How to create the ultimate work from home office sanctuary

April 28, 2020 11 min read 1 Comment

work-from-home-office-sanctuary

Photo by Slava Keyzman  

Coronavirus has changed the way people work and interact, we may never look at working in a large office the same again.

The current pandemic has meant I am now working remotely and have been navigating the challenges of staying positive, productive and on task during this unique situation.

A collective workspace keeps individuals accountable, and removing this can affect productivity. I've enjoyed the short commute from down the hallway to our home office. Still, there are many potential distractions that you just don't get at an old fashioned office.

I've scoured the web and read more productivity and home office articles, blogs and research papers than I'd care to admit. I've found a few common threads and added some of my own tried and tested pearls of wisdom. My ultimate work from home resource kit has been designed help you to tackle your projects with professionalism and stay on task.

WARNING: You may find you are so productive in your remodelled home office, that you will never want to go back to an uninspired traditional office. How are you handling a WFH office? We'd love to hear your tips and see some of your home office environments.

I found that working on these three area's helped me to craft the perfect home office setup:

1. Routine

2. Isolate

3. Environment


1. Routine:

Routine is crucial to help keep your brain on task. Although we don't need to be on time for the bus, school drop-offs and the daily transit to our work anymore – it is crucial to keep a schedule to help you stay on task. When you break down the day, it allows you to focus on the job while allocating time away from work. However, it isn't just sitting down at your desk at a particular time that will help your productivity. Here are a few that I found helpful.

What time of the day are you most productive? Do you know what time your brain tends to wander off to procrastination land?

Thomas Oppong researches different ways to find this so that you 'organise your days around your energy, not your time.' Once you have found the most productive time of the day, assign the challenging tasks in this slot. Use productivity to your advantage, and focus when your energy allows it.

For example, I have a larger productive output in the morning after my coffee. I then start with the difficult task that requires the majority of my energy, followed by a lighter job in the afternoon. This helps me when I reach the afternoon slump, and my brain desperately needs to lighten the load.

However, some people are night owls. This is where working at home can be in your favour if this relates to you!

Routine also means that you need to behave as though you are still working in a typical working week. Working from home comes with its flexibility, but that can also lean towards laziness and a sporadic routine. It is essential to act as though you have the working week ahead.

This does mean that going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up at an acceptable time. This routine will be kind to your body and will overflow into your working day. If you have a specific time to wake up and be at your desk – chances are you will have a higher productive output for the day.

Schedule for Day:

At the office, you have a list of things that need to be done, meetings to attend and deadlines that have to be met. Although it may be the same expectation at home, your motivation tends to relax when you are surrounded by comfort. Setting yourself goals, or a daily schedule will assist with your efficiency.

productivity-diary

Photo by Estée Janssens 

Setting small goals motivates us to keep working. This is due to the small successes we feel when checking the list off. 
Have you ever tried Trello before? Trust me, once you do – you will find the satisfaction of moving things to completed addictive that you will want to make checklists for everything.

Further reading from Trello on the psychology of checklists and why setting small goals motivates us to accomplish bigger things here

Alternatively, bullet journals or a diary are a great way to keep your agenda within sight. The pure satisfaction of checking the list of goals off will motivate you to do more. Therefore, your productivity will improve.

Break often:

When at the office, being surrounded by other motivated people helps yourself keep at task. However, when you are at home working alone, the impulse to procrastinate becomes much higher. Quintus R. Jett and Jennifer M. George, in an article based on distractions in the workplace, suggest that procrastination occurs when 'individuals are bored, frustrated or just in need of respite.'

Let's be honest when you are working alone – you can get bored very quickly as you have distractions all around you. Namely, the TV (Netflix) for me.

If you struggle with this as I do. Setting certain times to reset and take a break will help immensely. Once you are on your break, remove yourself from your desk. Walk your legs to the other side of the house, or get outside and breathe in some fresh air. Giving your mind some space will provide relief, and your productivity will begin to flow when you continue your task.

Please note: this does not give you the excuse to break every 5 minutes.

