Winter’s here, Lockdown 2 started on Thursday 5 November 2020 in England, and those of us who can, are working from home as we work through the Covid-19 pandemic. Read my top ten tips on winter working from home.
Let’s face it sequels are often a poor follow up of the premier. The first lockdown was hard, but it was in spring, we had some great weather, being outside was nice and some people thought we’d get through the worst and coming out the other side of the pandemic by now. But instead, it’s a bit cold and wet, and we’re now into a second lockdown after a difficult autumn. There’s no doubt it’s tougher than we imagined.
I’ve worked from home for ten years, progressing from the kitchen table, to the dining table, and now I’m lucky enough to have some office space in the corner of our kitchen dining room. When the kids are not here, it’s very peaceful. Whilst all of us were home in Lockdown 1, it was more difficult to focus, but we found our way through it as you do.
Here are my top tips from ten years working from home
In the last ten years I have learned what I need to keep working and positive through some really tough times. Here are my quick tips:
1. Give your working day a start and a finish
During this year, many people have talked about creating a commute or other rituals to let your brain know it’s work time and not home time. I found this really hard when working from the kitchen table. But with dedicated workspace, and the school run and dog walk which became my commute equivalent, I have found it easier to keep work separate from home. The principle continues now in Lockdown 2. It was much harder when the kids were home too, so I had to initiate my school holiday routine then which meant getting up super early, get working, then give the kids time, and return to work again later in the day. Find a way to work for you, but create boundaries.
2. Maintain your motivation
Some of us find it harder to work through the winter and the darker days can be draining, so having a set plan of your day can help keep you on target. Start with your top three or five things to achieve to help you keep on track. Take note of your own productivity and energy levels, and what distracts you. Being aware first and foremost of your own behaviours will help you manage them better. Work to your own flow and get the toughest actions done first or when you’re energy is at it’s peak and build in down time to rest and potter.
3. Be kind to yourself
2020 has been pretty horrible. Take time out when you can, build it into your day and don’t beat yourself up for minor misdemeanours in your work – we’re all human. Find things you like to do, and allow yourself some time to indulge in it.
4. Dial down distractions
It’s been a very noisy time lately, in the news especially for obvious reasons. I’ve found my best strategy to stop my days at home being overrun with 24 hour news cycles is to check in for 15 minutes in the morning, then turn it off until the end of the day. Of course if you have a news item you’re following for work that’s different, but try to stop yourself getting drawn in to endless updates. I’ve also found a better way to manage my news it to go for long form commentary on a topic rather than the cycle, that way I feel I’m getting good knowledge without the overwhelming process of the cycle. I read ‘Stop reading the news, by Rolf Dobelli in January, I heartily recommend it. Turn off notifications or put your phone out of the way when you need to focus on deep work. Manage your calendar so others can’t ambush your time with meetings.
5. Make your workspace work for you
Get a wired connection for the internet if you haven’t already. Lighting is more important now in winter, so if you can, position your desk near a window so you get as much natural light as possible through the winter days. Invest in good desk lighting for those dark afternoons. I’ve yet to invest in some good light for video calls, but there are plenty to choose from. If you don’t have a good chair for work, get yourself one. In my early days working from home I made do with the chairs in the house and paid the price with back pain and subsequent chiropractor appointments.
6. Build in time in the day to get outside
Don’t wait until you finish work to get outside as it’s likely to be dark then. Book it in your diary over lunch or at least before 4pm, then you can come back refreshed to finish your work. It’s much harder as the days are shorter and darker, but it’s proven that getting outside helps us clear our minds, get focussed and feel better. Getting outside gives us the natural light and a bit of vitamin D, helps us sleep better, forces us to disconnect from devices, feel more grounded and connected to nature, and allows us important time to recharge and let your mind wander (many of my best ideas come to me when I’m walking). I always feel better after a walk.
7. Eat well
One of my favourite things about lockdown life has been the ability for us all to be together for mealtimes. Home-cooked meals and of course a few take out treats, have become a bit of a ritual. I’ve always liked cooking and baking so it’s not so new for me, but through the winter it’s so nice to be able to have a hot lunch and a hearty meal cooking for dinner. Because you’re home you can spend a bit more time eating well.
8. Dress for the weather
Get a waterproof coat to help you get outside even if it’s raining. When you’re working at home at a desk it can get a little chilly, certainly in my old house. Layers are your secret weapon, wear thermals under your work clothes to keep comfy, and my favourite thing is adding an extra pair of warm socks to keep my feet warm. No one will see your feet and you’ll be toasty warm.
9. Finding new creative activities and fun in the winter
I’ve always loved making things, so everything from baking, drawing and knitting are my favourite ways to relax when stuck at home. My husband loves board games, so as a family we’ll play some games like Pandemic (topical), Flamme Rouge (so we can pretend we’re racing in Le Tour de France) or Codenames. Indulge in your favourite shows and laugh. My current favourite is Taskmaster for a laugh and I love curling up on the sofa with my daughter to watch His Dark Materials. Find your thing to enjoy and indulge in it.
Last but definitely one of the most important for me is the value of connections. Over the years working for myself I’ve created and joined a few different groups, in person and online. Now everyone’s in online communities and it’s brilliant. Choose your group well and you’ll have a great group of people who’ll raise you up and help you when you need it. Those connections along with good friends and family will help keep you connected during the weeks and months ahead and essential to keep you a social as you can be during this time. I’ve also started meeting with work colleagues who live in my area to walk and talk. It’s a simple solution, but something I really enjoy. So if there isn’t a group for you, build one.
Embrace the winter lockdown. Accept that you can’t change it. Learn new things to enjoy in it. Stay safe, warm and well.
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Featured image credit: My photo of my little dog