Up until this spring, I was the envy of most of my office working family and friends. Why? Well, because I’ve been working from home for over eight years. Most of them proclaimed that if only they were allowed to work from home, they could be more productive and have a better work-life balance. Well, thanks (or no thanks) to the coronavirus pandemic, many of them entered the world of remote working practically overnight.
Needless to say, after six months of remote working, many of my friends and family have changed their tune. Instead of hearing, “Wow! It’s so amazing that you can work from home,” I hear more along the lines of, “How did you work from home that long and stay sane?” Here’s the thing—I am no master of productivity, nor am I the most patient person in the world. Some days working from home is extremely hard for me. However, I also had eight years to figure it out and was not forced into remote working due to a pandemic.
With experts warning that working from home will be around until well into 2021, finding a way to make working from home better for you is extremely important. From my own experience and tips from work-from-home gurus, here are a few ideas for fixing what is commonly wrong about WFH areas and routines and creating ones that will make working from home a pleasant and sustaining experience.
Stop Working From Bed or Your Couch
Start Designating a Work Area(s)
In a perfect world, you’d have a separate home office with a door. Unfortunately, most of us do not have a dedicated workspace. Even after eight years of working from home, my office is on one end of my dining room. Priya Jindal, founder of Nextpat, a consulting firm that supports cultural transition to familiar places, had to make the shift to a home office as well. “I don't have a home office and work from an island in my kitchen/living room,” says Jindal.
No matter where you set up your workspace, it must be comfortable or you will not be doing your body and mind any good. Make sure your chair and table are ergonomically adapted to keep you comfortable while sitting or standing. A workspace that is not comfortable will put stress on your body, making it difficult to concentrate on your work.
If Space Is Limited
If you are short on space, John McCulley of McCulley Design Lab suggests creating work zones. “Consider using different zones in the house for specific types of work requirements,” McCulley suggests, “For privacy, go to a bedroom, close the door, and create a work environment for heads-down work, or combine your phone calls into a dedicated time to walk and talk.”
Katrina Green, professional organizer and interior designer at Badass Homelife LLC suggests keeping your workstation clutter in check. “In any workspace, distractions like pictures and big decor can affect productivity,” says Green. You can make your space pretty, but keep it at a minimum. Green suggests adding a small potted plant or one picture frame in lieu of many.
She says in order to increase productivity, remove physical distractions as well as visual ones. “If the space has less stuff and accessories to look at, it's a lot easier to stay productive,” says Green.
Most people have a natural tendency to fill empty space with things they think they will need. But, resist the temptation. Scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that clutter/messes have a negative impact on ability to focus. “Our brain functions better when you don't overload it with information,” says Green, “clutter tends to overload our brain even without us realizing it.”
Stop Working in Your Pajamas
Start Getting Dressed Each Day
One of the many perks of working from home is that you really don’t have to wake up extra early to get dressed. Although it may be tempting to work in your pajamas all day, you could be limiting your productivity.
Prior to COVID-19, getting dressed up for work helped prepare you for the day ahead. Once you started working out of your home, that routine was probably the first thing to go.
While some employers do not care what you wear while working from home, getting dressed allows you to establish a work routine that can inspire productivity. A study published on Scientific American suggests that clothing affects performance. So, stop working in your pajamas all day! You don’t have to dress business formal, but getting dressed will help you set the day in motion and emergency video calls won’t catch you by surprise.
Stop Working Longer Hours
Start Establishing a Schedule
Without a commute, many new work-at-home employees found they now have more time during the day. However, don’t fill up that “extra” time with more work.
“I've found myself logging more hours during the pandemic and having to create new boundaries to ensure that I still feel like I have time at home,” says Jindal. Create a schedule that works for you. Wake up, start work, eat lunch, and finish work around the same time daily. “Scheduling helps create structure in your day which can help with expectations management and goal setting,” says Jindal.
If Work Areas Are Shared
If you share your home workspace with another or you have kids at home for remote learning, scheduling can get tricky. McCulley suggests establishing schedules and ground rules to reflect daily activities, responsibilities, and where to do these tasks. “Consider ‘work shifts’ with your spouse/partner alternating time with work and family,” says McCulley, “If a single parent, make clear with work that you will need flexibility to look after the needs of your kids.”
Stop Sitting at Your Computer All Day
Start Taking Breaks
Breaks help you increase productivity and creativity. According to Psychology Today, “working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion.” However, many people feel that because they are home, breaks are not necessary.
“Breaks when at home can release tension from sitting in a chair not built for it and help you break away from the monotony just as you would at work,” says Jindal. Although you may not have coworkers to visit or a break room to chill out in a few times a day, it’s important to make the time. Working all hours of the day will not make you any more productive. In reality, this mindset may be costing you more than productivity. Science has proven that taking breaks isn't a waste of time—it's absolutely necessary for your career and well-being.
An article published on Psychology Today says that “taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative.” Luckily, working from home makes it even easier to take breaks throughout the day, so you should absolutely take them.
How to Schedule Breaks
If you have a hard time remembering to take breaks, “set alarms to get up and move,” says McCulley. This can be the timer on your phone or computer. Although there are many schools of thought on how long a proper break should be, a popular method is the Pomodoro Technique, which consists of a five-minute break every 25-minutes. During your five minute break, you walk away from your work and do something non-work related and something you enjoy for five minutes, like taking a quick walk outdoors.
Remote working is the norm for the next few months. However, there is no reason you need to sacrifice your physical and mental health or time with your family in order to make it work. Make working from home better for you, and you will be happier and more productive.