Making It Work: 6 Tips for Working and Studying from Home During the New Normal
As someone who has been working from home for the last ten or so years, I’ve become somewhat of an expert at working from home. If you’ve never worked from home before, you might be one of the hundreds of people who have come to me and said, “you must have the best job in the world! You get to work from home!”
There’s nothing different about what someone does in an office and what I do at my desk from home. The only real differences are the lack of a commute to an office, no nearby coworkers, no one accidentally eating my lunch, and I can turn up my music as loud as I want with no one to stop me.
Though this has worked out well for me, working from home is a new and likely frustrating reality for many Americans forced to work from home because of the virus. Working from home is definitely not as easy as it may seem. And if you think working from home is bad, imagine being in school and being stuck at home to learn on a computer screen and you have the attention span of a goldfish.
Concentration is key when working from home and if you’re easily distracted by the TV, your phone, dishes, laundry, kids, noisy neighbors, pets, and everything else you don’t have to deal with while working at the office.
With a few tips, working and studying from home can be a lot easier, but you’ll still need to put in a lot of effort to stay focused. As no one is really sure when the new normal will come to an end and many businesses are thinking working from home might be better for business, it might help to do your best staying focused now.
Tip #1: Can You Even Do This?
First thing’s first: could you work or study from home without distraction if you suddenly had the opportunity? If you answered no, being honest is a great first step. If you answered yes, you’ll probably only last a few days before you slowly start to go insane.
Jokes aside, knowing your limitations in terms of being isolated from other people is important. Some people, surprisingly, work best when other people are around because they can feed off the social energy in the room. I’m one of those people. Then there are people who prefer their solitude and can maximize their focus when there is no one around. I’m also one of those people… sometimes. Some days you may want people around, some days you might want people to stay away.
Figure out what type of work style you have so you can figure out how to create a space that works for you. Adding a little bit of noise or making sure to get a little social interaction during the work day might be all that you need.
Once you know what you need, you can determine if working from home is the right situation for you if it’s an option, or to better create a space for your situation if there is no other option.
Tip #2: Create a Space
Having a space where you can focus and work is important. Create the workspace that has just enough comfort but not too many distractions. This may be more difficult if you have little ones running around the house and you’re constantly checking in on them.
If you’re lucky enough to have a home office, you’re ahead of the game. If not, creating one is not a huge task. Clear off a table or working space where you can place your technology like a laptop and your phone; plenty of plugs so you can charge things if needed; an area with good wifi if you’re not hardwired; great lighting so you don’t strain your eyes while looking at the screen; enough space for papers or notebooks if you need to write things down; and especially a comfortable chair.
In terms of comforts, if you’re easily distracted by music or the TV, make sure they aren’t on while you’re working. If you tend to answer your phone or look at it frequently for things other than work, consider leaving it in another room and only check on it when you take breaks.
Some people work better with a little bit of white noise in the background. Me, for example, I need to have a little noise so I’ll turn on the TV but will keep my back to it so I’m not distracted by what’s going on. The volume is just up loud enough to make noise. If you’re a music person, programs like Spotify or Pandora have special channels with music made for focusing or relaxation. You can also find channels on YouTube that offer relaxing music with no vocals and some with binaural beats, a type of sound which claims to have properties to help with memory, relaxation, and focus.
Tip #3: Set a Schedule
If you don’t work all day at the office, why would you work all day at home? If you’re going to set a schedule, train yourself to stick to it. In my personal experience, if you don’t set time boundaries for yourself, work that should be easy and simple will become harder.
If you’re working or studying from home, remember a few key points:
- Start at a normal work time and end the day at a normal time.
- Schedule a lunch and short breaks to rest your eyes from screens, books, and your assignments.
- Give yourself a little bit of flexibility if you have kids at home or you’re taking care of someone.
- Do as much as you can during your regular hours and don’t work overtime unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Make time to be human.
The last point about making time to be human is not a joke. For years, I would work long hours and pretty much put my social life on hold. I was addicted to my worklife and I was slowly becoming more and more miserable. The same will happen to you if you don’t remember to stop working at a reasonable time and do something fun. It’s alright to have some brain candy during the day and especially when work is done. The hard part is learning to keep those distractions at bay so you aren’t trying to make up the time at the last minute.
Tip #4: Never Work in Your Pajamas
Hilariously, the sales for pants fell during the pandemic simply because people stopped wearing them while working from home. Though it may be one of those situations where you think “why bother,” dressing lazy while you’re working from home will more than likely make you be lazy too.
I discovered this early on while working from home. I literally would get up out of bed, grab my coffee, read the news online, and then start working. Sometimes I would change out of my pajamas, sometimes I wouldn’t. The only time I would ever change was when I had to leave the house to run errands or if I was going to have a Skype call with someone. In that case, I would make myself look presentable from the top up.
While it all sounds like a big joke, something slightly under “business casual” would be good enough for working at home. Even if you just wore a pair of blue jeans or even a pair of cargo shorts, the point is to wear something when you start work you would be fine wearing out of the house if you suddenly had to get up and leave. And for some of you who are fine being seen in your underwear, please keep working at the office.
I’m not suggesting that everyone wear a full suit and tie or business wear when they’re at home. You should definitely be comfortable since you’re working from home, but you shouldn’t be too comfortable that you don’t feel like working.
Tip #5 Avoid Procrast- Hey! My Show is On!
Try as I might, I still suffer from procrastination. Some people are better at avoiding it than others. While I’ve gotten better at not procrastinating so much over the last few years, there are some weeks that are worse than others.
For the uninitiated, procrastination is the act of putting off a task and finding reasons why not to do it right away. Most times it’s done out of pure laziness (guilty) and sometimes it happens out of poor time management.
Probably one of the most effective ways to stop procrastinating is to write things down on a list. I would shy away from using your phone as a to do list simply for the fact that you could become tempted to check other things on your phone. Instead, I would opt for the old fashioned way of making a list: pencil and paper.
The night before, take a few minutes to jot down all of the things you need to get done the next day. This gives you something to refer to the next morning when you’re trying to figure out what needs done. For people with anxiety, spending time to write things down for the next day will help you sleep better. If you’re prone to waking up in the middle of the night thinking about something you need to do or forgot to do, writing it down before you sleep should give you a bit more peace because you will wake up and see it on your list.
Procrastination and distraction go hand in hand. Make sure you’re keeping all of your temptations at bay so you can focus on what you need to get done
Tip #6 Know When to Call it a Day
Because you’re home and not out and about, it might be tempting to work late if you have nothing better to do. But the fact of the matter is, you do have something more important to do and that is decompress. In the first few weeks of working or studying from home, things might seem easy. You’ll get yourself into a routine that’s comfortable, you’ll make strides with work, you’ll make time to get everything done.
But you may be tempted to start working for a little longer so you can be more productive. This is the trap many people who aren’t used to working from home fall into. Eventually a few minutes, turns into an hour, and that hour turns into hours.
If your schedule says you’re done at 5:30pm, you’re done at 5:30pm. Don’t make it a habit to work until 6:30 or 7:30. It’s normal for a college student to pull all-nighters when there are midterms and exams. But doing that too much and eventually your body will start to let you know it is not happy. Stick to your schedule and discipline yourself to follow it as best as you can.
Have you been working from home during this new normal? Do you have tips on how to stay focused while working from home? Join the conversation by leaving a comment and share your tips!