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Five Tips for Home Working Survival

by James Marwood, head of Public Sector Transformation

I’ve had a few periods of home working over my career that have driven me to develop some pretty robust skills for spending an extended period within the same four walls.

Given that many of us are working at home due to the COVID-19 situation, and are likely to continue to do so even as lockdown is eased, I thought I’d share five tips for working from home that have served me well over the years. None of these are especially ground-breaking, but they do correlate well with sustaining a productive, healthy work-life balance, and taking care of your mental health.

Keep a routine

This, for me, is really important. Try to keep your usual times for waking-up, going to bed and taking breaks to prevent the days blurring into one.

Getting up and ready as if you were heading into the office and using the commute time to have a good breakfast, read or exercise can help set-up a great day. Even just a walk or 10-15 minutes of simple stretches will benefit you both physically and mentally. Having a routine and a bit of discipline makes all the difference.

Take breaks from your screen

Try to have space away from your work area where you can take a break, stretch your legs, and give your brain a bit of a rest. For me, that’s moving from my desk to the kitchen for a few minutes every couple of hours.

Try to do something that changes the context for your brain and eyes – go and stick a load of laundry on, take the bins out, water the plants or use the time to check in with friends and family.

Protect your back and stand up every hour

It may be tempting to work from your sofa, but this is not great for extended periods. Try as much as possible to sit at a desk, as you would at work, with good posture and lighting. This will stop you sitting in a way that will damage your body.

That said though, spending the whole day at a desk can be a killer. Try to stand up every hour to have a stretch, do a lap of the house or even bust out some air-squats. This will help to prevent you from staying hunched in the same position for too long and helps with any aches and pains.

Work around unavoidable distractions

If you’re home with children, then some distractions are inevitable. Where possible, plan for these and work around them. For example, you may be able to block out time at different parts of the day or set rules for how and when you should be interrupted.

By planning for distractions, I am able to make better use of my time to stay focused and productive.

Be mindful of your mental health

Pay attention to your brain and how it is reacting and remember to make time for yourself.

By being aware of how you are feeling, you can make a conscious effort to be kind to yourself during times of stress and give yourself space and time to ride out negative feelings. There is an abundance of techniques for improving your mental health. However, I have found the grounding and counteracting techniques that my therapist taught me particularly effective.

Grounding is a great way to regain a sense of calm when your brain is racing or panicked. I like to sit quietly for five minutes, breathe deeply with my eyes closed and do a mental inventory of my surroundings. I focus as much as possible on one sense at a time to identify three things I can hear, three things I can smell, and three things I can feel. This focuses my attention on the present and stops my thoughts from spiralling.

Counteracting can be used in response to negative or false thoughts through recognising when these occur and actively responding to them with a positive thought, or the truth. For example, my brain may send me down a cycle of worrying about solving a problem for a client. I counter this by reminding myself that I have solved many problems before and am surrounded by a great team that will ensure I am successful.

Finally, there is the Bob the Builder approach. Seriously, it works.

Yes, you can.

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