Monday, 12 October 2020

How to maintain a better work-life balance when working from home

Working from home can be a double edged sword. Sure, you no longer have the commute or need to set your alarm at stupid o'clock any more, but it can also be really lonely. Whilst you can still chat away to your heart's content on Whatsapp or Slack with your colleagues, it's just not the same as being face-to-face. Working from home once or twice a week can be respite from the commute, but for an extended period of time like it has been with the COVID-19 outbreak, it can be increasingly hard. You miss work lunches. You miss Fridays in the pub. There are so many things you want to see and do, but are advised not to. You are home so much that the work-life balance is starting to blur around the edges and you no longer have that separation or discipline. So how do you get out of a funk like this? Try following these simple pointers to help promote a healthy work-life balance when working from home.

Tips for a better work-life balance when working from home

Designate a specific working zone

Whilst it may be tempting to take your laptop into the main living area with the TV on in the background, don't do it. Go hole yourself away in a separate room where you usually wouldn't be. At the end of the working day, remove work emails and alerts from your phone (if applicable), close the doors on the space you worked in, and walk away. This is now your time.

Come up with a plan for co-working arrangements

If you live with a partner, friends or family, what happens if you only have one home office space? Should you both work in the same room? Everybody works differently so it's best to talk this through with your partner / friends / family and be honest wth each other. Here we have a study with a long desk which is perfect for two people working alongside each other, however due to the nature of my partner's work (noisy and on video call constantly), it just wouldn't work. For me to perform at my best, I have to put myself in another room, on another floor. If you have children and they have gone back to school, plan a rota of who is picking up from school on which days and if pre-school, come up with a rota for childcare so you can avoid video call interruptions of this scale and hilarity.  

Don't forget to take breaks

I've heard so many stories of people forgetting to take lunch breaks when they work from home, or only grabbing a quick bite to eat. It can be so easy to lose track of time when you are deep in a task. Look after yourself and have a proper nutritional lunch and give yourself the full hour. Besides lunch, get up every so often to walk around and grab some water or a cup of tea. Stay hydrated and keep your body and mind active. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been stuck on something, had a break and a quick walk away from my desk, and then the solution has come to me instantly.  

Do your hours - nothing more, nothing less

This kind of falls in-line with the previous point. Yes, have breaks and a full hour for lunch, but at the same time, don't abuse the system and take an extended lunch break because 'no one can see me'. Whilst a longer lunch is heavenly, it can make it harder to get back into the swing of things, resulting in less motivation and productivity. At the same time, don't overdo it at home or do more hours than you are paid. I am incredibly guilty of this and have been known to start work at 8-something rather than 9.30am and then work past 5.30pm in the past. Finish on time and avoid working late into the night so you get the time you are entitled to in order to unwind properly before starting all over again the next day.

Make sure you have the right access

Nothing sucks more than working from home and discovering that you don't have the right access / permissions / equipment. This in itself will set you back. Make sure you have everything in place ready ahead of working from home.

Get dressed

Whilst it's incredibly tempting to stay in your pyjamas all day, avoid doing this to better your work-life balance. The act of getting dressed sets you up ready for the day and puts you in the right mindset. When the working day is over, go and get changed. Change into either looser, more comfortable clothing like joggers, or your pyjamas. This will help reinforce a sense of routine that work is done for the day and now it's you time.

Get up at a reasonable time

Whilst it's tempting to leave the alarm off completely or set it just before your official start time, don't do it. Logging onto work when you've just woken up isn't the one. If something complex comes in first thing that requires serious attention, imagine the headache that will come your way if you're not ready. When I work from home I usually allow myself an extra hour in bed - so my alarm is set for 7am rather than 6am - as I no longer have the commute. It is so important to have enough time to wake up fully and for much needed you time. Other than the essentials of showering and getting dressed, make sure you give yourself some quality time. Read the newspaper. Sit down and have a proper breakfast. Do a sudoku or morning yoga. Go for a run. Whatever you choose to do, get yourself into a routine and in no time at all, it will come naturally to you.

Try and get outside if you can

This stems from my point earlier about how sometimes taking a break and going for a walk can sometimes encourage new ideas. You don't even have to go far. Go down the road or around the corner. Spend some time in the garden (if you have one). Fresh air can be so invigorating and always perks me up if I'm having a bad mental health day.

The chair you use is so important

Don't let a poor chair be the cause of an early onset of back problems. If you are going to be working from home a lot (particularly with the COVID-19 outbreak), it's wise to invest in a decent chair. We have one decent work-from-home chair in the office which my husband uses, but if I'm home I find myself hopping about from chair to chair as the dining room chairs are only comfortable for so long. If you feel an ache in your back, act on it quickly and don't just 'put up with it'. Change your location and try another chair. Use extra cushions to support your back. If budget allows, order yourself an ergonomic chair or executive chair with padding and a fully supported back (I recently ordered myself this one and it's an absolute dream!). Some companies have a working from home allowance and can provision you with a chair and desk (or budget for them), so it's definitely worth asking around.

