How to work from home effectively
Many you may be finding yourselves working from home with the changes in the world right now. I have been working from home for a good portion of my working career.
I started my adult working life as an English professor, but after my second son was born, I transitioned to teaching online only, so I worked from home. Later, I changed jobs and began to work for a group of community newspapers. I worked in the office for a while, but as my job required visiting newspapers outside that office, my desk was eventually given to someone who needed it more and I transitioned to working from home again.
Now I am the managing editor for one of those community newspapers and we do not have an office in the small town, so I work from home again. During school breaks and summer, I work from home with four children.
It is completely possible to have a productive workday from home, even with children. But you have to be prepared.
1. Get up and get ready for work. Do not start by thinking that you can now work from home in your pajamas in bed. Get up at your normal time. Follow your normal morning routine. Get dressed. Fix your hair and put on your makeup (if you wear makeup). Prepare for the day just as if you were going to the office. I don't always put shoes on, but I always get dressed. You don't need to wear clothes required at the office, but you do need to be dressed. It's a simple trick, but it will help you wake up and be more alert to begin your work day.
2. Use your normal travel time to prep your children. Our children range from 9-14. But I have gone through working from home with our children when they were younger. Setting ground rules is incredibly important if you are going to have a productive day. My home office is in the living room, so setting ground rules is even more important because it is a shared space.
Our ground rules include no friends over inside the house during work hours. If you are inside, you must be quiet. Use headphones. Play in your room. Save noisy activities for after work hours. You must unplug for at least a little while and play outside for a while if the weather permits.
If you have younger children prepare activities the night before. Have an area set up nearby so you can keep an eye on them. Have older children help wherever possible.
I always give warnings before I make phone calls and I try to make phone calls in batches. If I receive a call and it's a little noisy or the dogs are barking, etc. I simply apologize to the person on the other side of the call and explain I work from home and it's (spring break, summer break, a pandemic, etc.). I have always found people to be very understanding and sometimes we even end up making a better connection because we can laugh or find things we have in common.
3. Plan out your day realistically. This may mean adjusting your working hours if you have small children. I use two apps to accomplish planning out my day effectively.
Google Calendar - I use Google calendar to calendar block my day. I like it because it's free and accessible from all my devices and computers. If you are not familiar with calendar blocking, I'll be doing a dedicated post and/or video very soon. Basically, you schedule out your entire day in blocks.
I have different colored calendars for different aspects of my day. Red is work. Purple is for my daily routines. Gray is for working on our small businesses and this blog. Green is for personal tasks and events. Usually, the evening hours have a lot of green blocks for sports and other activities, but since the world is cancelled I have a lot of free evening time this week and for the near future.
I start each day with my morning routine (future blog post). My work day starts later than most at 10 a.m. because I am the news and my work day almost always goes into the evening hours and not 5 p.m. I leave one hour each day for my morning routine to allow me to complete the list in a manner that is not rushed. I find that if I rush, I set myself up to being the workday already in an anxious mood. I recommend leaving time so you aren't rushed even if you are going into work.
Next I have two hours blocked out for work. The very first thing I do it set out my to do list for the day if I haven't done it the day before. I'll discuss do to lists shortly.
After two hours I find that I need a break and need to move around, so I have an hour scheduled for my daily cleaning. I leave this block as fluid. Some days (such as recently with a flood of news daily) I bump this to the evening hours and change that hour to work time.
After that I have an hour scheduled to work on our small business, which is also a fluid block that can be moved to evening hours as necessary. I also have lunch during this hour. Then have an hour scheduled to work on my personal to do list. This schedule may not work for you. My schedule is flexible during these hours because my work day is most often slower at these times and, as I said before, often goes into the evening with meetings and sporting events I attend so many days of the week my work hours go until 8 or 9 p.m. and I often work Saturdays. Schedule out your day as you find works.
Then I have scheduled another two hour work block before I break for dinner and begin evening work and activities.
Calendar blocking helps me in several ways. It keeps like things tasks together to I'm "batching" or doing similar things together. It helps keep me focused on the task at hand instead of worrying about things that I have scheduled to do later. I can focus on work during work blocks instead of the mess in the kitchen because I know I will get to the kitchen during my scheduled cleaning block.
I always adjust the calendar as I go throughout the day to what I actually did. That way I can improve on my blocks and make them work better for me. If I find that I am always moving the cleaning block to the evening hours, then I would make that a permanent change on the schedule.
During the social distancing and quarantine, you may need to schedule in blocks for taking care of children or plan your most intense work tasks around nap times. The main key is to create a schedule, try to stick to it, and adjust as needed.
Google Keep - The second app I use is Google Keep. I use this app because it is free and accessible from all of my devices and computers. Plus, it has a beautiful colored interface that helps with my organization.
I use the exact same colors for Keep as I do with Calendar. Red is work. Purple is routines. Gray is small business and green is personal. This way, at a glance I can see what items I need to work on during my scheduled blocks.
I have these reminders scheduled at the times my blocks are scheduled. So my work to go list send me a reminder at 10 a.m. I'll be doing a separate blog post and/or video on this soon as well.
Set up your lists of what needs to be done and set up repeats as necessary. My Monday cleaning list is scheduled to repeat every Monday at 12 p.m. My morning routine is set to repeat every day at 9 a.m. and so on.
You can pin lists you are working on at the top and they are visible in the Google Calendar view. I check off boxes as I go and that gives me a sense of accomplishment. At the end of each day, I either delete checked boxes for items that do not repeat or uncheck all boxes for items that do repeat. To do this, just use the three dots on the bottom right of the list to pull up the menu.
4. Be flexible. When you work from home, the environment is not as controlled as in an office or workplace setting. There will always be something to interrupt your schedule. Just be ready to make adjustments. You may find that you need to schedule some work tasks for after the kids are in bed. You may need to enlist the help of a spouse to help you out or take turns during the day with the children. It's a trying time for everyone, but you can do this.
If you have any questions at all about working from home, I am glad to help in any way I can. Post your questions below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.