Working from Home Part 3: Whoops! Was I supposed to be working?

The main problem that comes with working from home is that you’re at home. Being at home means you’ve got time to just shove this load of laundry on, right?

Done. Now you can start that spreadsheet and … urgh, the dog stinks! Better just give them a wash so you can concentrate properly.

Perfect, the dog is all clean and fluffy and cuddlesome. Now about that spreadsheet …. you look around and you see those hundred and one other little tasks that have been left for months just waiting for you. It’ll only take a moment, after all. Then you’ll sit down and blaze through that spreadsheet. Absolutely

And then it’s 5pm and you’re like “Shit, what the hell just happened? Where did my day go?”

This scenario is one that has played out countless times in the lives of people who have just started working from home, although not always quite as drastically as just described and probably without the dog washing. It’s not brilliant place to find yourself in but it is a thing that happens and to be honest it’s completely understandable.

I mean, as far as your brain is concerned you are in your house in the part of the day you’re normally at work. So your brain thinks the weekend has come early. The weekend. When you do your chores and sort all the stuff out that you’ve had to ignore all week because you’ve been at work and then you’re too tired to even contemplate anything but eating and sleeping.

Your brain is pre-programmed to point you in the direction of the sink and the laundry basket and the cupboard where the hoover lives when it has you in the house at 10am. It’s your automatic programming kicking in because you’ve only been working from home for a few days and it just hasn’t got the message that there’s been a change.

The key here is being pro-active about creating a new routine for working from home that firstly puts the work part front and centre and secondly has something built in so that your brain can’t so easily trick you into “just tidying that away” when you’ve already spent time cleaning up.

This is not to say that you can’t get chores done whilst you’re working from home. You can. It is, like everything in life, down to getting the balance right and figuring out how you can get your hours in and get that load of washing through, rather than it being an either/or thing.

Timers were most definitely my friend for this.

I set a timer to get myself moving from my desk once an hour. I set a second timer to get me back to my desk 10 minutes later. And if I’d used that 10 minutes to start a chore I stopped and went back to my desk regardless of whether I’d finished it.

I soon figured out what I could and couldn’t do in those 10 minute breaks and which longer tasks worked well split into chunks and which didn’t. The tasks that need longer and couldn’t be split were either left for the weekend or scheduled into a lunch hour or my “evening commute” time.

Sometimes, though, working from home is difficult because your brain just does not want to acknowledge that your day job can be done at home. I know plenty of self employed people who physically leave the house each day because they need to not be in their home to work effectively. If this is you then at the moment I really sympathise because right now, going out to sit in a coffee shop or a library or somewhere really is not an option. Social distancing doesn’t work if you’re simply swapping one commute and workspace surrounded by other people for a different one with different people.

I also don’t have any answers for how to make it better because, as you’ll have gathered from these posts, I get on with working from home rather well.

One thing I will say, though, especially if you’re working from home because you’ve been told to be there – either by your company or your government – and you’re struggling; tell your boss and get some help from them. This goes double if you’ve got kids, other caring responsibilities, or the people you live with are also working from home and there is an issue with space/resources.

We are currently living in an extraordinary situation. It is not business as usual, however hard we might all try to make it so. None of us have chosen to be living and working through a global pandemic and there are many things that we’re going to have to change and adjust to get ourselves through. So please, treat yourself kindly. Cut yourself some slack and request that your company does the same. If you have a union, now is the time to talk them.

And if you need somewhere to vent, or ask for advice, or simply connect to someone else, please feel free to drop a comment below.

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