How to focus, stay fit and have fun when working from home

Roughly a 11 minute read by Alex

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With the whole Engage team now working from home for the foreseeable, we’ve been busy collating everyone’s top tips for making WFH life that little bit easier, under the headings of Focus, Having fun and Staying fit.

Initially this was just meant as an internal resource, but we thought we’d share it to hopefully help others in these turbulent and uncertain times.

So, onto the list!

Focus

* An asterisk indicates one of our top wellbeing tips

Have a designated, tidy work area

Try to create yourself an office environment at home, so you feel you have a designated space to go and work. This also means you have a space to leave when taking a break, or signing off for the day - just like the office too.

Spend 5 minutes at the start of each day decluttering and tidying your home office. A clutter free environment is proven to reduce distraction and aid focus.

*Alternatively, space and equipment permitting, you could work from a different room each day for a change of scene.

Practice the Pomodoro technique

You can read more about this popular focus technique here. There are six steps in the original technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes)
  3. Work on the task
  4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper [6]
  5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2
  6. After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1

There’s also a handy Google Chrome Pomodoro extension.

Mask annoying background sounds with Noisli

Noisli provides background sounds that help to mask annoying noises in order to keep you sane, improve your focus and boost your productivity.

*Research has also shown that seeing the trees or the sky and hearing birdsong is linked to higher levels of wellbeing, so if possible, position your workspace near a window if your home is close to nature - for the benefits of natural light (on your mood and circadian rhythm) too - or try a playlist.

Make a plan for the next day the evening before

At the end of each day, take ten minutes looking towards the day ahead and write a list of what you want to get done. Paper can often be better for this than online to-do lists. Some people find it useful to add the time for completion of each activity next to each item (e.g. 45 mins).

Cross items off when you complete them, for a measurable sense of progress and achievement.

Eat the frog!

There are always some tasks we would like to tick off of our to-do list as soon as possible and that if accomplished would help us feel better, but are just so un-motivating to do.

We usually wait until the end of the day to tackle them, often realising we do not have any more time to do them today and pushing them on the to-do list for the day after - this builds pressure and stress.

‘Eating the frog’ means tackling these tasks first and head on. Sure, it’s unpleasant initially but you’ll feel great once you’ve done it. Ribbet!

Make a routine

We’re creatures of habit, so make a daily routine and try and stick to it. This might include what time you get up, when you have breakfast / lunch etc. Make sure you plan in time to get some fresh air too and take regular breaks (see the fitness section later for more on this).

Use Slack properly

Keep on top of your status on Slack so people know when to / and then not expect a reply.

Because people can’t see you working they won’t know when you’re very busy. If you’ve got a deadline ahead or are trying to stay very focussed on some work, just let the team know in Slack and take advantage of Slack’s Do Not Disturb feature to mute any distracting notifications for a little while. Of course some of you will need to keep your eyes peeled for critical/urgent information where necessary.

Slack can be distracting too, so if you really need to focus then set a status and shut it down - maybe for 25mins using the aforementioned Pomodoro method!

Make time for reflection at the end of each day

At the end of each day, take some time to consider:

  • What went well
  • Opportunities for improvement
  • One activity you’re looking forward to the next day

Time for reflection in this way is proven to improve mindset and mental health.

Block sites that distract you

If you really want to focus, then the browser extension Blocksite allows you to activate ‘Work mode’ which will block any sites you’ve added to it. For example, if checking your Gmail is a constant distraction then just add it to the list. By default, work mode is active for 25 minutes you’re given a 5 minute break, so also incorporates the Pomodoro technique.

Make your bed

It may sound silly but if you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and will encourage you to do another task… and another… and another.


Fun

Group activities

Online group games such as Drawasaurus and Jackbox provide a great opportunity for us to have a bit of a laugh as a team. Setting aside 15 minutes or so to take part could also give your brain a bit of a rest during a busy day!

Mini-competitions

Expanding on the group activities, why not think of your own mini-competitions. Examples might include:

  • Guess the workspace / food / drink / home / shoes
  • A daily quiz
  • Art or photography competitions, with daily or weekly themes
  • Lunchtime briefs - miniature (and fun) hypothetical briefs, a bit like the Chip Shop Awards

Links and memes

As the old saying goes “links and memes help the world go round”, so keep your colleagues entertained by meme- each other to death.

Online gaming

With lots of us owning games consoles; getting together online to either compete with or against each other is another way of combating self-isolation boredom. And this doesn’t only have to apply to out of work hours if you feel like fitting in a lunchtime session!

For those old enough to have enjoyed playing countless hours of Red Alert, there’s an open source cross-platform version which also support multiplayer. Grab it over at http://www.openra.net/

Book club

For the bookworms amongst you, why not arrange a daily book club where everyone reads the same book and regroups at a certain time each week to discuss.

Friday drinks tray

In the absence any real life office drinks, those who enjoy a tipple could indulge in a video conference drink on a Friday or even send in photos of their creations with a prize for the most elaborate concoction. Corona-tini, anyone?

