Covid-19 has completely changed the way we have to work.
Granted, a lot of you would have already been working from home on and off. Perhaps one or two days a week. However, working full time from home is a completely different kettle of fish.
We, Ollie and James; the Better Work Heroes founders, are working together (remotely, of course!) on this article because we feel strongly that people need a bit of support, advice and encouragement to help them achieve at least as much, if not more, working from home as they do in the office.
In our past lives we have been the procrastinator and the over-worker. It has really been fun to pool our combined resources on this as we are both very different and have solved challenges from both sides of the coin.
One work technique was brute force and endurance (the over-worker) and one would be bursts of energetic work followed by periods of inactivity, stubbornness and guilt (the procrastinator). Neither were the solution for powerful efficiency and certainly not the way of the work from home Hero!
We’ve both overcome our individual challenges over many years of working from home and can now combine it together to create this Hero’s way of working.
In some ways, the virus-enforced change to our working methods could have a knock-on effect on the way we work even after the virus has disappeared. We were heading towards a more digital form of work anyway.
Ultimately, we all respond differently to different methods of working. The overriding ethos of this whole article should be just that: try things out, see what works, don’t just sit yourself down on the sofa with your laptop and expect to get things done efficiently.
Working from home is a skill you need to learn, virus or no virus. You need to become a Work From Home Hero!
Problems Working from Home
When one is picturing an energising, focused and productive environment, it’s unlikely your mind would go to a global pandemic.
Forced to work from home, not being able to see those you love, everyone looking at you like you might suddenly attack them if you make eye contact with them outside your home. But this seems to be our current reality.
We need to make this work for us.
Awareness is very important. Firstly, awareness that it certainly is going to be very different at home than in the office. There are many distractions:
- Family members that aren’t working (and therefore tempting you away, whether they intend to or not!).
- A fridge full of your favourite food.
- A general feeling that you are in a place that you have fun rather than work hard.
- A Netflix account with the next episode of your favourite series ready to go.
Add to this the fact that there is no-one around you to add a little comradery, competitiveness and ‘productivity buzz’ and it’s no wonder working from home is difficult.
Knowing that it will be difficult gives you the chance to go easy on yourself when you don’t have a good day. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to be super-productive every second.
You may have children at home full time too. While this adds huge complexity to getting work done, there are still ways to manage the situation (that sounded far less caring than I wanted it too!). We are both parents too and we have advice that can help.
Barriers to your work will appear, but it’s about having a plan of action, the right environment set up and some productivity Hero tools to help get you through.
Work From Home Hero Strategies
There is a lot of information here, so we tried to break it up into sections that make sense. We’ll start with some general set-up strategies that will start you off on the right foot. Then we’ll talk about different parts of the day: The morning, the bulk of the day and the evening.
Finally, we look at the specific situation of parents.
Create The Right Environment
If you’re struggling, it may not be about you. It could be the fact that your environment is not letting you concentrate.
Your mindset is important, but sometimes your mindset is affected by the environment you find yourself in.
As work from home Heroes, we have tried out a lot of different work environments. This may be an area where you need to experiment yourself, but I think some specifics will work for almost anyone.
Firstly, especially at this moment when you are working a full week from home, make sure you have at least one dedicated space for work. As long as you have the space for it, a work desk that you don’t have to pack away every day is quite key. It says to you “this is where you work, this is where you can be productive”.
Try and create a well lit, inspiring and clean space. Have a 10 min tidy at the end of the day, rather than turning up to your desk in the morning and finding a tip!
Stay far away from distracting things such as the television or the fridge where you might be tempted to go and get random snacks.
A clean, relaxed space can equal a clean, relaxed mind
Having said that, we believe moving your workplace around throughout the day is a good way to keep your energy flowing. Try out some of the following:
- Working in the garden
- Working in a local park (if social distancing allows!)
- Going out for a walk to take calls or to make notes into your phone’s voice memo
- Standing at your desk for at least half of your desk time during the day (there are simple ways to do this such as a standing desk converter that folds away)
The idea with this variety of work locations is to tap into that feeling of freedom and fun you should have for being able to work from home.
We could be in for a long stint at home working, and the more boring and trapped we feel, the less creative, energised, focused and effective we will be.
