Working at home is, in many ways, the ideal situation for working Mums. We can carve out our own time, flex drop-off and pick-up, catch up on a few household chores, and gain back whatever time we would have spent commuting. Not to mention tea on tap, our choice of music – or blissful silence – and popping out for lunch with a friend if the urge comes along. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?! Many of us have dreamt of being able to be home-based, but it’s a different pace and style of working from the office and takes some getting used to, particularly if you want to make home working effective.
The truth is the novelty wears off quite quickly and we are suddenly faced with how disciplined we really are. Getting up just in time for nursery drop-off is acceptable, isn’t it? The shower can wait until later as I might go to the gym. And I may as well just pull on the same clothes as yesterday as I’m not planning to go anywhere (although the nursery staff are becoming suspicious). I can’t be bothered heading down to Tesco – that would be a full 10 minute walk each way. I can’t spare that sort of time, so I’ll just have toast for lunch again – vegetables, smegetables. And on it goes….!
So here’s a top 10 that I’ve picked up over the last 4 years of home working.
1. Exercise every day
I can feel you losing faith in this blog post already! Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be a full gym workout. Just aim for 10 minutes. Personally I find early in the morning the best – it’s just a great kick-start to the day. Obviously this very much depends on what time your partner heads off to work and if someone can be in the house with the kids. If, for you, it’s a lunchtime activity, or an evening activity then diarise it and make the necessary arrangements to make it happen. A 30 minute walk is fine, just get out the house and do something active in the fresh air.
2. Eat well
Really don’t live on toast and tinned custard. It’s depressing and just tires out your system. Get good healthy food – porridge or eggs for breakfast, salad for lunch, a good dinner with your family. You’ll have more energy and won’t slump or get foggy-headed.
3. Get enough sleep
Flexible working is a great asset with working from home, but you’re not a student anymore. Don’t doss about all day and then find yourself drinking tea and eating snack-size Milky Ways until 2am. Get to bed early and start the day with structure.
4. Get focussed on your priority
On reading The One Thing, by Gary Keller, this really gave me an approach on how to be more effective. I’d recommend reading it. In short, the book asks you to focus on your Someday Goal, then in order to fulfil that goal, what’s your 5 year goal, and in order to fulfil that goal, what’s your 1 year goal, your 1 month goal and your 1 week goal. I’ve oversimplified it, but it’s all about finding the one thing to focus on that will make you move closer towards your goal. It removes the noise and flip-flopping and creates a sense of calm and certainty as you go about your work.
5. Time blocking
This has revolutionised my life! I’ve always had a huge to-do list and have flitted between work, to-do list, home chores, fitting in meetings, etc getting more and more frustrated as nothing seems to be getting done! Now, the first 4 hours of my day are blocked out to focus on the one effort or task I need to move me towards my goals. Nothing gets in the way of this. I now never schedule any meetings/ calls/ doctor appointments in before 2pm. It’s unbelievably effective. You’d be hard-pressed not to have achieved something significant in 4 hours. I can then move to other tasks with a sense of satisfaction and that I’ve achieved everything I need to and anything else is a bonus.
6. Create a work space
We recently had the builders in so I was working from a different place each day – on the bed, from the kitchen table, perched on the sofa, a coffee shop and even in the car (the dust was quite bad!). I’m sure my productivity was about 30% of what it should be. I didn’t realise how much it affected me at the time, but the utter relief when my office was re-instated and I had a space for my laptop, screen, funny little dinosaur notepad, scanner, and a home for my papers (there were bags full of filing all over the place). What a huge difference. When I walk into the room, I’m there to focus. I have space, calm, organisation. You can get your organiser on the wall and it makes a huge difference to your headspace. And, when you walk out of the room, it’s clocking off time.
Find yourself a space and make it yours. Get the family to buy into this. Not everyone has the luxury of an office but is there a corner of a room that you can build your office in? Try have a desk and chair that is yours and you’re not having to clear it of football kit every time you want to write an email.
7. Get organised
This is a whole post in itself but I use a mixture of Trello and Asana to keep on top of my lists. I do use a notepad for my “next day” priorities. I know what I need to do each week, what my daily tasks are, and what’s included in my time block and what’s not. If anything pops up during your time block, note it down and come back to it later. It’s definitely a work in progress as sometimes I end up with too many lists, but find a solution that works and don’t hold it in your head – you can’t relax if you’re trying to remember things to do later!
8. Get up and dressed as though you’re going to work
Okay, you don’t need the make-up and heels, but respect yourself and your work and make sure you’re washed, dressed and feeling fresh when you sit down to start your day. (The school drop-off is a great for making you get out of your jammies!)
9. Take time away from your desk
Have lunch in a different room if possible and do something that doesn’t involve a laptop or phone. Read a magazine, sit in the garden, post a letter. Get fresh air, stretch your legs and be ready to sit down again in the afternoon.
10. Spend the last 20 minutes of your day planning for the next day
Even if you think you may do some more work in the evening, plan your next day before you have to stop for school/ nursery pick up. Planning in the evening somehow seems harder and I find often doesn’t get done, so you waste your first half hour of the next day thinking about what you need to get on with.
11 – Bonus tip! Enjoy the perks
Take time out and enjoy the perks of home working! I schedule in manicures/ pedicures in the afternoon (after 2pm of course), or pop round the shops at lunch time. Or head to the post office to send off my Ebay sales. And of course, there’s the sports days and school plays which is really why we set out for home working in the first place.
If we go with a broad 80:20 rule, and you stick to some sort of working pattern 80% of the time, you’ve got 20% of your working life to bend the rules a little!