions that are harder to get carried away with have been quite helpful really, and the more I get used to it, the quicker 6:00 pm seems to come around!
The last couple of months have proven to be quite the learning curve. I’ve learned that, for me, I need to keep the same working hours all week, work with no outside distractions, have a solid plan of what I need to get done and how long it should take me, and be in the same place each day.
For some, it might be completely different. Some people may find it easy to stay focused, and be able to adjust their working hours and environment according to what their other plans are for the day, whilst some may need friends or family to keep them accountable at home and to keep checking in that they’re doing what they should be.
It’s interesting to think that whilst ‘working from home’ is a label a lot of people use for themselves, I imagine that no two people do it in the exact same way. Everyone’s home environment, work ethic, productivity is different, and you have to make the odd mistake before you manage to narrow it down to the perfect way for you to get things done, on time and without too much stress.
For myself, I think it’ll take a couple more weeks – maybe even a couple more months – to get into the most efficient routine I can, but for now, I’m enjoying exploring that. There’s a huge community of home workers online, all happy to share their tips and tricks.
Working from home is something I’ve seen many people talk about over the years, and it seems that everyone’s routine is different. When it comes down to it, it’s all about finding what works for you.