How to work from home

Matt Obee 4 min read

Do you find yourself suddenly working from home a whole lot more? I've been working from home 2 or 3 times a week for the last few years, but the current pandemic situation means that I'm here all day every day. I haven't lost all of my marbles just yet and I'm still managing to get things done, so I thought I'd share a few tips for staying sane and productive. That said, what works for me might not work for you, so make of these what you will.

Make your own schedule, but stick to it

You might not have to crawl out of bed quite so early when commuting from one room to another, but that's no reason to abandon your schedule altogether. Even if you don't stick to the 9-5 pattern—I tend to wake up later and work into the evening—do try to get up at a regular time, have breakfast before sitting down to work, take a decent lunch break, and then clock off at a sensible time at the end of the day. Having some structure and boundaries to your day can prevent work blurring into your personal time, and a predictable routine makes it easier for the people you live with to stay out of your way when you need to concentrate.

Never work in bed

I love my bed but it's definitely not a good place to spend the whole day. It's bad for posture but also terrible for mental health. If you work in bed regularly, your brain will start to associate that space with productivity and you won't be able to switch off at the end of the day. You'll find yourself worrying about emails and imagining spreadsheets when you should be counting sheep. Just like setting a schedule to protect your down time, keep your sleeping space free from thoughts of work.

Wear what you like, but get dressed

Tempted to stay in your Spider-Man pajamas all day? Nice as they are, you'll almost certainly regret it. If you’re dressed for bed, your brain will think it’s bedtime. Get up, get washed and dressed, and get yourself in the right mindset for work. I know some people will insist that you should wear your normal work clothes, but I think it's better to just wear something clean and comfortable.

Don't confine yourself to one place

Not everyone is lucky enough to have an office—or even a desk—at home. Even if you do, there is something to be said for having the freedom to move about and enjoy a change of scenery. In fact, I find that moving to a different location when starting a new task can help with context switching. At your desk, the kitchen table, on the sofa, or in the garden. I do some of my most complex problem solving in the shower. But remember, whatever you do, don't work in bed.

Don't work in silence

You might be less productive in a quiet environment than one with a bit of background noise. According to research (Mehta et al, 2012), a moderate level of ambient noise, like the chatter and clatter of a cafe, creates just enough of a distraction to encourage our brains to think more imaginatively. You can add a little coffee shop ambience at home with an app like Coffitivity. Alternatively, try the specially composed "neural phase locking" music at Brain.fm. Both work best with headphones.

Have lunch in a different room

Don't eat lunch at your desk (or wherever you've been working). This is true at the office but equally when working from home. If you can't go out, at least take your lunch break in a different room and forget about work for an hour. You don't see your colleagues heading out for their lunch breaks when you're alone at home, so it's easy to work through your lunch break accidentally. Put it in your calendar if you keep forgetting.

Take regular breaks

Don't stay hunched over your keyboard for too long without resting your eyes and stretching your legs. I mentioned the Pomodoro Technique when I wrote about multitasking and context switching for Net magazine. The idea is that you break your day into 25-minute chunks, each followed by a five-minute break. After completing four of these ‘pomodoros’, you take a longer 15-20 minute break.

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