Thursday, 9 April 2020

Managing your homeworking time

By Iain Smith

Daily homeworking is now a reality for most of us. We recognise that there is a mix of experiences when it comes to homeworking. Many may have carried out full-time or occasional homeworking before, but for the majority homeworking is new territory. Some of us enjoy homeworking and find it productive whereas others do not enjoy this way of working and find it demotivating or full of distractions. 

So here is our simple guidance and our top tips which will help you get the most from working in this way. Whatever your situation, we hope the information below will help you to stay focussed, productive and positive.

Tip #1 – Get the most important stuff done first

The focus of this one is: “set yourself up to succeed”.

As you are about to complete today’s work, ask yourself “if there are only one or two things that I manage to get done tomorrow, what should they be?”

Once you have chosen what they are, prepare whatever you need so you can be ready to get started the next day. Lay out your materials in advance, have you files ready and opened (on your table or desktop). 

When you start work in the morning, go straight to doing the first of these tasks. Avoid checking your emails first – this will just distract you. Switch off instant alerts if necessary and allocate a time when you will check your inbox later (maybe mid-morning or better still lunchtime). Totally focus your efforts on these tasks until they are complete. 

Avoid trying to multi-task. Starting a number of jobs at the same time means that the majority of them will not receive your undivided attention. Think of multitasking as dealing with more than one task during a day, not at the same time. That way you will focus on the project in hand and see it through to completion.

Tip #2 – Manage disruptions

We recognise that in the current situation, you may be working in a home environment where other people are around which can be distracting and tricky to manage – especially children! Where possible, try and find a workspace in your home that is free from interruptions, so you can focus fully. Let people know you wish to be left alone and tell them when you will be free. 

Science tells us that it takes around 15 minutes to reach a state of flow – “to get into the zone”. After each interruption, whether family, emails, calls or social media etc, it takes 15 minutes to recover. Once we have achieved a state of flow, it is important that we are able to stay there and perform until our next break (ideally 90 minutes, see Tip 3). 

To achieve do this we need to manage interruptions. The following tips will help with this:
  • Put an entry in your calendar so that work colleagues can see that you do not want to be disturbed.
  • Turn off outlook notifications so that they do not pop up on your screen.
  • Turn you phone to silent.
  • If necessary, tell others at home that you about to go into a “do not disturb mode” for 90 minutes.

Tip #3 – Take regular breaks

When working from home there can be a tendency to sit in front of your screen all day.  This is not a productive way to work and actually goes against the natural biological rhythm of our minds and bodies (known as the “ultradian rhythm”). It's important to take regular breaks and move around just as you would in an office. 

Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project discovered that the best way to work is for 90 minutes chunks and then stop for an energising break. An energising break is anything that makes you feel good. Go outside and enjoy the fresh air, do a bit of gardening, take a walk, have a chat ... that kind of thing. In particular, walks amongst greenery have been found to reenergise us and to also enhance creativity. 

Then go back to work. If you do this, you will find that you are really focussed and highly productive for your next 90 minutes.  In effect your will move between “performance” and “renewal.” If you do not, you will eventually slide into burnout. 

Another tip – before stopping for a break, write a quick note of the next couple of things that you need to do so that you are focussed and can quickly get back into it when you return. 

Tip #4 – Stay connected with friends and colleagues

It can feel isolating at times when working from home and you can easily go a whole day without speaking to anyone. Just because you are not in the office, that doesn’t mean that you should miss out on engaging and interacting with your colleagues in the same way that you may be used to in an office. In fact, it is very important that you don’t miss out. 

Use your calendar to plan a few “coffee catch ups’’ each day and go out of your way to reach out to a few people. 

Some teams find it useful to schedule a daily team catch up, just to share news and check in. Lots of teams who work remotely already do this in the form of team huddles at the start of the day, or at the end of the day where you can discuss what everyone’s been focussing on, and priorities and focus for the following day. 

Where you can, try and pick up the phone or use videoconferencing (such as Teams or Zoom) to and have a proper conversation rather than relying on email and instant messaging. Calling people and having a conversation can be much better for you than a chain of emails.

Tip #5 – Have a set time to end your working day

It really important when working from home that you are able to set some boundaries. The working day may look a little different at the moment as we all try to juggle outside responsibilities with getting the work done. However, you need to structure your day, you should ensure that there is a defined end point. 

If you have been following the other top tips so far, your productivity will have increased and so there is no reason why you need to work any longer than this. 

Once you have reached that point, spend a few minutes planning the next day and then stop ... and wind down.

Hopefully you found this blog useful. Contact the Remote Works team for more advice. 

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