Returning to work after the Christmas and New Year break can be daunting for some of us, and isn't always easy. Even with the restrictions over the holiday period having reduced your options to celebrate or spend time with loved ones, you may still have had a pleasant break from the stresses of work life. Finding the motivation to get back into the work routine can be a real challenge.
Unlike other times during the year where you take annual leave, Christmas is a time when most people have some time off, therefore we often share this time with others (even if from a distance). So it’s no wonder that we feel such disappointment when the break comes to an end. There are also many other stressors to deal with, such as knowing that work will have been building up or that unfinished tasks will need your attention, and in the current circumstances working from home may also contribute to your feelings of anxiety.
If it’s not unusual for people to feel depressed, stressed and anxious during January, then the current situation will just intensify these feelings. Although working from home can be great for some people, for others it can be difficult. Many people crave interaction with colleagues and work better in an environment where there are others to speak to and share their work with. Depending on your setup at home you may feel that you can never leave the office, and switching off becomes increasingly difficult.
When working from home our work habits change, and we often feel that we cannot be away from our laptop or phone in case someone notices and thinks we’re not working. This self-imposed monitoring of workflow is more often than not unreasonable, and feeling guilty when taking a short personal break is common, with many even working through lunch. This is counterproductive and will result in an impaired ability to do our job effectively as we can become overwhelmed, tired and easily distracted. Both our mental and physical health can be impacted due to lack of exercise, lack of interaction with others, poor eating habits and continuous use of technology.
Being organised, creating a routine and maintaining balance are key for successful home working. It is important to prepare yourself for work in the same way that you would if you were going into the workplace.
Ensure that you have everything you need to make your working day flow, including all essential equipment, suitable lighting, appropriate seating etc. Make sure you have a designated area in which to work, or if you have the space it would be wise to create a home office that allows you to close the door on your working day. If space is limited, try to arrange your working area so that it has some separation from the main living area of the room. Have a place out of sight where you can store your equipment and paperwork when it’s not in use.
Balance is essential, as separating your working day from your personal time ensures that you retain the time to relax and recuperate, giving you energy for both work and personal activities. Start the day with the same routine as you would if you were going to a workplace, dressing in the same way, putting aside time for your first cup of tea or coffee, eating breakfast and taking a walk to replace the commute to work. These routines set the scene, ensuring that you’re mentally ready for a day’s work.
Create a timetable and make sure that you have a start time, with regular timetabled breaks during the day. Take at least one morning and afternoon break, a lunch break and also try to finish at a designated time. These times can be flexible to a degree, as you may wish to start earlier or later and shift things around to fit your needs—that’s one of the benefits of working from home after all—but don’t be tempted to extend the day.
Working excessive hours is a common pitfall of working from home and just because we’re locked down doesn’t mean that we should work longer hours. Use this time to relax—perhaps by reading, being creative or partaking in exercise. For those struggling to concentrate and who aren’t working effectively as a result, having a routine provides structure and your breaks from work can become a personal reward. Ensure that when you take a break it’s away from your work area—don’t be tempted to take your drink or lunch back to your desk to continue working, as that doesn’t count as a break.
Time away from your work is essential for your physical wellbeing. If you were in the office you wouldn’t sit at your desk 100% of the time: you’d speak to others, collect printing or photocopying, go for a break, make drinks or go for a walk at lunchtime. This allows you to stretch your muscles and loosen your joints. It’s also essential for your eyesight, as during a normal working day we’d look into the distance from our desks, when walking around the office space or when going for a walk outside. Unfortunately, whilst working from home we're often in much more confined spaces and tend to sit close to a screen all day. It’s recommended that we take a break every two hours to reduce eye strain and that during time spent in front of a screen we follow the 20,20,20 rule (every 20 minutes lift your eyes away from the screen and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds). Adding these tasks to your daily routine makes you more aware of both your body and the mental strain that concentrating on your work can have.
Try not to respond to calls during your breaks. Put lunch time in your calendar so that your colleagues are aware that you’re not available, and if they try to contact you at this time you can refer them to the calendar and ask them to check when your lunch is before calling.
Ending the day
Try not to allow yourself to push beyond your finish time. If you were in the office with a finishing time you may leave tasks unfinished and follow them up during the next working day. When you finish for the day, close the door on your home office if you’re lucky enough to have one. Unless you’re on call, switch off your work phone and put your equipment out of sight so that your eye is not drawn towards work in your personal time. Change out of your work clothes and if possible, go for a short walk to replace the commute home, this will end the day and also help clear your mind of work.
Weekends and days off
Don’t be tempted to check your emails or voicemail. You may think that by checking these the night before a working day will get you set up for the day, but the result is that your mind will start to focus on work and you’ll be playing over what needs to be done the following day. This can disrupt sleep and cause tiredness, which will ultimately impact on the working day, making you less effective.