Try and have a set of work locations that you can pick and choose from depending on what you are doing, how you feel and, let’s face it, what the weather is like!
Try and make your workspace inspiring. You can do this with triggers that remind you why you do what you do, such as a family photo or a dream future home. You can go all-out and create a mood board on an online image editor such as Canva (which is free!), then get it printed as a poster!
Trial and error will play an important role in finding exactly what works for you.
Protect your workspace
If you need to get down to some dedicated work for a period of time, make sure the whole house knows this and won’t disturb you.
For parents, you can set up your work from home schedule to include playtime. Not only will it give your children the time with you they desperately want, but it will also boost your energy with a feel-good factor.
If your children know you will definitely have time together then you can trade that for time to yourself.
Set Your Mood Up
Music is incredibly powerful. We take it for granted really, but it can alter your mood in an instant. Try out different styles, listen to affirmation videos at the same time as music videos, create playlists of things that work for you.
YouTube is amazing for this and has many different genres turned into ‘study music’, ‘concentration music’ or ‘memory music’ videos. Also, check out binaural beats music which is designed to keep your brain operating at a certain level of awareness.
The best way to experience the power of music is to get yourself some noise-cancelling headphones and immerse yourself into the effects of the music.
Set Your Mind Up First Thing
Giving yourself time to prepare your mind and body for your working day is something we’ve found to be incredibly important. We have morning routines that involve such things as meditation, quick HIIT exercises, reading, crawling around like a monkey (who wouldn’t want to do that in the morning!?).
The point is, you do have that time you would normally be commuting so why not use it to try out awesome activities that you’ve heard other people doing, but didn’t think it was for you?
If you want to develop a morning routine, simply start with the amount of time you can allow yourself (15, 30, 45 minutes?). Then try out any of the following, or anything you’ve always wanted to try:
- 5 minute HIIT exercise (Keep it simple with this 5 minute routine from Group HIIT).
- Preparing an incredible, healthy breakfast.
- Wim Hof breathing (It’s awesome stuff! Check out his tutorial).
- Playing with your kids.
- Dancing with your partner.
- Yoga (Try this 10 minute morning routine from Yoga with Kassandra).
- Listening to a motivational video on YouTube (Tell us you’re not inspired by this video).
- Affirmations, if your mind is open to it, try playing these at the same time:
- Walking in a park.
- Lovemaking (no inhibitions here!) – you certainly don’t get to do that on the way to work?!
I had to stop myself putting more and more on that list. Your morning, if you can carve out a bit of time for yourself, is there for the taking!
Try to get up at the same time every day, training your brain to get in the right frame at the right time. A morning routine of things you enjoy can help transition you from just-woken-up to ready-to-go!
If you need to, try alternating morning routines with your partner to give each other at least once every other day.
Get Ready For Work As Normal
One thing we’ve found to provide a guaranteed boost to your productivity is to get ready for work as normal. Have a shower in the morning and get dressed as if you were leaving the house. We want to create a brain disassociation between work and relax/chill time. If you’re working in your pyjamas, you’ve lost that little link you could have to your office-based self that worked productively.
In the same vein, if you do have that dedicated workspace we talked about earlier then you can have that familiar ‘commute’ to your workplace to get you in the right frame of mind.
Use Your Time Wisely
Leverage your highest quality focus and energy time. For some people that means starting early and aiming to get the main work done by 2pm. Know your type; if you are an afternoon or evening person, then adapt to work in your time of best efficiency.
Start with the most important, high-value task when you are at your highest energy.
If you have a must-do big project, break it down into smaller steps. This will help you see that you’re taking things off your task list as opposed to looking at a huge value item that seems to stay there forever and ever and ever.
Bulk of the Day
Deal With Distractions
This is a big one; try to only check email/social media/messages at specific times. For example:
- Emails at 10.30 and 4pm
- Social Media at Lunchtime
Turn off messenger and/or leave your phone in another room so you have to make the effort to get it. This is likely to stop you going to get it 9 times out of 10.
This is not just about the addictiveness of social media. At the best of times, the media wants us hooked and sitting and watching our screens, waiting for the next update to get our attention, saying things in the most attention-grabbing way. But with the virus updates there is an added factor.
