Time management is one of the biggest challenges for people who are working from home – particularly at the early stages. In a recent Work at Home Twitter poll, 53 per cent of respondents indicated that this was the biggest challenge for them.
Of course, in this COVID-19 emergency, many people are also trying the manage childcare and working from home which adds an additional layer of complexity to the situation. In normal circumstances childcare and working at home should not be combined. Work at home is not a substitute for childcare. But that’s how it is at the moment, so I guess people are using their ingenuity to manage in the best way possible.
In any case, here is some advice which may help.
The Place of Work:
If possible, establish a quiet and permanent workstation. It is very hard to focus if people are continuously coming and going in your work area and your train of thought is frequently interrupted. This is very frustrating and even simple task can stretch out ad infinitum.
Communicate with your Manager/Team Leader:
It is very important that clear lines of communication with management and colleagues are established and maintained – tweaking as you go along – by agreement – if necessary.
Agree core hours at which you will be available and be available during those hours. If flexibility around those hours is required from time to time, ask your manager for this flexibility. This will help everyone to work productively.
If you are experiencing problems – be they in accessing necessary files/data, not having suitable equipment to work productively, or in combining work and personal life, let your manager know. When a problem is known, it can be solved, When a problem is not known it will simmer in the background and cause problems. Don’t forget, your manager does not see you at work when you are working at home and can’t pick up the information which flows in the office from informal chats or body language. Your manager may well not be aware of problems unless they are specifically flagged.
If possible, shut your office door and display a “Do Not Disturb” sign. (Some people have come up with some very inventive wordings for such signs!) A map showing directions to the fridge/microwave may also come in useful!
It can be difficult to focus on your work if all the many other things you have to do – getting the kitchen tidied up, doing the laundry, feeding the pets – keep popping into your mind. Ideally, try to get these things done before you start to work so that they will not impinge on your concentration. Obviously, this is not always possible. And when it isn’t, it isn’t. Try to put them out of your mind until you have time to do them. The world won’t implode because of a few unwashed dishes.
Allocate Household Tasks:
Better still, if possible, get someone else in the household to take care of these duties. This might be done on a rota basis. The fact is that if you are working you are working. Working and doing the laundry do not combine.
Get Your Mind Set Right:
Before you start your work, try to clear your mind so that you will be able to focus and work efficiently. Some simple exercises, e.g. simple breathing exercises may help and they need only take a few minutes.
You could also try out some Mindfulness techniques to get yourself really present in the here and now. Here’s a sample – a bit long possibly for the normal working day, but there are loads of options out there.
Make a To Do List and Prioritise:
Just a reminder, the environment in which you work can have a significant impact on your productivity. See Advice on the Home Office here.
Write down what you need to achieve in the current week. (Of course you could, as an alternative use an app – see some options here.). A wall planner or whiteboard can also be useful for listing tasks and allocating time slots. Review and prioritise.
The Eisenhower Matrix, also referred to as “Urgent-Important Matrix” may help you to prioritise tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all. Here’s a video which demonstrates the model. And Yes – it is named after Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States.
Split your working into manageable chunks which you will
deal with in order of priority. When you
have a job done, put a good firm line through it or tick it off. This will reinforce in your own mind that
you achieved something significant and
that you are making progress.
By the way, it’s a good idea to allow some extra unallocated time in each day so that you can accommodate those unexpected duties which almost invariably arise.
Turn Off Notifications:
You need to focus and not be distracted by random messages on your Apps or frequent emails. Turn off unnecessary Notifications and make a habit of checking messages and emails on a regular basis e.g. every hour/every two hours and do not check them in between.
Also, do not check work messages after you have finished work e.g. before going to bed. These will get your brain running in a way that you don’t want it to, prevent you from relaxing properly and getting a good night’s sleep.
Take Frequent Breaks – and Stretch!
If you are working in a quiet home office, it is very easy to become absorbed in your work and not notice time flying by. As a result you end up tired, hungry – and possibly even irritable.
Five-minute breaks every hour seem to work to help you keep your focus and energy levels up. Keep well hydrated and take a decent lunch break. You’re entitled to that and there are many good reasons it is factored into the working day.
Get Fresh Air and Exercise:
Try some simple stretches and if possible, try to get a couple of breaths of fresh air during those breaks. Try to take a short walk at lunch time, before work or later in the day. This will refresh you and help you to relax … and remain aware that there is still a world out there!
Don’t Beat Yourself Up!
All of the above is all very well – thought perhaps it is a model of the ideal. And the “ideal” doesn’t always apply in our real work at home world!
There will be good days and bad days! Don’t beat yourself up — if you are having a bad/unproductive day step back, take a shower or a walk, or do whatever it takes to refresh you and start again.
Take Time Off:
Oh, and don’t forget to take time off. You are entitled to your holiday days so make sure to use them.
All comments/suggestions welcome!