Eddie and Sue Arthur share their advice.
Since we returned from Africa in 2000, apart from a little interlude where I had an office role, Sue and I have both worked from home, so the restrictions imposed by the current situation haven’t particularly affected the way in which we go about working. Because of this, we have been asked to share a few ideas which might help people who are new to this way of getting things done.
The danger in writing something like this is that it might come across as implying that we’ve really got this home working sorted and the rest of you just need to listen to the experts. To be honest, nothing could be farther from the truth. We struggle with this issue, but the fact that we have our struggles means that we’ve had to learn a few things along the way in order to stay productive and to keep our mental health intact.
At some point, you have to sit down at your desk, stop looking at Facebook and actually do something. Working from home comes with a whole raft of possible distractions and none of the discipline which comes from sharing an office with others, so you have to be able to make yourself concentrate on what it is you should be doing. To be honest, much of this is internal and it comes more naturally to some people than others. Sue is much more disciplined than I am.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord
– Colossians 3:23
There are some things you can do; close your web browser so that you aren’t tempted to read Facebook, put your phone in another room or download one of the apps that are supposed to help you concentrate. I find that deadlines are really helpful and if other people don’t set them for me, I’ll set a few of my own and I’ll tell people about them. ‘I’ll have this report available by February’ is a great way of forcing yourself to achieve something. In the end, work discipline, as all other forms of discipline, is a matter for prayer. God is interested in your work life and wants you to do well, so ask him to help you.
Having a dedicated workspace is great if you can manage it. Obviously, this isn’t possible for everyone and some people end up having to work from the kitchen table. It is convenient to have a workspace that you don’t have to tidy up in order to have your lunch, but more importantly it sends a signal that you are AT WORK! It is great if your kids and your spouse know when they can and cannot disturb you, without having to ask. Even better, if you know that you are in your working place, it helps with the discipline issue.
Some people find that it really helps to have a fixed timetable. If you can start and finish work at set hours in the day it may well help you to concentrate. I tend to be less rigid in this aspect, partly because I tend to start fairly early in the morning (before seven) and then take a longish lunch break to walk the dog.
From my perspective, the most important aspect of the daily timetable is stopping work. When I stop, I stop. The thing with working from home is that your work is always there and it is easy to get completely consumed by it. The temptation to just check your email before going to bed can be overwhelming. If you are going to stay mentally and physically healthy you need to set some sort of boundaries and not work outside of them.
Coffee breaks are an important part of the office ritual and it is well worth cultivating them at home. Ten or fifteen minutes away from your desk mid-morning and mid-afternoon can really help you to concentrate. A ten-thirty break to listen to Popmaster on Radio 2 always brightens my day!
Telephone calls, video conferences and other means of contact can provide structure to a day, human contact and give you something to look forward to. There is no harm in organising a zoom call even if you don’t really have a lot to discuss – just catching up with one another is part of office life.
The daily commute
The great thing about commuting to and from work is that it gives you time to move from one world to another. To leave work behind and to re-orientate yourself to home life. Try to find a way to build this space into your day. I find that it really helps to finish my day by reading a book which is tangentially related to my work. After spending the day trying to write and think, it is good just to wind down by reading a devotional book or something on mission.
God is interested in your work life and wants you to do well, so ask him to help you
Be kind to yourself
The thing is, you are probably not going to be as productive working from home as you were working in an office, with everything to hand and colleagues to bounce ideas off. You are also going to be more stressed, partly by the unfamiliar environment and working pattern, but also by the times that we are living through. Don’t stress if you find it hard to concentrate, don’t worry if you need an extra break or two and don’t start beating yourself up if a short task suddenly starts to take hours. Do get some fresh air and exercise. Why not start your day a bit later and do the Joe Wicks thing at nine?