When working from home, structuring your day is key to help you find the balance between work and private life. Especially if you’re new to working from home, it’s important to have some sort of routine to help you shift into work mode at the beginning of your day, and to detach from work once the work day is over. Without a structure, you can easily lose focus and motivation and get distracted by your surroundings.
When structuring your work day, think about it as a three steps process: easing into work, actual work and easing out of work.
Usually, the closer we get to the office the more we think about work related stuff. Once at the office we then perform a series of unconscious rituals, that are more or less the same every single day before actually starting to work (e.g. grabbing a coffee, preparing your workstation, chatting to a coworker). Those unconscious rituals act like mental cues and have a very specific function: they help us to settle into the work environment, adopt the right mindset and ease into actual work mode. But since you’re working from home, many of those rituals are not present.
Now, although you have no office to go to, you can still use the same principle and create yourself such a routine. This could be simply leaving the house to fake a commute or having a virtual catch up with your co-workers first thing in the morning. It can also be as simple as putting on your work clothes, making a lovely cup of coffee or tea, and preparing your desk. Our mind is stimulated not just by visual cues but also by what we hear, so don’t forget to put your favorite background sounds on :)
Whatever works for you goes! Just keep in mind that whatever you do, do it consistently. As you’re building your routine, your mind will associate your set of mental cues with “work mode”, thus making the transition from private life to work life faster and easier.
Before starting your work, it’s important that you first define your exact working hours. If you don’t set a specific time frame of when you’re “at work” and when you’re “off work”, it’s easy to get lost in procrastination and end up working longer hours in the evenings.
Setting this structure will not just be a guidance for you, but also for whoever you’re working or living with. It gives you the opportunity to set boundaries with family and friends and set the right expectations to your coworkers or clients as to when you will be available and when not. Remember that just because you have the possibility to check your work emails first thing in the morning or last thing in the late evenings, it doesn’t mean you should.
Another important part of having a structure is that it allows you to schedule your breaks. It’s important that you split focused work hours and mindful breaks so as to also give you time to recharge and avoid burnout. In an office you usually have people around that remind you about those breaks, e.g. by asking you to have a coffee break with them, but when working from home it is easy to just power through and forget about taking those breaks.
Try to have at least a 1 hour lunch break and schedule a bigger break of 15-30 minutes mid mornings and mid afternoons. You should also take smaller breaks of around 5 minutes after you’ve done a focused work session. This could be after every 25 minutes or longer, depending on how long you can hold your focus without getting distracted. Help yourself and use the pomodoro technique to guide you through those focused sessions and breaks. Here is a little guide if you want to learn how to work with the pomodoro technique.
Lastly, know your work environment and schedule certain work tasks accordingly. For example, if you’re living with other people and they’re usually at home in the afternoons where you have more difficulty to perform certain tasks, make sure to schedule those tasks in the mornings, etc.
Once you’ve reached the end of your work day, it’s important that your timetable is respected and that you finish work at the set time. I know that it is easy to simply continue working because there is no commute, you’re already home and there is no one leaving the office so to make you feel that it is ok if you go home too. But exactly because of this, it’s even more important to be strict about your working hours.
As there is no physical place to leave, you have to be mindful about creating this shift yourself.
To help you commit and leave work on time, schedule something right afterwards, like catching up with a friend or joining an online or offline event, or use mental cues such as putting your work stuff away, going outside, dressing differently or changing the lightning or the music.
The goal is to divide work and private life and to create an environment which doesn’t remind you about work but where you can fully relax and recharge for the next day.