In these challenging times of change and uncertainty, it’s even more important to feel secure, have stability and maintain a sense of purpose amidst the chaos, For most people, the usual work routine has been tossed into the air and shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.
So, as both a Wellbeing Coach and someone who’s worked from home for a while now, I thought I’d offer some advise and tips for people that are new to this malarkey that just might help you to survive the day with your sanity intact, be productive, effective and at the same time have more energy, focus and feel calmer and happier about your new work-life balance.
The challenges of working from home can at first seem daunting, confusing and isolating. Yet when you put wellbeing at the heart of your planning and conscious thought, it can become rewarding, liberating and leave you feeling mentally and physically in a better place. When you see and feel the benefits of working with your wellbeing as a priority, you’ll want to continue doing so long after the return to the office/shop floor or whatever space you go back to when this craziness is finally over.
1. Start the day well – drink water. We get dehydrated overnight and caffeine won’t replace lost liquid. Dehydration can lead to poor concentration, low energy, mood swings and headaches. Who wants to start with that! So drink a glass of water first thing, I drink it warm with a slice of lemon. First thing is also a good time to move in some way, a bit of yoga stretching, a five minute cardio exercise or a few house chores just livens up the mind and body. You may not have the usual commute, but energise your body to inform the mind that you are preparing for work! Being in the best ‘state’ by getting up at a set time, taking a shower and ‘dressing for work’ will prepare your brain for the day. Eat a healthy breakfast – it doesn’t have to be big, it’s what you eat that’s important so have food that helps you to focus and give you slow release energy through the morning, such as eggs, porridge oats or a home-made green smoothie.
2. Schedule a routine and stick to it. It can be very different from the 9 to 5 you’ve been used to so be flexible enough to find a schedule that will work for you and organised enough to keep to it. If you have children at home, work when you are most available and productive if you can. Set the timer on your phone for specific tasks such as checking emails and having meetings and keep these to small, manageable chunks of time so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or that you’re not managing.
3. Make a list of tasks for each day or week in order of priority and tick them off when completed to help you to focus and feel a sense of achievement. Again be realistic in your new work environment. Don’t put yourself under pressure and stress. Instead be mindful that this is new and will take some getting used to. What was possible before may take more or less time now or you may need to do things in a different way so be kind and patient with yourself.
4. Tell your family, friends and colleagues what hours you will be working. Some people not working from home can find it hard to understand the concept, so make it clear that you are not available 24/7! Having set boundaries so that you are not disturbed and don’t get distracted will help you to focus and stay calm in and out of work mode.
5. During working hours, turn off notifications for social media and group chats to also help reduce distractions and temptation. Turning off news alerts too is a good way to keep calm. Right now, these are full of sad and scary stories that will release stress hormones when you read them and, if those hormones remain in the body, can adversely affect concentration, energy and mood and therefore your ability to work effectively. It’s very unlikely that anything that goes ping on your phone will need reading, answering or knowing urgently. It can all wait until later.
6. Have a designated work space. If you’re lucky enough to have an office at home, use it, but only for your scheduled work time so that you can walk away and switch off. If you don’t have a home office, find a space you can work comfortably in. Somewhere quiet, light and roomy enough. Try to avoid using the bedroom in order to help your mind to understand how you want to be and that when you enter your bedroom, work is off limits and so you are better able to sleep. If you’re short of space and are using an area in your lounge or kitchen, set out your work ‘tools’ in the morning and put them away again at night – even if this is just closing a laptop, it sets an intention that you’re either in work or not.
7. Arrange a time regularly to check in with colleagues for advice and support. Working from home can be isolating and if you don’t say how you feel or ask for help, this can play on your mind, increase anxiety and cause lack of sleep. However, avoid wasting time discussing how bad things are, what doesn’t work and what should be happening. Instead, focus on what is being done and what could work. Remind each other of the transferable skills you all have and above all, take the time to listen to each other. We are social creatures that work best when we collaborate, co-operate and have the courage to show our vulnerabilities.
8. If you have the delights of juggling work with home-schooling and entertaining your children then make sure your employers and team know this and that there might be times when your four year old becomes part of your zoom meeting! If that’s the way it has to be, patience and understanding all round will help you to feel more valued and take the pressure off. That said, for most tasks, don’t try to focus on work and the children at the same time. If you do, very little will be achieved well and could end up taking twice as long. Plan into your day separate times to home-school or play and give the children your full attention. You’ll hopefully find it’s then easier to bribe them with time for their favourite film or game while you focus on work tasks! Remember, you are not superhuman so don’t try to be, just do the best you can and don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t go to plan. Remember, this is new to everyone, including the children.
9. It’s easy to get caught up with jobs, chores and other things and forget to get some fresh air and exercise. Telling yourself you don’t have time is not true. It’s all a question of priorities. If you are able to get outside, do so, especially somewhere where you can be around nature. Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of being in nature releases chemicals into the bloodstream that make you feel calmer, more relaxed and happier and that this can last for up to seven hours. A 20 minute walk will also oxygenate your blood, give you energy, sharpen your mind and increase your vitamin D levels. Exercise in or outdoors will of course provide vitality and release endorphins that will lower stress and give you a feeling of wellbeing to tackle whatever the day throws at you. If you are unable to go outside due to restrictions, open windows at opposite ends of your home and let the air blow through. And believe it or not, those feel good chemicals get released even when you just look at trees, plants and hear birdsong. After all, it’s our natural state of being so why shouldn’t it be good for us.
10. Take a break to eat a healthy meal in order to replenish energy, nourish your cells so that they can repair and renew and help keep your mind active and in optimum working order for the rest of the day. Moving away from your work space helps you to eat in a state of relaxation. When you focus on work whilst you eat, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, meaning you are in ‘stress mode’. This disrupts digestion, which can lead to bloating, cramps, IBS and poor absorption of nutrients, so even if you eat a healthy lunch, you won’t get he benefit. Having a break away from your work space and eating well doesn’t have to be hard, expensive or time consuming. It’s all about eating real, nourishing food.
One day we’ll be able to look back on this crazy time and talk about what we did, how we changed and what we learned. Despite all the sadness and restrictions, we will have the chance to let some good come from it all and take the lessons learned with us into the new normal that is on it’s way.