26 Mar 2020

Tips for working from home

From Nine To Noon, 11:22 am on 26 March 2020

Dr Sarb Johal is a specialist in the psychology of disaster recovery and pandemics.  He's been thinking about ways to make working from home work for you, and has come up with 9 key points.

Female freelancer in her casual home clothing working remotly from her dining table in the morning. Home kitchen in the background.

Photo: Matej Kastelic/123RF

1 Start with a non-work activity

“The first thing that I have found in my experience of working from home is do something that is not work first. So, if you were working out you'd think about stretching and warming up first, but you don't tend to do that with work.

“Because if you do that when you're doing physical activity, you could get hurt and you'll be sore for a few days. Same thing is true for work, you need to start your day warming up and make it a non-work thing.

“For me it's walking the dog for 20 minutes.”

And going through your emails doesn’t count, he says.

2 Chunk your time

“Make sure that you've got blocks of time so you're not switching tasks all the time, because that is less efficient.

“The other thing to remember is that when you're chunking out your time for the day, because of the environment that we find ourselves in now, prepared to get about 50 percent done of what you would like to get done.”

The Pomodoro Technique is a method of time chunking that he recommends, where you spend 25 minutes on a task and then five minutes doing something else completely, before you move to the next task.

3 Turn off notifications

“You need to be available perhaps for your work, and you need to know what's going on, but get some quiet time without stuff coming in, there's nothing that kills your attention like incoming notifications.

“And the other thing that's going to be really hard for people at the moment is managing their feeling of uncertainty and anxiety, because that really kills your attention too. Pay attention to both of those things, incoming notifications and also doing things to manage your sense of uncertainty and anxiety.”

He suggests a breathing exercise to manage feelings of anxiety.

4 Create space

“It's really good to have a regular place that you can come back to, which is comfortable for you.

“So, if you haven't done that yet, and you're trying to work from home, try to create some space to do that now.”

5 Get some air

“You need to get out in the world, we're allowed to go out and walk locally. So, when you need to do that, go and do it. It's really important for you to change your focus every now and again, if you're trying to be productive.

“That's literally speaking, as well as figuratively. It's not good to be looking at a screen all the time - so change your focus.

6 Shut that door

“One of the hardest things I found is having to shut the door, particularly if you've got kids around and you've got your partner around who's trying to manage doing things whilst you're trying to work.

“But shutting the door I find is hard because it's saying no to the people who I love.”

Create the expectation with whomever is in your household that when you’re working, you’re working, he says.

7 Dress for the job

“I can't emphasise how much your attitude goes with how it is that you're carrying yourself and how you're dressing.

“So, you could work in your pyjamas and you're slouching around clothes, the stuff that you watch Netflix in, but it's probably not going to lead to you having the right mindset.”

Dress for work at the start of the day and change at the end into clothes for relaxing, he says.

“Getting out of your work clothes when you finish working is also a good reminder that you're off clock now, you've stopped working and you can go and do other things.”

8 Know when your day ends

“Time slips, and you take an hour off here and an hour off there to do other things that are necessary to get stuff done.

“But if you're not careful, you end up with a 12-hour working day instead of what should be a seven or eight-hour working day.”

9 Check in with people

Working from home can be really lonely, he says.

“So, make sure you do check in with people tell someone about your day, what you're working on, what you've got done, because you're much more likely to get stuff done when you know you're going to be talking to somebody else at the end of the day.”

He sends himself an email at the end of the day detailing what he’s achieved - and what he hasn’t

“I can look back at the end of the week and rather than trying to have to remember what it is that I’ve done, it's already there for me as a little note and report to myself.

“I can see what my progress has been and what I need to do next week.”