Working from home?
If you’re trying to write, or if you’re running a business from home, odds are high that you know the competing pressures you face when are trying to find that balance between working from home — when you need periods of serious dedication to your craft — combined with managing a normal family life.
It can be difficult to get inspired in the same setting we use for laundry, cooking and Saturday sports’ gatherings.
And if we live in a city with shrinking real estate, the space around is is often small, and cramped.
It’s not exactly the ‘writer’s life’ of our imagination. And while travel sounds glamorous, it can simply mean being locked up with your laptop in a tiny hotel room.
Of course your friends don’t see it like that:
You’re a writer? You must love what you do!
Well, yes, most of us are head over heels for our careers. But we would happily abandon our love-hate, co-dependent relationships with our studio apartments.
So, how can you stay inspired in the toughest of situations? With the pressure of that internally (or sometimes externally) imposed deadline?
The key to staying inspired is to trick our brains. And a trickery that gets easier if we build healthy work from home productivity habits. Here are five of our top tips.
1. Plan to plan
Part of a successful (and productive!) working from home habit is to create a structured plan for your day.
While this advice is littered through all the productivity and self-help books, most people don’t actually factor the time used for planning into their day.
It can feel like a distraction, to spend time planning. It isn’t ‘real’ work and it can even bring a little unease as it diverts you from writing. But that hour spent planning your week can have a positive effect and eliminate any anxiety that might come later, when you’re at risk from stress and overwhelm.
Map out your top priorities for the week, and then for the day. It doesn’t need to take long at all — and then you can have a five minute check-in at the end of the day and again the next morning.
2. Listen to your body rhythms
We all have circadian rhythms; that cycle that keeps us on a 24 hour rotation.
These rhythms are influenced by the environment around us, as well as our genetics, and they help determine when we wake, sleep, and how our mood and energy fluctuates during the day.
In short, our bodies have their own way of telling time.
And we know this. You’ll have times of the day when you feel feel more alert — and can have peaks of productivity and creativity. The problem comes when we let our brain take charge and try to over-ride that natural rhythm.
Start to listen to your body more. Take a diary and make notes of when you are sleep best, when you wake up naturally, and when you are most productive.
You’ll find a natural pattern, and you’ll also find that environment plays a role — family or roommates, noise and light.
By identifying the peak time for your sleep, your rising, and your productivity, you’ll naturally reduce anxiety and maximise your potential. Sleep is crucial here. And if you’re sleep deprived you’ll experience a significant drop in your cognitive function — as much as if you had consumed a couple of drinks.
3. Get organised; have boundaries
You know this but are you doing it?
It’s crucial to keep work separate from home life. Organise your work day, and organise your bills, grocery list and domestic to-do list separately. And — most important of all — keep the domestic tasks out of sight during work hours. Create a boundary, just like you would if you went out to an office.
Few things kill inspiration faster than a rush of anxiety, and you’re bound to feel anxious as soon as you see the stack of household papers or kitchen chores you didn’t quite finish off.
While it’s ideal to have a designated office space, it’s a myth that it works for everyone — and it isn’t always practical.
What you can — and should — do though, is separate your environment when it’s time to disconnect. If you work at your kitchen table, then keep your work materials in a box or a file that can go in a cupboard or behind a curtain later in the day.
It’s easy enough to do (although also easy enough to avoid!) and it gives that mental separation that will leave you feeling calmer and able to re-energise during your ‘off’ hours.
4. Be prepared to be unpopular
You work from home so you must be always available for friends and family, right? Wrong.
You have to be ready to say no. Be clear that you aren’t available during certain times, and discourage your friends from just ‘popping by’.
Know with certainty that you have every right to establish boundaries for your work environment.
Offer an alternative — let’s have dinner? It will make you feel lighter and gives you that energetic space to focus on your work.
And, if you have family around, or you live in a place where you get unsolicited callers, don’t be afraid to place a ‘Do Not Disturb‘ sign on your door!
5. Change your environment
If you’re living with the expectation that you should have a dedicated workspace in your home environment, then know that this is a myth. There’s just no evidence for it.
In fact, shifting your environment — combined with some element of familiarity — can be the best recipe for sparking your creativity.
It can be inspiring to have a change of scene. Keep some familiarity by having a bag of whatever you need close by. Laptop, notebook — your writer’s toolkit. But change around the environment — go to the park, the coffee shop, work in a different room. It’s good for your creativity.
Working from home can hinder your productivity but, with a few simple tweaks, you can set up your day to get more done, and be more creative at the same time.