How to work from home without losing your mind

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As we hit the new year and the prospect of another lengthy lockdown, here’s some ideas for revamping your home office and work schedule.

How to work from home without losing your mind
This working from home situation is becoming a bit…interminable. Almost a year into working from home for many of us, even the most enthusiastic home worker may be missing a desk that lives miles away from your home and the water cooler chat.

As we hit the new year and the prospect of another lengthy lockdown, here’s some ideas for revamping your home office and work schedule.

First up: be kind to yourself

Here’s the thing. This is a weird time. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about it. If you feel super productive and want to use time to learn new skills, do it. If you can’t focus and just want to nap, do that as much as your job allows.  

Arrange your workspace

You’ve heard it a thousand times, carve out a space – even if it’s a tiny one – that’s just for work. But there’s more. Make sure your desk faces onto something that makes you happy. A window, a plant, art. Check in with your work space and notice whether the nook you created in 2020 still works for you in the new year. Spice things up a little. You can also use cushions and books to make sure your chair and computer screen are at the right heights, as you really don’t want neck and back pain when you can’t easily see a physio or access painkillers.

And the rest of your space

Make the rest of your home as cosy as possible. A reading nook. Plants. Candles. Blankets. If you have incense or a diffuser, make your 'office' smell one way (for me, citrus) and your 'home' smell another (eucalyptus in my home). When you’re done with work, you can 'go home' to a comfy place.

Make some playlists

If you already have some good work playlists, use them. If not, find them. I recommend lo-fi chillhop or the Sims 2 soundtrack (it’s literally designed to make you want to stare at a screen for hours on end). Then make some home playlists. Things to dance to. Things to wallow to. Things to cook to. Things to scroll through Netflix to. (Might as well, we all spend longer choosing what to watch than actually watching, don’t we?)

Find your groove

Some people find it easier to stick to their normal work routine (minus the commute) and if you can, that’s great. But if you can’t that’s also fine. As long as you shower and put on clean pyjamas, you can wear pyjamas in the day.  

Try the 20-5 method

I’m not very disciplined with time. I’ll hit snooze five times. I’ll panic nap when I have a deadline. But these two methods work for me. If I have lots of small tasks to do like responding to emails or doing admin, I set the time on my phone for 20 minutes, turn it on silent (who am I kidding, it lives on silent), put it in another room and here’s the important part: close the door. Then I work for 20 minutes and when the alarm goes off, I take five minutes to make coffee, look at my phone, or put the washing into the machine. But really five minutes, set the timer. Then it’s another 20 of work. After three of those, most of the tasks are done.

And the 50-20 method

If you have deep work to do, use the same method but work for 50 minutes and then rest for 20. And try and get off your screens for that 20. Dishes, laundry, shower, dance party, something that makes you move. Your brain gets to rest, and you can focus better when you do your next 50. Usually, after four of these the bulk of my work is done.

Tell people what you need

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to take blocks of time away from your screens and phone, just let people know. As long as you’re meeting your work commitments in the long run, two hours on a Tuesday is not going to be the end of the world. On the other hand, if you need to connect with people, set up specific times with friends for 'face to face' Zoom or Skype sessions or… hear me out… phone someone. You know your Instagram machine has a phone function, right?

Get some fresh air

With the hours of daylight remaining pretty short, make sure to get some fresh air and, weather permitting, vitamin D. If you don’t have much time, take your coffee out into the garden or onto your doorstep, and if you have a little longer, go for a stroll, or walk rather than drive to do that mid-day errand. Your desk will still be three when you get back.

Let it all fall apart

It’s a good idea to start strong. But one day you’ll take your laptop to your couch or bed, and that’s fine. Your routine is there to help you, not restrict you. Have a conversation with yourself, figure out if what you want to do is actually helpful or not. And then be gentle with yourself. It’s a weird time.

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