Struggling to find the right timing?

The Pomodoro technique is a helpful routine, by offering breaks often without overdoing it. Simply set your task in front of you for 25 minutes. Once the timer goes off, take a 3-5 minute break away from your work. This 3-5 minute break has to be done, regardless of being in the middle of the task. It offers relief, as explained above. It will help your brain "disconnect", and then once the break is over, you can continue the task at hand. This technique is used by many all over the world. Give it a go and see if it makes the difference to you.

Stretches/Movement:

Experts encourage you to stretch often to reduce stiffness when you have been in one position for an extended period.  Alternatively, a break, standing at your desk or moving your body can help you reset and prepare for sitting down to work again. Stretching your legs, including moving your body will improve your motivation but also assist your mood as detailed in this Forbes article 

We have a few stretches you can try at your desk, trying these will help you feel a bit more nimble during your workday. 

I am lucky enough to be working at my Varidesk, that helps me easily stand within 10 seconds. If you are like me, and you love standing and moving around while tapping away. You will love the impact it will do to your productivity. I no longer feel inactive being at my desk.

Noise Limit:

Photo by Tomasz Gawłowski 

Music is a helpful tool, especially if you have a very loud or quiet household that contributes to a lack of production. Distraction, or otherwise known as frequent breaks from work, can result in procrastination and leads to costly delays in your production. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/30040736) Therefore, investing in some noise-cancelling headphones can attribute to your focus.

Alternatively, some people do find it hard to focus when the room is too quiet, and this is where music does help focus. Ideally, you need to play something that your brain already knows. Music can be distracting when you find a new song, and you aren't able to detract from the music and focus. Often instrumental, or gentle acoustic is highly chosen as it compliments your attention and will help.
Additionally, the noise level of this music needs to be at an adequate level that will help and not hinder your work. If the music is too loud, it can distract and confuse your brain.

You only know how noisy or distracting the music can be before you are less productive, so experiment with this and find your productive limit.
There are creative playlists on Spotify, that will help you choose the correct playlist for your work environment. Here are three playlists that we have found helpful in our office:

Productive Spotify Playlists

1. Binaural Beats : Focus
2. Work Day Chill
3. The Office Stereo

2. Isolate.


Phone use:

Productivity can be hindered by our phone being the main distraction. Although we use this for music and other reasons for the work at hand. Often, when it is in our sight of view, we also tend to lean towards the notifications for social media. I know I am guilty of this, and without even knowing it – I am browsing through Instagram or looking at my feed. Procrastination robs our attention, and we aren't focusing on the task at hand. Putting your phone away in the drawer beside you removes the constant notifications popping up, or the unknown glance at the screen.

If you are not in a position to put your phone away, there are different applications ( https://zapier.com/blog/stay-focused-avoid-distractions/) or phone modes you can install. These can help you stop the overwhelming desire to check your phone. Alternatively, individuals have resorted to turning their phone face down on the table. Having the screen out sight removes the need to check, but allows the phone to be accessible for calls.

Desk space:

Ever heard of out of sight out of mind? This is what we are trying to achieve here.

Close the door to your new office. When you are in an office environment, you don't have your home distractions just asking for attention. Your washing isn't asking to be done, the dishes aren't sitting there, or your family is screaming for attention. If you don't have the 'family life' distractions like my team, even your favourite book or your binge TV show can distract you even further.

Keeping yourself isolated and away will increase your productivity tenfold. It is recommended to close the door of the room you are working in so that you send the message to outside distractions that you are not accessible.

Combine this with your new noise-cancelling headphones, you won't even know you are at home.

office-environment
Photo by NeONBRAND 

If you aren't in a position where your office can have a closed-door, there are ways to shut out the distractions. You can achieve a similar effect by pivoting your desk to face away or having a makeshift wall while working.

3. Environment

The environment you surround yourself in has a strong impact on your working capacity and levels of productivity.

