From the 4=6 rule to the 1:1 rule to the rule paradox principle, you will find suggestions on how to deal with yourself in your home office. Rules and sticking to them are crucial. But stay flexible and realistic. More than ever, the following applies in the home office: Respect yourself and your needs. And acknowledge your performance without reservation. The big challenge is to secure your own performance over a longer period of time. This requires self-observation and rules. And the courage to defy common myths.
Are you new to the home office? – good. Do it for a longer time – then enrich your experience. In the following, I would like to summarize on the basis of 10 rules what makes the home office easier for you.
So let’s get started:
Rule 1 – Be Nice to Yourself
- Be nice to yourself. You have set yourself a high goal, whether you have to or have voluntarily withdrawn: be careful with yourself and the demands that are made. For you will hardly be able to avoid yourself; they are closely connected with your work and your private life. Assume three days of home work and two days in the office as maximum home working time; this is not possible now; you have to work alone for five, even all seven days of the whole week. Does this create pressure or stress? Recognize this, admit it; this is the prerequisite for being able to relax anyway.
Rule 2 – Coordination and Planning
- Find your ideal working hours. If you are free to choose your attendance time, you will have the chance to learn about yourself, when and how you can best practice your own working hours. Are you a creature of habit – the same breakfast and working hours every morning? Are you more “creative” and try out every day when the momentum is there? Anyway, you will now have the hard experience that it is not so easy when you work without colleagues and your family may still be there – when space is tight.
- Coordinate with your family or roommates. Communicate when you “work” and that you are not disturbed. Stick a sign on the door if you have a study. Write down the working hours and choose whether the door should be closed. Communicate whether others should keep quiet during certain hours. Children also respect working hours, provided you remain firm and are actually unresponsive during this time.
- Schedule “breaks”, lunch, and closing time. If you don’t, work will get out of hand and the boundaries will blur. Pronto you will be in a permanent stress loop – this is something you should avoid. Try out which times you want to define as working time: duration, breaks, etc.
- Stick to your rules: It is known from learning research that breaks should actually be just as long as the concentration research carried out before that. You are reading correctly: in a school experiment this was tried out and the pupils learned better than pupils in the conventional style with short breaks. The 1:1 principle brings the most benefit. This is especially true if you want to work creatively. For sustainable productivity the following applies: Take breaks seriously and take them seriously. Really get out: look out of the window, stretch your feet, clear your head, short meditative exercises. Breaks are important. In any case. Always. Plan enough. The rule is: 45 minutes is the maximum time attention can be maintained. Fifteen minutes is the best time to stay focused. Take this seriously. Do not override yourself – and do not punish yourself. If something doesn’t work and you are late: accept that. Even malfunctions or problems (IT!) are working time. Do not add “more” work to the backlog because something did not work as planned. This is hard to bear, but keep to your rules. Even if you find it hard. It will be worth it. Punishment does not work in motivational psychology. There is a danger of a downward spiral of demotivation and it is far more difficult to get out of it than to keep to your own rules, even if it is tempting at first to “hang on” for half an hour because there was a delay. Remember: we are talking about long-term performance, which must be maintained. This must be the goal.
- Whether you also work on weekends is a matter of your experience or depends on whether your company gives you the working hours in your home office as well. Fact is: to work on weekends is a personal matter. Are you someone who loves strict boundaries? Best of all, this is a prerequisite for a balance between private life and work. Then leave it like this. Do you, on the other hand, cope well with looking at your e-mails at the weekend? Then practice this cautiously and continue until you are ready. But please note: I can rather recommend “background work” for the weekend, i.e. no active collaborative work with others. So you still have a difference to the weekdays. And please note: a weekend worked through will show up with lack of concentration and tiredness by Wednesday of the following week at the latest.
Rule 3 – The Power of Rituals
- Use rituals: Design your workplace – and if it needs to be “cleaned up” afterwards, likewise – with very personal items. Let rituals come to mind, like a certain cup and a typical drink. In this way you mark your personal work zone. These can also be flowers, a paperweight etc. And celebrate successes like the first week of work at home, successes in terms of content, a successful coexistence of professional and private life. Never forget that it is important to maintain a balance between work (at home!) and private life. If possible, make your workplace invisible when work is over. That way you can switch off better.
- The marker technique (placing objects that mean something) is derived from Positive Psychology and is also practiced by Maja Storch and her Zurich Resource Model (zrm.ch)
Rule 4 – Building Flexibility
- Stay flexible and listen to yourself: If you have set your sights too high – change and reduce your working hours. Or choose shorter units. See further rules below. Try out patterns; find out if you want to practice fixed patterns permanently or if you want to go outside when the weather is fine. Maybe you will live a different pattern every week? Depending on the weather forecast? Carry this discourse with you – decide in consultation with yourself which model you will use and when. You will be grateful if you listen to yourself. And don’t be angry with yourself for decisions. These are good. Respect your own decisions for yourself.
