Working from home - my top tips on how to stay motivated

In keeping with my previous post on my current occupation - or the lack thereof - this post came into my mind. When my contract ended, there was still a lot to do on my project which for the most part involved writing, writing and even more writing. Writing is a task one can do from everywhere so the mister and me decided to cut the costs and have me move in with him.

Before that, we were living some 100 kilometer apart from each other, him in the north of the Netherlands while I lived close to Amsterdam. My tiny space over there was very expensive because it was so close to the big city and on top of basically renting two apartments, we also spend quite a lot of money on traveling to each other. Moving in on the other hand would save me around 200 euros every month, which is huge!

At the end of february this year it finally happened. I moved.

This is how moving day looked for me. Everything packed and I actually spend the last couple of weeks sleeping on an air mattress because I gave away my bed.

It took us about one weekend to organize everything in a way that my items fit into his apartment and then my new life as a person "working from home" began.

And to be brutally honest, I failed in adapting to my new role. Miserably. Looking back at it, I am surprised my bosses were so patient with me. Why? Because I did not do much. In the beginning, I told myself that I just moved and there were a ton of issues to be solved around that. Double items had to be given away, new things had to be bought, I needed to get myself a desk before being able to work properly...

Lame excuses. Then, when I ran out of excuses I just simply did not do anything. I could not focus, I was exhausted because the weeks before were so stressful, I had to wait for reviewers, my supervisors checking manuscripts,... I became a youtube-addicted queen of procrastination.

Then I got disgusted by myself. This was not me. I am proactive, I am always busy and enjoy being busy so what happened that made me become so lazy?

I needed to change and developed a set of every day rituals that will keep me on track and help me stay productive.

1) Get up, it's another workday!


While it is tempting to sleep in and catch up on all the sleep I deprived myself of during that PhD period, it is a dangerous habit to acquire. Before you know it, you will wake up later and later each day and realize that no, today you will not get things done anymore because it is already late so better not even start.
Do not go down this path. Sleeping in is for weekends. It is your reward for working hard during the week and something to look forward to. So get up every morning as if you would go to work. Nobody expects you to get up at four in the morning, I am talking about reasonable times. I get up at six because my mister does so too. Right, so now that you are up, here is the next point to consider.

2) Get dressed, you are going to work!

I know, sweatpants are so comfortable, but they are surely not helping you feel like a working professional. The above picture was actually taken in my home office and while I have to admit that I am not this dressed up on a normal workday, my outfits still are a far cry from sweatpants and comfy-socks. Treat working from home as any other job. Dress properly. Jeans, a nice shirt and a cardigan, a dress, a skirt and top combination. Whatever your specific preferences in working wardrobe may be, make sure you look put together before you start. It is a mental thing, if you look like you are going to work, it will get your mind set on the working mode and you will feel more dedicated to be productive. So go, make an effort!

Along this line, make sure you keep updating your wardrobe. After being home for a while for whatever reason, you might consider not replacing your "workwear" items that have gone out of shape or color. Why spend money on things you do not really need, nobody sees you anyways? This is a dangerous misconception. What happens if suddenly you do have to go back into an office? There you are, ready for the challenge, but with no clothes to wear. This will mean excessive last-minute shopping which normally results in spending more money on items because you had to pay whatever price they were instead of looking out for sales and special offers. So keep that wardrobe of your's in good condition and you are always ready for anything.
Another bonus of being dressed properly is that your significant other will have some eye candy when coming home. Bonus relationship-boost!

3) Get organized, you have a busy day coming up!

The picture above shows my home office. Yes, this is all. I am a bit of a minimalist so I try to work as paperless and "clean" as possible. One of the items I do keep on my desk and with me at all times however is my agenda. My agenda helps me to keep track of telephone conferences with supervisors or coauthors and other appointments. But apart from planning meetings and priorities, I also plan when to have lunch, coffee breaks or run errands. I may not write these things down but at the beginning of the day, when I go over the agenda, I plan these actions around it.
Planning your breaks can help you to be more focused and productive as you are working towards a goal. It also breaks up the day in more bite-sized portions. It is so much easier to think of working for 2-3 hours until lunch break then to look at 8 hours of straight work ahead of you. Also, our brains are not made to focus 100% for 8 hours, we will loose focus and need breaks anyways, so why not assign them upfront? This method also helps with being focused during work-slots. You know the break is coming, but there is still this one thing you have to finish before so you better keep going.

4) Get away from that desk!

Last but not least, if you take breaks, make them real breaks. Our brain needs to relax after a session of focused work. In a company, this is when we get up to make a cup of tea or get some water. Checking youtube or facebook does not do the job. If you are sitting behind the computer all day, you need breaks. Real breaks. Go out and get some fresh air. I even know people in companies going out for a short walk after lunch. You can also spend some time with your pet if you have one. Run errands if they are quick to do. Or do some gardening. Anything that gets you moving and away from the computer.
You need to get the blood circulation going, you need to get oxygen into your body and you need to give your brain some rest. Per day, plan in one longer break, lunchtime is convenient for this, and two or three shorter breaks inbetween. Do not be afraid of "loosing time" because you are taking breaks. The time lost will be easily compensated for when you get back to your work feeling fresh and energetic after the break.

These were the most important points that help me stay productive while working from home. What works for you? 



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