People often assume I’m an extrovert. I can’t blame them, given my penchant for speaking in front of thousands of people and connecting online every day. But the truth is, I love being alone. Solitude is my happy place, and working from home has always come naturally to me.
That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Many find it easier to focus at an office. But as we practice social distancing to flatten the coronavirus curve, many of you have suddenly found yourselves with remote jobs… whether you like it or not.
If you’re feeling the whiplash, you’re not alone.
Folks all over the world are dealing with sudden, unexpected life changes, myself included! But since I have been doing the work-from-home thing successfully for a long time, I’m hoping I can help make this transition a little easier. So today I’m sharing what I’ve learned about what it takes to stay happy and productive while working remotely.
We’ll also talk about ways to create and maintain BOUNDARIES. Full disclosure: This is the area I struggle with most. I love what I do—it’s my life’s work! And if I’m not careful, that line between work and life gets pretty darn blurry.
When our world is turned upside down, it’s easy to bury ourselves in work or lose sight of what’s best for us. But I know that I’m happiest, healthiest and best-equipped to lead when I prioritize self-care and keep my boundaries strong. I think you’ll find that to be true for you, too!
Pulling back the curtain on common work-from-home pitfalls.
So, practically overnight you may have gone from commuting to the office to commuting to the… kitchen table (or home office if you’re lucky enough to have one!). That’s big, and on the surface it might sound like a dream come true. No more sitting in traffic or putting on real pants, right?
But with the need for social distancing accelerating at lighting speed, you probably didn’t have much time to prepare. That means you may be missing out on some of the best practices that can make working from home a win.
Whether you’re brand new or a seasoned pro at working from home, these symptoms indicate that remote work isn’t working for you. (No worries, though. Tips on how to make it work coming soon!)
Look out for these common pitfalls:
- Breaking frequently because you’re distracted by household chores like laundry.
- Not taking ANY breaks and sitting at your computer for hours at time.
- Eating meals at your desk.
- Rolling out of bed with only a few minutes to spare before work.
- Working into the evenings instead of shutting down at day’s end.
- Being constantly distracted by the people and pets you live with.
- Difficulty balancing work with caring for your kids.
- Having more anxious thoughts or dreams about work than usual.
- Feeling isolated and disconnected from your coworkers.
- Feeling like you can’t disconnect and transition into “home mode” at the end of the day.
I didn’t write this list just to stress you out. But if any of those sound familiar, there are some proven practices you can engage to protect your productivity (and your mental health!) while working from home. Now, ready to talk solutions?
How to Quickly Adapt to Working from Home
These practices have been essential for cultivating my balanced work-from-home life. I hope they help you stay happy and productive, whether you’re working from home or just staying home more than usual. And it doesn’t end when you go back to the office—you can keep using these ideas to improve your work/life balance, no matter where you are!
1. Create a consistent schedule with start-up and wind-down times.
Establishing start and stop times for your work day helps you maintain boundaries. I encourage you to try this out, even if you normally keep a flexible schedule! Your day is no longer bookended by getting to and leaving the office, so this gives you back that definition. Plus, establishing routines can provide a sense of normalcy in uncertain times.
Take it a step further by creating start-up and wind-down rituals. That means that the first hour of your day is dedicated to getting grounded and set up for success with the work ahead—and the last hour is dedicated to wrapping up that work so that you can “clock out” on time. My team and I started doing this recently and it has been a game changer!
2. Set clear objectives for each day.
This might be something you do during your start-up ritual! Pick two or three top priorities and keep them visible all day long. (I write mine in my Results Journal, but do whatever works for you!) Whenever possible, batch activities like meetings, inbox time, etc. together on your calendar. That way, you’ll have long periods of dedicated focus to work toward your top objectives.
3. When it comes to hygiene, act like you’re going to leave the house.
Take a shower, put on clothes… you know the drill! I’m not saying you have to do full hair and makeup—if yoga pants are your jam, go for it. But good hygiene is part of taking care of yourself and maintaining your routine. Plus, it can make you feel more centered and motivated.
4. Establish a dedicated workspace.
All of a sudden, work is home and home is work. Whaaat? When the two share a space, it can be pretty hard to maintain boundaries. Don’t worry if you don’t have an office, just be intentional about creating separate spaces for work and the rest of your life (aka don’t work in your bed!). Also, tidy up your space. Chaos in your workspace creates chaos in your mind.
5. Take real breaks.
When you go to the office, you automatically get a little fresh air and movement, even if it’s just walking from your front door to the car. You’re also more likely to walk to meetings and water cooler chats throughout the day. Fear not if you feel a bit stagnant or sluggish when you first start working from home—it’s totally fixable.
The key is to take real, mindful breaks. Take a few minutes for deep breathing in the morning or for stretching in the afternoon. Avoid the eat-at-your-desk trap and give yourself recess! Eat lunch outside if you can or do a quick yoga session in your living room. Just make simple self-care breaks a part of your day.
6. Connect virtually.
If you’re new to working from home, you might feel disconnected at first. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to connect virtually. Have video meetings whenever you can using a tool like Zoom. Use Slack to check-in with your coworkers about work-related topics as well as fun stuff like photos of your at-home workspace and wins for the day. Just don’t keep chat notifications on all day. I’ve been there and it’s a recipe for getting nothing done! 😉
7. Have kids? Read this.
I know that many of you aren’t just dealing with a surprise work-from-home scenario. You’re dealing with a whole new paradigm of parenting during the day, too. (You deserve a medal for this, by the way!) Trying to work while your kids are home can be really tough—and that’s especially true if you’re suddenly having to homeschool them. One of my amazing colleagues, Suzie Barbour, is a pro in this department. She’s a busy COO and also the founder of Homeschool Vibes, who homeschools while working from home on the reg! Here are a few tips she shared to help you succeed…
- Keep a routine, but it doesn’t have to be rigid. Set clear boundaries between school and play time, and make sure everyone knows what to expect.
- Plan for together AND alone time each day so you can all stay connected while still having your space.
- Make a list of activities to choose from and get your kids’ input. If they’re bored during free time, they’ll have a resource to go to.
- Be gentle with yourself and seek support. If your partner is home, work out a schedule to trade shifts with the kids. Lean on your loved ones and fellow parents, too. Even if they can’t be with you in person right now, they can still be there for you from afar. (There may even be a loving aunt or grandparent who’d love to read your child a story on Facetime if you need a quick break.)
These are just a few of the ideas Suzie shared to help those working from home with kids. Follow her on Instagram or Facebook for more guidance. (And let me know in the comments if you’d be interested in a blog post on this topic.)
And here’s my final tip…
Remember, you are a whole person who is likely going through a lot of stress right now. Please be kind to yourself. There aren’t hard and fast dividing lines between the many roles in your life. You’re a friend, parent, employee, boss, lover, artist, patient, thriver… all of these beautiful parts of you are intertwined. Try seeing this as an opportunity to explore those connections and to plug into the activities that give you energy and comfort. With a few simple boundaries, working from home can be a powerful way to bring all the parts of yourself together.
And as you adapt to this new reality, spread kindness around to those who can’t work from home. From medical and emergency workers, to the hospitality industry, to those who are keeping our supply chains running (farmers, factory workers, truck drivers, etc.)—many are braving traditional work climates because remote work isn’t an option. Recognize those who may be losing income or risking their safety to help others—and look for ways to help them in return. They’re looking out for us, so let’s make sure we have their backs, too!
Your turn: Are you working from home right now? If so, how’s it going? And if you have tips to share, please do!
Peace & boundaries,