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Manja Pfeiffer, Bosch Power Tools

Thinking of (or struggling to) work from home?

Posted on 4th August 2018

9-to-5-ers fall into two groups. First is the group that either enjoys or needs the routine of doing the same thing at the same time every day. The alarm, the fight for the bathroom, the hideous journey in, the desk, the colleagues, the boss. They find it a trudge and they find it frustrating; they have a dream of being a dress designer, an author, or a sports physio for LFC, but all things considered, they’re OK with their place in the world and anyway, having the responsibility of a family is enough, so they don’t need the added responsibility of running their own business…right? Right.

I’ve often thought how easy life would be if I fell into this group. Part of me envies them. But like many other dissatisfied rebels, I knew from quite early in my working life that I fell into the second group. The group that will never settle until they’ve ‘given it a go’.

I remember sitting at my desk, with a ridiculous workload to tackle, watching my boss doze off in front of me, only for him to wake up with a start, fumbling awkwardly to straighten his tie and check the side of his face for drool.

There it was. My lightening bolt moment; why was I lining his pockets when I could be lining my own?

I’ve heard over the years, that the very same former employer has often taken credit for ‘teaching her everything she knows’. Is there such a condition as ‘Clinical Disillusionment’? Because I think he had it. True, while working for him I was able to develop my own skills to a point that I became the best copywriter I could be, which in turn would earn me a good living. I honed the art of client conversation and perfected my professionalism. But he didn’t do that. I did that; while he was snoring.

I now work for myself and have done for over 10 years. The cliches are true; I can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner and I definitely could never go back.

In a bid to find myself a suitable base, I spent a few years office-jumping in the city. I liked all of my offices for the different views they offered, the different people I met and the opportunities they presented for grabbing coffees in the various Georgian streets of Liverpool during my lunch hours.

But when work temporarily quietened down a while ago, I decided that a city-centre office was merely a luxury when I had a perfectly lovely spare room at home. My new home-office was born and strangely, even though work is now manic again, I can’t imagine ever going back to a ‘proper’ office now.

So I’m writing this article for those of you who have recently embarked on home-working, or are considering it. I won’t lie to you, working from home, brings with it a number of its own challenges that you have to mould yourself around. You have to find ways of working that best suit you. But if you can nail it, it’s the most liberating thing in the world. (Well, in the world of work anyway.)

These are some of my favourite little mechanisms – the ones that have helped me to successfully manage my time spent working from home. They are unbelievably simplistic (I don’t profess to be Alan Sugar), and if you do try them, afford them enough time to turn into habits before dismissing them. If you’ve been previously used to ‘going out to work’ in the conventional sense, it could take your brain a while to get with the program.

1. Get dressed for work

Don’t be tempted to sit at your desk in your pyjamas. Although your physical self is at home, your head needs to be at work. Do your make up or have a shave (or both), stick on something comfy but presentable – it works wonders for your mental attitude. Be aware that you are your boss and ask yourself how you’d react if another employee of yours turned up for work looking like they’d just fallen out of bed.

2. Minimise potential interruptions to your ‘flow’

It’s essential that you have a designated well-organised work-space, where you can actually feel as though you’re ‘at work’ and importantly, where you can be comfortable. Give it half an hour slouched on the sofa, or perched on a kitchen stool before your back, neck and shoulders will be screaming at you to stop. If you’re going to make this ‘working from home thing’ actually work, you have to give yourself a fighting chance.

In addition, you’ll never get stuck in if you’re constantly scratting around for a pen or a stapler. Have stationery supplies to hand before you start and keep on top of your filing so you can always find stuff – emails included. Don’t let a chaotic inbox ruin your life.

3. Give your day some structure

Mentally (or on paper if that works better for you) prepare a timetable of how to split up your day. Allow yourself short coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon, where you might also open your post, read something you’ve been meaning to read, catch up with personal messages etc. But once your breaks are up, the personal stuff waits.

If the weather’s nice, sit in the garden for lunch, go for a stroll, sit in a nearby park for half an hour. Give your eyes a screen-break. But don’t sunbathe or nod off because you’ll never get going again!

4. Put the duster down and step away from the Dyson

Ah yes, the dreaded household chores. The laundry basket taunting you from the utility room, your lunchtime crockery sitting in the sink, that wonky shelf you’ve been meaning to….. No! Leave the laundry ALONE!

