Tips for Working From Home

Last week I asked an advisor how he was settling in after he started working from home.  He readily admitted that it was a challenge as he hunched over his dining room table.

As you may know, Susan and I have run Pathfinder for the past 10 years from her home.  She has an office on the main floor, while I have a separate room upstairs.

I’ve also created dedicated office space at my home for the unexpected events in my life (such as when school is canceled until the end of April, and I may need to be home with the kids).

We’ve learned some tips along the way that might be helpful you.

Three Items That Make a Difference

Get a good chair for your derrière. My strongest recommendation is to get a good, office-style chair to work from.  A standard dining room chair is not designed for extended periods of sitting. Not only does it lack support for your bottom and lower back, it doesn’t recline or swivel.  This forces you to stay in the same posture for hours and can result in significant discomfort, stiffness or pain.

You can spend $1,000 or more for a premier office chair, but you can buy a functional one for less than $100 from Staples (and they deliver!).   Alternatively, if you have a large enough vehicle and can access your office, take your regular chair home.  While you’re at it, you might want to grab your chair mat, if you have one.

Speak and be heard with a good headset.  Holding your cell phone up to your ear for extended periods will make you uncomfortable.  It can also be difficult to take good notes while speaking with clients.  Using your cell phone as a speakerphone usually results in background noise and a noticeable distance between you and the other person which isn’t good either.

Instead, invest in a good quality headset.  I’ve used the Plantronics Voyager 5200 for many years, and it’s great.  I’d also recommend the case which stores the headset and also charges it.

A speedy mouse and other accessories can save time.  I’ve also found that I work quite a bit faster when I use an external mouse instead of the trackpad on my laptop.  Depending on your set-up, you may also find that an external keyboard can help.

If you are able to go back to your office, you can pick up your mouse, mousepad, keyboard, monitor or anything else that you need.

Two Strategies to Stay on Track

Having a good physical set-up is important, but maintaining a good mental space is valuable, too.  Here are two strategies to stay on track.

Don’t multitask.  There are probably 50 unrelated things that will pull at you when you are working from a different location, even more so during turbulent times.   It could be other people (your spouse, children, etc.) that want to speak with you, or it could be unfinished tasks that you want to complete (dishes, laundry, yard work).

Try to create as much distance as you can between yourself and those non-work items.  Using a separate room or wearing headphones (or the aforementioned headset) can be a reminder to all that you are working and not to be disturbed.

Take breaks but set a limit. To help stay balanced, take periodic breaks.

One popular strategy is known as the Pomodoro Technique.  It works like this:

  1. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes
  2. Take a short break for five minutes
  3. Repeat a total of four times
  4. Take a longer break of 15-30 minutes
  5. Repeat the cycle again

This technique may not work for you, but you can still plan for periodic breaks.  Use a timer to make sure the break doesn’t extend longer than you intend.  Use the breaks to clear your mind and refresh.  You can take a brief walk, watch a fun video (I’ve been enjoying the concert archive from the Berlin Philharmonic), draw or doodle, pray, or just look out the window as spring arrives.

One Essential

If I could give just one piece of advice, it’s this.

Get plenty of sleep.  Lack of sleep has been shown to affect one’s mood, attention, ability to communicate with others or complete complicated tasks.  Do your clients really want to work with a moody, inattentive advisor who has difficulty communicating and getting things done?  I didn’t think so!

You may have additional time in your day since you are no longer commuting.  Perhaps you can use that time to sleep a little later in the morning.

Other ways to improve your sleep include:

  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool (experts recommend 65 degrees)
  • Block out distracting sounds with a white noise machine (we use this one at home).
  • Shut off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed

Making time to exercise, having a light dinner, and avoiding alcohol can also help.

This is the time to be the best advisor you can be.  Use this unique season to create a new environment for work.  Your clients will appreciate it.

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