Be it the last five minutes of a suspenseful film, the precious moments after a manicure before the nail varnish dries, or the instant between cooked and burned food; timing is everything. So it stands to reason that organising time efficiently is one of the most crucial skills a person can have. Every professional role advertised or applied for expects time management, and this is even more crucial when you work at home and/or for yourself.
Last summer, a friend asked how I was enjoying my holiday and whether I was looking forward to returning to university scheduling. At the time, I had to suppress a laugh. While my friends studying towards medicine-based qualifications have very full weekly timetables, longer terms, and shorter holidays, despite studying ‘full-time’, I only have four lectures a week and am blessed with extended holiday periods. Yes, during term time I have assignments to write and examinations to study for, but I enjoy keeping busy beyond that. So during the summer, I engage in multiple projects, eradicating any chance of boredom. As an example, over the summer of 2018, I collaboratively produced a ‘Mindful Motivations’ Calendar for Jan-Dec 2019 (click for more info).
Because I have such an open timetable during the academic year, I like to fill it with activities involving professional and personal development. Aside from my ‘full-time’ studies and CPD classes, I tutor privately, work as a Teaching Assistant, volunteer, and maintain a number of other personal commitments. In essence, I organise my time in the same way – no matter what time of the year it is. Just like anyone who is their own boss, I am accountable to only myself. Nobody will pester me for slacking, nor nag me to meet deadlines.
The friends who are a few years older than me laugh when I tell them I’m so busy. In their mind, university was a breeze and only now have they truly discovered the meaning of ‘being busy’.
But working from home – as I know it to be – is not as simple or as easy as it would appear to be. Friends and family brush it off as flexible and convenient, but do not consider the responsibility involved, and the guilt that hovers over my shoulder, whispering ‘you could and should be doing more’. That said, when I was in the office from 9-5, I was probably doing less, but the fact that someone else was pleased with my output meant that my lunchtime strolls were guilt-free.
There is a huge benefit in being able to leave your work at work and ‘switching off’ once you get home. Even if you answer the odd call or email in evenings and weekends, those are – to your manager and/or your client – outside the realms of normal work-related etiquette.
Working from home means you can run quick errands at times that suit you, rather than being chained to a half-hour radius of your office, lest you return from lunching late! But… I live in a flat, and my desk is my dining room table. While I have all my home comforts ‘at work’, I also have all my home distractions, which are far more enticing, considering how similar ‘working from home’ can seem to ‘solitary confinement’. Yes, I set my own routine, but that often means that I am working during my would-be lunch break, or later in the evening to give me the feeling of accomplishment: I have done an honest day’s work and now I can now switch off for the night.
I will be the first to admit that my methods are not perfect, but I have picked up some tips along the way…
Commitment: Whether on work time or leisure time, I commit wholeheartedly. If I am working, I ‘turn off’ from social media, television, etc. and if I am having a break, I let the professional emails and calls fly in, but don’t pick up. They will still be there when the break is over.
Organisation: Ok, this point is not exactly a revelation; you need organisational skills wherever you work. However, a greater level of planning and discipline is required for home-workers. I have to-do lists (with must-do’s and desirable tasks) and calendar entries with deadlines and commitments to ensure that I am always on-time with my submissions. At the beginning of the day I set out what I intend to achieve; at the end I tick off the activities completed and analyse the reasons why I may not have fulfilled others. Sometimes I expect more of myself than is reasonable.
Expectations: When tempted to work late or pick up work on the weekend, I consider both the expectations I would have on someone else, were they in my position, and the expectations I would have for myself, were my work-station in an office rather than at home. If I would not expect myself or others to be working in that time given their situation, I should not expect it of myself in my current position.
Productivity: Unless I am on an assigned break, if I am having a ‘slow day’, a day when I am slightly less focused or fewer demands are being made of me, I do something else in that time. I am more than happy to pause work, sort laundry, go back to work, put on a wash, go back to work, hang laundry. This pattern gets me up and moving – on other days 3 O’ Clock can roll by before I realise that I have been glued in the same position since 8!
Space: Some people are more easily affected than others, but I am very much a ‘messy home, messy mind’ person. When working in a clean, designated work area (even if this transforms into my dining area at other times), concentration is improved. By moving away from this space when I’m not working, I am enhancing my ability to commit (as per my first point). If you have a spare room you can transform into an office, even better – that way you can put a physical door between your work and home life. I also give myself the flexibility to move around. Particularly if I come to experience writer’s block, I’ll pick up my laptop and move to a different place within my home. It may not sound like much, but I find this improves productivity, and after all, isn’t transportability the purpose of having a laptop over a desktop computer?
Forgiveness: Working from home is challenging. On some days, I get a call from a family member and end up sacrificing half a day of work to babysitting their children. If I gave myself a mental ‘telling off’ when I did not achieve everything I hoped for at the start of the day, my mental health would be severely impacted. But as organised as I am, I know I will be able to make up the time somewhere else in my week. Allowing yourself to book time off and forgiving yourself when you have to do so abruptly is an absolute must!
So you know how I get by; now I would like to hear from you! If you have a tip to help you manage your workload or know how to keep a busy day from being a boring day, please feel free to share it in the comments section.