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Making Working From Home Work

Does your work day now feel and look a little like this?

6am:  Slam off alarm. No need to get up yet, lots of the day to go and no commute to face.

7am:  Fend off hungry child, demanding you get up and get it breakfast. "In a moment", you murmur and roll back over, pretending not to notice child jumping around room.

8am:  Where did those two hours go? Stagger out of bed. Proceed to lounge around in PJs, catching up on the latest news, eating breakfast, cruising social media and consume coffee while ensuring child understands you are at home but you are working. This is not a play date together.

9am: Must start work! That bathroom sink really does need some attention. It needs attention NOW.  Let's just get that out of the way. 

10am: OK. Am ready (and the house is really clean). Still in PJs but I am ready. Computer is fired up. This is happening.

10.05am: Child is STARVING! Starving, I tell you. Didn’t child just eat breakfast? Prepare morning tea for child. Child insists you cut their apple. Child insists you cut their apple to look like a star like their grandmother does. You call grandmother for instructions on start cutting technique and hear about how Meryl next door heard from Josephine from garden club that her son knows someone who plays squash with someone working on the government's Covid response team and, apparently, there is more to this thing than we are being told. You throw apple away. 

10.30am: OK. Here goes. Oohh look, text message from your best mate…

11.00am: You are on it! Emails are being cleared but how did there get to be so many??

11.10am: “Can I have your phone?”. That middle child AGAIN.

11.15am: “Can I buy this game on your phone?”. Seriously, that child AGAIN?

11.30am: Yes, I am doing this working remotely thing! Call Client.

11.35am: Bat screaming youngest child away from you while client becomes increasingly agitated with her circumstances, including the circumstance of you existing in her world.

12.00pm: Off phone with client. You will never get that half hour of your life back. Self soothe with chocolate.

12.15pm: Must remember to feed child. And order toilet paper. And gin. Come up with great idea to make a Trello board for such reminders so that working remotely and managing home life is highly efficient. 

12.45pm: Oh, lunch break time. Where has this morning gone? Ummm, what to do while I eat lunch? Can it hurt to just put on one episode of Shameless? Promise self to be highly disciplined and switch off as soon as sandwich is eaten.

2.45pm: This Shameless is brilliant.

3.00pm: Important to self care by nourishing oneself during this time so will grab afternoon tea. Child is so helpful and gets milk from fridge. Child gets chocolate milk, not normal milk. Child spills chocolate milk everywhere, including on dog. Dog runs chocolate milk through house. You fight urge to cry.

3.20pm: Where did these emails come from? How does anyone have the time to be sending these?!

3.25pm: Phone call from colleague. Yay, adult company! 1 unit recorded in time records for discussing client matter. Ponder how to deal with the 5 units spent discussing colleague’s upcoming carpel tunnel surgery, your latest online purchase, last night’s Married at First Sight episode and whether, as family lawyers, you could claim CPD points for watching MAFS (jury is out).

4.10pm: Should start drafting documents but best first be a good, informed citizen and check on any Covid updates. Oh, look, an article about red pandas. Fascinating!

4.30pm: You are now on a roll, drafting starting to come together. Productive flow commence...

5.00pm: Where has the day gone?

In the last week, several people have spoken with me about working remotely. Some have expressed delight at the thought of having so much flexible time. Others have been convinced they will get SO.MUCH.DONE. Meanwhile, others have openly admitted to not trusting themselves once away from the constant role modelling by their colleagues of good work habits.

I hear you all. I have experienced the rush of thinking I will be so much more productive, only for reality to set in. I have also had moments of being sucked into a time sapping vortex of Netflix, social media and having (having!) to sort the linen cupboard NOW. So, here are some of the things I have found work for me when it comes to working at home:

Get your mind work-ready through rituals. Still get up early. Still shower and get dressed as though you were going into the office. Still prepare your lunch or snacks as you would if you were heading out to work. You no longer have a commute to the office but you used to spend time listening to a podcast or music during the commute, think about incorporating these rituals before knuckling down to work. These are all small rituals that help get your head into the transition from being at home and into being at work mode.

Honour Yourself and Your Time. Your time is precious so make it work for you. Now, more than ever, having clarity around your day's work schedule and what you want to complete is critical. I review mine every evening for the next day and adjust this depending on how I am feeling in my own energy.

Be realistic – if you know you’ll want to check Instagram, plan some time for this. Yes, I occasionally switch on the tv or social media while I am having a break but allow for these times as part of my schedule.  If you're not going to be able to maintain your discipline around such distractions, don't go near them! At the moment, I am finding Covid current affairs an unsettling distraction so I am honouring my schedule (and my mental wellbeing) by keeping my mobile phone at the other end of the house and setting timeframes during the day when I can check in on the world. 

