In our recent survey we learnt that more and more of us are working from home and so here are some suggestions on how to work well at home. Working from home isn't for everyone and it does require an extra level of self-discipline and motivation that can be a challenge at times, especially with family distractions, so here are some thoughts on how to work well from home.
There are definite benefits of working from home like being able to break off for some family time at the appropriate moment rather than the kids having to 'wait until Dad gets home'. But for me one of the challenges of working at home is delineating between work and home. Those of us that work at home do not 'go to work', we do not have a commute to and from work and so the line between being at work and being at home can be very fuzzy and that in itself has pros and cons.
Be Clear About When You Are At Work
Interruptions are real creativity and productivity killers so you need to put in place ways that your family know when you are at work and when you really should not be disturbed.
One relatively easy way to do this is to have a dedicated work room. That way when I am in the studio the family know that I am at work, but I prefer to leave the studio door open so I still have some contact with the family. That is good at that level but also makes it easy for the family to interupt me when they need me for something. I do close the door when I am recording and most of the time that works, although it did take some time for the kids to realise that quietly tapping on the door would somehow be OK and wouldn't spoil the recording. I do not use a laptop around the house, so I can carry on working when I am with the family. I think this sends out mixed messages and messes up the delineation that a dedicated room provides.
You Are At Home So You Aren't Working
Another challenge with interruptions is from outside the immediate family. Friends, and especially extended family are the worst for this. They seem to think that if you are at home, you aren't at work and so often come round and somehow think that because you are at home its OK to pop round for a chat! Both Sally, my wife, and I work from home and this one affects her more than me, but people still consider I am being rude if I don't put in an appearance at some point. So that message needs to be made clear politely but firmly to friends and extended family, and trust me you will need to do this more than once!
Turn Off All Electronic Notifications
This is another real creativity and productivity killer. One of the challenges of all the 'instant' electronic communications media we have surrounded ourselves with has seemed to translate into people wanting instant responses from instant communication and this is wrong on so many levels. People see that we are online, have read that email, seen that Facebook post and so expect us to reply immediately and we have lost that all important thinking time. So when you are busy turn everything off. Turn off your email, Browser, Facebook, the phone, everything. When I am in a job, for a client, whether they are with me or not, I turn off all electronic communication so I can give my client's work my full attention. I am also learning not to reply instantly to messages, emails, etc, but taking my time to consider the most appropriate response, often sleeping on it, and I would commend this strategy to everyone.
This is important wherever you work, but strangely at home I find this one very hard to do. It is generally accepted that we can focus well on a task for between 90 minutes and 2 hours, and then we need a 25 or 20 minute break to recharge and clear our heads so we can return refreshed for the next block. This presents two challenges for creatives. For me the challenge is, "I will just get that task down, then I will take a break. Bum I really need to reply to that email, then I will take a break and so on", and it is very easy to find yourself 3 or 4 hours down the road having still not taken a break.
The second challenge is the perception that creativity rarely fits into nice convenient blocks and so if you are on a roll you don't want to stop in case you loose the flow.
It is really hard to take those breaks even though it has been proven over and over that we are more productive and more creative by taking those breaks rather than pushing on through.
Keep A Tidy Ship -Everything Should Have It's Place
As anyone who has seen or listened to Podcast 231, I am having a major tidy up of my studio at the moment. Even though I have plenty of storage, there was still stuff covering virtually every horizontal surface because all the cupboards and drawers were already full!
Over the weekend I decided enough was enough, I could no longer work in a tip. Added to this I am really good at getting something out and then leaving it there in case I need to come back to it. On my recent holiday I read the book James Ivey had recommended in Podcast 220 about tidying up and one of the key points in that book is that everything should have its place, and so it becomes much easier to put it back when you have finished with it. So I am working my way through all my cupboards and storage in the studio and frankly chucking out an awful lot of it. There were a load of old scsi drives, 4GB drives from way back when, old bare drives that I had removed from machines long since finished with. Gear that I have bought and no longer use or in some cases is still in the original packaging unused. So I have created an Ebay pile for anything that is worth selling, but most of the stuff was so old that it was way past its usefulness.
I am now rearranging all my drawers and cupboards, and have amalgamated all sorts of stuff that were spread across two or three places, I have binned a load of books that again are so far out of date, like books on Final Cut Pro 4, Adobe Go Live and so on. The upshot of all of this is I will now have enough space so everything will have its place, and all the horizontal surfaces will be clear.
Now I am not expecting it to stay perfectly tidy, but the plan is to have a tidy up session once a week, either last thing on Friday or maybe first thing on Monday, I haven't decided yet.
Routines Are Good
As well as taking breaks, routines can be really helpful. Again as creatives we can often think that structure and routine are creativity killers. But I am beginning to think they are not. Having structure and routine means that tasks now have their place just like my tidy up will mean that everything has its place, and that structure will provide clear space to be creative.
So one of the things I am doing now is having an evening routine where I review what I have achieved that day, and then planning what I need to do for the next day. I have used Apple Reminders to help me manage my to-do list, but like so many, my list seemed to get longer and longer and just end up making me feel guilty about all the things I haven't done. So now I have a much more thought through and focussed list which is more and more made up of the things that need to be done in the next week. I now use Calendar for more long term planning for booking in projects and larger tasks, allocating them plenty of time, and so they no longer clutter up my to-do list. Now last thing at night before I turn everything off, I look at my emails, my to-do list and update it and reprioritise ready fro the morning. I am finding this process is also enabling me to put my work 'to bed' and so I am sleeping better because I am not worrying about stuff. If I do think about something as I am going to sleep or even if I wake up at night, I quickly add a note to my list so I don't forget it and then go back to sleep rather than continuing to worry about it.
A morning routine is also very helpful and again one I am still working on. Because I am working at home, even getting dressed can be a distraction. So I am not trying to be much more firm with myself, and to get the morning routine back in the order it should be, which is get up, clean up, fuel up and only then get going.
I tend to get up, then rather than go into the studio and start straight away, I turn the gear on on my way down from the bedroom but I then carry on downstairs to the kitchen, make myself a drink and then go and sit in the conservatory and look at the garden, watch the wildlife going about their routine, look at the sky and enjoy the different cloud formations whizzing past and do a Codeword puzzle. Then I would start work. and break for breakfast later, or not see the section on breaks! and then maybe get dressed at some point later on. Now I am looking at getting the clean up and fuel up bits doone in their correct place before I hit the studio.
When I do arrive in the studio another thing I am trying to do is not start with emails etc but to complete at least one of things that I put on my To Do list the night before.
Ergonomics Are Important
I revealed in Podcast 230 that I suffered a major back problem over 20 years ago that required keyhole surgery to resolve and this has made me hot on workplace ergonomics especially when it comes to desk height, chair height and choice of chair. The chair is very important, we are often sat in it for hours, especially when we don't take breaks!, and so this is something not to be skimped on. I have tried many chairs, and most did not last too long. Eventually I remembered that a friend had told me about TCI Seating here in the UK, who can make chairs to order to suit each person, so I sent off all my measurements and then had a discussion with an adviser and we agreed on a variant of the Orthopaedia 9 and a couple of weeks later back came a chair made to suit me. But getting a good chair is not the end of the story, desk height is also important. I am planning a more detailed article on all of this so look out for more on this in the coming months.
So there you have it, it is still a work in progress for me, as someone who has worked from home for 25 years but I am getting there. Do share your thoughts, pain points and suggestions in the comments section below.