This article was written in the middle of lockdown 3. So obviously when referring to “get out and meet people” this is presuming we are passed the pandemic and moving nicely on with our lives. Here’s hoping!
I’m writing this as I think there are a few people who may have found their work situation change over these last few months. As I sit here at my desk in the middle of lockdown 3, waiting for the pandemic to pass, I think about all the people who are also indoors trying to make the most of the situation they are in. Are you one of those? Did you used to go out to work every day and now find yourself in your second bedroom, or working off your kitchen table? Are you wondering what your life has come to? Are you struggling to motivate yourself and lack discipline to get yourself from bedroom to work desk every morning? Then we need to have a chat! Seriously though, don't worry. You are not alone.
Here’s a few tips to help you along the way, taken from my experience of working from home. I realise everyone’s situation is different, so it might not be relevant to you. But hopefully there is something in here that can help you.
On December 15th 2020, it was my 15 year anniversary for going self-employed and working from home. I gave up my daily bicycle commute to the centre of Manchester, where I worked as an in-house graphic designer in a big office block with over 100 employees. Well, I didn’t give it up. I got made redundant - but it was the push I needed towards self-employed life and the start of a difficult journey of working on my own.
The thing I missed most? The people. Not necessarily work colleagues. I remember sitting there in the office on many occasions and looking around and thinking wow, no one is talking to each other. We were all at our desks staring at our screens, plodding through the hours. I didn’t like office work. I hated the control - or lack of control over your own life. Having to be there at 9am and not allowed to leave til 5pm. Trapped. I lived for lunch time walks. The best part of the day was cycling home. In all weathers. And believe you me it loves to rain in Manchester!
But when I sat in my bedroom at my new desk, having given up office life for good, I felt really lonely. I missed the every day people. The guy on reception. The cleaner. My friend in the office across the road who I met every Thursday for a hot chocolate in Starbucks.
The squirrels were the only contact I had. I would watch them coming in and out of the garden, trying to cross the busy main road. One day I remember talking to one, it was 3 months in and a low point. I realised I was looking for some kind of contact, for reasons to speak. Some days I found I didn’t talk. Yes there were days in the office like that too but you could break it up with a wander round the building and a chat or a hello to someone in accounts. So first, and probably most important tip is this…
1) GET OUT
So how did I cope? First thing I did was try to keep to a routine. I would take my bike out every day and cycle to work - as in cycle to home. It was only 25 minutes. A round trip, out to the country and round where the roads were quiet, and back to home. It really helped to start the day. It gave me a sense of going to work. And a feeling of normality.
I still do this now. However bad the weather is, I always try to get out. If you don’t do this, try it. Whether you walk, run or cycle, I think this is the most important way to keep your sanity and feel your life isn’t slipping away! It’s a change of scene, it’s air, it’s trees, it’s nature. Or if you live in the city, it’s people, it’s busy, it’s life.
And don’t let it just be morning. Make sure you get out at lunch time. They say that supermarket shopping has changed in recent years. More people are doing less ‘big’ shops and are popping in for bits and bobs. I think I am part of that trend. If there’s an excuse to go and pick up something from the shops, that will be my lunchtime trip. I don’t necessarily walk to the nearest shop either, I'll find any excuse to go out - the post office, the stationers, the bakery, the cafe - anywhere to change the scene and get myself out of my own head.
There’s also the friendly people you meet on your trips. The shopkeeper, the person working in the cafe, the neighbour from next door. These are the people that can help you get through a day. Just talk to them. If you are missing the office banter, these are your 'watercooler' moments. You just have to find them outside the home.
Sometimes if things are tough and stressful, a walk in the day can really help. Suddenly you get ideas and put things into place. You think up your next Instagram post, or come up with fresh ideas. Or you get half way up the road and remember you’ve forgotten to contact so and so. If you’re ever stuck and feel like you’re not progressing, get out. It can really help to shift - and lift the energy.
2) Get dressed for work
In the early days, I made a habit of getting dressed every day for work. Not like smart stuff, but comfortable stuff. Jeans, jumpers - that kind of thing. If you can keep the routine of getting dressed every day, I’m sure this helps productivity and your mental state. It also makes you feel more of a business person than someone who is lounging around at home.
On those days when you’re struggling with your own head, thinking about who you are, what you are and where are you going, at least give yourself the advantage of having a professional image and being a working person, someone who has a job, a business, a career. It could really help on those days when you are feeling a little lost.
