We’re just a few days away from my 1 year work from home anniversary. On March 13, 2020 my department was asked to work from home in order for IT to test how our systems would handle so many people working from home simultaneously. That was a Friday and over the weekend we were sent the announcement that we’d all (mostly) be working from home until further notice. I’ve since then only be in the office one time for a few hours to get my computer fixed.
Needless to say it’s been a strange year but overall one thing I definitely cannot complain about is being able to work from home. I absolutely love working from home and if it were up to me I would never go back. Well…thats a little over dramatic. I would be more than happy to go into office once a week for team meetings and catching up with coworkers.
Even though I love working from home, it’s not always smooth sailing. That said, over the course of the past year I’ve found, through A LOT of ups and downs, what works for me to have a productive work day.
A Structured Morning Routine
Over fall and most of the winter I let my morning routine completely slip away and I felt the impact tremendously. Beyond balancing work, my sleep schedule fell apart, I stopped working out, and I felt so drained all the time. I think part of this is a vitamin D thing because I was outside all the time in spring and summer. But I also think, my day to day routine collapsed because I let the most foundational part of my day crumble – my morning routine.
I’ve found that my days seem to get off on the best foot when I force myself out of bed at the same time everyday and get straight into my workout. The rest of my morning routine includes feeding the cat, scooping the litter box, doing 1 load of laundry, vacuuming 1 section of the house, emptying/reloading the dishwasher, meditation, a shower, and warming up a cup of coffee. This may seem like a long list but many of these things I can do simultaneously (i.e. laundry cycle runs while I work out, or vacuuming while my coffee heats up).
I like to have all of these tasks done before 9 AM so that I can log into work and handle my emails while I enjoy my morning coffee. I don’t feel the pressure to find time in my day between meetings and projects to squeeze in these tasks in when they are all handled first thing in the morning, which takes such a huge weight off of my shoulders early on so the rest of the day feels pretty relaxed. This also helps to keep the house in decent shape from day to day so deep cleaning isn’t as strenuous. The other unintended perk of this routine is that I end up drinking a ton of water first thing in the morning as well.
Designated Work Space
I started my work from home journey stationed up at our dining room table with my laptop. While I love the amount of natural light we get in our dining room, being stationed just a few feet from the TV in the living room and started to become an issue. My distractions were too accessible. Once the weather was nice enough I set up a workspace outside on my deck. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy being outside while still removing me from distractions. This worked well until my company sent me a new computer and a huge new monitor to go with it. I love the freedom of working from the laptop, but having a second screen again was such a relief since I tend to work on a lot of spreadsheets.
This amazing new set up then led me to realize my current desk wasn’t going to be big enough from my work and personal needs. Luckily I was able to just purchase a new desktop since my desk was an a la carte Ikea build anyway. I’m very fortunate in that I have an entire room in our house I can use as a dedicated office. I realize not everyone is going to have an entire room at their disposal, but even if you have just one corner in one room you can designate as your work from home area it makes a huge difference. Having a space that’s just for work also allows you to get into the mindset that when you are in this space its work time and when you leave this space you are no longer on the clock. I think that’s especially important for people who have trouble switching out of work mode.
Another thing to remember when setting up your space is to make it ergonomic. Spend the money to make sure your body is well supported since you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time in this space. Some things to consider when setting up your work space: are your wrists supported at your keyboard and mouse, can your feet reach the ground when you’re sitting up straight, does your chair support an effort to remain sitting with proper posture, are you bending your neck over too much to see your screens, is too much light giving your eye strain.
Our desks at work are basically our homes away from home so we keep them stocked with all the items we may need throughout the course the day. You may not think to do this with your work from home setup because you have X, Y, Z thing in the next room, but when you need these things in real time it’s going to get annoying getting up 3 times an hour for something small (especially if you’re on back to back calls or deep in concentration). A few of the basics I like to keep at my desk are tissues, chap stick, hand sanitizer, and hand lotion. The one things I would advise keeping at your desk are snacks, especially if your home tends to attract mice, but also because many have resorted to boredom or comfort eating during the pandemic. It’s probably best to keep your snacks in the kitchen so you can consider if your actually hungry or just eating because a snack is just within reach.
A few other tips I think are important for creating your best work from home experience:
- Do not eat lunch at your computer. I know experts preach that you should always eat lunch away from your desk when working in the office, but I’d argue its even more important when your working from home so you can keep the distinction between working time and personal time clearly separate.
- If you make any purchases to spruce up your work from home set up, check with your manager to see if your company is willing to reimburse you for any of the items. It never hurts to ask.
- If you’re set up in a dark space look into a small mobile ring light for your video calls. There are many affordable options on Amazon.
- Invest in a daily planner to help keep you on track with both your personal and professional to-dos. I really like the CGD London Getting Stuff Done planner since it also has designated spaces for tracking workouts, meals, and water intake.
- Don’t forget to take occasional breaks. It’s not healthy to remain seated for extended periods of time nor is it great to stare at a screen for that long either. Take a short walk around your home once every hour or so and look into purchasing blue light glasses to help prevent eye strain.
- Don’t let yourself go just because you aren’t seeing others in person. Shower, brush your hair, throw on some mascara if you’re going to be one camera. I cannot tell you how uplifting it is to occasionally throw on a real outfit and a face of makeup, even though I’m not leaving the house.
- Most importantly DO NOT WORK ON THE WEEKEND. If you have a day off, absolutely do not go through your emails “just to check”. Those emails will still be there when you log back in on Monday morning. This is your time off and you better own it. If there’s a true emergency someone will call you.
I know we all don’t have the same space in our homes, home responsibilities, free time, or career expectations, but I do hope you are able to incorporate some of my tips in a way that help to make your work from home experience as smooth as possible. I personally love working from home, but I have coworkers who can’t wait to get back in the office. Either way, it can be a productive experience and a comfortable experience when you add some structure to your schedule and space.