You’ve probably been leaving the house to go to work for so long that it feels automatic; meanwhile, the hustle and bustle of a busy office is the norm and catching up with colleagues is a part of everyday life. Then, out of the blue, you are forced to do your job and manage the same responsibilities from the place where you usually escape from work – your home. Add having to juggle home-schooling the kids or sharing your ‘new office’ with your other half into the mix and things can start to feel overwhelming. Working from home can be challenging at the best of times, but especially now.

Personally, I’ve been working from home for just over half a year and although I wasn’t forced into working from home, like you, I was kind of thrown into it – I had never imagined my career taking this path. Thankfully, there are easy methods you can adopt to adjust to this unfamiliar situation. I want to share some of the things that have been most effective for me. And, at least, with the majority of the nation in the ‘same boat,’ perhaps you can find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

1) Separate your work and relaxation spaces

I can’t stress enough how important this is for your state of mind. Where possible, work in a different room to where you do other activities such as watching TV, cooking and, most importantly, sleeping. Working in the same space that you relax in can make it harder for your brain to switch off. This is one of the first things I learnt when I began working from home. Initially, I worked at the kitchen table which I thought would be OK because it was away from the areas I do the majority of my relaxing – the living room and bedroom. However, I quickly noticed myself becoming tense when I entered the kitchen even when I wasn’t working in it. I also found the distraction of a retired father a bit much. 

I’m lucky enough to have a spare room with a desk (well, OK, a dressing table) in it, so I started working there instead. Instantly, I noticed my perception of the rest of the house change and now when I close that door behind me at the end of the day, I know I’m leaving my work behind too. I realise lots of people aren’t fortunate enough to have a completely separate room to work in, so I would suggest working at a desk or table as opposed to your sofa or on your bed and clearing your work away at the end of the day. This acts as a signal to your brain that it’s time to switch off from work and it’s now time for you.

2) Get dressed every day

This is a rule I have followed right from day one. The idea of being able to work in your pjs may be tempting, but getting washed and ready for the day as if you are going to the office will improve your state of mind and mentally prepare you for starting work.

The Mental Health Foundation emphasise the importance of getting dressed to replicate your work routine and limit further disruption. Just this simple act can bring a sense of normality into your life. So, leave lazing around in your comfies for the weekend!

3) Stick to your usual work schedule

While this strange time may be far from usual, we need to keep our lives as normal as possible. Humans are creatures of habit – yes, that old chestnut – and we thrive on routine. If working from home provides one benefit for our wellbeing, it’s that you don’t have the stress of rushing out the door for your commute – yay! Rather than using your bonus time for sleeping, wake up at your normal time and fill it with something you don’t usually have time for such as reading a book, doing some gentle morning exercise or enjoying a leisurely breakfast. 

Meditation is also an effective way to begin the day with a positive mindset. I use the meditation app Headspace every morning and let’s just say I know when I haven’t! Sticking to a schedule isn’t just about the mornings; remember to take your usual lunch break and finish work at your normal time too.

4) Set goals for the day

Identifying tasks that you aim to complete during the work day can help you to stay organised and on track. Further, this can help you to avoid the temptation of multi-tasking that working from home can bring. Remember, if you were at your office, you wouldn’t be able to empty the dishwasher! Personally, I use the old-fashioned method of a diary – there’s something about physically writing aims on paper that makes them more definite for me and I’m more determined to achieve them. But, there are also effective digital tools and online apps out there such as note-taking service Google Keep which enables you to categorise notes as well as set reminders and productivity platform Todoist which enables you to manage ongoing projects and free-up mental space. 

Plus, ticking tasks off at the end of the day brings a sense of achievement. Just ensure you make your goals realistic for the time you have. Most importantly, (something I am still working on) is that we need to accept we may not be quite as productive as usual and that’s OK.

5) Exercise

If you can, get outdoors during your lunch break. In 2008, researchers found that more than 200 employees who used a company gym were more productive during the day. Further, a recent study consisting of 51 office workers showed that every single participant enjoyed their afternoon work more if they used their lunch break to leave the office and go for a walk. 

A brisk walk round the block can help you to stay focused and avoid the afternoon slump – something I can definitely attest to. Even just sitting in the garden (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and taking in some fresh air can refresh you. If you are self-isolating and unable to leave your home, having a window open while you work can help you to stay alert and maintain focus.

6) Stay connected

Missing your morning catch-up with your colleagues while you make a cuppa in your staff kitchen? Thankfully, there’s so many ways to have video chats and group meetings these days. Software options include Microsoft Teams, UberConference, Skype and Zoom just to name a few. 

But, staying connected isn’t just about technology. Why not recommend completing a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) to your employer? It can help your team to develop practical steps to ensure you are supported when you aren’t feeling great. Staying in touch with colleagues is not only important for your work tasks, but for your mental wellbeing and to eliminate feelings of loneliness.

7) Plan self-care time

After finishing a 9-to-5, you’ve had a long day no matter the location; you deserve a reward and some ‘me time.’ Although this isn’t directly related to working, it’s an important step to boost your mood and keep your motivation and productivity levels up. 

Whether you choose to do an at-home workout, read a magazine, colour, or watch TV, by planning in time for yourself each day, you are recognising your achievements and preparing yourself for the next day. To celebrate making it through each Monday, I reward myself with a warm bath in the evening. I light candles around the bathroom and add Epsom salts to the bath to help me unwind. Without doing this, I doubt I would be as raring to go on a Tuesday.

Originally published on Welldoing.

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