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Top 5 tips for working at home

Judy Shaw, 20/05/20

This new work environment in lockdown brings with it fresh challenges. Disturbances from family members, temptation to switch on the TV or raid the fridge every hour, or managing noisy pets when you’re making a Zoom call can make it difficult to stay motivated and productive. How can we work efficiently from home?

Top 5 tips for working at home

Many of us are battling challenges in our work environments that are brand new during this lockdown season, and adjusting to these conditions can be tricky.

But there are steps we can take to help us work more efficiently from home.

We asked several CUI staff members how they’re staying productive and motivated during this time. Here’s five of our top tips:

1) Start your day with a regular morning routine

As tempting as it may be to lie in bed until noon, getting up and dressed at the time you usually would for work or university can massively help productivity levels.

For Neus Kell, a CUI staff worker in Dublin, having a regular morning routine is key. She says, “Getting up at the same time everyday and giving myself some quiet time to have breakfast and spend time with God helps me to stay focused throughout the day.”

2) Structure your day

Ensuring you have a structure to your day with a variety of activity will also help to keep you motivated.

CUI Northern Team Leader and father of two, Chris McBurney, says that having lots of free time at your disposal may sound good, but too much of it can make us restless.

He comments, “We started lockdown with great optimism. It meant we could have lazier moments, lots of family time and be super productive. It took to the end of the week for us to realise that wasn’t working. We were tried, unproductive and untested. So we decided to try shaping and sculpting our diary even more than we do normally.

“We’ve shifted our diary to make sure we’re up before the kids to allow some time together to study, drink coffee and pray together. We go to bed earlier but it’s allowed us to find a small window of time away from the children which has become all the more important since we don’t have access to childcare anymore.

“Not only that, in work I shape my day more carefully by blending, admin, zoom calls and study through the day so as to allow the change that you might get more naturally in an office environment. It means my mind is more refreshed and when it comes to lunch, I usually try to make it outside for a walk or run before I eat with the children.

“We thought we needed less structure in lockdown but we found that as a family we’ve flourished more with more structure.”

3) Minimise distractions

Granted, this is easier said that done. It may seem impossible to live a distraction–free work–life if you’re at home with a large family or small children, but there are ways to create an efficient work environment that will make working from home a little easier.

It’s easy to allow work and home–life to merge into one during lockdown. If you can, create a workstation in your home. If you don’t have a desk, use your dining room table. Make sure there is nothing at your station apart from work related materials and treat this area like an office. Try to only use this area during working hours, and leave your work behind at the end of the day.

Dublin staff worker, Katie Allen, says, “A top tip I have found helpful in trying to minimise distractions and work well from home is making out a timetable of my day. I try to make sure this is done a week in advance and try as best I can to stick to it. I’ve also found that mixing up what I’m doing in any one day helps hugely. If I have a couple of zoom calls in the morning, I’ll try to do some reading or admin in the afternoon.”

CUI worker Hollie Tagle says that setting clear boundaries that can flex if necessary is also important. She comments, “Over the years as I’ve experienced the highs and lows of having your office and living room all under one roof and working from home with two little ones can be especially challenging. You can be potty training one minute and leading a prayer meeting the next! However, I’ve learned some helpful tips along the way.

“The first is that we are not built as machines and so we must not only recognise but also accept our limitations, strengths, circumstances and emotions on any given day – fixing our eyes on Him who is present with us and provides us with everything we need for each task.

“Secondly, designate your ‘work/ministry’ time from ‘family time’ and let interruptions be discerned exceptions rather than the rule. Finally, when you’re working, turn off all unnecessary notifications, keep as few tabs open as possible and truly focus on what you are setting out to do. Don’t be afraid to put your phone to one side on silent.”

4) Stay connected

Although our phones can be a major distraction when we’re trying to work, they can also be helpful. For many battling loneliness is a massive challenge in this new environment, especially when it comes to work.

If you’re used to studying with classmates or working in a team, this new setting can make you feel disheartened. But before you start talking to your pencil case, plan a number of work calls throughout the day. It’s important to stay connected with fellow students or colleagues and give each other regular updates on what you are working on so you can encourage one another.

Besides email and messaging programs like Slack, it’s helpful to set up regular check–ons via phone or video conferencing like Skype, FaceTime or Zoom.

5) Keep the right perspective

It can be easy to lose focus on what’s important during this season, especially when you’re trying to adjust to a new environment and strike the right balance between work, family time and perhaps ministry with unexpected empty calanders that many of us rush to fill.

Katie adds, “Productivity and efficiency are two gods of our modern world. This is what we like to see in our lives! And yet God has reminded me recently that neither efficiency nor productivity are fruits of the Holy Spirit.

“The only directly time–related fruit God seeks to grow in us is patience. And when is patience needed? When inefficiency and unproductivity abound! Now in this time of working from home, I’m not saying this gives us an excuse to simply fritter away the time, neglecting our responsibility to work or study wholeheartedly for the Lord. But I am saying that when we get frustrated with ourselves for our lack of productivity, perhaps we instead need to see it as an opportunity to allow God to grow the patience he longs to see characterise our lives.

“This patience will allow us to lovingly bear with others at home when the interruptions and distractions come; to be patient with ourselves when we realise that we have needlessly given in to the temptation of a certain distraction again, and also patience with God. After all, he has us at home for a reason during this time and season.”

Whilst it is right to endeavour to be productive and carry out our tasks as efficiently as we can, perhaps one of the most helpful questions we can ask ourselves in this season is what does God want to do in and through us at this time?

According to Katie, we can rest assure that no time will be wasted if we ask this sincerely, knowing that our ultimate motivation comes from working for God, for his glory.