Remote working. I’ll bet there were a lot of people who, if you’d asked them at the beginning of the year, wouldn’t have been able to tell you what remote working was, never mind imagined that they’d actually be doing it themselves.
Since the start of lockdown, there are two complaints I hear more than any others. One is about how parents have suddenly had to convert to being educators overnight (I feel you, I respect you, I send my thoughts and prayers to you). The other is from those who are really battling with the enforced home-office setup. This I can help you with.
When my regular 9-5 shifted to remote working, I was an early adopter, spending half my week at the office, and the other half at home. Initially, I loved it. I felt calmer, got more work done, and there were the added bonuses of not needing to get up early or bother about traffic.
When the time came to shift to remote working full-time, I was excited. Working from the comfort of my own space, in my PJs, with no-one to chew in my ear or watch me work, all day every day…what a pleasure, right? Wrong!
Turns out that the shine wears off quick, and even as an introvert I began to see challenges with this setup. I was groggy when I was supposed to start working in the morning. I was constantly distracted by EVERYTHING. And I certainly wasn’t ticking tasks off my list like I thought I would. Where was this blissful productivity I was promised by the remote working cheerleaders?
When lockdown hit, I’d thankfully had time to examine my remote situation and make some key adjustments. These super helpful tweaks to my day came from trying a few experiments, as well as from friends and fellow inmates who shared their wisdom with me. These have drastically improved my way of working, increased my productivity, and have elevated my state of mind while working alone.
Here are my top five tips for improving your day
Show up...for yourself
I discovered that the reason I wasn’t feeling sharp in the morning was because I was maximising on the opportunity for more sleep and literally rolling out of bed 30 minutes before I needed to be at my desk. I’d then take a quick shower, get dressed and slump in front of my screen, hoping that caffeine and forced concentration would do the trick. This doesn’t work.
So, I decided to get up as if I needed to travel to work, so that by the time I got to my desk, I’d already been awake for a while. Like, duh, right? I also realised that showering, dressing with (some) care and putting mascara on improved my transition from home to “office” tremendously. Now I feel like I am going to work, and not just fiddling around on my laptop in the other room. No, I don’t wear heels and lipstick, but if by chance a client requests a quick video call, I am 100% ready. I also feel a lot better about myself and I don’t get a fright every time I pass a mirror on the way to get tea.
Need some tips on looking good on video calls? Watch Angie's video for some great tricks.
Create the right space
This is not news but having a designated space for work that is separate from recreational areas is really important, especially when remote working. You need a place that has the same respect, quiet and access to tools as you’d usually have at the office. This helps with workflow and again, that mindset of being at work.
I have also found that since I banished my laptop from the bedroom and couches, and restricted it to my “office”, I am way more relaxed when I’m actually trying to relax, and easily switch into work mode when I am at my desk.
Having a special office space is not easy for everyone. Those in studio apartments or those with kiddies may find this a challenge, as your space is either limited or never your own, or both. However, if you can find a corner or a room with a door to stick your flag into, then do it. For some of you this may look like designated hours instead of a designated room, so do what you need to do.
Whatever it looks like for you, try to commit to it and ensure that those you share a home with understand why this is important to you.
As a bonus, bring some love into the space, by adding a plant, your favourite photos or an item you enjoy looking at, like an art piece or a novelty toy.
Put the toys away
This will look different for everyone, but I find WhatsApp a huge distraction. I am a volunteer for an NGO and I belong to several church, community and family groups, so my phone does not stop pinging. I used to just put it on silent, but since the lockdown, I am constantly receiving all kinds of news and updates and memes and hilarious videos, which of course I can’t resist.
Thank goodness for airplane mode. I have no need for WhatsApp or mobile calls during the day, so I switch to airplane mode when I begin work and turn it off during breaks (if I want to). Facebook and social media are a lesser challenge for me, but for you it may be the biggest distraction. Find creative ways to limit access and temptation. You will find that you can focus more, get more done and also give to your work in a way that you can’t when you are constantly mulling over what you just saw in your feed.
Make your breaks count
Everyone has a different way of working. Some people work best when they get large chunks of work done and take fewer breaks; others can’t focus for more than an hour straight and need regular breaks. Whatever your style, make your breaks count. This means doing something that really does give you a break and isn’t just another gap-filler.
Depending on what’s best for you, find something to do on your break that gives you respite from your work, but which keeps you energised and uplifts you.
Maybe you’ll take a walk around the garden.
Perhaps you’ll stare out of the window at the scenery for a spell.
You could play with a pet.
Do a fun quiz or crossword puzzle.
Whatever you choose to do, ensure that it’s not something that going to drag you down the rabbit hole and make it more difficult to focus on work again.
Lean into your working style
Depending on how much flexibility you have, try to capitalise on the work hours that really are the most productive for you. I am a night owl, which means that I take a little longer to warm up in the mornings and have more energy to give in the afternoons and evenings. This doesn’t mean that I can’t work in the early hours, it just means that if I structure my day so that easier, less cerebral tasks are ticked off in the morning, and tasks which require more creativity and industry from me are done in the afternoon, I get way more yield in terms of work quality.
When possible, I prefer to schedule my calls around the middle of the day, so that I’ve had time to think about what needs to be discussed, and so that they don’t interrupt the huge chunk of work I plan to attack in the afternoon.
Think about your day and when you seem to be at your peak – getting stuff done quicker and with increased mental agility. Try to structure your day so that it best serves this style. Not everyone has the flexibility to build their day as they please, but every little tweak helps!
Look after yourself
Sitting on the couch eating NikNaks again? Guilty! Putting off exercise because that show is just too good? Guilty again! Looking at posts on social media that make you feel anxious, but can’t seem to stop? Yup, been there too. But I have learned that just because we are in “unprecedented times” (as all the experts love to remind us), it doesn’t mean that unprecedented exceptions to our wellness should be made.
Self-care is something I am still learning about every day. But what I do know is that when I have done my stretches, read my Bible or taken the time to make a nourishing smoothie for myself, I not only feel better about myself and life in general, but I perform better at work.
A lot of people are going to emerge from lockdown in an unhealthy state – mentally, physically and emotionally. For many, this is going to be because of limiting life circumstances that are out of their control. Where possible, think about the small areas you can control.
Maybe it’s moving to another room that’s quieter and free of conflict.
It could look like buying a bag of spinach instead of a bad of chips (they cost the same).
Try switching one episode out with a moment hanging upside down on the couch to stretch.
Or make a phone call to a cherished friend or family member, instead of scrolling through social media.
If you're stuck, Thrive Global has some great tips for self-care during lockdown.
Think about the activities that empower you and make you feel more in control of your world, and focus on those. It’s the least you can do, for yourself.
A note on mental health: If you are battling with dark thoughts and emotions, please reach out. Whether its to a friend, a trusted colleague or a lay counsellor in your community, make the call. You are worth it!
I hope that you found this helpful! How have you taken to remote working? I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have any tips for making the adjustment easier for everyone!