At the start of the year we relocated from Sheffield to Cambridge. We weren’t the only people who decided to make a big move as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stamp duty holiday. So, as you can imagine, the housing market was hot. We knew we’d have to be minimal with our house wishlist during our search but one of the things we couldn’t compromise on was space for a home office. Phil works from home full-time and I currently do one day a week which will soon increase as my little boy will be starting nursery. Then there’s the fact that toddlers can randomly throw things and with one rather expensive MacBook screen repair already completed it wasn’t something either of us wanted to have to go through again. So, a dedicated office space was important to us as a family.
We got very lucky and managed to find a house that not only had a garage with the potential of becoming an office but it was also in an ideal location and had a spacious kitchen. Cut to a couple of months later and what was once a a cold and empty garage is now a fantastic home office for my fiancé and I. A lot of hard work, time and money was put into creating our office but it really is a productive and creative space.
I’m not new to working from home. I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now, long before the chaos of COVID-19 ensued. I spent many years freelancing, blogging and I even had a short stint of running an online shop. However, this is the first time I’ve had a dedicated space to work. Before I had my son I spent a lot of time working from co-working spaces, the local library, coffee shops, my desk at home and let me be totally honest with you, my bed. I know I’m not alone in that either. We’ve all been there… right? I feel very lucky to have our home office and as I mentioned before, my son will soon be starting nursery which will allow for me to spend some more time working.
Working from home can be challenging and after the last 18 months that’s something I’m sure we can all agree on. But with over a decade under my belt I know some of the important steps it takes to ensure you can work effectively from home.
So, today I’m here to share how I’ve levelled up my work from home set-up since we renovated our office. These days I have less time to work but I’d say I get an awful lot more done in that time than I used to.
Five steps for effectively working from your home office
Routine is key
Just like babies, we all need a routine and this is particularly important when working from home.
Set a schedule and maintain a routine. It is honestly the key to a less chaotic life. For the record, I’m not someone who is naturally drawn to routine and organisation. I have to work very hard at it but when I’m in a solid routine it not only means I’m more successful with my work but also with home life, exercise and everything else.
When it comes to a solid routine I always think it’s a good idea to work to your strengths. Identify your most productive working hours and lean into them. Although I appreciate that the possibility of doing this all depends on the organisation you work for. I’m self-employed so I’ve always been able to work at my most productive hours which tend to be first thing in the morning and last thing at night. These days I try to keep my working hours to when X is at nursery or asleep.
I like to start my working day by checking my emails for 30 minutes while i enjoy my first coffee of the day. Then I’ll take three tasks for the day and work my way through them. I try not to have a huge to-do list on my desk these days. Instead I’ll break tasks down and if I complete them I can always add one more. This way it doesn’t become overwhelming.
Something that has really helped me to build a sold work routine is habit stacking. We’ll do a deep dive into this another day but for those of you who’re new to habit stacking it is as easy way of building new habits. So, find a habit you do each day like making your morning coffee and then you stack another habit in after such as taking your supplements, watering the plants or getting your important calls completed. I really recommend the book Atomic Habits to learn more about habit stacking.
Comfort and posture
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of hours spent hunching over a laptop. Within the first few years of working from home it was clear to myself and everyone around me that my posture took a quick and sharp nose dive. Over the years I’ve sat at kitchen tables, on my bed, the sofa or at random coffee shop tables. I’ve gone through phases with using laptop stands and wireless keyboards but since we moved into our new office I’m working extra hard to ensure I’m comfortable and sitting properly when I’m working.
My current set-up includes a chic and simple laptop stand, wireless keyboard and mouse as well as a very dreamy Herman Miller chair. I think we need to get real specific about each of these things because they have truly changed my working day.
Before I go on, let me say a huge thank you to the team at Herman Miller for kitting me out with the best chair I’ve ever had the pleasure of working from as well a chic and minimalist laptop stand.
Oripura Laptop Stand – My back, eyes and neck and much much happier since consistently using a laptop stand. The Oripura is perfect for my 13″ MacBook Pro and is very easy to set up. It holds my laptop securely and is very stable. I like that it can fold down flat to pop into a bag or store away. If I ever find myself using a co-working space again it will be very handy. It also has little cable slots which help to keep your desk tidy, a bonus for those of you who are particular about cable management.
Cosm Mid Back Chair – I’ve never been a fan of office chairs, especially not in the home. They usually aren’t very pretty, are super chunky and just take up too much room. That’s where Herman Miller come in. P started using the Cosm Chair a while back (here is his Cosm review) and within days of it arriving I found myself jumping to use it as and when I could. Just before the summer I joined the Herman Miller club and trust me when I say, there is no going back.
