I’ve been working from home as a freelance content creator, writer and editor for the past 6 years.
With three kids in primary school and an elderly at home, working from home is like wearing many hats — at the same time. There are days where I’m frazzled and grouchy, and less than efficient. Then there are days where things run smoothly and kids are cooperative — this up and down pattern is to be expected.
Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you find them handy if you’re also working remotely during this period:
1) Give yourself time to adjust and find your bearings
When you first start working from home, it may feel like loads of freedom. It’s true that you enjoy some pros: You can work in your PJs, go without makeup, and in some cases work at your own pace and time.
However it is also a constant juggling act. I may start work at 9, but take a break at 11.30 to get groceries or prepare lunch for the kids.
Once the kids get home around 2pm, it’s a frenzy of feeding them and ensuring that school work gets completed.
When I’m settled in at my desk again, it might be 3-ish. Then I usually start preparing dinner at 430/5pm. So it’s another 2-hour duration of actual work.
It will take time to adjust to this stop-start lifestyle, so don’t beat yourself up if you seem unable to get much done in the early days.
2) Work with your own rhythm, not against it
Everyone has their own natural rhythm. Some get into their zone at night when the house is quiet. Others are morning people and do their best thinking and work at dawn.
It is best to use your natural rhythms to your own advantage. And while there are some timings that are not within direct control, such as team meetings, working from home does offer a bit more control over when you choose to tackle what tasks.
For me personally, I try to eat my frogs in the morning. Once I get my hardest thing done and over with, it makes the rest of the day a lil breezier.
3) Get your kids’ buy-in
If you have school-going kids, it is helpful to let them know about your new work situation. If they understand that you are home physically but need to work during certain periods in the afternoon, it is likelier that they will cooperate and give you room to do it.
For me, the kids are quite used to the fact that I work at home. But it doesn’t mean they always give me the quiet space and time I need. On some days, they are playful and rowdy and just being kids, so I’d just pick up my laptop and shift myself physically from the living area to my bedroom.
When I need to do a work call, I will preempt them by letting them know I am not available between this time to this time. It usually goes without a hitch…but if they do barge in, I try not to make a big about it. I just remind them that I’m on a work call and I’ll attend to them after.
4) Expect disruptions
Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something important, the kids get into a tiff and it can be mighty irritating. Or my littlest will come and ask me to cut him some fruits for a snack.
I’ll usually tell him “10 minutes” then I’ll try to finish my train of thought or hurriedly jot something down so I don’t forget it.
The truth is–it is hard for their young minds to understand that while mum is physically home she is mentally taken up by work. So we have to accept that kid-related disruptions and interruptions are normal.
Understanding this will help us to be more accepting and calm when they do pop up. And after answering their needs, I occasionally find I receive more time in return to focus on work after.
5) Communicate regularly with your team
Now that you’re working from home, it also means you need to make an effort to communicate with your team members about what you’re up to, and the status of various projects you’re handling.
Be proactive wherever you can. Early in the week, update your boss and your team about what’s on your plate, and what your priorities are. This also allows you the opportunity to raise issues or ask for help (if needed) early, rather than struggle with a problem quietly on your own.
6) Set a break time
The whole idea about me working from home is not just to provide for the kids physically, in terms of food and safety, but also emotionally. So I have to intentionally set aside playtime with them.
I aim for 2 afternoons where I will get active and bring them for a game of badminton or just a romp at the playground. It could be just an hour or so, but the benefits we reap to our relationship and mental health are aplenty.
7) Minimise distractions
WhatsApp messages and other notifications often distracts me from work. So I keep my phone on silent and leave it a distance away from my work area so I don’t peek at it so often.
I have a friend who swears by a work playlist on Spotify so you can try exploring that too. Recently I’ve found that putting on instrumental music (in particular violin pieces) gets my creative juices flowing.
8) Keep healthy boundaries
It can be hard to draw the line and say “Ok work ends at 9pm.” Very often I think about my work even when I’m tackling the dishes or doing the laundry.
This can be a bit unhealthy, especially if you’re not getting sufficient sleep. (In the past I would work till close to midnight and find that my brain cannot shut down until an hour later!)
So now, having understood my own body, I try not to work past 10pm; nor check my emails after that time. I will spend the hour or so after that to relax with a book or make a chamomile tea and chat with my spouse. If I have tight deadlines that week, I will channel the worries into a to-do list, which helps me focus on the important tasks the next morning.
Have you started working from home recently? What works or doesn’t work for you?