Try to restrict yourself to 10 mins a day looking at the summary of the covid-19 updates. Make it difficult to check at other times by working away from unnecessary tech. Stop those fleeting impulses by removing the ability to give in to them.
Give Yourself a Break
We talked about allowing yourself time with your children earlier and you should schedule several breaks during the day. But make sure some of them are all about yourself.
Work from home Heroes do awesome things during these breaks, things that are fun, things that are selfish, things that are good for you.
Here are a few examples of things to try during a Hero Power Break:
- 5 or 10 minutes of Yoga.
- A walk in fresh air.
- A quick (or long) meditation.
- A cold shower (seriously, try it, but start small at 30 seconds and work up to a maximum of 3 minutes).
- Take a nap (you can learn how to do this if you struggle to nap) – not more than 25 mins.
- Make an amazing lunch for the whole family, something you’ve never tried before!
- Take the opportunity to call people you haven’t spoken with in a while.
On that last point, it is easy to feel like a hermit at home, especially if you are self-isolating!
We live in a time when nobody needs to feel isolated. At the touch of a button, we can be talking face-to-face with people anywhere in the world. Just try to keep the conversation positive, not just about the virus and how it affects you!
It is, dare we say it, almost like the universe knows we are not spending enough quality time communicating properly with those we love the most.
Don’t Push Yourself Too Hard
It’s easy to think that you need to prove you’re amazing at working from home and dedicate a full 8 or 9 hour day of solid work. Well, you’ve got extra time that would have been a commute, right?
That way of thinking is likely to set you up for failure at some point down the line. Give yourself a goddamn break! Working at home is hard!
Working efficiently in short sessions, with intermittent recharge breaks, is so much better than starting with a full battery and running until it’s empty. If you work better by shortening your work time and finishing early, then do it!
It’s all about giving yourself that approval to work in the way you know you will work best.
The Dreaded Afternoon Slump
This seems to be even more intense when you’re at home. The best way we’ve found to try and thwart it? Do something physical! If this means going out for a run/walk then do remember social distancing!
Having a siesta sounds indulgent, but a 20 min sleep around the 3pm slump can supercharge your productivity and reduce distraction in the afternoon. It is like a deep meditation as you do not fall asleep deeply. When you wake up try having a nice herbal or green tea. You could also try the Wim Hof breathing we mentioned above.
Stay Healthy and Strong
Don’t forget about your health, it is easy to fall into a routine of convenience food but those products that are the least healthy are likely to be the ones people hoard up on!
We’ve talked a bit about fitting in exercise. Also give yourself the best chance of getting through this healthily and with a strong immune system by eating more vegetables and drinking plenty of water.
Measure Your Progress
You have to be honest with yourself and recognise that it could be more difficult to be productive at home. With this in mind, try to be vigilant of the moments when you are struggling.
Sometimes the best thing to do during the first week is to be aware of the barriers you might have to a successful day. They might be physical such as a noisy neighbour or mental such as a desire to open the fridge door every half an hour, but they all need to be dealt with.
Give yourself time to rate your productivity at the end of each day. Make a note of the barriers that were the top killers of productivity so you can prioritise what to tackle. But also make a note of what worked well and give yourself praise when you’ve shown productive Hero attributes!
Structure Your Day
Your brain works at its best when it has a good structure; when it knows what is going on. Having a schedule mapped out in Google calendar or something similar can help you stick to what is important. You can get this done in the evening, ready for the next day or even try to plan a week ahead.
Have you heard of Parkinson’s law? If you give yourself too much time you will expand your workload to use all of the time you have available. Whereas if you have set plans and things to do throughout the day, and set fun rewards for each of those plans, you’re less likely to make your work or stretch out.
Create a reward for yourself at the end of the day if you do a decent amount the things that you wanted to on your list. If you don’t meet certain productivity criteria, don’t be hard on yourself!
You might start the day with a morning routine to get yourself in the right frame of mind, but an end of day routine can be equally effective. Create your own unique ritual to get that delineation between work and home. For myself it’s an ice-cold shower, admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea but other options include:
- A (normal-temperature) shower or a bath
- A 5-minute walk down the road, come in the front door as if you’ve come home from work.
- Having a nice drink (does not have to be alcoholic!).
- Putting on your favourite music.
