How working from home for over 15 years has prepared me for 2020.

14 April 2020

It’s a strange world we now find ourselves living and working in, with many of us moving our daily work life into our homes as we stay isolated and safe.

We may be sharing make-shift office space with our partners, sharing the wifi with teens, making sure young children are supervised and kept entertained, ensuring homework is completed on time, conducting meetings online and all the while missing the ‘team’ feel of the usual working environment.

I have been working from home for over 15 years now and have learnt a few lessons about how to keep focused at work and also how to ensure I can still enjoy plenty of time with my family.  Don’t get me wrong, I would never profess to be living the elusive ‘Work/Life Balance’ fairy tale by any stretch! Things go wrong, plans change and goal posts move all of the time. But there are a few things I have in place in my work and family life that bring me closer to the dream. I hope they give you some inspiration as you work from home!

Prioritise your workload for each week

It is so important to have a clear idea of your priority tasks. We all have the long, long list of all of our tasks… but there are always tasks that are time sensitive or urgently needed by a fellow staff member or client.

At the start of every week, I ask myself these two questions:

  1. What work tasks MUST be done this week?
  2. What family commitments and appointments are already locked in for this week?

I am a paper and pencil type of person, so I scribble the list down on paper. Next to each task and family commitment, I estimate how much time I think it might take for each task. I then draw up a calendar for the week and allocate my tasks into each day.  I try to space them out to accommodate their deadlines but also to give myself enough time to complete them to a high standard and enjoy some breathing space each day.

Start a little earlier

I like to get to my desk at least 30 minutes before I am expected to ‘clock on’ for my day of work.  It really helps me feel organised and ready to tackle the day.

I use this 30 minutes to set up the structure of my day.  Using my calendar of priorities for the week, I have a great idea of what I MUST do each day. I then slot in time for other tasks like online meetings, personal administration tasks and attending to my family.

Stop for breaks

It is so important to look after yourself, so don’t forget to stop for lunch.  The same applies for getting some regular exercise and getting some fresh air away from your computer screen.

I like to take my cuppa out to the front deck or play outside with my dog for 5-10 minutes a few times a day.  It helps me to process anything I am thinking about and gives my eyes a chance to relax. Lunch happens at my desk more often than I like to admit, but the process of making myself lunch in the kitchen is sometimes just the break I need.

I try to never put work before exercise.  I have either a yoga or a weights session programmed into every day of the working week and take my dog for a walk on most days (if the kids haven’t already volunteered to do it after they finish school).  If you are like me, and find yourself seated for most of the working day, it is so important to get your body moving at least once a day.  Your back and neck will thank you for it!

Define your working hours and stick to them!

If you normally start your day of work at 9.00am and finish at 4.30pm, then continue this routine to keep you focused and maintain a routine that wont be too hard to go back to when the isolation is over.

A great way to make sure that you stick to your working hours and don’t go on working until someone calls you for dinner – is to refrain from sending any emails or making any work related calls before or after your work hours. Making this change has been the most life changing decision I have made in all the years I have worked from home.  It makes a clear division between my work and family life and helps me keep things balanced.

Finding motivation

There are days when the last thing you want to do is work!  When you are working from home, the temptation to sleep in, start the washing, repair that light switch or cook up a storm for the family can be hard to ignore.

And even when you get to your desk, you may find yourself staring blankly at the screen, wondering where to start.  What has always worked for me is to get started anyway and do the most difficult or unappealing task FIRST. You will thank yourself for it later!

Draw a line in the sand

Take a 5-10 minute break between the end of your working day and the start of your family evening.  Take a glass of water or cup of tea out on the verandah or spend a moment sitting quietly somewhere.  Think about your day and all that has happened.  When you have finished … think about what you are arriving home to.  What has your family been up to.  What have they achieved today?  What stories has everyone got to share? What will you be cooking for dinner?  Doing this exercise is most important when work has been stressful.  Usually you would subconsciously do this as you drive home or sit on the train on your way home from work.  Working from home can take this process out of the equation and if you forget to do it, you can find yourself listing the many things you could be doing at your desk, as you eat your dinner with your family.

Stay connected

It is now more important than ever to stay connected with your professional and personal network.

Try listing 1-3 people each day to call or message, just to check how they are doing.  They can be friends, family, co-workers, clients or suppliers.  Everyone is doing it tough to some degree at the moment and it takes only a few minutes to check in and connect with our community in a meaningful way.

Your FAMILY is your new TEAM

An evening meal shared with the family is a perfect time to talk about the day and what may be coming up for each member of the family. Whether it be school assignment deadlines, skype meetings with colleagues or needing quiet space to concentrate on a difficult task.  Your family is your new team!  Let each other know what is planned and if specific times of quiet (or uninterrupted WIFI) are needed.

If you are super busy, don’t be afraid to ask family members to pitch in.  Whether its cooking dinner, washing clothes or walking the dog, their help can really have a positive impact on your day.

Above all, remember to take care of yourself and your family and stay safe.

Cheryl Martin

Martlette Graphic Design