6 Savvy Tips for Working Sanely — and Productively — from Home
With much of the world still on lockdown as a result of COVID-19, people have been saying goodbye to their work commutes and hello to flexibility, Zoom meetings in their PJ pants—and, let’s face it, chaos.
I’m no stranger to this. Years ago, when my two children were young, I traded in my one – hour commute for a ten-second shower-to-home-office-trek. My desire was simple but profound: I wanted to spend time with my daughter and son before they grew up and took off for college. This was long before self-isolation and the coronavirus was part of the vernacular; long before working remotely was a widespread possibility. In other words, I had to realize how to WFH the hard way.
To many of my friends and peers, it seemed like a fast track to insanity—and at times I’ll admit it was. And yet, after years of honing the practice, I discovered how to flip my work-from-home struggles into professional (and domestic) success. Here are six tried-and-true ways you can find the same:
1.Turn Your Home Workspace into an Oasis
The beauty of working from home is that you’re not confined to a cubicle with your colleagues a socially-distant-unacceptable three feet away. But if you don’t designate a specific place in your home to working and spread yourself across it—shifting between working on the sofa to emailing your boss in bed to talking to colleagues over FaceTime in the kitchen—the distinction between work and your home life will blur, rendering you incapable of setting boundaries and potentially wasting hours of productivity.
The solution? Designating a spot in your home that’s exclusively for the vast majority of your work—and ensuring that space is as pleasant and conducive to efficiency as possible. Doing so will not only send a tacit message to your family members or roommates that you’re engrossed and unavailable but will also compel you to start associating the area with work itself. If possible, place your workstation near a window to allow in natural light (I spent years facing a wall before it dawned on me that my eyes might need a “beauty break”). Have something alive nearby—a flower box, a collection of potted herbs, an ivy, or a goldfish—and make a point to connect with them in some way throughout the day (in the absence of physical colleagues, they’ll help you from living too much in your head—aka, getting batty). If you work well to music, by all means, play it. Infuse the area with energy-boosting aromatherapy, such as orange or peppermint. Top it off with a quote or image that inspires you. And when you’re ready for a change of scenery—say, on the patio, or in your favorite reading chair? Commit to staying as concentrated as you were when you were at your “desk.”
2. Make Your Mornings Matter
As thrilled as I was to say sayonara to my morning commute, I realized that hour’s drive to the office was key to preparing my brain for work; at home, I had trouble switching from Mom mode to career woman. To do so, I created “start the day” triggers that organically signified a shift in my body and brain. I would do a quick round of deep breathing techniques and yoga stretches, shower, and dress as if I were indeed going to the office (minus the heels). Granted, some of these “start the day” efforts happened late at night after my children were asleep but the shift in thinking they generated was tremendous.
To this end, create rituals that will mentally prepare for you for work. The night before, create a to do list for the following morning. Go to sleep at your usual time, rather than thinking that the extra hour you’ll have in the morning sans commute is the perfect excuse to watch Big Little Lies until 1 am. In the morning, experiment with actions that indicate a transition from home to work. For some, this may mean getting caught up on the news with a cup of coffee in hand; for others, it may mean putting on lipstick or a button-up shirt. Whatever it may be, weave them into your routine so that you’re primed for the grind.
3. Create (and Stick to a) Structure
There were a few years when working from home meant being at my computer from 10 pm to 3 am, which resulted in major sleep deprivation and relentless anxiety. But as my children grew older, I managed to work a set number of hours per day—and boosted my output while I was at it.
With this in mind, consider the importance of creating structure to your days—and sticking with it. Taking a coffee break whenever you please may sound heavenly, just as pausing to text with friends or starting your workday at lunchtime might make you think this is the life. And yet, without time management and structure, whole days may slip away unnoticed, leaving you panicked, behind, and, like me, sleep deprived.
