I’ve been working from home, full time, since 2016 and it hasn’t always been a smooth sailing experience, it’s had its highs and its lows, it’s been both very trialling and incredibly joyful and rewarding.
Aside from being a full time online services provider working from home, I am also a mum to 3 boys, a wife and a best friend and this post will help you be more productive and less overwhelmed, working from home.
What will you take away today?
In this post, I will share with you my top tips on home working and how to stay productive, I’ll give you some actionable insights to how I work my days.
Who is this for?
This post is for anyone used to working in an office environment who is now working from home or for those who currently work from home who wish to learn a few new strategies to improve their productivity. The post is also aimed at those who work at home with Children.
Before we begin
First and foremost, it’s important to note that because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you need to work non stop without any breaks or self-care.
You must look after yourself by eating, drinking frequently, getting up and moving and getting some exercise in (even if its a 15 minute HIIT or dancing whilst you do your breaks/routines) get moving, but working from home instead of your usual place of employment also doesn’t mean that your day can be filled with non-working activities meaning you actually haven’t done any work at all. This leads to stress and overwhelm.
Make it clear to yourself that you’re ‘working’ from home
It’s true to say that when you work from home, your office is 2 minutes away rather than a 30-minute commute and you can sit in your PJ’s with no makeup or hair prep if you wish, however, aside of the 2-minute commute to my office, I don’t feel that PJ attire is great advice, or at least it isn’t for me. I don’t feel like I’m working if I don’t prepare myself.
I like to actually get dressed to get ‘ready for work’ despite having to do the school run and sometimes some chores AM, I’m still ready for work because that’s what I do. I work and it’s a real job!
This may not be your ideal choice, and that’s ok if it works for you but this is simply how I differentiate between home working and being at home which is important. You may find that you have another association with working from home. Whatever it is, do it habitually.
It’s not all about the way you dress, however, as having a dedicated working area will allow you to purposefully go to work and detach from it.
Stop laying in bed working because you’re now at home, set up a corner working area in any room, maybe a temporary corner of the dining table or living room on the coffee table (just don’t overload it with files and a printer) make it temporary and either pack it away or close the door when you finish at the end of the day.
Either way, ensure you’re able to sit straight at your temporary working area and it’s not full of distractions.
But I have my children home too…
There’s still no reason why you can’t get dressed for the day as if you’re working. For me, It still gets my mindset for actually working. I never wear slack clothing whilst working, regardless of if I have my boys with me or not.
Having a Laptop and Smartphone and iPad to work from makes me mobile so I can set my office up wherever my children are going to be playing / resting. Previously I have made makeshift office areas mainly at the dining room table or kitchen work side.
- Get dressed to go to work
- Set up an office space with good posture opportunities and low distractions
The essentials for home working
Your working space doesn’t need to be overcrowded or overwhelming. Realistically, all you need to work from home is;
- A Laptop / Computer
- A Mobile Phone / SmartPhone / Company Phone
- Strong Internet
You may also need file and system access;
- Utilise LastPass (which has a team option) to keep login credentials encrypted and safe
- Identify the systems and docs you’ll need beforehand to prevent any loss in time
- Check to see what systems you will need access to whilst working from home
- Obtain the right credentials you need to log into systems and save them somewhere safe such as LastPass
Identify and work on your most important tasks
You cannot do everything and whilst working at home you may feel that you are going to smash your to-do list out of the water. The key here is to be realistic so you don’t end up feeling disappointed that you didn’t achieve your entire list.
You should be feeling great and fulfilled about what you have achieved, and remember, you might be feeling quite under the weather if you are unwell or you’re working from home for health reasons, it can be quite lonely and motivation does sometimes dip, so don’t overwhelm yourself.
First of all, if you don’t already have a sound task / project manager set up in the business you work for, you will need a notepad to make a list.
- Detail everything you need to get done, get it all out of your brain down onto paper to start with. David Allen says “your brain is for having ideas and not for storing them” and he is so true.
- Whilst completing your brain download, literally write everything down that’s in your mind, tasks, reminders, notes etc because this will free you up. Keep them all in a place where you can refer back to frequently.
Doing the above will help you identify your top 4 most important tasks to get done or make big progress on.
- When you have your list, review and choose the top 3 – 5 most important tasks for the day.