Dress to impress:

When working from home, there is a novelty of sitting in your pyjamas. When advised that we will be working from home, I have to admit that the first thing I thought was this would be my everyday attire. But I soon found out that it impacted my productivity by tenfold. I soon found that it was best if you work in the attire for the job. Changing into an outfit that you usually wear at the office, or during the workday will increase your motivation and productivity. Getting changed shifts your work mentality from being home, in a comfy environment to being ready for work. This all links to the routine, and how it will help improve your mindset for the day.

Similar to getting prepared to play a sport. You wouldn't go on the field, prepared to win the game dressed in your most formal attire. It wouldn't help your mindset but also performance. Therefore, getting dressed for the office is getting yourself in the zone to complete the tasks you have set. Preparing yourself for battle. The battle, in this case, is against procrastination.

Try this out, and see for yourself!

Organisation.

Organise your space so that you feel encouraged to work. Having the clutter removed will help you only focus on one task at a time. Allowing the space beside you to be empty so that you have space for writing tools or paperwork that needs to be actioned. Keep your personalisation to a minimum to avoid distraction

The same as dressing for the office, you are routinely sitting in an office-like environment and surrounding yourself with things that will only enable you to do your best.
If you start working on your couch with your laptop. This is not a space that will encourage you to reach your full productivity. You will be more lenient to watch tv, lie back, relax or possibly close the laptop and avoid work altogether.

Ideas that help with setting up your workspace are as below:

  1. Lighting. 

    No one likes to work in a dark environment, try and get some natural light into your office. If you are unable to achieve this, then a soft glow at your desk will help you feel the ambient vibe.
  2. Art.
    
Art is a simple but effective way to bring some colour and aesthetics in your environment without being too overwhelming or distracting.
  3. Personalisation (but not too heavy).

    A small picture of your family, but not too many as you don't want your brain to drift off thinking about the memories. 
  4. Space to work, Minimalist outlook.
    
The less you have on your desk, the clearer it will be for your brain to process the task at hand.
  5. Greenery.
    Greenery is a simple yet effective way to add some relaxation to your desk. 

Work mode enabled.

Additionally, setting up a working space/area helps your brain step into work mode. Once you are done for the day or having a break – stepping away from your space enables you to feel relief. This will help you with the work, life balance at home.

I have certainly enjoyed getting up, walking away from my desk and enjoying the rest of my day. Knowing I won't be working anywhere else in the house, it allows my brain to deactivate and relax.

Ergonomics:

Looking after your body and mind is vital to have a substantial impact on your productivity. Ergonomics are essential, if not the most important tip when working from home. When you set yourself up correctly, it allows you to focus on tasks without pausing due to the aches and pains of your body. Setting your station up can take time, but once done, you will be happy you did.

The majority of desk users have found back pain a common complaint, as they are sitting at a desk all day and does not compliment their health. Studies have shown that good posture equals higher productivity, but also it helps your health. 

There are ways you can make your workspace more Ergonomic.

Once you have mastered your desk set up, see if you can set up your environment to also enable movement. This helps your body take a break from the position it has been in, giving yourself a break and relief.

If you have the resources available to you, a standing desk helps with this as it helps with productivity. As our environment is continuously changing, we have found that VariDesk is helpful as it is a desk converter. It can be easily moved from the office to your home, still enabling an ergonomic workplace.

It is imperative, now more than ever, to look after your health. So we do see this as an essential factor to the working environment.

See the below diagram to show the correct way to sit at your desk.

computer-posture-ergonomics

Conclusion

Every brain is different. Working from home is also very different. We encourage you to experiment and find your groove to have the most productive output in your new environment. If one thing doesn't work, scrap it and move on to find the next best thing. There are many ways to compliment your output of work, but only you will be able to achieve it by seeing what's best for you.

We'd love to see your home office setup and learn some more tips and tricks. We hope that this list may help inspire or challenge your new #WFH status quo. It certainly has changed mine!


1 Response

Chris Evans
Chris Evans

April 30, 2020

Thanks for this! Feeling super motivated now & looking forward to getting back to work! Do you have favourite indoor plant?

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