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Working from home effectively requires thought and planning.

nyul/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A month or more into working from home, you probably have a comfortable routine. But it was probably developed without a huge amount of thought when the boss ordered you home, and now would be a good time to look at what you missed.

If you are having trouble getting started each morning and finding the impetus you used to have, consider Wally Bock’s trick. When the consultant started to work from home nearly four decades ago, he would have breakfast every morning, dress as if going to work, leave the house and lock the door behind him, get into his car and drive around the block. Then he would go up the stairs to his front door, unlock it and head for his office, in a work frame of mind.

If you still haven’t carved out a designated workspace and rules for engagement with others in the family, you may be missing an important step. There are lots of spaces in your home, but he argues only one should be for work (and you should have a comfortable work chair, not an ill-fitting borrowed kitchen chair – invest in ergonomics). If there’s no door, find another way to signal to others when you are focused on work.

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“People need to know when they can interrupt you and when they can’t. My rule when my kids were at home is that you don’t interrupt Daddy unless you also must call 911,” he says. Naturally that didn’t work perfectly; at times, they burst into his office when they wanted to share something exciting.

And that’s okay. He confesses years later he doesn’t remember any interruptions but remembers some of those moments of joy. But he still recommends that approach, complemented by “loved ones” breaks. Spend extra time with the kids or have a lunch with your spouse.

Avni Patel Thompson, CEO of Modern Village, her third startup aimed at families, recommends in a Harvard Business Review blog a Sunday-evening planning session for the week. It should include: What is your kids’ schedule? What will you have for each meal? When will you do chores such as laundry, dishes and general cleaning? When are your key work meetings or times it’s critical you have someone to cover household tasks?

Then put it into a family calendar, figuring out work shifts. She offers these three options:

  • A partner swap: Four-hour shifts in which one partner works while the other cares for the kids.
  • Short shifts: Thirty-minute to two-hour shifts in which the adults rotate working and child care.
  • Video shifts: It’s possible with older kids to organize virtual play dates in which you pay some attention but also can do work while they play with friends or chat with grandparents.

Keep in mind that many of your colleagues may be trying to balance work and child care. In Forbes, career advisor Kourtney Whitehead suggests being considerate of colleagues whose work supports your own. Be thoughtful about what you actually need from them compared with what you want or have traditionally requested. Set clear deadlines that take their life situation into account. “Delivering for your clients will remain a high priority, but as much as you can, be sure to provide your colleagues with flexibility to manage family life,” she writes.

Finally, venting. In the office, you might see your boss looking free and receptive, so you slide into his office to raise concerns, or you pull a friend aside for coffee. In their book, Working Remotely, Teresa Douglas, Holly Gordon and Mike Webster suggests choosing the proper time and starting by telling the listener you need a few moments to let off some steam. Also, consider the medium; you are less likely to say something you later regret on video seeing the other person than if typing, angrily and alone, at your keyboard.

Quick hits

  • When working from home, put powering-down time in your calendar and reflect on the progress you made that day, journalist Liv McConnell recommends.
  • The closest thing to magic for your money when working remotely is noise-cancelling headphones, says writer and entrepreneur Thomas Oppong.
  • Use this unprecedented time while sheltering in place for unprecedented personal development, advises consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni. Set aside a particular time of the day – even if only 15 minutes – for learning. Even better, commit the time you would normally be commuting to learning.
  • Block your distraction kryptonite, suggests productivity consultant John Zeratsky. If there is one source that you find particularly hard to resist, create barriers around it by uninstalling the app or blocking the website so you only give it attention when you choose, he writes in the Make Time newsletter.
  • Gallup found that 60 per cent of workers in the U.S. doing their jobs from home would prefer to continue working remotely as much as possible when the pandemic restrictions end.

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