Note: Your Most Important Tasks are the ones that if these tasks were the only ones you completed or made progress on today, would you be satisfied. Would it make a difference to you or your business/employer?
If you have multiple tasks you know you need to get done but don’t know which ones are of importance? Ask yourself: What is the cost of you NOT doing this task? Answer that for each one. The most costly tasks are likely that of most importance.
You also find the Eisenhower Decision Matrix useful;
- Important and Urgent: Do it now – important task
- Important but not urgent: – Do it next
- Unimportant but urgent: Do it as soon as possible after the above
- Unimportant and non urgent: Eliminate it, Defer it or delegate it
When you have your most important tasks identified, break them down into manageable, clear chunks to make execution easier and then aim to have them done or progressed before lunchtime.
It’s important to note here that you may not get everything you want to get done, done, however, as you’ve listed your tasks by priority, you will hopefully have achieved something and then you can roll the tasks over to tomorrow and continue working.
Chunk your working time
When you’re working in the office, whether that’s a collaboration office or your office of employment you are likely to have physical meetings arranged, planned lunch breaks, office tea runs and toilet breaks, however, when you’re working at home, what I have found is that I can just keep going through the day without any breaks which are long and unstructured and before I know it it’s the school run at 3pm! This isn’t a good idea and one which can’t be sustained, trust me.
Remember you do actually have to work…
To overcome distractions, I use the Pomodoro Technique and close off my notifications. I use the Pomo Done app and work in 25-minute blocks, or sometimes more depending on what I am doing and how immersed I am. The rule here is that after every 25 minutes, I take a 5-minute break then, after four 25 minute Pomodoros I take a 15-minute break.
Whilst working, I do not have the TV or other direct distractions running. If I am working on non prioritised work I will have my music on because they don’t specifically need pure focus time but when I am in focus mode, mostly all direct distractions are closed off and I work in quiet or sometimes I have a lyric free playlist on through Spotify to enhance focus because sometimes I do like to listen to something. Spotify have some great playlists.
Breaks are important for your health and productivity.
For anytime that you may feel your manager or client feels you’re not working, such as when you’re taking breaks, this is mainly because they can’t physically see you working, or not, so don’t get too worried about it, just be sure to show up when you are working.
I have improved my breaks of late, by actually leaving my working area, I often do small 10 minute chores or I will listen to music (dancing involved for exercise), prepare for our evening tea, put a wash on, have a step outside or make a cup of tea. I very rarely sit and read the news or social media in these breaks because that doesn’t fill me with joy and just wastes my time.
If I am using Socials for my business, I schedule time to do this for business purposes and not personal scrolling.
By having the Pomodoro technique in place, you will naturally avoid the usual working from home distractions because you may address them on your breaks… or at least you should aim for this to happen.
Remember that these new habits and ways of working don’t click overnight, you need to repeat them over and over. Tony Robbins says “Repetition is the mother of skill” and he’s right. By doing it over and over again you will master the art of using the Pomodoro technique, cutting distractions and becoming more productive. The hardest part of adopting the Pomodoro technique for me was the initial consistency of doing it.
“It’s all well and good identifying my important tasks and chunking my time, but I have my children home too”…
I get this 100%. When children are at home with you, your day can be so unpredictable. My advice here is to still identify your most important tasks as above but be in the mindset that progress is actually better than panicking all day and subsequently getting nothing done. Communicate that you’re home with your children to your manager or client and the expectations should and most likely will be set in their minds too.
Ensure you use your time wisely, there will be lay-ins (so you could work early), nap times (to work in focus mode) and utilise the evenings too when they’re asleep. If you have multiple children (I have 3 boys), encourage them to play with each other, set up a team task or group activity such as play dough, painting etc and whilst they’re playing, you can work. This will help with working without direct distractions too.
Easier said than done I hear you say, but do something new if you REALLY need some time to focus. Something I did of late was tip over an entire toy box (cringe). The scatter of toys filled me with dread of the clean up process but my son played for a good 30 – 40 minutes with each toy, role playing and having great fun and I had uninterrupted work time, simply because I had never done that before.
Remember also that unless you’re really unwell or you have explicitly been advised to stay home, you can pop out for a brisk walk with the children to get them some fresh air or visit a park or woodland for an hour burnout.
