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I’ve been working from home for the past year and a bit. I’m still not where I want to be in terms of output, but I’ve come a long way from where I was when I began.

I thought now would be a good time to share what I’ve learned and how I make working from home work for me!

1. Workspace

I have a permanent, dedicated workspace. This is the single most important thing for my productivity. It means that I’m not having to set up and pack up my workspace every day. If I had to get everything out, clear a space to work, plug in my laptop and find the stuff I needed for the day, that task would be too daunting for me and I’d fail at the first hurdle.

When Olivia and I first started DBoP, we had our meetings either on the couch or at the dining table. When we had our meetings on the couch, they often became chats and catch-ups rather than work meetings. It’s true for me that if I try and work on the couch, I immediately go into recreation/lazy mode. Same for trying to work in the bedroom… that’s my sleep space and 95% of the time I take a nap rather than getting any work done.

Having a dedicated and permanent work set-up reduces the barrier to starting work and also helps your brain shift into work mode, immediately making you more productive.

2. Ergonomics and environment

This is linked so closely to my first point. If your work from home setup is a laptop on the dining table (or worse, the kitchen island), this is going to destroy your back and wrists.

Firstly, unless you’re magically the perfect height, the keyboard will not be at the correct height meaning you’re straining your wrists. Remember, that your lower arm (elbow to hands) should be parallel to the ground. Otherwise you’re risking OOS in your wrists.

Secondly, your screen should be positioned so that the top of the screen is at the same height as your eyes. Any lower causes you to slump and puts terrible strain on your back.

This is why a permanent workspace is so important to me. It’s set up to meet my ergonomic needs.

Some of the other environmental things to consider are lighting and heat. The great thing about working from home is that you now get to enjoy natural light and fresh air!!! Make sure that natural light is coming from the sides. Light behind you will increase glare on the computer screen and strain your eyes. Consider using a heater in your workspace. The one downside to having my permanent workspace is that it’s the spare room and not heated by the heatpump or fireplace in the lounge. I have a blanket for my legs and a heater in the room so that I can be comfortable while I work. I’d get nothing done if the room was a fridge!

3. Take breaks

This is a contentious one. A friend of mine who works from home doesn’t take breaks, except to quickly hang the washing out. Her preference is to get the work day done as quickly as possible.

My advice, and what works for me, is to take breaks. Just like you would in the office, take timed, regular breaks.

My breaks need to be timed. And frequently I need to really talk myself into getting back to work. If I didn’t start my break knowing I had to get back to my desk at 12.30, I’d end up down the Netflix hole for the next three hours.

Breaks are an excellent time to get exercise. When you work at home, your incidental exercise (like from the carpark to your desk, or visiting colleagues round the office) goes right down. I exercise most mornings because working from home is the most sedentary I’ve ever been and if I didn’t schedule morning exercise I’d barely move at all.

4. Experiment

Check with your boss about whether you can experiment with your hours. My husband is a night owl. If he was allowed, he’d work midday to 8.30pm. Those are just the hours that work best for him.

If you’re working from home, especially if your kids are home too, your usual 9-5 might not work so well anymore. The days Connor is at home with me, I get no work done during the day. Then once we’ve picked Dom up from school I leave the two of them to play together and get a good couple of hours of work in. This assuages my mum-guilt by not leaving Connor to entertain himself while I work.

Sunday morning is another of my productive times. It’s the morning that Ian gets to sleep in so while the kids play or watch TV, I work.

This is all well and good for me, I am my own boss… but I think it’s worth a discussion to see if you can find the hours that work for you, especially if you have children.

5. Accountability

Here’s a secret. Back when I was an employee, there were times when I “worked from home” for a day, but in reality I watched TV and just made sure to check and respond to my emails frequently so it seemed I was online and working.

I’d had the idea for Darling Buds for at least a year before Olivia came and said “let’s start a business together”… I’d just never actioned it because I know I can’t motivate myself. Having Olivia to be accountable to was the only way this little business got off the ground.

This is my first blog since November 7, last year. I still struggle with accountability!

If possible, can you get together with a friend or co-worker to do work? Can your partner make sure you’re keeping your productivity up? How about a to-do-list?

This one, I don’t have an answer to. I struggle with this every day. It’s why I have 3 people to exercise with… because I never exercise on my own. It’s why this blog is 4 months overdue! Please, tell me how to be more productive!!

6. Self-care

This one really shouldn’t be at the bottom of the list, but practicing self-care is so important when you work from home. For me, I practice self-care through socialisation. Whether this is chatting to people on Messenger, calling my parents, or meeting up with friends for a walk, or going to quiz nights… I need that socialisation that I usually find in an office environment. Socialisation may be difficult in the coming days, but remember that social distancing refers to physical distance, not emotional distance. Keep in contact with your friends and loved ones. Make use of whatever systems your workplace has to keep in touch with your team. Message a friend, check in with your family. KEEP IN TOUCH!

My other self-care, as I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog, is exercise. This morning I was out running round the suburban streets in the dark in 1.4 degree weather. But for me, there’s no better way to start the day than with an endorphin boost! Remember to forgive yourself. If your kids are watching more screen time than usual, or you’re not as productive at work as usual, forgive yourself. These are strange times and change is always difficult. Please, be gentle on yourself.