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A few tips for productivity when working from home

An illustration I did for Hard//Hoofd about being proud of your interior, now seems a perfect illustration to accompany our current situation.

I hope you're well when you're reading this, wherever you are. These times are very uncertain and scary. Apart from worrying for our health and safety, we also are expected to adapt to different work routines. This can be hard on people. In my case, I had just moved to a shared office, to get out of my quiet home office and see more people every day. After a week I had to move my stuff back home: so far for socialization.

But luckily, I still had a home office to fall back on. I had also spent many months working from home, which made the change a bit more gradual. I worked hard on finding out what works best for me. Not going to lie: I've also tried out sleeping in and working in pyjamas from time to time. But especially with me having ADD, I discovered I need some kind of structure, and I started looking for that.

If you're having a hard time adjusting to working from home, or if you're reading this later and just starting out working from home, maybe these tips can help. They definitely did wonders for me.

Note: I don't have children. Can't help you with those.

Have a morning ritual

The best way to tell myself the workday has started, is by doing my morning ritual. This is nothing fancy, by morning ritual I literally mean 'put on some clothes'. Nothing screams louder 'I'm not ready for this day' than wearing the same pj's you've been sleeping in, as comfortable as they may be. It's easier to slack off in your work or give up, when there's no-one watching, or when you’re not wearing slacks at all.

You don't have to put on make-up or wear something fancy, but make sure you trick your mind in saying that right now it's time for business. It helps to set your alarm the same time you usually get up, and follow roughly the same routine you're used to. Don't linger around in the morning, but strive to sit down behind your desk at roughly the same time you usually arrive at work.

So set your alarm, wear some comfy pants, brush your teeth, have some breakfast and open your laptop. It really helps.

(Trust me, I've been wearing pj's for a month before switching to actual pants. It's a gamechanger.)

have an evening ritual

The other problem: knowing when to stop. It's also easy to continue work in the evening. 'Just finishing this email' or 'maybe just another sketch' are very easy things to say when your workspace is within reach.

It helps to tie this to a small ritual as well. For me, cleaning my desk at the end of the day did the trick. At the end of the day I close my laptop, put my phone in silent mode, put the dishes away, tidy up any loose notes or pencils laying around and closed the door. Then I start cooking. After my dinner, there would be no returning to work, unless it was an actual emergency (and when is it an actual emergency, really?).

have a space designed for work

Speaking of closing the door behind you: an actual home office will help. Not everyone has a spare room at their disposal, but a tiny desk or table somewhere in a corner also does the trick. It gives you MUCH peace of mind to have a special place for work. Nobody wants to sit in their office after hours, so why should you at home?

When I was still a student I lived in an attic, which consisted of one room. It was a kitchen, bedroom, living room and home office at the same time. I bought a table for four and put my desktop on one end. That was my workplace. It left me with two extra chairs that were used for dinners (if I got more than one friend over I basically panicked).

It was nothing fancy, but it worked. I only sat at that space during the day. Now that I've moved to a bigger house, I have a spare bedroom. It still serves a multifunctional purpose: it's a home office, game room and guestroom all in one. It's great, because I can shut the door after my workday. I don't go to that room in the evening, and I don't take my laptop outside of it. I don't need to be in my office after hours.

Try to create a space for work in your home that's only going to be used for work. Make it a habit to leave your laptop there. And don't ever bring your work to bed.

set yourself hours in which you need to work

One of the best things about being a freelancer is setting your own working hours. But don't be fooled: I pretty much work 9 to 5. I use the privilege of setting my own hours to stop maybe an hour earlier if it's nice and sunny outside, every once in a while. But overall, I work the same hours I did when I was working for a creative studio. All of my clients do too, and I want to stay available for them. Also, it's a great structure to follow.

Now you might be a night owl and don't wake up properly before 11am. That's okay, you can set your own rules. Just be communicative about it to your clients, put it in your email signature, for example. And stick to your own rules. If your work is done by 4 but you promised yourself you'd work until 6, find something to do for two hours. It could be something on your to do list for tomorrow, or an errand that you've been postponing for weeks.

It's easy to slack off if nobody's watching and you're craving a beer after a tough day. For me it helps to know that if I slack off today, I'll have more work tomorrow. Which brings me to my last tip:

start the week with a to do list and give yourself deadlines every day

I start every Monday the same way: I make myself a large cup of tea and sit down with my planner. I write down all the things I want to accomplish that week. If there's deadlines, obviously those are most important. But some weeks are slower than others, or sometimes you're working on a project with a deadline three months away. This makes it hard to see which things you need to prioritize, and that is when a to do list comes in handy.

Once I have made a list of things I need to do in a week, I sort them into days. Every day, I set deadlines for myself. This could be putting up a contract for client A, tackle the feedback from client B or updating the work on my website. It could also be changing my cat's litter box.

Then I start working. I try to tick off all the deadlines for that day. If I got time left, I can take on something from the next day, maybe resulting in early Friday afternoon drinks. If I can't tick off everything from my list, I need to re-adjust my to do lists for the rest of the week.

This takes a bit of trial and error, especially if you're doing something new, as it's hard to estimate how much time things take. Don't over-estimate yourself and think you can finish a thousand things in one day. This is something I still struggle with. Some days you're super productive, and other days just won't work. It might be good to under-estimate your productivity, because you can always take on more work if you've finished.

I just want to say, don't be too hard on yourself. Do the best you can, but remember: this is a global pandemic. It's very understandable you aren't as productive as usual, and might need more time off than usual. Take good care of yourself.

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