Film / TV party

Pick a film, choose a time and everybody then watches it ‘together’… whilst apart.

To aid with this, Netflix have also just released Netflix Party, where you can watch a show in sync and comment along with an in-built group chat.

Fitness / wellbeing

*Get some fresh air

It’s easy to forget to take a break, go outside and get some fresh air. Why not set a Slack reminder and your good friend Slackbot will remind you to reacquaint yourself with mother nature.

Dress for work

Working in your Pyjamas is hereby banned! By actually getting ready and dressed for the day, just as you would when heading the office, you’re getting yourself in the right frame of mind. Couple this with making your bed and you’ll be a work from home warrior!

An extra tip here from Aaron, who spent many years working from home, is to also put some shoes on as apparently this amplifies the whole effect.

Make most of your commute time

If you’ve no longer got a commute, why not protect that time and use it for some yoga or morning meditation. This will set you up well for the day ahead whilst being proven to improve your health and mental well being.

*Eat well

Dedicate time to planning and eating a proper breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s easy just to rush meals and eat junk food or just snacks, but these don’t keep your body fuelled very well and can take their toll over time.

Cook a meal from scratch, even (especially) if you’re dining alone and eat away from your workspace.

*Stay hydrated

The benefits of drinking enough fluid are well documented so don’t forget to have a drink on hand throughout the day - the recommended amount includes hot drinks such as tea/coffee and juices/soft drinks.

Be careful not to drink too much though or if you do, have a salty snack.

*Self-care, rest and sleep

Despite not being physically in a communal office, longer term working from home might result in more presenteeism. With communication tools, like Slack, it’s easy to be drawn into chat which is more social than professional and while this isn’t a negative coping mechanism in the uncertainty of a pandemic, it could blur the boundaries separating work and downtime.

With that in mind, an important step could be to define when your working time will begin and end.

After a couple of weeks working from home, you might begin to notice when not doing a usual activity has a negative impact (getting outside, speaking with someone, creative pursuits, making a meal etc) so be sure to ring-fence time to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Restrictions might hamper your regular routine and this is where you’ll need to be inventive - can you recreate the weights you use at the gym from household items, find a new space to meditate, use up supplies, try a new recipe?

Resisting the temptation to work out of hours could prove challenging, even more so when isolated and checking online for updates. Our ‘always on’ culture definitely encourages this, however, if you can develop the discipline to rest then the habit may serve you well in the future too. If you find yourself reluctant, it may be good to plan the time to consciously allow yourself to enjoy it, knowing that other commitments have been considered and will be attended to later.

And finally, the most basic and obvious method of improving holistic health is to increase your quantity and quality of sleep.
This isn’t always as straightforward as we’d hope but there are a few strategies which might help:

  • Aim for between 7-9hrs a night
  • Go to bed and wake at roughly the same times
  • Lessen exposure to blue light (from screens) and reduce stimulants such as caffeine and stress (where possible) in the preceding hours
  • Take a (not too hot, Epsom) salt bath
  • Keep the bedroom temperature cool
  • Try journaling or meditation to clear your mind

*Start a personal challenge

Working from home for longer periods of time presents the opportunity for tackling goals which benefit from incremental improvements.

A 21 / 30 day challenge could be a great way to begin something you know you enjoy but don’t usually make time for or taking the first steps towards an achievement you’ve been planning to get under your belt (/putting off)!

  • Maybe you could learn a new skill such as a language/ instrument
  • Delve into a subject you’ve always been interested in - history/ science
  • Begin a new book, reading a chapter every day
  • Try a new fitness routine or attempt to master a new exercise
  • Keep a Gratitude journal which you write in at the end of each day
  • Re-organise part of your life you feel needs attention - money/ home
  • Watch a new TED talk for daily inspiration
  • Quit a habit you don’t want to have - smoking/ taking an Uber
  • Start a daily (perhaps random/ anonymous) act of kindness
  • Stop spending money on things you don’t need
  • Limit your screen/ phone use

*Reaching out

Working-from-home can have a fluctuating effect on mood, with the potential to both boost your productivity but also make you feel isolated - the risk of the latter being higher in situations where WFH is imposed rather than chosen. Despite the probability of calls with colleagues and clients, there may be days where you don’t speak with anyone and this could have a negative impact on your state of mind.

So make an effort to keep in touch with your colleagues, friends and family and, maybe pick up for the phone for some old-fashioned verbal communication. Having a real chat with another human might just strengthen that thread of connection we’re probably all going to pull on more as this unusual situation develops. Read more on why talking beats texting when you’re in isolation on in this article.


And that brings us to the end of our list. We really hope you’ve found these tips useful and that you’re able to apply a few of them to your own working from home patterns. Good luck, stay safe, and we’ll see you you on the other side!

Alex concentrates his time moulding the future picture of the company's development, paying particular attention to the intricate balance of growth, culture and doughnut consumption.