Have you suddenly found yourself having to meet deadlines, make it to meetings and stay concentrated in the confines of your home? You may be juggling kids, housemates or a lack of space. We asked an expert how to make it work for you.
As the pandemic has closed down businesses and many communal workspaces over the past month, a lot of people have been discussing “the new normal” that is working from home.
While working from home plays an important part in maintaining social distancing, which in turn helps to flatten the infection rate curve, for many it’s also a disruptive change that takes a bit of getting used to.
We invited psychologist and career expert Suzie Plush to share her advice on how to make the switch to working from home, work for you. Here’s what she told us:
Psychologist and career expert, Suzie Plush
Establish a positive routine
Suzie’s first and most important piece of advice is to create a routine. It should incorporate good habits that help you work productively – like the ones you’ve always relied upon, combined with some custom habits for this new situation.
“It's so easy just to get up and start working in your PJs or your trackpants and do whatever hours suit you.”
“But to be productive and feel like you've got a sense of focus, it's important to have a positive routine, starting with getting dressed for the day.”
Suzie says dressing in comfy clothes is fine, but warns against sleepwear or anything you might be embarrassed being seen in by your neighbours. Clothing affects your mindset; if you feel sleepy or sloppy, chances are you’ll work that way.
Wearing the same clothes day to night also blurs your working hours with your down time, preventing your brain from recognising when it can fully switch off and recharge. So be sure to include some costume changes in your routine to help flip that mental switch.
It’s widely believed that how you start your day, will shape your day, so make sure you’re fuelling your mind and body with good energy too.
Suzie says to make sure you have a nutritious breakfast – whatever you need to kickstart your day, feeling healthy and alert. This could also include getting your blood flowing with a morning walk, some yoga, or clearing your mind with a short meditation.
“Do whatever is going to make you feel like your regular ‘work self’ to help put you in a better frame of mind and set yourself up for a win.”
Set up your workspace
Having a space where you can focus without too many distractions is important for getting through your tasks. In a perfect world you’ll have access to a workspace that’s separate from the bustle of the rest of the house, such as a study or spare bedroom. If not, don’t worry, because there are lots of ways to make a limited space work for you.
“Sometimes it’s not possible to have a separate workspace, so the alternative may be to negotiate with the people you live with. Identify and agree on times when you’d love some space and quiet time for work.”
“Aim for a scenario that provides you with the most privacy possible to minimise distractions. You can then plan when to tackle tasks that require the most focus versus those you can do on autopilot.”
“No matter what space you end up with, you can make the most of what you have by ensuring your workspace is clean and organised,” Suzie says.
“If you've got lots of clutter or mess around, it really impacts your ability to focus. Have some filing systems or some drawers in place where you can put all your work materials.”
You can also download apps such as Trello, Asana and Todoist to help you organise and manage projects.
Set goals for the day
Suzie’s advice is to set yourself goals and priorities every day. Breaking a large project into smaller chunks and giving yourself targets to achieve every day will help you to stay on track.
Suzie adds that while during these challenging and unprecedented times you should be clear about what you want to achieve, you should also manage your own expectations and those of your colleagues..
“In this current climate it's all about managing pressure. Mostly the pressure you put on yourself. If you are unable to work as effectively as before, that's OK.”
Communicate openly with the people you live with
Another point Suzie makes is the importance of being open about your working arrangements with those you live with. This will help you avoid arguments and hurt feelings over your need for quiet time.
“People are not mind readers, so tell them what you’re thinking and feeling: ‘Look, I've got this important project due today’ or ‘I really need to get a couple of hours of quiet time this morning’.”
They can help by simply keeping music and televisions turned down during that time, or taking the kids out for a walk. Giving your family or housemates a friendly warning in advance will improve how you cooperate and avoid unnecessary conflict.
Take regular breaks
No matter how dedicated or conscientious you are, the human brain can only focus for relatively short periods of time, Suzie says. So remember to take breaks during your working day – set an alarm if you have to.
“If you're working for hours at a time with no breaks, your ability to think clearly and focus will decrease, along with your productivity.”
“Set yourself an alarm after 45 minutes to get up and stretch your legs, have a snack, have a drink of water… then go back to what you were working on feeling a bit fresher.”
Whatever you do, Suzie says, remember that although these exceptional circumstances may be difficult at times, they are also temporary.
“Give yourself a bit of grace and do the best you can.”
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