Home working: Creating the right mental space

Home working: Creating the right mental space

The prospect of working from home has probably been met with a mixture of dread and excitement. For some, it’s their dream that they’ve been trying to achieve for ages – for others, their nightmare. I’ve spoken to a number of my friends and family over the last few weeks who are experiencing a range of these emotions, and all you can do for those who are having a negative experience is to assure them many people feel the same, and try and help them focus on the positives. Because let’s face it, there’s not a lot we can do at the moment. 

I know from my own experience over the past 3 years that adjusting mentally to working from home has been the biggest challenge. Combine this with an anxiety-inducing global pandemic and the fact we can’t actually leave the house unless it’s essential – it’s never been more important to keep your mental health in check. 

In this part of my series on working from home, I’ve focused on how you can create the right mental space, and put your health and wellbeing at the forefront. 


Self motivation

Let’s face it, motivation can be a problem whether you’re at home or in an office. But it is marginally easier to get motivated when you feel accountable to the people around you. You could experience varying degrees of problems with self motivation depending on your job and your setup. But being at home, we are naturally going to feel inclined to stay in bed that bit longer, finish a bit earlier, or find things to do around the house to keep you from doing work. 

Personally, it helps me to stick to a strict(ish) schedule – I work from 9 until 5:30pm as if I am in an office, with short breaks to get drinks or stretch my legs and an hour for lunch, where I sit outside if I can. 

Obviously, one of the benefits of working from home is flexibility, so if it works better for you to dip in and out, or work slightly different hours, then do that. It also helps me to think about my day in terms of tasks rather than time. 

Instead of rewarding myself for working for x hours straight with no distractions, I mentally reward myself for successfully focusing on and completing a task. 
Speaking of which – another technique I find useful for keeping myself motivated and on-task, particularly when I have a lot on, is setting myself a daily to-do list. 

We use Asana as a business to manage tasks, but I personally find it useful to physically write myself a list on a notepad, which includes even the most tiny and menial tasks that wouldn’t be worth clogging up Asana with. 

This sheet of paper stays on my desk in plain view, holding me accountable at all times, not tucked away on a tab I can minimise. You’d be surprised how good you feel ticking off “reply to email” or “sort out desktop files” – and once you’ve got a few quick little tasks out of the way, you suddenly feel like you’re on a roll and primed and ready to attack the more meaty, complex tasks. 


Avoiding distractions

On days when you’re struggling with self motivation, the lure of distractions are very strong. I mostly try to use the techniques above to stay on task, but on particularly bad days, you might need a little extra help. 

If you find yourself too tempted by the lure of Instagram or Facebook, there are apps you can use to lockdown your phone for certain periods of time to remove these distractions. I use an app called OFFTIME on the worst days. It allows you to lockdown your phone but permit certain apps and phone calls, so you can still communicate, but you aren’t wasting time checking whether Mrs Hinch has updated her story every five minutes. 


Focusing on wellbeing

To help with general wellbeing outside of work, I think it’s really important to create a separate mental space between work and home. As there is no physical separation, it can be very easy for the two to blend in your mind. You want to be able to enjoy your home as your home without associating it with potential stress from work.

As I said, flexibility is one of the advantages of remote working, but because you’re at home anyway it can be tempting to continuously check in on emails, or even work late into the night. 

That’s why I like to stick to a schedule, and why I shut my office door at night and don’t use that room if I can help it otherwise. I also find it helps to have a “buffer period” between work activities and home activities. Think about it – usually you’d have a commute to separate work from home, but now all you have to do is walk down the hall into the living room and – BAM – that’s you for the night. 

I find meditating, doing exercise, or even just going to sit in the garden (weather permitting) for 20 minutes before you start your evening home activities can help to create this mental space between work and home. 


Staying connected

Feeling isolated is another potential downside of working from home, particularly if you’re used to going into an office and seeing your colleagues everyday. Hopefully, you’ll be busy enough with Teams meetings and phone calls to the point where this doesn’t really affect you, but on quieter days, it can feel like you’re a bit disconnected from the world and other humans. 

Obviously, this is going to be a problem now more than ever – you’re literally required to be physically disconnected from other humans. When the world was normal, it helped me to keep my social calendar in the evenings busy, as well as organising co-working days with colleagues or friends who also worked from home. 

None of those are possible at the moment, so substitute by setting up regular video calls and phone calls. You could even co-work with someone over video call – it helps just to know someone else is there. The advantage you have at the moment is that everyone’s in the same boat, so scrolling through your contact list you’re bound to find someone who’s feeling similarly isolated and eager to have a chat for half an hour.

Adjusting your mental state and wellbeing to working from home is a challenge. It’s important to remember that it’s not “business as usual” – everyone is in a very strange situation, and it would be a big ask to expect you to acclimatise immediately and be at the height of your productivity. Give yourself a break, ask for help and reassurance, and remember that your mental health is more important than anything. Except staying indoors and keeping a 2 metre distance from people if you do go out. That’s pretty important right now.

If you’d like any more advice on working from home, or just someone to chat to, get in touch