Working from home for the first time? Here’s how to establish a new (and successful) structure to your day

Life has changed so unexpectedly and quite dramatically over the past few weeks due to the Coronavirus and many people are having to adjust to social isolation for an unknown period of time. As if that’s not stressful enough, many also have their children to look after and entertain 24/7; they have vulnerable family members they are worried about, financial worries lingering in the background, and all while this is going on, they are expected to carry out their work duties from home. 

This is an incredibly stressful time so, whether you’ve worked from home before or this is your very first time, you’re going to need a new structure and a lot of discipline to help you get through it. To help you establish the best daily routine for working from home, here is our complete guide.

Why having a daily routine is important

Before we help you with the how, we just want to touch on the why. Why is having a daily routine so important when working from home?

The most important reason for establishing a daily routine is because it provides a sense of structure and familiarity, both of which are essential during a time of such uncertainty and anxiety. Structure is essential to us because it:

  • helps us organise our life in a way that makes sense to us.
  • allows us to wake up with a sense of ownership, order, and organisation.
  • negates the need to regularly schedule our days ahead of time.
  • orovides direction in our lives so that we can act rather than standing still (usually due to a lack of direction or decision paralysis).

When we have structure to our days, we are then more able to build positive habits, establish priorities, limit procrastination, and keep track of our goals. This also increases our efficiency in life as we start to carry out our routine automatically.

Willpower is finite and motivation is not constant, so by having a successful daily routine that becomes a habit, we can build a momentum that helps to carry us on the days where we feel like we don’t have the strength to carry ourselves. This is particularly important for times like now.

How to create the best daily routine for working from home

So we’ve outlined why having a routine is important - as Tynan, the author of Superhuman by Habit, says, habits are “action[s] that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought” - now we show you how to create them.

Step 1: think about the things you HAVE to include in your day

There are a few things that you will always have to include in your day (e.g. work, family etc) and these will form the core structure of your new routine.

Think about what these are, make a list, and write a few to-dos for each area. Something like this:

My day always has to include…

  1. Work - create my designated work area at home, decide on what hours I will work each day, check if I have the necessary apps and software to communicate with colleagues.
  2. Family - think about what each family member needs from me each day, decide how and when I will spend quality time with them, make a plan of what schoolwork and exercise the children need to be doing each day, decide how I will check in on other family members.
  3. Food - create a weekly meal plan, communicate set mealtimes with the family.
  4. Self-care - decide when I will have time for myself, decide how and when I will exercise/meditate/get some headspace etc, decide what hours I will go to bed and wake up.

As you can see, the first step to creating a successful daily routine is planning and preparation. Once you have these core areas that you need to include in your day, then you can plan them in.

Step 2: Discuss your new daily routine with your family

What might be the best daily routine for working from home for YOU may not be ideal for your partner or family, so before jumping in head first, discuss it with everyone.

Maybe your ideal day will be getting up early to do some work, having lunch with your family and then doing a few more hours until you can have the evening off with them? Perhaps it’s getting up early to exercise and have some me-time, then spending time with your family in the day and working in the evening?

The more you involve your partner or family in the planning of your daily routine, the easier it will be for you to balance the personal with the business whilst working from home. Collaboration also ensures that everyone is clear of the boundaries and exactly when you are working and when you’re not. More importantly, it also prevents them from feeling ‘unimportant’ as you have scheduled quality time with them into your day.

Think of this as an exercise where you need to create the routine that ticks the most boxes for everyone.

Step 3: Adjust to find what works best for you

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. This means that you won’t be able to create a completely new daily routine in a day - it’s going to take a lot of trial and error to find what works for you.

To make sure that you establish the best daily routine for working from home, here are a few tips to help you adjust:

  • Establish essential rituals - have you noticed that every successful professional seems to have a morning routine? This is because one of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top. Here is an example of habit stacking: after I get out of bed in the morning, I meditate for 10 minutes and then make myself a cup of coffee.
  • Get washed and dressed before starting work - this will not only improve your state of mind, but it will also psychologically prepare you to start work.
  • Stick to your set working hours - Be strict with yourself and adhere to the start and end times that you’ve set yourself. It's not just about making sure you work a certain number of hours - it's about maximising the time you do have.
  • Review your performance at the end of each day and plan for the next day - this allows you to organise your tasks by priority so that you know which tasks need to be done by the end of each day. Planning, prioritising, and reviewing also helps you to stay focused and it gives you a measurable indication of how well you're performing in a work-from-home environment.
  • Make the effort to ring or video call - working home every day, especially in a time of social isolation, can be extremely lonely. Take every opportunity to ring/video call team members and clients to ensure that you’re getting your social needs met.
  • Take regular breaks and move around - it’s important for your health to take regular screen breaks - not to mention it clears your mind and gives you a refreshed perspective - so take a break and move around regularly just as you would in the office.
  • Find ways to become more efficient - there are plenty of resources to help you when it comes to working from home, so do some research to ease the transition. Check out our essential 4-step guide to leading your team virtually during the Coronavirus or our blogs on how to run effective online meetings and why now is the best time to handover your client portfolio to a trusted team member.
  • Reward yourself - when you’ve done something worthy of a reward such as finishing a burdensome task, don’t hesitate to reward yourself with a longer break or a fresh pot of coffee. Rewarding yourself appropriately throughout the day gives you positive feedback for your accomplishments and keeps things from getting stale. This is what is known as a ‘positive feedback loop,’ where you do something good, it produces a good result, and this encourages you to do more good.

Step 4: Focus on consistency but be prepared to be flexible

Practice makes perfect and consistency is key! While both of these phrases are very true, what they don’t tell you is that sometimes, things happen that are out of your control; things that you have to adapt to, things like the Coronavirus which completely throw everything else out of whack. That’s why it is so essential to factor flexibility into your daily routine.

What we mean by this is essentially mindset. We are in a seemingly impossible situation at the moment so we are not going to be running on 100%; we are not going to be working at our best and that’s okay. It’s okay if you tell yourself that it is.

Some days, you will be super productive and will feel on top of the world, other days, you may as well have just stayed in bed. To factor in this ‘flexibility’ for change, here are a couple of tips to bear in mind:

  • Always complete your hardest work tasks first thing - that way if you run out of steam in the evening, you would have already done your most important task and won’t feel guilty about taking some time off.
  • On the days where you are struggling, call it a day straight away - if something is taking you far longer than it should, you’re just not in the zone. Rather than struggling through it and potentially not doing a great job anyway, take a proper break and return to it later in the day or the next day when you can get it done properly.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself - life is hard enough at the moment without beating yourself up too, so give yourself a break. Plan, prioritise and do your best. It’s all you can do.

For more support in this ever-changing situation, read our blog on 16 Ways to Cope When Life Changes Suddenly.

Find YOUR best daily routine for working from home

In such a difficult time where we find ourselves juggling all aspects of our lives while working from home, it’s essential to create a new daily routine. With structure comes efficiency, productivity, health, and happiness, so take the time to experiment and find the one that works best for you and your family.

It’ll by no means be easy, but with commitment and motivation, your life will become far happier for it. That’s why the saying is, “Good habits are hard to form but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with.”

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