Last week I had the privilege to post an article written by my wife, Bonnie. As she mentioned in that post, we have both worked from home for more than four years. We know that with the current global pandemic, many people are adjusting to working from home for the first time. The previous post was all about working with a partner from home, but we also wanted to provide some general work from home tips for you all! So we both worked on the words below. (And if you’re looking for RPG content, have no fear! This blog will be back next week with a My Dad’s Monster Manual preview.)
So you work at home now. It wasn’t your decision, and you’re not set up for this at all. Let us give you some tips on how to balance work and life.
A lot of people want advice for work-life balance while working from home when we put out a call on Twitter for topics. Before we get into this, we want to tell you that it is 100% ok if you are having trouble focusing on work. Not only is working from home an adjustment, this once-a-century pandemic has many people understandably worried and panicked for themselves and their loved ones. It is really, really, really normal to have a hard time. Being socially distant does not mean you are alone. You are not. Reach out to people. They likely need connection and a chance to talk as much as you do.
Both of us typically start our days by making a list of the things we need to get done that day. Writing it down helps you visualize your day. If you get distracted by your dog, a package delivery, or any number of events that can happen, you can refer to your list to get back on track. Bonnie uses a whiteboard hanging above her desk to make her list. Just a glance up at those tasks can help to regain her focus from her distractions. James uses a Google document. In both cases we use a list that can easily be rearranged and added to throughout the day. It’s also great because we can use the previous day’s list to build the next one.
We try to build our lists so we have “end-of-day” goals. What do we need to accomplish before we break for the day, and what would we like to get done in addition to those tasks? You can break this down as granular as you like. Maybe you just write, “Draft three My Dad’s Monster Manual creatures,” or you could write, “Rough draft cryon, rough draft chicktee, rough draft gordon.” Whatever helps you is best. James likes to break down tasks into subtasks on the list because it helps him plan his day and because crossing or deleting items from a list gives him a sense of accomplishment!
Plan Your Day
Here in our household, we try to adhere to regular 9AM to 6PM work hours with a lunch break. That means getting up in time to do your morning routine and be sitting down at your computer by 9am. You don’t have a commute, so that should help you budget some time before and after work to do the other things you need and want to do with your life (even if that thing is sleeping in). If you can start your work day at a time most other people are working, it will help you stay focused and on task.
Breaks Are Good
While being focused is important, you should remember to take breaks! Your day can be much more flexible than it can at the office: you can do laundry during the day, or do some prep for dinner, but it’s important to think of those things as convenient breaks, the same as if you’d go on an errand during a workday at the office. Try not to engage in household chores that would take a longer time than you’d take a break normally. James often wants to check Twitter, watch a funny video a friend sent, or read the latest RPG news when he also needs to write. Typically, he rewards himself with a quick break when he crosses an item off his list.
Sticking to the end time of your work day is as important as sticking to the start of it. When you work from home, you can get TOO focused. Many people can’t leave the office behind, especially when the office is their living room. If you have crossed everything you NEED to do for the day off your list, and it’s quitting time, go ahead and break for the day. Especially in these times, it is important to have some stress relief. Watch TV, hang out with your partner, play some games, hop on a video call with friends, or dance! Do whatever you need to do to clear your head. If you need to work late, remember to take a break, eat a meal, and, if you have a partner, share some time with them before diving back into work.
Keeping to the end of your day also helps you stay focused because you know you have a limited time to work. That means the quality of your work in those hours improves, and you’re not wandering to social media, cat videos, etc. If your work time is “sort of all the time” you are more likely to get distracted and lose focus because you never give yourself a regular break.
Bonnie is going to jump on her soapbox for this all-the-time tip: TURN OFF YOUR WORK NOTIFICATIONS WHEN WORK IS DONE. All of them! Slack and email and whatever other apps you use at work give you the option to limit when they’re activated. Take advantage of these features. If you receive text messages from coworkers, don’t answer them after hours. If it gets overwhelming, ask your coworkers to email you or slack you after hours so that you can get to it in the morning. Rest and a mental break actually makes you more productive when you’re at work, so don’t let it creep into your free time just because you’re sitting in the same place where you were working earlier.
Avoid Internet Temptation
Avoiding internet temptation is difficult. James checked Twitter three times while writing this article! No one is perfect, so forgive yourself if social media or something else distracts you from your work. That’s number one! Be kind to you.
If you can, make internet rewards part of your daily breaks. If social media is important for your job (like James promoting his podcasts, this blog, and other work), schedule time in your day to promote stuff. You’ll notice James is an active Twitter user between the hours of 9AM and 11AM Eastern, which is usually when he’s checking his email and updating all his promotional stuff.
If the internet keeps distracting you and you have a job that doesn’t require the internet at all times (such as copywriting, audio editing, graphic design, etc.) you can turn off the wifi on your computer and turn your phone to silent (like actual silence, not vibrate). This will help you stay in the zone. Sometimes when you need a moment to think you’ll find a new tab is open on your computer and Facebook or your favorite hobby site is there without thinking. It’s automatic. If the internet is off, that site can’t appear.
Of course, many people need the internet all day for their jobs, so if you’re getting distracted by the constant news, desperately seeking answers so you feel like you have some control in this overwhelming hellscape (… just us?), might we suggest exploring apps that limit your time on certain sites. Bonnie uses StayFocusd, which is a Chrome extension that times how long you spend on certain websites and then cuts you off with a shaming message “SHOULDN’T YOU BE WORKING?!” It is extremely diligent, so you don’t have to be. You can set up your schedule and which sites are distracting you (heck, these days, maybe it’s CDC.gov) and allows you to decide how much time you spend on them. I gave myself 10 minutes daily on both Facebook and Twitter between the hours of 9AM and 6PM. The timer counts down and when you’re done, you cannot get into that site again nor can you change the settings you made. It is a really helpful reminder that “Past Bonnie” made this decision for me and maybe “Present Bonnie” should listen to her. There are also built-in settings on Android and Apple phones that do this for you.
We’re All In This Together
We are all in this thing together. If you’re home alone, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone in a similar situation and ask them to be your work buddy. Your work buddy (or buddies) and you should check in on each other everyday at the start of the day. Ask, “What are you working on today?” and “What did you do yesterday?” These should be people who’s work you are genuinely interested in. Think of these people as your virtual officemates. By talking about work and holding each other accountable, we’re more likely to get stuff done. James doesn’t want to tell Bonnie all he did at the end of the day was write a great Tweet about Lilo, and that helps keep him motivated to write cool stuff. Having a work buddy will also help you feel less isolated in these scary times!
If you like what you’re reading please consider supporting me on Patreon, supporting me on Ko-fi, follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!