This year has been a seismic shift in the way that many of us work, with lots of employees logging in remotely from home during the pandemic. For me, though, it wasn’t really that different. I’ve worked at home exclusively for five years, and during that time, I’ve developed some tried-and-true methods for success while working remotely.
I’ll start off with perhaps the most challenging part of working from home: establishing boundaries that separate your work life from your home life. For me, a crucial part of that is having a dedicated office – a place where I can keep my work completely separate from the rest of my living space. When I first started working from home, I’d often drag my laptop over to the couch in the living room or even to my bed. But that started to have a negative impact on the rest of my time, because I felt like my entire home was my office, which meant that all hours could be used for work. While that’s true, I suppose, it’s not good for my mental health or my work productivity. Maintaining separate spaces helps me to focus more when I’m working and relax more when I’m not. Don’t have an office? Even working in a dedicated corner of a room can help you set boundaries that reinforce work/life balance.
And this isn’t only true for space – it’s true for time, too. When I was single and living alone, I was free to work whenever I wanted – which sometimes meant almost every hour that I was awake! Buying a house with my now-husband, who works a traditional nine-to-five job, changed that. I wanted to work when he worked, so that we had the same off-hours, making it easier for us to spend time together and with other people. So now, I try to end my work day at five o’clock, and to only work on Saturdays or Sundays if absolutely necessary. It’s been great for my work and for my happiness.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Working from home means that you have fantastic flexibility regarding your time and the way you use it. But that’s both a good and a bad thing. I’ve found that it’s important to give myself deadlines and tasks to keep myself motivated and on track, since I don’t have a boss to do those things for me. I use a whole series of tools to help me, from two paper planners (one that involves scheduling and to-do lists, another to organize my blog content) to the digital calendar on my phone (which helps me remember big events and sync both of our household calendars). Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner has been one of my best discoveries of 2020 so far!
I try to make a to-do list every day that includes both work and chore tasks. Sitting at my desk all day without moving makes me feel physically terrible, so I like to add in little items that let me get up, stretch, and get productive work done around the house. These generally include tasks like washing or folding a load of laundry, getting the mail, or wiping down the kitchen counters. It’s a great way to get things checked off the to-do list easily, too, which is a major motivational tool for me.
Remember to Move
The other thing that those little chore tasks do for me? They get me physically moving. Because I don’t commute, and my lunch break involves walking to my kitchen, I have found that it’s tougher to make sure I’m standing and moving throughout the day. We splurged on a pandemic treadmill, which I use every morning for about an hour, and that helps a lot. I also love my Apple Watch, which dings every hour to remind me that it’s time to stand up and move. (This is the one I have.) It’s been a game changer for me.
Build Good Habits
One of the things I’ve focused on this year while working at home is building small habits over time to make big gains in the long run. I read Atomic Habits by James Clear at the start of quarantine in March, and it’s given me a great framework to use to make this happen. From tackling big writing projects to convincing myself to drink more water, I find that using the “a little at a time” method works great for me. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
One thing has changed about my work-at-home situation in 2020: I gained a co-worker. My husband’s firm has most of their employees working at home for the foreseeable future. I’m territorial about my space, and it took me a minute to adjust to having him working in our house every day. (Thank goodness we have a finished basement with a second office space.) His work includes lots of phone calls and video conferences right now, so it’s been helpful for me to find ways to keep focused and tune out the background noise. Podcasts on my AirPods and white noise on my Amazon Echo have both been a big help. I also love the Calmed by Nature videos that I recommended in the last 5 Friday Favorites post!
I’m also a person that just likes to have background noise going, even when I’m working totally alone in the house. I generally use television to help me out. Shows I’ve seen a million times (like Parks and Recreation or The Golden Girls) are good because I don’t have to devote actual attention to them. The Golf Channel is a great ambient background choice, too, especially in the winter, because they’re always playing somewhere sunny and bright. My favorite background TV, though, is QVC. I’ve been using it since my grad school days – half my dissertation was written with In the Kitchen with David in the background. (Whoever would have thought then that one day my QVC knowledge would help me get a Final Jeopardy clue right???)
Dress the Part
I’m not one of those people who thinks you should wear traditional office attire while working from home. (I keep reading articles about companies trying to enforce their dress code for remote workers, which just feels so silly.) But I do find, at least for me, that it’s important to have a work-from-home uniform that isn’t workout clothes or pajamas. I usually try to wear something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear out to run errands. It’s one of the reasons I have such a large and growing collection of sweatshirts. (I just bought this one today!) For me, having “work clothes” is just one more way to put myself in the focused mindset I need to get work done, and avoid the temptation to go veg out on the couch instead.
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