With COVID-19 fully upon us, a huge number of my friends and colleagues are working from home over the next few weeks. For many, this is a first-time experience – and to you I say, welcome to my world!
As an off-the-charts extrovert who made the jump to full-time freelancer a few years ago, I want to share everything I learned about working from home so you don’t make the mistakes I did.
A Reality Check:
If you don’t work from home often, you may imagine the experience to be blissful. And in many ways, it is! I love the freedom, the flexibility, the convenience, the sweat pants, the snacks, and the lack of a commute.
In my experience, the sheen wears off pretty quickly – especially if it’s not a once-in-a-while thing or broken up by coffee shop visits and in-person meetings (which many of us have given up in an effort to create social distance). After weeks of working exclusively from home, you will likely feel bored, weary, lonely, and unproductive.
So, follow these tips to stay sane, happy, healthy, productive, and motivated while working from home.
1. Choose your workspace wisely.
I can’t emphasize this enough – where you set up is the most critical aspect of your success.
Ideally, this will be a dedicated home office, but not all of us (me included!) have that available to us. Whatever you’re working with, do your best to create a separate space in a well-organized area of your home with good natural light. I highly recommend working at your kitchen table or a small desk (lumbar support!).
Whatever you do, don’t work in your bed or where you relax/watch TV. The novelty might be nice for a day or two, but trust me, it will seriously cramp your work style and productivity. However, there’s a much worse consequence. Working from your bed or on the couch trains your brain to associate those spaces with your work. This deeply impacts your ability to relax and fall asleep when it’s time to do so.
2. Separate personal tasks from professional tasks.
The advantage of working from home is also its downfall – flexibility. One minute you’ll be hard at work, and the next, you’ll realize that over an hour ago, what started as a quick check of the news turned into a scroll through Instagram, then some online shopping, then a small organization project, then a full-scale deep-clean of your kitchen.
Without coworkers walking past your desk to keep you accountable and on-task, and with all those personal projects you’ve been putting off staring you in the face, these rabbit holes will seriously derail your day. Like before, the risk is not just to your work life but to your personal life as well. If you can’t separate the personal tasks from the professional tasks, you’ll have a hard time setting boundaries around your personal life while you work from home. Certainly, accomplish a personal task or two! But do it mindfully and on a scheduled break rather than unintentionally and haphazardly.
3. Schedule your work strategically.
This requires a bit of self-knowledge to do well. The whole idea is that we all have times that we are full of energy and productivity/creativity comes easily, and times of the day where we are pretty much useless.
I happen to be productive and full of energy in the early morning. Around 2 pm, I hit the post-lunch slump HARD. I tend to feel creative in the evening before bed, but my brain shuts down around 9 pm. With that knowledge, I’m extremely intentional about how I structure my day. I like to start work by 7 am to take advantage of my early-morning energy levels. I make sure to knock out challenging, demanding tasks before lunch, and I save mundane tasks and administrative work for after lunch. I tend to write best and ideate in the evening, and I never work past 9 or 10 at night.
Pay attention to your energy spikes and slumps and plan your day accordingly.
4. Chunk your time.
Without the usual distractions and natural breaks of an office setting, you might find yourself absorbed in the same project for hours on end. This focused time is a huge benefit of working from home but it isn’t sustainable for many of us.
Instead, consider putting boundaries around your work by chunking your time – working on projects in a focused way for a discrete, predetermined amount of time.
Not only will you be more productive, but you’ll be more engaged in what you’re doing and moving from task to task helps break up the day and prevent burnout. Plus, the scheduled breaks in between focused sessions are a perfect time to knock out a personal task or two.
I personally love the Pomodoro method (25/5) – essentially, you do 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break. I used this for studying in college and it was incredibly effective. Admittedly, 25 minutes tends to feel a bit short (probably because I’m working creatively rather than cramming information into my brain), so I often extend it to 50 minutes followed by a 10-minute break.
Here are some resources I use to chunk my time effectively:
Google Calendar or a daily planner
Rather than only writing in appointments and meetings, I literally write out when I plan to work on certain projects. Sometimes I’ll put it in my Google Calendar and set notifications to remind me to move to the next project. Usually, I just jot it down in my planner.
This browser-based timer features a full-screen countdown display (great for the competitive among us) and a ton of presets and customization options. They even have a preset for the Pomodoro method that will track your 25/5 intervals. Check it out: http://www.e.ggtimer.com/
The Mastery Journal
This journal is aimed at helping you master productivity, discipline, and focus. While there are a ton of cool and inspirational features, I love that it specifically allows you to plan out, track, and evaluate your daily “focus sessions”. You can learn more about it here. I bought mine for $25 on Amazon, and it has been an awesome tool. Thanks to my friend Alec Holland, a realtor with HomeSalesCO, for the recommendation!
5. Get outside.
No matter the weather, I like to get outside for at least a few minutes every day. Even if it’s snowing, I’ll throw on a coat and boots and go grab the mail (we’re in an apartment and our mailbox is about a block away). If it’s nicer, I’ll take a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood. I like to do this during my afternoon slump and find it allows me to finish my workday strong.
So take your dog for a lap around the block or just go on a short walk or jog. (According to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Steve Pergam, as long as you maintain six feet of distance from others, this still “counts” as social distancing, FYI).
6. Be social.
Some of us might be able to make it multiple days without a lot of social interaction, and some of us (cough-cough, ME) go crazy after a few hours alone. But whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, some level of social connection is important and without it, you will eventually grow bored and listless at home. Combat this by calling up a colleague instead of emailing them, scheduling a Zoom call with a client, or using a strategic break to phone a friend or family member.
7. Make and eat real meals.
With the pantry, fridge, and freezer just a few steps away, it is so dang easy to just mindlessly snack all day. But preparing and eating actual meals while working from home is so important – not just because it’s healthy, but because it provides a much-needed leg stretch and natural break in your day.
Confession – I’m a habitual offender on this one. I often find myself returning to the pantry over and over throughout my work-from-home days. Most of my snacks are relatively healthy (fruit, veggie, cheese stick, almond butter packet, Larabar…), but when I’m grabbing a snack every half an hour, the number of calories it represents is shocking.
So I’m committing to change that. Join me this week and take a few minutes to prepare a proper meal for yourself. Stick with a sandwich or a salad, or take advantage of being at home and whip up an omelet or some pasta – and then unplug and actually enjoy a full lunch break!
There you have it. I hope you find this perspective helpful as you adjust into a new work reality, and that you can continue crushing deadlines, completing projects, and maintaining sanity over the next few weeks.
What on this list is most helpful? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!