I think it’s fair to say that most people are used to traditional office life (featuring tricky commutes, set hours and breaks) have dreamed about remote working somewhat frequently ever since global internet infrastructure became reliable. Such a tempting notion: peace and quiet, all the comforts of home, and reduced oversight.
That said, while some people fully embraced remote working years ago, it was just a dream for the average worker until the COVID-19 pandemic struck and lockdown efforts set the business world scrambling to adapt. In the blink of an eye, it went from a nice idea to a mandatory reality, and many people weren’t prepared to handle it.
Perhaps they didn’t consider how much they’d miss their colleagues or their regular working schedules. Maybe they didn’t know how to stay motivated while working alone. And then there is the underlying anxiety stemming from the cause of all this: a pandemic that’s costing lives and jobs throughout the world and leaving no clear sign of when things can return to normal.
Whatever the reason may be, there are plenty of people out there who are struggling to cope with this new working model. They’re stressed, frustrated, and finding it hard to get things done. If you’re in that position, remember that you’re not alone, and that there are meaningful steps you can take to make things better.
Here are 4 tips you should start with:
1. Look after your home
When you work in an office, you can maintain a distinction between personal and professional life: it doesn’t really matter how messy your place is, for instance, because you leave it behind when you go to work. But, when you work from home, you don’t get that luxury, so you need to really look after your home. It’s your foundation and your biggest asset.
Look after it by cleaning up after yourself: having pots and pans sitting around will clutter your mind as much as it clutters your floor. Secure it financially however you can: arrange home insurance if you don’t have any yet, and if you’re worried about making payments during this time then you could go to a mortgage broker to see about adjusting the terms of your mortgage.
Oh, and make it the best office environment it can be. Ensure even lighting, a comfortable temperature, minimal noise. It needs to be a professional space and a living space at different times, and that’s a tricky thing to get right, so give this a lot of time and thought.
2. Stick to a set schedule
It’s really easy to get dragged into working 12-hour days when you work remotely. You no longer have that clear signal of reaching the time in the evening when everyone starts packing up to go home, and you might even feel sufficiently concerned about your productivity (and guilty enough about no longer needing to commute) that you see an implicit obligation to work more hours.
That’s a really bad idea, obviously: not only will working longer hours increase your stress, but it will also decrease your productivity. There’s only so much you can get done in the average day before your energy levels bottom out and your attention span goes, and if you’re mentally checked out after seven hours then staying at your computer for three more won’t help.
You need to replace your old working structure. Get up at the same time every day (ideally early so you have that potent combination of lingering tiredness and extreme alertness), work the hours you’re required to work, and wrap things up promptly so you can enjoy your free time. It’s all about maintaining a balance. A Kanban Software like SwiftKanban can help you plan and organize your daily tasks.
3. Listen to soothing music
Did you listen to music while you were in the office? Regardless, you should be listening to music now that you’re working remotely. Sitting at your home office desk in total silence (occasionally disturbed by a cat scrambling over a fence outside) can be fine for short periods of time, but in the long run, it’s likely to leave you feeling listless. In an office, you’d have colleague conversations to break things up — no such luck here.
The key is finding the music that really works for you, with a lot of emphasis on works. You might really enjoy what you’re listening to, but if you don’t get anything done while you listen to it then it isn’t a good choice. I suggest finding some music that’s soothing and energetic, either instrumental or featuring lyrics that fade into the background.
Personally, I like synthwave for this. It keeps my energy levels up but doesn’t get in the way of what I’m trying to achieve: in fact, it helps me achieve my conditions of flow. You’ll need to figure out what works for you, though, because musical taste is strongly subjective.
4. Do exercises you enjoy
Physical exercise is excellent for mental health, and we all know it (even when we don’t really want to admit it because we’re habitually lazy), so a core part of your remote working day should be getting some exercise. As for what kind you should go for, don’t obsess over working out particular body parts or following set routines unless you want to. If you have certain fitness goals, then definitely pursue them — but if you don’t, just do whatever you enjoy.
Get up and dance to your preferred music (no one’s watching, after all). Do some handstands and/or cartwheels. Spend a few minutes furiously shadowboxing. The ultimate purpose is to get your blood pumping: it’s great for your fitness and vital for your mood. Occasional bursts of exercise throughout the day can decrease your stress and help you get a lot more work done.