At first it felt strange to be sitting so comfortably at my desk. I naturally wanted to sit forward and hunch over my laptop but the wireless keyboard and laptop stand prevented that from being possible. I quickly realised just how bad my posture has been over the years.
I knew the Cosm Mid Back was going to be comfortable as I’d tried P’s high-back Cosm. However, I didn’t realise just how much it would change the way I work. I went for white and glacier combo to go with the softer colours on my side of the office. It arrived pre-assembled, which I was pleased about, and the only thing you need to adjust is the seat height. I opted for the leaf arms which I’ve found to be very comfortable. No matter how I’m working the leaf arms are there and ready for my elbows to nestle into. Whenever I have to use my laptop on the go I really miss having – what I like to call – my “arm nests” to take care of me.
At a first glance the Cosm is an investment for your home office but when you really think about it it’s an investment for your health and you can’t really put a price on that.
Logitech K380 Wireless keyboard and Mouse – This wireless keyboard and mouse were a special treat to celebrate moving into the new office. The ones I had before weren’t bad but they’d been knocking around for years and I thought it would be nice to have a matching keyboard and mouse. So, with a little help from Gadgetoid I picked out a Logitech combo in white although I’ve since noticed they do a pink one.
Oh, I also finally got a giant pink mouse mat too. I’ve spent years mocking Phil for his huge Endgame Gear mouse mat which is the size of his desk and now I’ve joined the club and I am so committed to it. For a start, it’s much more comfortable than working directly from the desk, it protects the surface of the desk, helps to keep everything in place and brings your aesthetic together.
At some point I plan to add an extra screen to my desk set-up but it’s not imminent, maybe when 2022 kicks off.
Like most of the other points in this blog post wellbeing could be a whole topic to itself. Wellbeing will mean different things to different people. So, I’ll share the things I do to ensure I’ve taken my own wellbeing into account while working from home.
- Music is said to improve productivity and cognitive performance when working from home. Although I do enjoy working in silence I have recently started to play Classic FM through Google Home in our office. It means there’s always some background music when I walk into the office.
- Fresh air is always a good idea. Unless it’s very cold outside we like to leave our office door open. This helps to bring in natural light, fresh air and ensures we aren’t totally cut off from nature. I love hearing the tweeting of the birds outside when I take my headphones out.
- I like to light a candle from time to time. Nothing too strong, just a subtle scent and more than anything it’s the process of lighting the candle I like best. I find it’s a nice way to signify the start of my working day in the office.
- I like to keep my desk clear, although to some people it might seem cluttered. A clean and tidy desk helps me to stay focused on the task at hand as opposed to worrying about all the mess and clutter around me. My partners desk seems very chaotic to me so it’s all about finding the right balance that works for you.
- Don’t forget to move. My iWatch gives me a nudge if I haven’t moved within the hour. I like that this is a prompt to get up and fill my water bottle, go out for some fresh air or to simply have a micro screen break.
- Turn your phone notifications off or switch to Do Not Disturb. This is something that I’m quite passionate about. In this day and age we can be contacted at any time and while that’s very cool it’s also not so healthy. So, it’s essential to set boundaries where we can. When I’m working I’ll se my phone to Do Not Disturb. Actually, here’s a little secret, my phone is usually in that setting. I have a select few people who are starred contacts and their calls or messages will come through. If I’m waiting for an important call my phone will be on loud ’til that call is done and out of the way. But trust me, if you’re not already doing this you must. It’s a game changer for focus, productivity and general wellbeing.
- Set boundaries for both yourself and the people around you. Let your friends and family know when you’re working and more importantly, let your clients know the hours they can contact you.
Schedule in snack and lunch breaks throughout the day and stick to them. You don’t have to have a snack during these breaks but it’s very important to get up, move around, take in some fresh air and drink some water. I like using the Pomodoro Technique to focus on tasks for a set amount of time and then take a 10 minute break.
End of work routine
By now you’ll know just how much I thrive off routine and that I rather controversially believe that everyone needs one. With routine comes habit stacking. So, when I close my laptop and leave the office that’s the end of my working day. I’ll go to my bedroom, change into a comfy outfit, put my slippers on and then go to the kitchen to make dinner. This all signifies the end of my working day and the start of my evening/afternoon stack of habits.
To end your working day you could close your laptop, change into a workout outfit and go for a run. Alternatively you could play a specific song at the end of each workday. Whatever it is, an end of work routine will help towards building a healthy work-life balance.
Leave a comment below and let me know how you stay focused and productive when working from home.