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Home office setup with laptop, keyboard, mouse, and desk plant

Working from home or hotels: A guide to staying sane and being productive

With international travel being the last thing on everyone’s minds right now, I figured this is probably a good chance to talk about working from home.

For the past few years, my office has been a desk in the corner of my living room. I use this space to get work done as a freelancer, and more recently as a place to study for my university degree.

My husband Rob also has a remote job, so we usually take turns working or studying from the desk inside our compact Sydney apartment. When one of us wants to use the home office, the other goes out to use our local library, co-working spaces, coffee shops, or my university study areas.

Due to the current pandemic, our options for leaving the apartment have been limited. I’ll be completing the remainder of my university studies remotely from home, and Rob has been advised to avoid his co-working space until this situation blows over. For the foreseeable future, we’ll both need to use our home office.

Many of you are now having to work from home as well and I know this can be tricky to navigate, especially if you’ve never done it before.

Working from home can honestly be really great (especially if you’re an introvert, like me!). When you’re removed from an office full of people, there are no interruptions from colleagues coming over to ask questions about something you’re working on. But, some people find it difficult and lonely. When you’re not surrounded by other people who are also working, it can be hard to get motivated.

If you’re wondering how to make the best of a work from home situation, here are all my tips on staying sane and being productive!

Study desk setup with laptop, cup of tea, and desk plant
My new study desk setup

Have a dedicated work space

Having your own dedicated work space is the most important aspect of working from home – it makes it easier to feel as though you are in a work environment. Here’s a few ways that you can improve your home office if you have the space:

Get your own desk. A proper desk helps to make it feel like you’re actually at work. This also means not using the dining room table as your desk, as this will inevitably need to be used for other things! Buy a desk online or in a second-hand marketplace, if you need one. I just purchased a small IKEA dressing table to use as my study desk while Rob and I are both working from home.

Have a permanent laptop/computer set up. Even though laptops are useful for moving around, it can actually be hard to concentrate on work when you’re typing from the couch or sitting outside with the sun in your eyes. If you have a permanent place to set up your computer, you’ll find it easier to get into work mode. Rob also purchased a few gadgets (like a laptop stand, a computer mouse, and a keyboard) to make his home office setup more comfortable.

Use a comfortable office chair. Working from a dining chair can be uncomfortable and is not particularly ergonomic. A proper office chair is advisable. We bought a swivel desk chair from IKEA a few years back which works great for our home office setup, and I bought a cushioned chair with a backrest to use at my new study desk. If you don’t have an appropriate chair, definitely buy one!

Embrace natural light and plants. I personally hate working under bright artificial lights, and there’s nothing worse than having a desk in a dark spot with no fresh air. A great way to make your workspace more enticing is to have it near a window and position a few plants around the place to freshen it up.

Home office setup with laptop, keyboard, mouse, and desk plant
Rob’s home office setup on our work desk

Block out ambient noise

Neighbourhood noises can be distracting when you’re trying to get work done. Rob and I currently have some construction noise happening down the road, and sometimes there are nearby dogs barking, doors slamming in the hallway, and noisy trucks driving by during the day.

A great way to block out ambient noise is to use headphones or earphones and play music. I’m a huge fan of some of the Apple Music playlists like ‘Pure Ambient’ and ‘BEATstrumentals’ which are great for the times that you need to focus. Other music subscription services will surely have similar playlists for you to listen to during work hours.

Communicate with other people in your household about work time

Rob and I are almost guaranteed to ask each other questions and start random conversations when we’re both working from home. It’s inevitable that we distract each other from time to time, especially when we feel like procrastinating.

One way to get around this is to communicate with the other person that you’re going to get into work mode for a few hours, and ask them to please hold off on any chatting until a certain time. This is a good strategy to avoid annoying each other when you really need to work.

Make sure your internet connection is adequate

Working from home can be a giant headache if your internet connection is crappy, especially if there are a few of you in the household using the internet at the same time. It may cost a little more, but it’s totally worth the few extra dollars per month to upgrade to a faster speed with more bandwidth. It will make video conference calls so much easier!

Get dressed

It might seem silly to put on proper clothes when you could be working from the comfort of your pajamas or sweat pants, but many people (myself included) actually find that getting dressed in a normal work outfit helps with productivity. Somehow it’s easier to feel motivated when you look presentable! It’s purely a mind thing, but it works.

Take regular breaks

I believe this is appropriate for working in an office, too, but most people (including Rob!) don’t take breaks often enough. I think that it helps keep your mind clear and stops you from feeling overworked. Breaks don’t need to be long – just 5 minutes every hour to grab a cup of coffee or stretch your legs is enough.

Avoid procrastination

When working from home, it’s easy to use tasks like cleaning or tidying as excuses to procrastinate. Be firm about saying no to those kinds of distractions during work hours. If you find yourself thinking about procrastination tasks, try writing them down in a to-do list to come back to after work is finished. This will ensure you get your dedicated work time and the other tasks will still eventually get done.

Shut down your computer at the end of the day

It can be tempting to keep your screen active after the work day is finished just in case someone replies to one of your emails, but it’s important to separate work time from home time. You don’t want to become one of those people who replies to work emails at 10PM! At the end of the day, shut down your computer just like you would when you leave your workplace.

Do fun/relaxing activities during your free time

You’re probably left with a ton of free time now that you’re not commuting to work every day, so use it to enjoy yourself. Go for a walk in the park, or if you can’t go outside, play a board game or do a puzzle – I just bought a huge 2000 piece jigsaw from an online hobby store to keep me occupied!

You could also cook a fancy meal, or be creative and make some art to hang on your walls. Maybe start a blog, or plan all the amazing trips you’ll take after this pandemic is over (I have a ton of destination guides that you can look through!). Relaxing and fun activities will definitely help to keep you sane during this time working from home.

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