GUEST POST: How a new way of how you WFH can help you leave the old behind

Many people have opted for a fresh start with a new job after a long slog pf pandemic. But what happens when your WFH – working from home – office is just the same as it was before? You can make a fresh start with that space too, says Lucy Salvage. And you can do this without changing job, too.

January. It’s a funny old time. A time we reflect on how well we’ve adulted over the previous twelve months and hoping that some of the things we learned (both good and bad) will help us to have a better stab at the next twelve.

The pandemic has robbed us of this annual tradition somewhat.

The last two years appear to have merged into one hot mess of over-working from home, not socialising, and generally burning out both physically and mentally.

It has felt harder this year perhaps to see ahead to the positive change that a new year can bring and leave the old, but still ever present, behind.

For many, myself included, the new year is a time for fresh starts. New beginnings. Saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new. For a lot of people it’s cutting loose from an existing job to seek a new opportunity. Nearly 9 in 10 (89%) UK workers were looking for a job around this time in 2021, I would wager that the figure is just as high going into this year.

Out with the old: but is it?

At the end of 2021 I myself joined the hordes of millennials who continue to take part in the “Great Resignation”. Having got my feet firmly under the table at my local council for the last nine years, I was just as surprised as anyone to be handing in my notice last November.

Suddenly, I found myself in the exact same position as millions of other professionals over the last two years – I was about to start a brand-new job with a different organisation and with people I didn’t know, and all from the comfort of my own home. Yikes. At one point it looked like I might be lucky to meet my new team in person over Christmas, at one of those things called a “party” (and not the cheese and wine kind). But sadly, it didn’t happen for reasons we know all too well.

For someone who has never freelanced, I struggled to get my head around the notion that I would be downing tools on 17 December at my desk from home as Media and Communications Officer for Wealden District Council, and in January 2022 I would start my role of Digital Content Creator for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health at that very same desk.

In the same room, staring at the same four walls, watching the same rain fall out of the same sky, landing on the same cat. Suddenly, a new year for me wasn’t necessarily going to be as new as I thought it was. I was going to have to make a real effort to make it feel different and exciting; and that itself felt quite daunting.

In with the new: some tips

So, what did I do to make the transition from one remote job to another feel fresher and newer? Well, lots of little things that may not seem significant, but together they have made a difference. I’m hoping that these small changes will also encourage some new longer-term habits:

Workspace prep

  • I shifted some furniture around – repositioning some of the furniture in the room helped to make it feel visually different.
  • I de-cluttered – I used the time between Christmas and New Year to go through all the old paperwork and “stuff” that occupied the room. What didn’t get binned was recycled or sent to the charity shop.
  • Happiness is houseplants – I resisted the urge to buy yet more houseplants, but instead gave the existing plants in this room some extra TLC. I even swapped some of the pots around to give the illusion of newness.
  • I set up my new tech the night before – saving myself unnecessary stress by getting it in situ and making sure the laptop was fully charged and working.
  • I started a new notebook – my decluttering unearthed a plethora of notebooks in all shapes and sizes. Nothing beats a fresh notebook when starting anew!

 Time management prep

  • I bought a planner – 2022’s answer to the Filofax! Planning journals are a big thing right now, and as someone who has always struggled to keep up with both my work and personal commitments, it’s been a revelation to get back to basics with a paper diary. I can have it in front of me on my desk as a constant reminder of what I’m supposed to be doing and when. Planning journals also include other features, such as daily to do lists, and space to note down goals and achievements. I also love the motivational quote and mood stickers for personalising each page.
  • I downloaded a time logging app – I’m not required to officially log my hours in my new role, but I wanted to keep track of my time. It’s also help keep structure to my day so that I’m not tempted to sit at my desk all day without taking a proper break. There are numerous free apps available; I settled on Timesheet and so far it’s working a treat. 
  • I committed to “me time” – one of the first pledges I made to myself as I started my new job. I am now consciously making effort to take regular breaks and at sensible times. No more eating my lunch at 3pm!

Morning routine prep

  • I get dressed the night before – not literally! Thinking about the night before what I’m going to wear the following day has really helped to speed up the morning routine, as does laying your chosen attire out ready for a new day (or just throwing it on the back of a chair).  
  • I set my smart speaker to work – I found a banging playlist full of motivating songs to wake-up to. Each evening I select one to be woken up by and ask my smart speaker to set a morning alarm to it. I’ve found it helps to change the song every so often, otherwise the jump start effect can soon wear off and it becomes too easy to sink under the covers and sing to it instead!
  • I sacked-off the snooze – rather than having a five-minute snooze that turns into 45 minutes of additional sleep, I now make sure that as soon as my alarm goes off, I sit up in bed. Even if I’m not quite ready to get out of it, sitting upright helps to get the blood re-circulating and resets the mind.
  • I have breakfast before starting work – I’d gotten into a bad habit, especially over Christmas of not eating breakfast until gone 10am, sometimes not until 11am. Now I make sure I have breakfast before logging on. Eating at proper regular intervals has helped me to feel more alert and energised.

Make the most of what you have

I know I am very lucky to not only have a spare room, but one that I have been able to dedicate to office space (and an extended wardrobe – see also floordrobe). Like a lot of people back in early 2020, I took root in my local Homebase so that I could prettify the space I was going to be spending a good 80 per cent of my time in. To keep the spend low, I made better use of my existing space by sourcing a lot of my furniture from Facebook Marketplace and upcycling.

Of course, if you haven’t got a dedicated space to work from and are having to work in an existing living environment, such as a bedroom or dining room, there are still things you can do to bring harmony to multi-functional spaces.

Be present

Finally, something else I am going to try hard to be this year is more present. Less dwelling on what has gone before, more living for each day, and stressing less about what may or may not happen in the future. Also, having gratitude for the smaller things and putting less pressure on myself to achieve perfection when nearly perfect will more than do. For we can do as much de-cluttering of spare rooms as we like, but unless there is also the space in your mind, we can never truly feel refreshed and renewed.

Bringing in these small changes to my workspace and my behaviours has made the transition from one job to another from home a lot easier. It has allowed me to mentally separate one from the other and feel a sense of new beginning, even in the same surroundings. How long my new good intentions will last, I can’t say; old habits do tend to die hard. However, now that I’ve told all of you what they are, I guess it’s going to be a lot trickier to not keep it up. Damn.

Lucy Salvage is digital content creator at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and social media strategist at Talking Mental Health.

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