3) Meet someone for coffee
I used to try networking when I first went self-employed. I hated it. Going to events full of business people and trying to make conversation. Most of the time I would be talked at, rather than listened to. And being polite, I always got stuck in these situations. If you enjoy networking, then go for it when the time allows. It’s a great way to learn from other people and hear how other businesses work. You can also make some valuable contacts and occasional friends.
If networking isn’t for you, find someone who does something similar and meet them for coffee. There is nothing better than sharing stories with someone who ‘gets it’. Your friends may not be the ones who understand what you do all day, and it can be hard to share work stuff. But find someone who can. It can give you a real boost to know you’re not alone and someone out there is going through similar things to you. It can really break up the week too. A change of scene, a fresh perspective, a laugh perhaps and even a half decent coffee.
4) Join a class or take up a sociable hobby (don’t you just hate people who suggest this, but here’s why…)
I’ve said this before but the thing I missed most was people. Contact with humans. In the early days my life outside work became important for social contacts. I took up football and loved the training and being around people. When you spend a lot of time on your own, you need something like this to keep a sense of reality. It’s no good talking to squirrels all day. You need something to be a part of and belong to.
For me, back then it was football. These days, it’s more about Brighton Outdoor Fitness! So most mornings, I head to the seafront at 6:30am running around with a few other folk who also like to get up at a ridiculous time in all weathers. I often stand there thinking what are we all doing here in the freezing cold and driving rain but I know there is a real sense of togetherness. And when you work from home, on your own, sometimes it's what you need. There’s also the chance for a cup of tea at the end. A chance to hear about other people’s lives other than your own. A chance to get out of your own head and look at the world around you. If you’re not an early riser, then there’s always lunchtime or evening activities or hobbies. Try not to be on your own too much. There are nice people out there and you could get a lot out of meeting them.
5) Do some chores
I know this might sound strange in the working day but there’s no harm in hanging up the washing or tidying the living room. Work can get really intense when you’re on your own all day. There’s nothing to break up the day. But the occasional chore can get you up and moving - which is great for the body and the mind. It just takes you away from your work tasks for a moment and gives you a break. You need to keep moving in the day. If you can move around, do it. Make a point of it.
I used to set an alarm to get up and move about every 20-30 mins. I don’t really do that now as it used to irritate me going off every 20 to 30 minutes but this might work for you! It can’t be all work work work all day every day. If there’s a moment to step away - take it! I can’t say I have a tidy house after 15 years of working from home by the way, but the occasional chore does get done.
6) Get a pet
(This is for life though, not just for working from home - particularly if you know it will only be temporary)
My life changed when I got Pebbles. In a way, I wish it had happened sooner as I feel I spent many a lonely year working in a tiny space, picking myself up off the floor when work got too much or there was no one to talk to. Since Pebbles, she has taken a lot of stress away and gives me so much joy. Yes, I still get stressful days but I take a moment to disturb her when she’s sleeping, and cuddle her and feel her soft furry loveliness - much to her annoyance!
They say that pets can reduce stress levels and blood pressure and all that kind of stuff. I really believe it’s true. Better still, if you have a dog, that’s a good reason to get out of the home and away from work. Pets really can bring so much joy and there’s a very good blog post about this - The Joy of Our Pets. Pebbles is definitely a big part of the Jin Designs working from home team, even bringing some influence over recent designs.
7) Find comfort in small thingsI wonder sometimes if I’ve created my characters in some kind of way to help with the lonely times. Perhaps as a friend or companion whilst taking a moment to yourself. My more recent characters have started to smile. Take Pig for instance, and Sheep. And even Duck.
The latest character Polar Bear is also your smiling companion. Did you know if you see a smiling face you are likely to mirror it? Smiling is contagious. And even if you don’t feel like smiling, if you look at a smile or see something that warms your heart, it can make you feel a whole lot better.
So maybe there's comfort to be found in a Jin Designs character, or even another character you love, it doesn’t have to be one of mine. I know when I’m making a cup of tea or coffee, I’ll pick out the character that best fits my mood that day. Sometimes it will be Penguin, or Sitting Cat or Hedgehog or Robin. The animals remind me of the world outside, and Sitting Cat reminds me of the creatures I love. It’s comforting. And when you work on your own all day, it seems these kind of connections some days can keep you going. Does that sound odd? Well, this is just my experience. You might be a little more sociable than me and not clinging to animals for comfort!
Working from home can be a real mental battle. And there are definitely good and bad days. I hope these tips will help you as you get used to a new working environment. I think it takes time to adjust and the first 6 months were the hardest for me. But if you can keep to a routine, get outside, and find comfort in the smallest things, you may well start to enjoy your new found freedom.
Take care and good luck!
Designer / Founder of Jin Designs