Working from home: Maximising efficiency and minimising distractions


If you’re working from home because of COVID-19, and you’re juggling children, pets and other home-based demands - then a day at the office probably never looked so easy.

Rather than having a quiet, focused area in which to work in an office, you might now be working alongside a partner and have children, pets and home-schooling needs to contend with too.

It’s a massive change to your routine, and as a result, your productivity can take a battering.

So how can we be efficient and productive when working from home, and make sure that home life doesn’t become too much of a distraction?

Paula Brough, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Griffith University, has some useful tips and strategies.

Get organised

At first, working from home could have a definite novelty factor, and may even seem easier than going to work because you have more control over your day.

However, remember that you might need to work from home for a few months, so the novelty will quickly wear off, especially if you're also home-schooling children, Professor Brough says.

That’s why it’s crucial to establish some good practices and clear boundaries around working productively.

Aim for a work/life balance

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, work would often interfere with our home lives, Professor Brough says.

“But now you're going to have to be more careful about the boundaries. Just because work is always there, doesn't mean you always have to be attending to it.”

Create clear boundaries between your home and work life.

“You can do that physically, by not being in your workspace and by switching off your email notifications. You can also do that psychologically by leaving all your work problems until tomorrow and having some downtime.”

Keep up the same home and work routines

If you’re used to working from home, you’ll know how important it is to have clear routines.
“If this is new to you, and if you are now also managing home-schooling, then everybody needs to maintain the routines they would normally have,” Professor Brough says.

Try to follow regular routines:

  • Get up at the usual time every day, even if you don’t have to travel to work.
  • Get dressed as though for a casual work day so you look presentable (especially if you have a video meeting). This will help you get into a work mindset.
  • Have breaks at the same times that you normally would.
  • Finish work around the time you normally would.
  • Have your dinner together as a family.

If you have children, they need routines too:

  • Maintain a daily structure that’s as normal as possible - it’s important for children's health.
  • Children should have breaks from study and school work at the regular school break times.
  • Kids can chat to their friends via video link during breaks, rather than physically playing and hanging out.
  • Don’t let children stay up late, just because they don’t have to go to school. Save late movie nights for the weekends and holidays.

Set up your own work space

Try to set up clear, physically separate work areas for each person who needs a space to work or study.

Your home office should be set up like your desk at work, which will also help you mentally get into work-mode. Try not to work in bed or on the couch.

If your children are learning at home, set up their own study areas that are separate from your workspace.

“If people are all working together around the kitchen table, your own work productivity is unlikely to be very high,” Professor Brough says.

Establish clear work times

Now that many of us are working from home, work and home life can easily overlap and interfere with each other.

One solution is to carve out a clear period of work which won’t interfere with your other family members, Professor Brough says.

“Try to section off some time for yourself away from your spouse and children so you have some effective time to work.”

That time could be early in the morning, late at night, or whenever suits you best.

Also, don’t fall into the trap of starting household chores when you should be working.

Look after your wellbeing

With stressful situations happening outside the house, and being stuck at home for weeks or months, it’s important to look after yourself.

“Everybody is probably a little bit more anxious and fractious than normal, especially within the home environment,” Professor Brough says.

Every person in the household should have some downtime away from work and home commitments.

“Carving out some time and some space for yourself and your own wellbeing is crucial.”

Try having a long bath, going for an early morning walk alone, or doing an exercise routine in a quiet part of the house.

“Do something to recharge your own batteries,” Professor Brough says.

“Otherwise, if you are constantly trying to do your work, trying to manage your child's work, trying to manage the home life, and feeling overwhelmed with what you read in the news, it will only be detrimental to your levels of anxiety and wellbeing.”

Stay socially connected by calling friends during your break times. Get fresh air and exercise by leaving the house and going for a walk, or just taking a break outside in the garden.

Make sure you have weekends

If you’re at home every day, it can be much harder to differentiate between the work week and the weekend.

“It is still important to try and get a sense of the weekend,” Professor Brough says.

“Do something fun and enjoyable that differentiates the rest of the work week from the weekend.”

Resist doing any work on weekends, and instead look for activities that help you unwind. Do some gardening, baking or craft, walk the dog or watch a movie, either alone or with your family.

Make sure you still celebrate any special occasions and holidays that are important to you and your family by adapting them to take place within the home environment, Professor Brough says.

Paula Brough is Professor of Organisational Psychology at Griffith University.

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