There are about 68537638257 articles on how to #WFH (that’s ‘work from home’ according to the cool kids) on the internet nowadays. Never has working from home been so popular. Nor as mandatory, as an increasing number of companies ask employees to stay home and stay safe.
So, why would you read another one?
Because I have been a professional work-from-home being for close to a decade now. Offices have never been my thing – too much noise, too little flexibility and not enough scope for creativity or productivity.
Hence, I have always negotiated a remote working clause into all my employment contracts. And now that I run my own media business, the happiest feeling is to not be cooped up in someone else’s vision of productive vibes.
So, I have already tried all the tips, tricks and hacks for working from home – productively and without hurling chairs at people who co-exist with me – and am an expert on the subject. I have taken seminars on the subject, read a million books and discussed it with experts.
In fact, if there was an Olympic category for #WFH, I would possibly be standing with the gold medal in my hand right about now!
And while you may find my advice to be completely contradictory to what a lot of those 68537638257 articles preach (no, I absolutely INSIST that you don’t need to dress up in formal office clothes to be productive from home) trust me that these are time-honed skills that come from someone who has studied the subject like its own vocation. And made it work – marvellously.
Seriously, why in the world would you don a suit and shine your shoes at 8 am in order to sit in your own home? Unless you are just the type who needs (or even enjoys) putting on formal clothes – then please go ahead. Otherwise, feel free to get into something relaxed and enjoy the freedom it brings.
I keep aside a set of “good loungewear” for work hours. Clothes that are clean and wholesome enough to help me get into the zone (and jump onto that sudden video call, at times) and yet also super-comfortable.
Mark your space
If you are a chronic work-from-home type like me, you should be having a permanent desk in your house, complete with an ergonomic chair (Ikea sells some superb ones that won’t break the bank). I can’t stress how important this is for your productivity, sanity and health!
If, however, your WFH situation is temporary, it will be enough to mark out a place in your apartment that’s all about your work. Maybe a spare room, an empty nook under the staircase or even a corner of the dining table?
I now have a dedicated study but this wasn’t always the case. In the beginning, I used to work from my couch and would soon devolve into lying down… a teeny bit of TV-watching… having a bit of a snooze… and soon the day would be over without much to show for it!
So, what’s important is that this place is entirely devoted to your work and is as far away from distractions (hello, Netflix!). And that you keep it tidy. A cluttered workspace is proven to lower your productivity by a massive degree. Plus, dirty surfaces and smartphones breed germs – which is something nobody wants, especially right now.
Make to-do lists
One of the most challenging things about working on your own is holding yourself accountable for tasks and deadlines. Another is forging through when you’re having a hard time – being at home just makes it that much easier to stop and give up for the day!
The easiest way to prevent both these issues is by writing down everything that needs to get done at the very beginning of each day. After you complete each task, cross it off the list. This feels really fulfilling and will do wonders for keeping you on track!
When I really need to focus, I light Diptyque’s Menthe Verte candle – it has a bright and crisp spearmint fragrance. I have been doing it for so long that the scent triggers my attention and allows me to really get into my zone. A friend puts on The Blue Danube in the background when she feels stuck. Another one brews a cup of rose tea when things get too stressful. A former boss always has yellow flowers delivered to her desk mid-afternoon, when her energy starts flagging.
Choose your own ritual and it will become like a trigger to help keep you calm, focussed and in the zone!
Manage family, friends and pets
This one can get really tricky as everyone tends to equate your being at home as your being available 24×7. And there’s no productivity-killer like a chatty partner, uninvited friends, attention-seeking kids and clingy pets.
I had to grapple with this for a very long time. People who respected my husband’s “work time” and wouldn’t think of bothering him in office would think nothing of assuming that I could rearrange my entire schedule to catch up over a cup of coffee, run errands or drive them to appointments. And that would get me really, really mad!
Finally, I realised that the only solution is to define your work hours and be very, very clear about them. Post them on your door (that’s what I did) and record them into your answering machine message (again, that’s what I did) if necessary.
Don’t take on the responsibilities that you would have outsourced if you were working away from home – like employing a dog walker or childcare.
Don’t get guilted into stepping away from your desk for social conventionality. Don’t feel responsible for doing extra housework. Don’t be afraid to say no. You are at work. In time, everyone will start respecting your boundaries – but first you have to respect them yourself.
AND invest in a set of noise cancelling headphones. I have written this entire post with my AirPods Pro in action, to drown out my husband’s never-ending conference calls, which carry through from the other room (man, is he loud today!).
A lot of my friends who start working from home fall into one of two traps: Not having a proper meal during work hours or spending way too much time preparing one. And woe befall those who have been spoiled by company-provided meals… they are simply lost in this new paradigm!
For maximum efficiency and nutrition (and taste!) make it a practise to prepare your breakfast, lunch and snack the night before – just as you would when going out to work in an office. That way you will neither starve, nor waste precious time. Instead, use that time to take an actual ‘lunch hour’ and enjoy some non-effort-based downtime, which is a necessary element of productivity.
Know when to step away
And finally, know when to switch off work. While working from home, it’s way too easy to let work bleed into your leisure hours or weekends. So, set your work hours and try to stick to them as much as possible. Otherwise you will end up getting drained of all energy – mental and physical. Everyone needs some downtime.
Make full use of all that technology
We have so much technology on hand today that I often wonder why people go into office at all. Need access to files? There’s cloud storage. Feeling isolated or need to brainstorm some ideas? Try Google Hangouts, Slack, WhatsApp calls or even FaceTime. Need to have a meeting? Zoom is there to help. Just remember to mute you microphone when you’re not talking in case there are loud kids/pets/spouses around you – your colleagues need not be part of your family life.