15th April 2020
Author: Dr Jo Edwards, Director, Lucidity Solutions Ltd
Back in January, I wrote a guide to being productive. Top tips included not working nine-to-five, having things going on in the background, and procrastination. What with all the changes in the last few weeks, January now seems like a lifetime ago. So, having worked from home for the past 5 and a bit years, I thought it might be useful to revisit these tips to help you cope with WFH without thinking WHAT?!
Flex it out
The first and most important thing to know about working from home is that time becomes meaningless. For some people – like me – it’s a wonderful perk not to have to struggle with a commute and a set time to start or finish. My dislike – and sometimes actual pain – at getting out of bed means that the more relaxed I can be in the mornings, the better my whole day is. And if I can get off to a good start, then good work flows from that. However, I know other people who definitely aren’t the same, and this lack of defined start and finish can be a real challenge.
So, before you start thinking about anything else, figure out which type of WFH-worker you want to be. If you’re more comfortable being flexible with your time, starting and finishing according to your workload rather than the clock, then talk it over with your employer and see what you can put in place. If you need a stricter schedule, then set yourself a fixed start and end time – and stick to them.
There are caveats, of course. If you’re embracing flexi-WFH, you’ll need to be flexible yourself when it comes to meetings and deadlines. If you’ve set yourself a timetable, be mindful of how other things might have an impact – other members of your household, for example, or simply feeling a bit up and down because of all the current uncertainty. I can definitely vouch for the benefits of taking each day as it comes.
Over the years – and over the past few weeks – I’ve read a lot about how important it is to create a workplace at home that’s free from distractions. Not only do you need a designated workspace, you also need to ignore all the household chores, social media and the TV. I can safely say that my WFH style is quite far away from this ‘ideal’.
I am lucky enough to have a spare room in the house, which is my designated office, but this has only happened in the last couple of years. I also don’t use it all the time, instead working at the kitchen counter, or on the sofa. I often take a break to do the washing or pop to the shops. And I always have something on in the background. Usually, that’s the radio or the TV (the ER box set has been a lifesaver!). In the last couple of weeks, it’s the noise from the other people in the house – my partner and daughter, neither of whom are used to being cooped up.
And I can’t think of many people – especially those who live with others, be they parents, partners, kids or housemates – who could thrive in such a sterile environment. So put the radio on, embrace the odd appearance from an interloper on a video-conferencing call and let distraction be your friend. It might be the only thing that gets us all through this.
We’re going to need a bigger boat
On day four of lockdown, I snuggled on the sofa and watched my favourite movie of all time, Jaws. It’s given me a lifetime phobia of sharks and open water, but it’s such a great movie that I watch it at least once a year. I love the writing, the acting and – yes – even the special effects. Lockdown day five saw me being really productive, crossing things off my list, volunteering for tasks and even having time to watch a webinar on coronavirus and small businesses. What’s the connection? Well, I really believe in the power of procrastination.
If your work involves any element of research, evaluation or writing, then you’ll understand the necessity of thinking time. There are two major downsides to this. First, if you’re spotted sitting and thinking, people tend to assume you’re not doing anything. The online movement trackers some freelance sites use definitely don’t appreciate it. And second, you can’t necessarily allocate specific time to thinking about a particular thing. I find that my best thinking happens at random – when I’m out for a walk, when I’m trying to get to sleep, or when I’m watching a movie. I’ve learnt that the best thing for me to do is to allow myself to procrastinate. If I don’t have an immediate deadline, then I won’t force myself to think about anything in particular. Because procrastination takes my mind away from the immediate problem, it means that, when I do get round to it, I can be much more creative about the approaches I take and get the work down much quicker.
A new thing that we’re all thinking about now is video conferencing. For many of us, this has been a regular activity for some time, communicating with clients around the country and the world. For those new to the party – or new to doing it at home – there’s definitely some tips that might help you prepare.
When I set up originally as a small business, I worked mainly as an associate with another strategist based in London. We talked most days of the week on Skype. He had a background at the BBC and you could tell – he was always well presented and – usually – backlit. Whilst I’ve never really followed his approach to any great extent, I do always make sure I’m a) fully clothed and b) fully visible (although the light in my office can sometimes be quite dark!). These are the basics.
Once you’re presentable, get into the habit of turning your mic off if you’re not speaking, turning it back on when you want to say something, and keeping the fact that you’re on video firmly in your mind. I’m loving the different scenarios I’m seeing as people find different spaces to work in, but remember that other people can see them, too. If you’re not comfortable letting people into your private space, why not embrace a virtual background instead of turning your camera off. Part of the reason for video calling is to see each other’s faces! And most of all, don’t worry about interruptions. Anyone who’s ever been on a Zoom call with me has met Sooky, my wonderful black cat. Most have met my partner. And lately, they’ve also seen my daughter. Don’t get embarrassed, don’t hush them up and don’t apologise.
Whatever you do to make sense of the new normal, give yourself the space to lower your expectations. We’re all muddling through, sometimes happy to be at home, other times struggling with the enormity of it all. Expecting to get as much done as usual – for work or around the house – just isn’t realistic. Take time to find your own way through, either by using my tips or by finding out what works best for you.
And, if all else fails, at least you’ve not been caught on camera in your pants or your PJs. Yet. When you do, just remember that it’s ok to shout WHAT! Just mute your mic first!
Jo completed a joint honours degree in English and Philosophy at the University of Leeds in 1996 and a Master’s in Renaissance Literature at the University of Sussex, graduating in 1999. This led to a DPhil, also at the University of Sussex, exploring the representational techniques used by early modern French travellers and writers to describe and comment on the New World. Somehow, this took Jo into a ten-year career in higher education, with roles spanning strategy, policy and planning, and then to establishing her own ethical business consultancy, Lucidity Solution Ltd. In her spare time, Jo enjoys reading, sweary sewing and flinging axes.
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