Woman working from home at a desk
Published: 7 May 2020

What’s the best way to maximise productivity, look after your wellbeing and not spend all day in your pyjamas when working from home? We find out from some super-productive home-working veterans…

Working from home in a pandemic is unchartered territory – and, for many of us it’s not without its challenges. Balancing laptops on knees, facing down a chaotic house, dealing with bored children and vying for working time with our partners can leave us frazzled and unproductive rather than well-rested and fulfilled.

As testament to this, a recent survey by the Institute of Employment Studies showed that half of employees working from home during the lockdown are unhappy with their work-life balance, with 48 per cent putting in longer and more irregular hours. So, just how can we make homeworking work for us and our mental health? We ask some seasoned homeworkers for their advice.

1) Stick to a routine

While the shape of your day might look different to the office 9-5, it’s important to designate working hours and adhere to them so you can maximise the time you do have. ‘Routine is key,’ says registered nutritionist and home-working veteran Rob Hobson. ‘I always get my exercise done when I wake up, then tackle my social media first thing. I break at midday for lunch, and then, at 5pm, I shut everything down and I try not to reopen my laptop.’

2) Ring-fence your working time

When working from home, it’s easy to find yourself swamped by endless chores for the house and garden. But, says editor Rufus Purdy, managing director of writehereuk.com, you need to be strict about the fact that it’s YOUR working day and you have to protect it. As part of this, ‘Get into a routine that works for you and make sure you ring-fence your working time,’ says Rufus. ‘And definitely don’t get sucked into jobs like sorting out the household bills or folding the washing.’

3) Dress for the job

While the prospect of working in pyjamas might seem appealing, the reality is that not getting dressed can have a negative impact on our mental health. ‘Routine is important for maintaining our mental health and getting dressed is an important part of that routine,” says psychologist Charlotte Armitage. ‘The idea of staying in PJs all day has some negative connotations and we can start to feel lazy and demotivated, which in turn leads to a lack of productivity and low activity levels.’

4) Don’t feel guilty about taking a break

When you’re working from home, you feel under pressure to show that you’re working as hard as you possibly can, which can mean you take less breaks than you otherwise would in the office.

It’s important to be mindful of this; to take frequent breaks and not feel guilty, especially if you’re struggling with focus. After all, when you’re in the office you’re often chatting to colleagues, getting up to make a round of tea, popping out for a sandwich and so on.

‘Working from home can be intense,’ says Emma Emmerson, an illustrator and director of design company.There are days which feel amazing because you’ve got so much done. And there are days when you’re not so focussed. I’ve learnt that taking a break at moments like this is key. Don’t pressure yourself. Use that time to relax and recharge – and remember that it’s those moments that often lead to great ideas.’

5) Always make a to-do list

Veteran homeworkers agree that a tick list of tasks wards of distraction and helps with focus by giving you a measurable indication of how well you’re performing in a work-from-home environment. ‘I make my tick list the night before,’ says Emma Emmerson, ‘and I have one for my working day and a separate checklist for tasks I want to achieve in the home. I learnt early on that if I didn’t make a list I would quickly lose focus.’

6) Avoid distractions

When you’re at home, it’s easy to get distracted, so work out what drags you away from your desk and then take steps to address it. Tempted by the fridge? Then locate your office as far from the kitchen as possible. Constantly interrupted by friends and family on the phone? Then set boundaries by making sure that they know you won’t be picking up between 9 and 5. Constantly checking social media? Then take a leaf out of bestselling novelist Erin Kelly’s book and install blocking software.

‘I need unbroken stretches of time for writing, and for me social media is a terrible distraction. To outsmart the bit of my brain that wants to enter a procrastination trance I have Freedom, the internet blocker, on my phone, laptop and PC. This means I can lock myself out of Facebook for six hours when I need to and really focus on whatever I am working on.”

7) Make the most of home comforts

Finally, whether it’s playing your favourite music while you work, putting flowers on your desk or lighting a gorgeous scented candle, celebrate the fact that you aren’t in an office by amping up your creature comforts at home. “I think it’s important to make your working space calm and relaxing,” says interiors writer and stylist Lisa Dawson. “That’s why I always make a really good coffee every morning, then when I get to my desk I put on some good music and light a candle. I know it sounds slightly ridiculous, but lighting a candle helps me mark the start of the working day and gets me in the right mindset to work.”

If you’re finding yourself feeling more anxious and stressed at home, we have some advice on How To Cope With Coronavirus Triggered Anxiety.