I switched from working full time in an office to working full time from home in 2016 when we moved to Houston for my husband’s job. Although grateful to work for an organization that offers this flexibility, it was a big transition that took adjustment and a lot of getting used to. It also happens to be a big transition that much of the country has been forced to make in the past few weeks. As a work from home veteran, I am here to share my story, and offer you some of the tips I’ve learned to keep myself productive and most importantly…sane.
It Will Feel Weird at First
I went from an office full of cubicles where people would ask questions over the top or stop by to chat for a few minutes several times a day to being in a room…alone…for hours. It was SO QUIET. And it felt SO ODD. Guys, this is normal. It’s a huge change. A couple of things have helped me with this. I have found some solid playlists to keep my workflow going (I’ve found I can’t work in silence). And having a kid took care of a lot of the quiet parts. Eventually I got used to the environment. So much so that now when I go back to visit the office it feels overwhelming to interact with so many people during the day.
Find Your Workspace
I fortunately knew that I would be working from home in advance, and I insisted that I was going to need to build a workspace for myself. I have a gorgeous refurbished desk we got at an antique shop, my entire computer set up, and decorations that I have added to over time. If you don’t have the ability to do this, then do what you can. Maybe it’s your laptop at the kitchen table. Maybe it’s a tv tray in a closet. Whatever you choose, be consistent. Having a specific place that you go to work will train your brain to be in “work mode” when you are there.
Have Rituals to Bookend Your Workday
Even though you aren’t leaving the house to go to work, having boundaries to mark the beginning and end of workdays is helpful. I have coffee in the morning, hang out with my toddler, exercise, and get dressed before getting to work. Even if “getting dressed” is just changing from pajamas to leggings or clean sweatpants (which let’s face it, for most of us it is) that still marks a change from down time to work time, and that’s the goal. At the end of the day, I put away anything I’ve gotten out during my workday, and power down my computer. I sometimes change into pajamas if we don’t plan to go anywhere, and occasionally I’ll do a “leaving work at work” meditation to help my brain switch gears. Find the rituals that work for you to start and end your day. Even if you don’t have regular work hours, you can still find small things to mark the end of a work session for you and tell your brain it is time to turn off work mode.
Find Your List System
There are about a million articles out there about to do lists, and while you may not have used one when you were in the office, it might help give you more structure in working from home. I prefer a paper list, because I like pretty pens and writing things down helps my brain to remember them. I model it loosely after my bullet journal structure, including both tasks and events for the day, and then at the end of each day migrating my unfinished tasks to the next day’s list. I’ve tried several methods over the years, and a current one that I use is to highlight either my most important task or the task I am dreading doing the most to tackle first. It’s worked for me, but you have to find what works for you. Is it a digital list? A planned out by hour schedule? Just one thing to accomplish per day? Try things out and see what helps you. Toss the things that don’t. Another thing I do is keep a separate list of big projects I am working on. That way I don’t forget about them, but they don’t clog up my daily list and make me feel like I am not accomplishing things.
Go Outside Your House
Working full time from home means that unless I have a visit or appointment, there is not really a reason for me to leave my house during the day. I’ve had to be intentional about going outside, otherwise I might not see the light of day for a while, which personally is very bad for my self-care. This is challenging right now, I know. But it can be simply walking around the block or having coffee on your porch. Just go outside your door and remind yourself that the rest of the world is there. Also, nature and sun are good for you.
Talk to Other People
If I am not careful, I can go days without speaking words to another human outside of those in my household. This makes me feel isolated from my work world and disconnected in general. I advocated very hard to be included in meetings via video platforms rather than conference calls so that I could see the people I was meeting with, which helped a lot. Now I will call sometimes with questions I could have emailed just to connect with someone on the phone. For a while I had a weekly check in with my supervisor to feel more connected to my team and let’s face it…provide proof that I really was working to make myself feel better. However you can connect with others, do it. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to be alone.
Give Yourself Grace
This is a difficult time, and a HUGE change for a lot of people. You may not cross everything off your to do list. It might take time to figure out your rhythm. You might be terrible at taking care of yourself some days. Heck, you may absolutely hate working from home and vow never to do it. That’s ok. Tomorrow is another day. What you do matters. You can make it through this.
I hope some of these are helpful to you as we all slog through this time together apart. Working from home can be challenging, but it can also be beneficial. Personally, I love that I get to spend extra time with my family in the mornings and evenings that I otherwise would be spending driving to work. And the comfy clothes don’t hurt either. We are in this together. Sweatpants and snacks and all.
Do you have some tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comments below.