Hannah Wardley, Junior Physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare

How to structure your day when working from home

2 April 2020

While working from home comes with many positives, such as cutting out the daily commute, giving you a bit of extra time in the day, it can present its own challenges.

The potential lack of routine and structure, often a consequence of an ‘at home office’, can leave you struggling to work productively.

Hannah Wardley, Junior Physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare, shares her top tips to boost your efficiency by adding some structure to your day working from home.

1. Maintain your normal morning routine 

Try and stick to the same morning routine that you would normally follow if you were going to work.  Simple things like getting up at the same time as you would normally will help to maintain your circadian rhythm (your internal body clock) and help boost your mood and alertness throughout the day. Similarly, going through the same daily motions of having a shower, brushing your teeth and getting dressed is a great way to help shift you to your working mindset and prepare you for the day of work ahead. 

2. Set up a work area

It’s important to set up your work space efficiently and clutter free, so that you’ll be able to concentrate, and keep distractions to a minimum. If it’s possible, try to assign a room, or at least an area of your home, to do your work in. This will help to minimise blurring between your work and home life and enable you to set clear boundaries between the two. Before starting for the day, ensure you have everything you’ll need in that room, or have it easily accessible, to reduce unnecessary time spent searching for things and possibly getting side-tracked! Just like you would in an office, have easy access to a glass or bottle of water on your desk. Staying hydrated is vital for maintaining concentration levels but also for good health.

3. Establish boundaries

Try to maintain your normal start and finish times. Avoid continuing work or looking at your emails outside of your usual working hours. Once you’ve finished for the day, clear and put away anything you’ve been working on.  If you find yourself working beyond your normal working hours, arrange to do something such as calling a friend or family member or take some time for yourself to relax shortly after you should have finished working. This will help you to not overwork and help you to switch off and unwind from a busy day. 

4. Be smart 

Schedule your day to capitalise on when you’re most productive. Assign harder tasks which require more concentration at times of the day when you’re normally most productive, saving those easier tasks for any slower parts of your day. If, for example, you’re not a morning person start with your easier admin tasks before tackling more difficult things – to allow you time to wake up and get into the rhythm of work. 

5. Schedule check ins

Set up a specific time for team meetings or a chat with your manager. Whether this is communication through instant messaging, a phone call or over skype, it’s important to set aside a specific time of the day to catch up and ensure you are up to date with your colleagues.  Not only that, but having scheduled calls and catch ups will help to add some structure to your day and ensure you stay connected, something which is really important if you’re working at home on your own all day.

6. Manage your email activity

Having your emails ‘popping’ up whilst you’re trying to concentrate on an important piece of work can be a distracting, just as it can be in the office.  You can very quickly find yourself completely off task despite thinking ‘this email will only take a few minutes to reply to’. If possible, and in agreement with your manager, assign specific times of the day for reviewing and responding to emails. Outside of these hours mute notifications or shut down your email app. This will enable you to focus on the task in hand and maximise your productivity on that task.

7. Don’t forget to take a break 

It’s very easy to get engrossed in your work, especially without those social cues of people getting up around you, and you can easily find yourself having completely forgotten to move in the last few hours. The effectiveness of taking small breaks, away from your desk, in terms of health as well as your productivity levels, has been shown by studies on numerous occasions.  So, be sure to allocate time in your day to have a break. If you think you’ll forget, set an alarm! If your break is normally over a tea or coffee with one of your co-workers, schedule this in with them - give each other a quick call. Having this short social interaction will help you feel more connected and less isolated when working from home. 

8. Get outside as much as you can

While the current situation we are in may make this challenging, try to get as much fresh air as you can during the day. Try to avoid being at your screen all day and if you have a garden, make the most of it! You could take some of your calls outside, even better if you can walk around your garden while doing so, as research suggests that walking, both in real time and shortly after, boosts creative thinking. 

Working from home may not be as easy as you think, but by following this guidance, you should be able to create your own structure for the day to ensure you work effectively while at home. 

References

Sleep Hygiene. The Sleep Council.

Staying Hydrated - Staying Healthy. American Heart Association.

Oppezzo and Schwartz. Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Vol 40, 4. 2014.

Henning et al. Frequent short rest breaks from computer work: effects on productivity and well-being at two field sites. 

Crosbie and Moore. Work-Life Balance and Working from Home. Social Policy and Society. Vol 3, 3. July 2004. 

Hogan et al. Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging. June 2013. 

Coulson et al. Exercising at work and self-reported work performance. International Journal of Workplace Health Management. Vol 1, 3. September 2008

Further resources

Top tips for healthy eating when working from home

Staying connected while working remotely

Setting up a healthy work station at home

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