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Recently I chatted to 3 wonderful women, Mary, Sam, and Philippa, about how working from home was working, or not, for them. And they were really honest about the challenges and had some tips which are applicable whether this is a permanent or temporary situation.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. This came through loud and clear. When working from home, it’s so easy for work, personal, family, leisure time to all blend into one leaving you feeling dissatisfied with every part of it. Allocate time to each section of your life where possible and diarise it.  I know that can seem too business-like when you are talking about cooking or taking the dog for a walk or playing with the kids. However, it will pay dividends. This message was loud and clear from Sam who has 2 jobs, 2 kids and a husband working from home, so she knows what she’s talking about.

Turn off phone notifications after a certain time (and be strict about it). If you have an employer to please then have the discussion about when you can and when you can’t realistically work. Can your day be broken up into working early morning and then in the evening to take account of caring responsibilities? If you are a night owl, is there any reason your job can’t be done during the small hours rather than 9-5? Be creative and flexible and see what the result is

Keep in contact – whether this is with work colleagues or friends and family, to know you are not alone and to have a break from the work situation is essential. And, although we are all now quite proficient in Zoom (who doesn’t wish they’d bought shares back in February 2020?) it doesn’t have to be a video call. Some situations need faces. Some need just a friendly voice. Especially important when you live alone.

Identify your oxygen – this is an important element of The Real MEE programme. What is it that gives you a boost when you are flagging? What is the thing you look forward to when you have some time to yourself? What is the oxygen that keeps you going? No-one can work 24 hours a day and you need to be able reward and energise yourself with the things which make You You. And then you will have the reserves to be something like a fully functioning woman!

Aseparate space. If WFH is not your usual thing, then you may not have a dedicated workspace, but it is vital that you do your utmost to create one. Even if, as in the case of Mary, that means a plank of wood balanced on plastic boxes in the bedroom so that she can shut the door on the family for a time and focus. The lack of ergonomic design may give someone like me with a Pilates background some heart palpitations, but it does the job.

If it’s truly impossible to shut yourself away, then headphones are your new best friend. Coupled with the fact that instrumental music (especially Baroque music which has the same rhythm as your “concentration” brain waves) aids focus and you are in a win-win situation.

Never multitask. It’s the enemy of productivity. This ties in with the boundaries theme. Dedicate yourself to your chosen task totally. I know what happens if you don’t, I’ve tried it! I have a distinct memory of supervising a play date, while trying to cook dinner and send an email. Result – cup of tea knocked all over me and very narrowly missing the laptop. Near disaster. And you know what, once you’ve cracked the separating tasks thing, you actually get stuff done quicker, your loved ones feel more valued and you have a stronger sense of having achieved something that day. This may need some negotiation with interested parties, especially if children are involved.