For older children, a movie will likely keep them occupied for a short time. Also share your schedule with them, letting them know you need to do some work now or take a call but afterwards, your time is for them and then it’s time for some fin, keep your word and they’ll likely understand.
If you have small babies who can’t play on their own and need your support, lean on their nap times and rest times for your focus work. If you do happen to need to attend a meeting/call/video conference and your little one isn’t sleeping, ensure you have a bottle to hand or schedule it for when you are used to their sleep time, your voice, cuddles and rocking may send them off to sleep in your arms whilst you’re taking your call.
And please, don’t worry yourself too much if you find that you need to attend a call online. Just aim for distraction free calls as best you can.
I have been here too many times worrying myself sick that my children would interrupt my meetings or calls and guess what, they have! My son decided not long ago to show my clients his brother’s guitar… waving it around in the background and guess what? My client was great, called his name, got his attention, my son was happy for the attention and cruised back off to watch Bing Bunny and before, my children came in completely unannounced and had a conversation with my client. I was on video… She was delighted and completely understood. I had to let my professional guard down at that moment and not make it a big deal (even if inside I was disappointed in how I let that happen and was cringing the entire time)
Listen. If you already prepared your client or manager that you have your children home with you, you can’t change that in many cases, I don’t have my Husband working from home and I don’t have help on tap as it were, so work with what you have, the very best you can.
If interruptions do happen, apologise and move on. Don’t make situations like this bigger or worse than they actually are.
Make time for exercise
This doesn’t mean you have to embark on a full on excercise routine but aim to complete a 15, 20 or 30 minute HIIT workout (The Body Coach is perfect for this) or do a small yoga from home session. YouTube is good for these.
Or, do like I do most of the time and get dancing! Yes, I do this when I am on my breaks and it just gets my body moving so long as I have my favourite music playing I’m good to go.
It doesn’t matter what you do, just get moving.
But I have my children home too...
This is the fun part – get them involved – plus it’ll keep their boredom at bay.
Plan in advance
- Schedule your most important tasks in your Calendar and in an online task tracking tool.
I use Asana as my task management tool and it works great for me.
I add tags for how long I think something is likely to take which I take into consideration when choosing my most important tasks and this helps with my planning. I also use this as a guideline so I can split the task over multiple time blocks / days if this is required.
I also set time blocks for my day so I know when I am in a focus block of working. I am more productive on high focus tasks in the morning and into the early afternoon so I block these out in my diary, set my pomodoro and get to work.
In fact, I schedule my entire day/week/month (another post for this is required).
Then for tomorrow,
- Complete a brain download again and plan your most important tasks for the day. You could even do a plan for the week ahead if you want to be super efficient!
But I have my children home too...
This is an even better reason to plan in advance for the night or week before. By doing so, you can have an insight into how your day will run tomorrow / next week and be pre-aware of the important tasks you need to get done, this might also prompt for an earlier get up to focus.
Physically schedule in time into your calendar to spend with your children too. In my Google Calendar I have all of my business tasks, my client work, JOG life (Name initials), Home life and Us which scheduled my non working and relationship activities. Everything goes into my calendar, colour coded and labelled. It’s good to note this calendar isn’t shared.
Don’t feel like it’s all failed if your plan doesn’t stick, mine rarely does when my children are at home but having it there to reflect on allows me to keep it in view and aware of it.
When you’re working from home and you’re used to working in an office environment, you could become quite lonely and feel isolated.
I suggest you make telephone calls instead of email/slack overload if you’re feeling too isolated and there are so many options for online video such as Skype, Zoom or Google Meet/Hangout.
You could utilise this method by live working with another colleague which also works well if you’re co-working on a project/report etc, literally have an online meeting (Zoom or equivalent) and have it running in the background, on another monitor or on split screens. Knowing someone else is there and being able to ask the odd question or have a discussion will really keep you focussed.
Aside from the actual execution of work, ensure you have a non work-related short conversation, celebrate birthdays and any team wins too, however big or small. You may not be the only one in the work from home position, so keep a team spirit the best you can.
If you’re using Slack, utilise the #random channel or create a #breakchat or #lunchtalk channel to keep the group chats together. You could even meet on a lunchtime video conference via Zoom.