When planning your day, be sure to include your break times. When I first started working from home, I was terribly undisciplined about taking regular breaks because, well, I could take them when I wanted. Unfortunately, it meant I didn’t take them. Yes, I procrastinated on taking breaks! I was forever just getting one more thing done. I pretty quickly learned that in order to be most productive and to look after myself, I needed to schedule regular break times. 

Accept the interruptions and adapt your hours to suit. If you know you will have interruptions from children or you know you want to be able to fit in household tasks around your work day, then accept this and adapt your plan to accommodate it. By planning for these things, they are less likely to become a source of resentment or stress. I am sometimes found at my desk at 6am or at 8pm but this is because I have planned to work then in order to take advantage of the flexibility of working from home to use time during “normal” work hours to run some errands, spend time with my son or do some advance meal prep.

Prime children. Depending on their age, children are either likely to think you are there as a play date for them, or to attend to their every need as it arises, or something to be tolerated so long as your working from home doesn’t slow down the internet speed they are accustomed to enjoying.

Again, planning ahead, is everything. In days of isolation or other restrictions, it likely won’t be possible to have your usual babysitter come in to help out with younger children. Have you got older children home from school who can help with younger children? Have you got a relative who can come to stay and help? My husband and I both work from home so, when our son is home, we try to coordinate things so one is responsible for attending to him while the other works for a few hours then we swap.

For older children, prime them as to what the day will look like, when you will be working and work together on coming up with some agreed expectations around this.  I keep an ‘open door’, knowing my son will likely want to wander in and out of my office through the day in order to share things with me. However, he knows if my lighthouse ornament is hanging off the door handle and the door is shut, I am on the phone and he is to not enter or is to do so quietly.

Plan ahead for activities your children can do if caught up in isolation or school shutdowns. There is loads online! I’ve just ordered some new board games, sourced some online exhibitions, books and activities and am all set to stream Legomasters in anticipation of more time with my son at home.

Remember, use the flexibility you have (see above) and incorporate enjoying some time together in your day’s plan!

Mix up where you work. Its easy to get cabin fever working from home if you spend all your time within the four walls of your designated work space. Normally at the office, you’d move around to head into a meeting, grab a coffee down the road or just wander into a colleague’s office for a chat. Maintaining some movement, getting up from your desk for fresh air and a change of scenery is healthy for body and soul. At the moment, going to cafes to do a little work may not be an option for you but you can still take your work on to your deck or to a local park or even just to the other end of the house. I often like to move out to our kitchen island and treat it as a standing desk for a while.

Socialise I said it in my last blog and I will say it again: Social distancing may mean more geographic distance between us but it doesn’t mean feeling distant from one another. Amp up the communication. Pick up the phone. Check in with your team. Share break time catch ups together online as you would if you were in the office. An inter-office game of zoom conference bingo anyone? Radio New Zealand helps me some afternoons when I am missing the background noise of colleagues. If we are in this for the long haul (and after Covid is gone, you may decide you want to continue with remote working and eschew the office altogether), we need to maintain our social connection or risk our worlds shrinking and feeling isolated. At the end of the day, it just makes work a lot more fun!

Transition out of your work day. When you work from home, it is all too easy to just pop back into your office to send an email or finish something up. If you work in an office, you usually have a drive or commute home to decompress and transition yourself into “out of office” mode. Unless you want to feel you are at work 24/7, its important to do the same even when you are working from home. Plan what time you will finish work, some “wrapping up” tasks to signal to your brain that you are finishing with work (sign off with colleagues online, tidy your desk, review your to do list for tomorrow) and how you can spend even 15 minutes easing yourself to being present back at home. It may be a walk around the block, listening to some music, or sitting in the garden with your pets – whatever helps slow your mind down.  

Go Easy On Yourself & Maintain some Humour-  You won’t always get it right. There will be distractions. The scanner may break down just as you need to email an important document. Yes, your kids may start hollering at each other from either end of the house while you are in the middle of a conference call. You may have a zoom video call with a colleague and realise your son has wandered in, in only his underpants, looking for clean shorts. Your cat may choose your keyboard as its own personal Shakti mat, creating all sorts of gibberish across the affidavit you were drafting.

None of that matters. None of it. If we have learned anything amid this Covid crisis, it should be that.

I'd love to hear about how working from home works for you! Do drop me a line or come on over to The Law Lighthouse Group and leave a post.

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