Give your day some structure

Start each day with a quick brainstorm of what needs to be done that day and create youself a To Do list. There is nothing more satisfying than ticking things off a To Do list (or is that just me?). Plus if your boss is checking up on you making sure you are actually working, you can come back with a whole host of things you've completed and be smug as. When you approach the end of your working day, if there is anything outstanding or to be rolled over to the next day, note it all down. This is beneficial in two ways. First, it's a weight off your mind and allows you to fully switch off that evening and not think about work. Secondly it means you have the makings of tomorrow's to do list already forming itself (WIN).

Do you have a good work-life balance when working from home?

Image credit: Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Friday, 2 October 2020

How to take better food pictures with #TheFoodieBag

This post contains a gifted item

If you can start eating a plate of food without documenting it first, I applaud you. I have long given up the hope of ever eating a hot meal. So why do we do it? Food is first and foremost functional. We need it for nutritional purposes and to, well, survive. However sometimes a pretty plate of food is worth documenting. That one photo can serve as a reminder of a special event, a perfect date or a memorable holiday. We share snaps of our baking successes and on some occasions, our food is so aesthetically pleasing, it's bordering on art and worth being immortalised in a photograph.

Taking a truly special food picture is an art. I see professional food bloggers with all the right kit, regularly invited to the swankiest joints, sharing dark, out of focus food pictures where the colour levels are all wrong. Then comparatively I see influencers with smaller follower counts - or your average Joe - who use a mobile phone and get it spot on. My point being that taking a great photo is well within your reach and easily achievable with just a few small pointers.

Frame your shot

It's all about the background. Whilst we are not all blessed to have marble worktops, the key is having a work surface with colour variation or a bit of texture to add interest. A concrete look surface always works well with food photography and can add an industrial feel. Or for a more luxe look, opt for a marble effect surface paired with gold utensils. To get a high end look surface for a fraction of the price, try backdrops like these which are perfect for food photography. My simple vegan aubergine and chickpea stew looked a whole lot more exciting when I tried it against the different backgrounds.

Vegan aubergine and chickpea stew
Vegan aubergine and chickpea stew

For a fully authentic magazine style food shot, frame your dish with crumbs, a smattering of herbs or a lovingly torn French baguette. But don't overdo it. You want the shot to look homely, not messy (and not excessively staged!)

Get the lighting right

Natural light always works best, but at this time of year, good light can be hard to come by which is where you may need assistance in the form of a lighting kit. Circle lights can help in the winter months but beware, as artifical light is no match for natural light and can cause glare and over-saturated images. To help control the lighting your photo receives - whether natural or artifical - consider using a reflector and diffuser like this 5 in 1 one here to eliminate shadows and glare.

Edit with caution

Sometimes the perfect photograph requires some editing work, especially if you are not blessed with natural light. Increasing the contrast levels can add richness to your image, and low light can be remedied. Edit with caution though, as many professional food bloggers make the mistake of over-saturating their images, leading to the colour of natural food products appearing, well, unnatural. 

Experiment with angles

Flat lays are always effective in food photography, but playing with angles can add interest. See what a difference it makes below. The bird's eye view looks a little flat, whereas shooting from an angle makes the dish look multi-dimensional (what of course it is!). Re-shooting the flat lay with a slight angle rather than from above makes the toasted pinenuts in the recipe look more 3D.

Food flat lay
Example of a flat lay

Playing with angles
Experiment with angles

Food photography flat lay
The ingredients in this flat lay look a little more 3D as it's not shot directly over head 

Give your food a face lift

Examine your plate and how colourful it is. Is it a fairly beige meal? Or is it all mostly one colour? In food magazines the most captivating recipes we want to try ourselves are colourful and attractive. Greenery always works wonders and can help bring food alive - so top your meal with fresh chopped parsley, chives or your herb of choice. Other options include cheese and chopped chilli - anything that adds colour and interest. Puncture the yolk of your poached egg in a brunch shot for an image that leaves your audience salivating. Wipe up any other spills and add cutlery to give it that ready to eat feel.

Listen to the experts

I am by no means an expert and if you check out my Instagram, I'm sure I have commited a multitude of sins when it comes to food photography. That being said, life is full of lessons and food photography is something that takes time and practice. If you want expert advice on how to improve your work, check out these polaroid style notelets, each depicting a picture of a delicious plate of food and on the reverse side, tips and tricks. Admittedly some of the advice is common sense, but I have learned a lot and I'm really pleased with how some of my recent food shots have turned out.


If you are a budding food blogger or just enjoy taking food photos and want to up your game, check out #TheFoodieBag (also known as the Instagram Bag) here which has everything you need to get started. The kit is just £39.95 including P&P & VAT and contains the following:

  • a HUGE tote bag (perfect for lugging your kit around!) with zip fastening and internal mesh dividers and pockets
  • A 15-inch 5 in 1 pop up lighting reflector and diffuser
  • 4 backdrops (marble, grey concrete, green-grey hybrid and rust-look)
  • 8 beautiful postcards with extra tips and tricks for getting the perfect shot

I've had a lot of fun experimenting with the different backdrops - although admittedly this has made me cringe over some of my past food photography!

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* This post features #TheFoodieBag from The Cotton Bag Company which was sent to me in exchange for a review. As ever all views (and love of food photography!) are my own.