Maybe you’re reading a good book at the moment, or are hooked on Netflix or cooking up some nice meals since you’re now not commuting, share them all, you’ll grow personally as a team as well as giving ideas to your fellow team members whilst keeping human interaction in tact.
But I have my children home too...
This is true so keep them interested in what you’re doing and indeed show your interest in what they’re doing.
Those live working sessions could work when babies or young children are napping. Keeping in contact with celebrations and wins as well as the un work-related short conversations will continue to help you and like I said beforehand, unless your employer doesn’t know you have children, this shouldn’t be such a hit. If you’re working and showing you’re doing your best, it’ll all work out.
- Ensure you are in a professional as possible area to shoot videos. Not sitting up in bed or with a large laundry airer behind you, find the best looking wall with good lighting to shoot your videos
- Check your camera, microphone etc before you join the meeting
- If you don’t have a camera on your laptop, you can use your smartphone
Keep communication key
Ensure you establish or set the expectations on communication whilst working from home.
This is not only with your manager/s or your clients but also with other family members.
In the office environment, it’s easy to just walk over or direct dial a team member or manager but when you’re remote, communication breakdown is more likely and easily done.
Whether you just have a 10-minute call or a weekly hour catch up but daily check-ins via email or Slack, ensure this is an established process.
If your Manager, their business or yourself is used to online cloud tech apps such as Skype or Zoom, utilise these for communication. These tools will also allow you to be physically 1-1 more present to the meeting and your boss/client.
The key, however, when using these online tools is to nominate a meeting lead, this way if there’s a big group of you, a speaking order can be introduced to prevent over talking and delays. The meeting lead can also set some boundaries such as phones on silent and the meeting invites and deal with any issues such as lag in audio if you’re from different Countries, this actually does sometimes happen.
But I have my children home too...
Utilise Slack or other preferred communication methods to keep communication live. You may not be able to have a full 1-hour call so break it down into written updates and short 10-minute bursts, again, utilise small children nap times or for older children, pop on a movie.
Either way, keep the communication key.
Flipping from work to home-life
When working from home you can get drawn into either working morning, noon and night (not healthy) or you’ll distract yourself with home activities… “actually, I’ll go empty the dishwasher” or “I’ll just go pop that wash on”, or “I’ll just go and wash the bathroom down”. These are all actions which will draw you away from your work and suck your time up.
You’re working, you’ve set some time to work and so sit and focus. I choose to do my little chores when I have my Pomodoro breaks but I don’t often flick from work to chores throughout the day because I know this kills my productivity.
It’s also key to remember you don’t have to answer your emails in-depth early in the morning or late into the night. (unless your job actually depends on it) If an emergency arises, make an exception and deal with it, otherwise, switch off. If you do happen to check your emails, you could acknowledge the email if it’s semi-important but just let your manager or client know that you’ll take a look in more detail tomorrow. Try and switch off , especially from emails. This is key.
Tip: If you are writing emails to help you tomorrow, schedule them to send within working hours.
But I have my children home too...
This is actually one which can trip me over when I have my children home, however, I know they’re home, I know I can’t have 100% focussed work time and so I need to work with what I do have.
I use my imagination for games, a movie, an activity such as playdough or painting or encouragement to play with toys they haven’t done beforehand.
Keep team morale as high as possible
When staff and support are required to work from home due to health reasons etc, they’re likely to be worried and stressed about the situation.
The key is to keep their morale high, identify the wins as a whole and individually, identify the progress being made by your team and applaud them, cheer them on and if they have children who can’t attend care, as long as they’re doing the best they can, with what they have and plan correctly to execute work, try and understand that they are likely to be feeling stressed that they won’t be able to commit to a full day at work like they normally can. We’re all human and if we’re doing our absolute best that’s key.
In this blog post we covered how to work from home even if you have children, I gave you some actionable tips and some insights into my own working from home struggles and tips.
What was the top thing you are taking away from this post?
Do you have any other tips to share with the community reading this post?
Let me know in the comments below and as always, please use the information and knowledge I share to make a change, self improvement or breakthrough as taking action is the only way forward to succeeding. Please, don’t let this post be another item getting lost in your bookmarks.
What questions do you have for me? You can contact me directly or leave me a comment.