Get dressed and don't over clean: how to make working from home work for you

Having a morning ritual is critical for establishing boundaries between work time and home time

Shot of two colleagues video chatting with each other on a computer at work
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As many of us begin week two of working remotely, hands up who checked emails this morning still clad in pyjamas? It may be tempting to treat this period of self-isolation as a mini-holiday but, the reality is, work still needs to be done or you might be doing yourself out of a job in the long run. For some, having to be self-motivated can be a shock, being so used to the structure of the office day. To help you adjust, here are a few tips I gleaned in the 14 years I worked as a freelancer.

Set a routine

Having a morning ritual is critical for establishing boundaries between work time and home time in a confined space. Making and sticking to a few ground rules will keep morale up and help you to get tasks done. I discovered that taking the dog for a brisk walk before sitting at my laptop was the best way to start my day, so find your own motivation to get up. Like to read the news apps before work? Factor that in, and do not give in to setting a later time on the alarm. A good trick is to exercise before you start work, so power-walk on the balcony, do an online exercise class or dance like no one is watching.

Get dressed

This sounds basic, but you’d be amazed by how many slither from bed to desk in their jim-jams, then wonder why they can hardly concentrate. Dress as you would for the office to maintain that sense of purpose and differentiation. Feel free to add the perfume / accessories / footwear you would normally put on, if that’s your thing. Then when the day is finished, enjoy swapping back into comfy lounge wear, knowing that work is done for the day.

Add sunshine to your space

You may have taken your laptop to bed with you last week, but choose a spot next to a window this week if possible. Sunlight has a wonderful effect on the human brain, causing it to release the so-called “happy” chemical serotonin. The desk need not be large (I spent five years working on one barely bigger than my laptop), and needn’t be purpose-built (the kitchen counter has often been mine), but sufficient natural light is important. It is good for headspace and will prevent strained eyes when peering at the screen and keyboard. Switch on a lamp as the day goes by if you need more light.

Take breaks

Without the usual office distractions, it is too easy to sit motionless for hours, which is a disaster for the body and mind. I took “cigarette breaks” (despite having never smoked) every 90 minutes or so, to simply walk away from the desk and do something else. By scheduling these into the day, the guilt-free, 15-minute break meant I returned refreshed and re-energised. The human body is not designed to be stationary for long periods, so get up and move.

Don’t get distracted by home tasks

One of the joys of working from home is that everyday tasks can be dealt with at the same time, but there’s a fine line between multitasking and procrastinating. Enjoy that this is a unique opportunity to catch up on odd jobs, but pick a few things that can be done per day, such as putting on a load of washing, emptying the dishwasher or vacuuming the spare room. Major projects can be tackled over the course of the week. Getting these tasks done will instil a sense of progress and achievement, but write down the essential ones and stick to the list, to prevent downing tools to needlessly dust the cupboards.

 Use a notebook 

This may be wonderfully old-fashioned, but nothing beats scoring through each completed task. Be kind to yourself if you don’t get through the entire list, though. Simply roll the items over to the following day and tackle them first.