If your workload allows, finish your working day early, or start it a bit later in the morning and get these things done at either end of your day. But the chunk of hours in the middle, is for work. During a working week I only wash up once a day. Anything I generate throughout my day – the cups, plates, whatever – it all gets left until after dinner in the evening.

It’s called self-discipline and you’re going to need it by the bucket load if this arrangement is going to work for you.

5. Learn to love your mobile phone timer

The other thing you’re going to need in plentiful supply is, in my experience, a little harder to master. Motivation. The bane of every home-worker’s life and if you’re not blighted by a lack of it at some point, then you need to write a book.

Self-motivation has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered since working from home. In the early days, having no-one looking over my shoulder, waiting for me to get things finished, proved not to be the luxury I thought it would.

A pattern soon formed and unless I had an impending deadline (and by impending, I mean I’d had the job on my desk for 3 weeks and decided not to even look at it until 24 hours before it was due for submission. Why do I do this to myself?), my ‘to-do’ list would just swirl around in my head, poking me with a big fat stressy stick but never actually getting done.

Even now I struggle on some days, but having come to the stark realisation that no-one can make this work apart from me, I’ve put things in place to help myself. And my mobile phone timer has become my new best friend.

I set it for everything – coffee breaks, lunch breaks, spending time doing office admin and here’s the best thing; you know that job you really hate doing? The one that you just can’t get round to? Well fight back and put it on timer!

Allow an hour, or half an hour, where you’ll knuckle down and get that bloody thing off your to-do list. Time yourself, and I guarantee that before you know it, you’ll be concentrating so hard on that job, that when the timer goes off, you’ll want to carry on until you’ve finished it. Try it. It works.

6. Social media is the enemy – BLOCK IT!

We’ve all been there – an hour disintegrates before our very (square) eyes because we were glued to social media. Where does the time go? Well, I don’t know, but it goes. And fast.

Social media is probably the biggest distraction and eater of time faced by the modern workplace, and now you work at home, it’s up to you to police it. If you’re a serial scroller, consider using blocking software to keep you off specific sites for certain times of the day.

I found a fantastic little app for Mac called Self Control, which, once I’ve initiated it, won’t let me into specified websites, even if I turn my Mac off and on again, until the time’s up. It’s free and downloadable here.

There is a version available for Windows, along with various alternatives, although having never used them I can’t make any recommendations, but don’t let me stop you Googling!

If you need social media for your clients, you can manage their accounts on a dashboard such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. These platforms avoid you having to log into the individual social media websites, so helping you to avoid temptation.

Solutions are out there – you have no excuses!

7. Don’t be afraid to escape

When you spend all day AND all evening in your house, it’s understandable if now and again your 4 walls fail to offer you the inspiration you need for a given task (this happens to me often).

So instead of stewing while you wait for the inclination to kick in (because it probably won’t), take your laptop to a coffee shop or your favourite greasy spoon, with the sole intention of just getting that particular job done before heading back to your office. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get 3 main benefits from doing this; 1) it will break the monotony; 2) it will help you focus; 3) it will provide you with humans.

Even if you don’t interact much once you’re out, don’t underestimate the benefits of being surrounded by people when you normally work on your own. I find a spot of people watching and a fleeting smile from a cheery passer-by can be brilliant motivators.

8. Playing with the dog doesn’t earn you money (or respect)

Finally, a classic schoolboy error that can prove fatal to your professional cred.

I was chatting recently to someone who wanted me to buy advertising space in their magazine. During the call, I could hear all sorts kicking off in the background – dogs barking, kids screaming. She laughed about it and tried to engage me in ironic chit-chat about the ‘joys’ of working from home. What she didn’t realise (because she was far too busy talking about herself) was that I too was working from home during that call. My office has a door on it. When I’m talking to someone I need to impress, I close it and I concentrate on them. Basic manners it is, rocket science it ain’t.

Don’t joke to your clients (or even worse, potential clients) about your personal distractions. Whilst they might laugh it off with you, I guarantee they’ll have made a mental note that their business is NOT receiving your full attention.

Working from home isn’t for everyone but if you’re determined and self-aware, you’ll make it work. If you have other tips that you think our community might find helpful, feel free to share them in the comments below.

Good luck, and don’t be disheartened by people who constantly refer to you “working” from home by using air quotes and tipping you a cheeky wink. You’ll get used to them, let them have their fun – they’re probably in the first group.

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