- Turning off that laptop and putting it in its happy place for the night!
- Change into home clothes.
If you have a family, try to eat your evening meal together. A lot of the time we don’t get back until late so we don’t always get to eat with our children. Make the most out of this in the evenings.
Tips For Parents
The challenge of working from home is significantly magnified if you have little unpredictable people to add into the equation. So here are a few considerations and strategies for creating a family of efficiency Heroes.
Paint out how the next few weeks/months will look and explain to your little ones how things will be different in the most positive way. Tell them about what is great about this time such as seeing each other a lot more.
Wherever possible speak positively with the children (and with each other), Change and upheaval can often bring out people’s least favourable behaviour which can, in turn, have the unfortunate chain reaction of bringing out our least favourable behaviour. Understand that they might play up more than usual during this time and communicating well will set the foundation for how our children will communicate back to us, between each other and beyond.
Be patient with them as actions speak louder than words. How we react to challenging times (a pandemic fits firmly in the challenging category!) will directly teach and influence how they will deal with external situations outside their comfort zone.
Support each other. It is very hard to really focus when you have this nagging feeling that at any moment someone will be barging into the room naked while you are a conference call (hopefully referring to your children and not your partner), so working together to create dedicated work time for each other is vital.
A great way to do this is tag-teaming with your partner.
- Look at the hours you have and then agree together how you can both get some quality work time. Preferably focus on each of your best times of working or in line with the important meetings of the day you have.
- Work out your tag team schedule the night before or the day before. For example one of you takes the early morning shift of doing some work before the kids wake up, then take a break and help the kids out while the other person works. Make some time to spend lunch together. If you choose to have some quality time together during the day, you can catch up with anything else in the evening.
- Plan in advance entertainment ideas for the kids. There is only a certain amount of Netflix we can inflict on our children. What ways can you keep a child distracted without putting them in front of a television?
The challenge is to try and carve out some time when neither you nor your partner are having to look after the kids. Of course, this might not be possible with very young children. Here are a few ideas:
- Encourage outdoor play, think about how you can get them out of the house. Our parents kept us busy by just giving us a ball and letting us run wild in the garden!
- Listen to an audiobook. If your child’s too young to read independently, pick up audio versions of their favourite books. This can cut down on screen time.
- Get their ideas too. This can be a great source of what they might want to do, so brainstorm together to create and put up a calendar in which they can see and tick off scheduled activities
Be realistic, If you have a family and children, let’s be clear that you are not going to get the normal solid 7 to 9 hours of work that you normally would!
But maybe, just maybe, we might get something better with a little trial and error!
Set some rules for the children, communicate this really nicely to them and explain what you have to do and then plan some fun things so they have something to look forward to when you’ve done whatever work you need to. Explain your work schedule and let them know who is looking after them when and what you will be doing.
Perhaps try not to arrange incredibly high-value calls and conversations when there is a high risk that you are going to be disturbed!
If you can’t avoid the risk, communicate this at the beginning of the meeting. This is a pandemic, people will not expect you to work miracles!
If you are thinking of homeschooling or feeling under pressure because you think you should be doing more then have a read of this Facebook post from a headteacher that really sums up the situation perfectly!
These suggestions have come about through our own continuous Hero efficiency training loop. We have researched the top productivity experts in the world. We’ve trialled and tested on our own working methods, as well as with coaching clients.
We’ve put it all into practice and we’ll continue the loop to keep getting better at working from home……now it is your turn!
Our challenge to you is to start trialling now. Take it step by step, maybe pick 3 of the most interesting strategies and try them tomorrow. Work your way through all of the tactics until you have built your own way of the Hero!
At the same time, take this opportunity to think about your future.
New environments and situations can allow us to see work and life in a new way. There is an opportunity to use this time as a reset tool, to work out what we want in our work and lives.
The hardest times frequently lead to the biggest growth and learning.
Ask yourself powerful questions, what positive things can come out of these times?
Imagine yourself in 6 months, after all of this is finished, what would you be proud of, looking at that person? What have you learnt?
Tell us about your Hero journey in the comments and what works really well for you!
Ollie and James are Career and Business Coaches and help people master their careers as well as mastering themselves. Get in touch through our coaching services pages if you want any help in this area.