Rule 5 – Pay Attention to Your Times
- Be aware that working alone in a private environment is hard work. You now have less distraction than in business. Imagine how much “distraction” a normal working day brings with it: spontaneous coming in, spontaneous conversations over coffee, meetings, lunches, etc. This now turns out to be the case. Instead: leaden loneliness. That’s why working alone is more intensive – if you do it in a concentrated way – than working in the office. This means: the 4=6 rule. Accept that four hours of work mastered alone is equivalent to 6 hours of work in the office. That is so. So you work slightly more than you would do in the office.
- Therefore, please note that you should not extend your personal home working hours, but rather shorten them. Otherwise you will get into a downward spiral of stress and motivation will plummet exponentially. Now more than ever, less is more.
Rule 6 – Recognize Achievements
- The most important thing: Respect yourself under all circumstances for the effort you make. Recognize your performance unconditionally. The greatest danger is that you play down and negate your seriousness and commitment. Especially if you think something is not going the way you think “it should”. Look at the previous rules: Relax, focus, plan realistically.
Rule 7 – Follow your Intuitions
- Pick up your intuitions. It is possible that ideas and associations arise when working alone. Use them; accept them as inspirations that you can carry on. Make a note of them; but don’t forget to perceive digressions as such and to return to the goals of the day.
Rule 8 – Start Self-Observation
- Start “Journaling” yourself. What does that mean? Self-observation via diary; or logbook, if that sounds better. It pays to observe your feelings of enthusiasm or frustration at work. You simply write down your observations; at work or afterwards. In the sense of “I felt tired at first, but then I got into work well” or: “several disturbances; I didn’t really get into it; at the end of work time, feeling that I had not done anything”. Why should you do this? Through a longer practice of this journalism you will gain experience about your own work. Values that will confirm that “rain is followed by sunshine”, to put it trivially. You will recognize patterns and begin to feel the certainty that it is worth sticking to your rules and always getting ahead. This will make you more resilient to deal with feelings of dissatisfaction and move forward.
- Additional tip: recognize “frustration”, but refrain from punishment!
Rule 9 – Planning Work Properly
- Use the rules of work technology. These are: divide your work into portions and divide them into supplementary vegetables (administrative, for example) and core dossiers. One also speaks of important and unimportant things. Choose your own words here.
- Set appointments from the end and visualize the available resources. In this case: Your available working time. Plan several months or weeks in advance. You will see what is “important” because it has to be completed by a certain date. Plan the time (hours) needed for this on the basis of the weekly working time you have available. This will fill up the weeks and days. Starting from goals that are several weeks away, you will get what you want or should do every day. Parcel out further into hours or half hours. But loosely; this can be extended or shortened. But you can see what you should do every day. Every morning, think about what you have to do today; you must have already created the overview of your weekly planning at the beginning of the week. I am talking about the rule paradox principle. It is about nothing less than the philosophical question of whether people are freer, who have no rules or who submit to rules. You guessed it: the view advocated here is: a rule framework relieves the burden and thus makes you free for new and beautiful things. Notice how much “irregularity” promotes feelings of being overstrained and losing oneself. Within the framework of “your” rules you experience yourself as a master of your capacities.
- Plan for other, repetitive or ongoing tasks. So you have an overview of what is due when.
- Please note the 30% rule. That’s right. A good advice is: never plan 30% of your working time, because this part is reserved for unplanned work. You will be grateful for this foresight and you will avoid penalty rounds for yourself, which only demotivate. This is the time to fight a myth that you are “good” when your diary is full. This is not true, everyone who has to work extra hours when their schedule is full knows this, because they have not considered the preparation and follow-up of meetings. By all means leave some space – you will see; it fills up, and it fulfils.
Rule 10 – Know Goals and Direction
- Observe the flow principle. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (without the original astrostrophes from the Hungarian), a US researcher of Hungarian origin, already brought the flow principle to the point in the 1980s. He wanted to know how the phenomenon we call “flow” comes about. Someone is self absorbed in something and experiences this time as highly satisfying. The flow can be explained by three factors. The flow principle means:
- You have formulated goals
- These goals are appropriately challenging: neither overchallenging nor underchallenging.
- Experience the course of goal achievement; “control”, look back. Rejoice in what you have achieved.
- This gives you a chance to get into the satisfying flow. You decide on your to-do and thus are not subject to outside influences. This also works when you have “externally controlled” objectives. By breaking down and a realistic measure of fulfilling the goals you can still gain the upper hand here.
Feel free to look at these tips more often. Maybe everything is too much at once. Experience a relaxed working environment in your home office with these tips. Good luck!