Freelancing for 14 years has proved good practice for life in the time of the Covid-19 crisis. When the lockdown was imposed, I share my top tips for how to work well from home. The uncertainty associated with being your own boss is now proving a useful experience as the economic slowdown starts to bite. Staying happy and productive in the face of an ambiguous financial future is challenging but there are certain habits and techniques which I hope you will find helpful.
Establish a routine
As the pace of work slows down, motivation tends to ebb and days can be frittered away. A routine keeps you on track. Aim to get up at the same time every day and plan a morning schedule which makes you feel happy. I like to get showered and dressed first thing and I take the time to make a good breakfast and savour it. Build a regular schedule for the whole day – when you eat lunch, stop working, prepare dinner and head to bed. Enjoy being able to shape your day in this way: you get to decide when and what order you do things rather than having it imposed on you. Revel in working with your personal circadian rhythm and preferences.
Make a plan
Establishing a routine is the first step to staying productive. Having a plan with what to do with your time is the next stage. What do you want to do now work has slowed? Do you need to lay the groundwork to find a new job? Take this time to develop your business? Or is managing your health and stress levels your current priority? Once you have determined your principal goal, break it down into actions which need to be taken and start scheduling them into your day. Block out time in your diary for specific tasks. Once again, work with your preferences. That might be, for example, doing project work in the morning and admin in the afternoon.
Build good habits
Establishing a routine and making a plan are both examples of establishing good habits. The secret to long-term productivity is to encourage good habits and kill off bad ones. But knowing what habits to have and actually having them can be two very different things! It’s too easy to think about what you should do while doing something less productive. If you struggle to establish both a routine and plan effectively, then read James Clear’s Atomic Habits – it’s a practical guide on how to establish effective behaviours.
The isolation of lockdown can be magnified further by economic slowdown. Regular contact with colleagues and clients fades away. Plans such as “develop my business” can feel nebulous and hard to turn into specific action points. Producing a punchy CV can be tricky when writing isn’t your strength. And managing your own stress can feel insurmountable. At this tricky time, it’s imperative to have mentors. Find people you respect who have been successful in a way you would like to emulate. Don’t be afraid to make the first approach – most will be happy to pass on their wisdom. As well as a mentor, have a friend you can talk to regularly. Spelling out your daily plans to someone else helps to make you accountable and it can provide a valuable sense check. If you have a colleague who has a particular skill you lack, such as budgeting or writing a great CV, then ask for advice.
Prioritise your health
Routines, plans and mentoring will be hard to establish and maintain if you are not sleeping well, eating healthily and exercising regularly. We are creatures of habit: waking up at the same time everyday establishes good sleep patterns. To learn more, read Nick Littlehales’ book Sleep. Eat healthily may sound obvious but is surprisingly challenging during a lockdown. It’s easy to view food and drink as some of the few treats we have left in our arsenal of pleasure. And so many of us are baking, snacking and drinking our way to nirvana. Unfortunately we are also less active and more stressed which, in combination with the cakes and alcohol, is a great way to gain weight. As keen cook who has worked from home for many years, I learnt long ago to shun baking in favour of preserving. It’s just as satisfying and healthier to make jams, chutneys and ferment vegetables. Exercise in the current environment has been my biggest challenge. I missed going to the gym and lifting weights. Doing something in my own home felt pointless and dull. But then I realised exercise is key tool in managing anxiety so I had to find something I enjoyed. I now do quick morning workouts and floor exercises in the afternoon to transition from working to relaxation. It’s all about find something which makes you feel good.
Be kind to yourself
Let’s not soft-soap it: life is currently discombobulating. Staying productive during such weird times gives me a feeling of purpose and control. Achieving something – however small – in the face of so much uncertainty feels like a victory. But it is just as important to be kind to ourselves as it is to form routines, make plans and do our morning squat routine. Try not to write too busy a schedule; give yourself time to relax and unwind. And if your day doesn’t go to plan, there is always tomorrow.