When the COVID-19 Pandemic spread across the world last spring, we were swept up in what now seems like endless upheaval of what we called “normal.” The hardest part for many continues to be adjusting to this new level of isolation. Not only are we limited from seeing family and friends, but we’ve lost the day to day interactions with our coworkers and community that were easily taken for granted not long ago. As many companies moved their operations online and their offices home, masses of people learned just how challenging it can be to work from home. Even those of us who’ve worked from home for years found new challenges focusing through this chaotic year. We’d like to share some of the habits we’ve developed to help us stay healthy, productive, and balanced in a home office.
1. Keep your work as separate as possible.
Building a home office you can shut off from the rest of the world is ideal. Whether it’s a partner, roommates, children, or pets, there are plenty of opportunities to get distracted at home. Being able to close the door during work hours makes it infinitely easier to stay focused and keep all of the tools you need for work together.
Many of us don’t have the luxury of an extra room in the house to turn into a home office. However, we can still establish clear boundaries with a little extra effort. Maybe there’s a corner of your house that isn’t in heavy use or even a kitchen table you can claim during business hours as your bother-free zone. Anything you can do to separate your workspace will help.
Make the space as comfortable as you can, you’ll be sitting there as much as you would be at work. If you can’t purchase a good office chair, put a cushion on your favorite one on the house. Maybe you have a nice window with bright natural light to build your space around or some photos that keep you smiling as you type. Keep all your office supplies present and organized, and try not to partake in any non-work activities in the space. When you sit at your station, it will begin to signal to your brain that you’re ready to work.
2. Set office hours.
If you’re working from home, it’s likely that your boss has not given you strict hours to accomplish tasks. This can be exciting at first, we all have days we wake up dreading the early morning rush to the job. However, you’ll quickly find that the ability to postpone or put down your to-do list can cause it to start piling up. Scheduling your hours in advance and sticking to them not only keeps your tasks on track but also provides much-needed time off. Work and home can quickly start blending together. If you don’t set times to be on and off, you’ll end up feeling like you never leave your job.
We use tools like Google Calendar to schedule our tasks and work hours, it functions conveniently with Gmail. You can keep a sidebar present in your inbox and set hours that you will and won’t be available. You can also schedule meetings with Google Meet and set reminders with Tasks.
One option to help establish home office hours is by listing them under your email signature. It can also be helpful to remove the expectation of a quick response after-hours by not sending or responding to emails in those times. If you must respond to an email before the morning, you can easily schedule an email to be sent when you’re expected to clock in.
3. Stay organized.
Possibly the most important, and sometimes the most difficult suggestion we can offer is to stay organized. It sounds obvious, but when work and home life are squeezed into the same four walls, it becomes critical. Clutter in the house can make it difficult to focus, and disorganized work can leave you up late and falling behind. Keep your spaces as clean as possible, and keep your to-do lists separate. We use tools like Meistertask, Slack, and Google Tasks to keep our projects on target. It can be helpful to keep a separate agenda for personal chores.
4. Establish a morning routine.
Without the need to leave the house every morning, it can be tempting to let go of the habits that used to get us out the door. When you forego your morning routine, you’ll likely feel the morning fog stick as you sit down at your computer. Starting your day right signals that it’s time to get to it.
After what most can agree was an exhausting year, it may be helpful to add something that brings a bit of joy to the morning beyond basic hygiene and sustenance. Whether it’s 10 minutes of stretching to your favorite songs, writing a page in your journal, or taking time to enjoy a cup of tea, adding something that makes you smile can encourage you to stay motivated.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.– Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
5. Make time for movement.
It’s no secret that sitting in a chair, leaning over a laptop all day can cause health problems and discomfort. Back pain, eye strain, blood clots, and fatigue are at the top of the list. It’s important to add as much exercise into your routine as possible and to keep your blood moving. Not just for your physical body, but for your mood as well. Try to give your eyes a rest from your screen and your body a bit of movement every thirty minutes. Set aside time for physical activity in your off-hours. Even a walk around the block can do wonders.
6. Keep in touch with your loved ones.
When we’re busy juggling home and work life, it can be easy to fall further from our social circles. While we may not be able to see our loved ones much, it’s still important to set aside time to be there for each other. Nothing can replace being together, but at least in today’s world we’re able to see each other smile through Facetime, Zoom, and other video chatting platforms. Even a quick conversation can do wonders for our morale.
7. Figure out what works for you.
Everybody is different, and all remote work is not the same. What inspires one person might feel monotonous to another. Tools that work for one team may be irrelevant to another. Trial, error, and attentive adjustment will ultimately define the home office habits that bring you success. We hope our advice can provide you with insight and solutions!