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Published on April 14, 2020

Working from home tips - a Cape Cod Health News writers' compilation

Working from home tips

The coronavirus outbreak means that more people than ever before are telecommuting. All non-essential businesses are closed and even if your business isn’t closed, officials are recommending that people stay home whenever possible. Creating boundaries between work and personal life and staying productive can be challenging for those who are new to working from home. The freelance writers at Cape Cod Health News all have years of experience working from home. They offered to share their best tips for success to help readers adjust.

Laurie Higgins has been working from home for around 20 years. Here are her best suggestions:
  • Structure your day like a real job. I don’t have a specific starting time, but I allow myself the luxury of reading the news while I drink one cup of coffee in the morning. Then I get to work. I always stop working at 6 p.m. when my husband comes home from work.
  • Set goals you want to get accomplished for each day. Write them in a day planner so you can check them off as you finish them. There is something really satisfying about checking items off of a list.
  • Having a pet keeps you company on the lonely days. If you have a dog, you will have an automatic excuse to get up and go outside for a short break. If you can’t have a pet, take several five-minute fresh air breaks a day. It can help keep you be creative.
  • Ignore laundry and other chores during work hours. If you were at a real office, you wouldn’t be tempted to throw a load of towels in the washing machine. Don’t let housekeeping chores intrude on your work day.
  • Have firm limits with family members. If a grown child or a parent calls you during your work hours, give them five minutes, but then explain that you have to get back to work. Years ago, I explained to my children that if I was working as a nurse, they wouldn’t expect me to chat for hours during the day. Working at home as a writer is still work.
Beth Ann Lombardi started working from home full time when her son was three years old. Two decades later, she offers these tips:
  • Know when to stop working. Because work is easily accessible and the normal office distractions are absent, the temptation to work around the clock is hard to avoid. I admit, I love to write so much that I don’t know when to stop. So, as the saying goes, please do as I say, not as I do. During this time of unprecedented stress, don’t burn out. Work for an extra hour if you must, but don’t spend 14 hours at your job each day.
  • Dress up! I was used to working in the C-suite before working from home full time, so I had a professional wardrobe. Heck, I wore power suits. Transitioning to working at home didn’t mean I had to dress any certain way, but I found my comfort zone. I feel my best when I look my best. If you’re new to working from home, I recommend you clean up, dress up and put your best face forward. You’ll find it’s easier to stay in working mode, and you’ll be more productive. Imagine how happy you’ll be when that surprise video chat happens.
Bill O’Neill has bounced back and forth between office jobs and freelancing from home over the last three decades. Here are his tips:
  • Stand up – Between work, keeping up with the news and chilling with funny videos, it’s easy to sit in front of the computer for hours. Set a timer, if you need, to remind yourself to stand up once an hour for a few minutes. You can do a quick stretching break, toss in a load of laundry or wander outside and listen to the birds.
  • Respect everyone’s daily rhythms – You might still have to do forty hours of work a week, but most of us don’t need to be tied to a 9 to 5, Monday-Friday schedule. My wife jumps out of bed ready to get to work, while I’m a slow starter. I stay out of her way when she’s making things happen at the crack of dawn, and she doesn’t mind chilling on her own if I feel like burning the midnight oil. Also, this kind of flexibility makes it easier to escape outside whenever the weather is especially nice.
Susan Moeller left the newsroom five years ago to freelance. Here is her best advice for working at home:
  • Create some kind of separate work space, even if it's only a corner of the kitchen counter. That said, if you get stuck or hit your equivalent of “writer's block,” change venues. In normal times, I decamp to the public library. Now, I might switch from my upstairs "office" (a corner of a bedroom) to the kitchen table.
  • Use a timer to set a faux deadline and to reward yourself. This is especially wise if you have something onerous to do. Set the timer for 50 minutes and then take 10 or 15 minutes to reward yourself with a snack, a walk outside, a few games of catch with the dog or a snuggle with a kid. Then, set another 50 minutes - or just 30 minutes if you're having a bad day. Break it down into small pieces. Close out the tabs that alert you when there's an email. It will wait.
  • There's nothing wrong with communicating by email and regular phone calls. Don't feel that everything has to be video right now. It's time-consuming and distracting.
  • Your loved ones, i.e. kids, may be more tolerant of your work time if they have some idea when it will end. Use that timer to let the kids know when you'll be free - and stick to it.
  • Be kind to yourself. There are some days where it just doesn't work and you can't concentrate. Take a break. Watch an hour of Netflix. Go for a walk. Do some laundry. Play with your kids. Your work will be waiting when you go back to it. 
Rich Holmes has been working from home since mid-2015 in a busy household with several family members and pets. Here are his best tips:
  • Let your housemates know when you need quiet. Establish work boundaries and expectations. Tackle assignments promptly to save yourself from scrambling at deadline.
  • Remember your friends and family are not on deadline, and it's their house, too. Be flexible. Not having set hours allows you to control much of your schedule.
  • Not all interruptions are bad. Chat a bit with your housemates and rub a furry head when a pet wants a little attention.
  • Get up to get the mail, a drink of water, prep a meal, do some stretches or some laundry. Since I have trouble walking, I like to take a ride or sit on the deck when I need a dose of the great outdoors.
  • I don't mind working during the morning in my PJs, especially as my wife is a late sleeper, and sometimes one thing leads to another and whoa! Look at the time. But just because no one can see you doesn't mean you shouldn't get your sartorial act together. Makes you feel better, and it's another break from eyestrain caused by constant screen time.