Rather, make a schedule. Aim to be at your desk at the same time you would if you were still going into the office. Review your list of tasks, prioritize, and plan. Set aside an hour for lunch to savor your meal, rest your eyes, or catch up on those domestic tasks that have been niggling at your mind (after all, you’re surrounded by reminders of them.) Schedule breaks, and honor them. Decide on an hour to complete your work for the day and signify the shift back “home” with a walk around your neighborhood, a workout, a cup of tea—or simply joining your family in the living room.
At the same time, avoid the temptation to keep going until bedtime—it’ll result in burnout, resentment, poor sleep, and a lack of productivity the following day. “The biggest difference between working from home and working in the office is that you are in charge of your environment and have to treat yourself like an employee,” career coach and the founder of Shatter & Shine Heather Yurovsky told Muse, who adds, “This means holding yourself accountable, but also recognizing when enough is enough, just as a good manager might…If you feel yourself extending your work hours because you aren’t doing anything in the evening, tell yourself it’s time to put work away, recharge, and start tomorrow with a fresh mind. The work will be there in the morning.” True, there may be times when you’re jazzed about a project, client, or idea and will want to work late, but for the most part, clock in and clock out at pre-set times.
4. Be Candid with Your Housemates—and Communicate Your Expectations
It’s one thing to fly off your handle when your daughter puts Shakira on at top volume while you’re on a conference call; it’s yet another to have a kind but frank discussion about your expectations with those you share a roof with. As HubSpot puts it, “Of course, you might be working from home but still have ‘company.’ Make sure any roommates, siblings, parents, spouses, and dogs (well, maybe not dogs) respect your space during work hours. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re home.” And the more you enforce discipline on yourself, the more your housemates will realize that your “door” is essentially closed. Which leads me to my next point…
5. Minimize Distractions
Whether it’s your children or that mounting pile of laundry/dishes/home repairs/errands, know that distractions at home can put you behind on both daily productivity and also larger, important projects. In addition to creating that aforementioned structure to your days and a schedule with your family (which will take a truckload of patience, but is definitely doable), you’ll have to impose focus and determination on yourself. Blaring the news on the television in the background will almost undoubtedly interrupt your work flow, while pausing to attack the mess that’s been made of your pantry will set you back (as tempting as it may be to get away from your pile of tasks). Sure, it’s fine to cheat here and there and take care of a few tasks post-dinner from the couch, but it’s a slippery slope between casual and sloppy. Plan your meals ahead of time so that your mind isn’t wandering what to fix for dinner at the same time you should be plowing through your inbox. Put the cat outside. Use the weekends for errands and chores. Turn off your personal email and silence your text messages (unless this is the mode of contact you have with your team). Install an app such as Freedom or Self-Control, which can help keep you on track so that you’re not pausing to check the latest pandemic news or Instagram. Hold yourself accountable—think back to that to-do list. And if you start feeling restless? Set the Tomato Timer and strive to work for 25 minutes without a break. The real break is resting ahead—precisely when you’ve chosen to “close down” your home office.
6. Get Outside
A great deal of angst and annoyance can be had when Every, Single, Thing, You, Do in life—from working to sleeping to eating to showering to relaxing—is conducted within the same four walls. Housebound, cabin fever, whatever you choose to call it—all are real, and have been magnified for many during the pandemic. While it’s easy to shrug off the feelings that arrive with this, know that spending all of your waking (and sleeping!) hours inside your home can take a toll, leading to, as Psychology Today writes, “restlessness, lethargy, sadness, problems concentrating, irritability, decreased motivation, feelings of being stuck, claustrophobia, and impulsive decision making.” To combat this, use those clearly-defined breaks to get outside. Take in the fresh air. Absorb sights that are anything but the black and white of your computer screen. Feel the sunshine on your face. Wiggle your toes in the grass. And move your body, even if it’s just a walk around your deck or yard or to the mailbox in your apartment building. The endorphins it will produce will bolster your mood, keep you sane and healthy, and ready you for lasting success.~