Tips to Take You From Sunup to Sundown
At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been working from home for months. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gotten easier.
I’ve been working from home for awhile — I’ve even started THREE different jobs remotely — and these are the 10 best tried and true tips I’ve found while working remotely.
If you search for “work from home tips” on Google, you’ll see list after list after list of decent advice. But all of these lists are missing two things: they don’t give you the list in any particular order, and they don’t show you how to practically implement the advice.
Well, I’m about to do just that! And I won’t keep you waiting any longer, here are my top 10 tips for working from home.
#1. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.
It’s 7:00 in the morning, and your alarm is going off. You roll over, turn off your alarm, unplug your phone, and automatically check your notifications.
You notice that you have 5 unread emails – they’re all from work. And they’re all from people who need you to do something for them.
Great, you think, what a terrible way to start the day.
And you’re right – it IS terrible to wake up to read a list of demands from other people before you’ve even had your first cup of coffee. Before your feet have even touched the ground for the first time that day.
So don’t do it!
It’s a tough habit to break, but once you stop reading work emails first thing in the morning, you open the door for a day of work that YOU control. And you establish a much-needed boundary between work and life.
So how can you break this habit? Set up your notifications on your phone so that you only receive emails during a certain time-frame. Put your phone across the room so you can’t check it at all first thing in the morning. Or quit cold turkey if you think you can.
The point is – it doesn’t matter how you do it. It just matters that you do it.
(It’s worth mentioning here that this is a great tip for in-office workers too!)
#2. Establish a morning routine.
There are varying degrees of planners in the world (I am the most type A of all the type As), but no matter how much you love (or despise) planning, it’s a fact that human beings love routine.
And a morning routine can really help you get in the right mindset for work. Again, it’s about establishing a boundary – creating a clear, definitive line between your personal life and your work life. This is of the utmost importance when you work from home.
The best part about establishing a morning routine is that there is no right or wrong way to do it! It can be as fun or as automated as you want. It can be as long or as short as you want.
Your routine can literally be getting out of bed (bypassing the phone), brushing your teeth, making coffee, getting dressed, and starting work.
Or it can be getting up, going to the gym, playing with your dog, drinking a cup of coffee, getting dressed and ready for work, eating breakfast, doing a Bible study, and then starting work (example courtesy of my normal morning routine).
The only important part of a routine is that you do it every day.
And if you get bored easily? You can have different routines for each day of the week, or you can change some small details of your routine. Normally drink hot coffee? Have an iced coffee instead. Typically wear neutral eye makeup? Wear something a little more dramatic.
You get the idea – anything to give you that spontaneity you crave while still maintaining some semblance of a schedule.
#3. Dedicate a space in your home to be your office.
If I had to choose ONE item on this list for everyone who works from home to implement right away, it would probably be this one.
Physical boundaries = mental and emotional boundaries.
By carving out a space dedicated to work, and work alone, your brain will learn that sitting in that space means it’s time to be awake and productive, and lying in bed will mean it’s time to relax.
I’ve been working from home for a while now, so when my husband and I moved to Miami, we specifically chose a house that had an extra room that I can use as a dedicated office.
But this is the first time I’ve had a whole room as my office. At various times, my office has been in a corner of our bedroom, at our dining room table, and in the guest room.
Out of those three spaces, the guest room was the most conducive to work because it was my office most of the time (but there was still a bed in there, which was tempting on days where I felt worn out.)
We’ve been in our house in Miami for about a month, and I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference having a whole room as my office has made!
That being said, I still have to make sure I use my room as an office and I only use my room as an office.
And wherever you set up your dedicated workspace, the same goes for you. Remember:
ONLY work at your desk.
And only WORK at your desk.
That means that you shouldn’t be doing any work if you’re not at your desk (i.e., no working in bed, at the kitchen counter, at the dining room table, on the couch in the living room, etc.)
And you shouldn’t be doing anything EXCEPT work at your desk (i.e., no eating, no watching Netflix, no painting your nails, etc.) A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t do it at your desk in an office, don’t do it at your desk at home.
#4. Take morning breaks.
Think back to life in the office for a second. Were you a work drone robot who sat at your desk from the moment you arrived until the moment you left?
Most likely, no.
You probably went to the kitchen to get a refill on coffee or water.
You probably took a bathroom break or two (or three if you were really not feeling work that day. Come on, we’ve all done it!)
You probably stopped by your work bff’s cubicle to catch up on life.
No matter what you were doing, you were taking breaks at some point during the morning – and you shouldn’t give that up when you work from home!
I get it – it’s super easy to get into a work tunnel at home. It’s usually quieter and more comfortable and, for some people, without having a boss looking out at them from their office, it can feel almost wrong to take a break while working from home. You feel like you have to be working all. the. time.
I’m here to tell you that, as long as you’re still getting quality work done on time, your boss most likely will not care if you take breaks at home. Your boss probably wants you to take breaks at home.
So what do home breaks look like? They can look the same as at the office: bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, a short phone call to a friend.
But they can also look like productive house breaks: cleaning up the kitchen, doing a load of laundry, taking the dog for a quick walk.
Anything that gets you away from your desk for a bit is a welcome break. Don’t be afraid to take a couple every morning!
#5. Take a lunch break.
Very similarly to the above, take your lunch break.
And I mean take your FULL lunch break.
Do you get 30 minutes? Great – take 30 whole minutes even if it takes you 5 minutes to eat.
Your lunch break is your time in the middle of the day to take a break and relax a bit. And since you’re at home, the world is your oyster!
Say good-bye to microwave meals – try making a fun, fresh lunch dish.
Feeling a little stiff? Go for a quick walk around the block.
Laundry piling up? Throw a load in the washer.
Take FULL advantage of working from home. Once you return to your desk after a nice break, you’ll be surprised at how fresh you feel and how much easier the second half of your day becomes!
#6. Take afternoon breaks.
I could just say *see #4* here, but I think it’s worth reiterating. You are not a workbot. You are not a drone. You are a human being who has human being needs who needs to take breaks.
Halfway through writing this post, I stopped working and called my sister and niece. I have to have the post finished by the end of the day, but I was reaching a mini breaking point and knew I was in need of some mental rest.
So I stopped working, took a 20 minute break, got the rest I needed, and now I’m back here writing the rest of my post.
Breaks don’t decrease productivity. In fact, they increase productivity. I find, especially when I have writer’s block, I often have an unmet need that I’m ignoring. Maybe I’m thirsty, hungry, or need to go to the bathroom. Or maybe my brain is just tired and needs to rest for a few minutes.
So during your afternoon break, get up to refill your water cup. Get an afternoon snack if needed. Go to the bathroom. Do a quick house chore.
Do something productive, active, and non-work-related. And then come back to your desk with a fresh mind, ready to work again!
#7. Stop working when your brain is finished.
Now, out of all the items on this list, this one will probably be the most controversial. But hear me out. I’m saying that, once your brain has reached the point of no return for the day, STOP WORKING.
You know what the point of no return is. It’s that point in the day when, no matter what you try to do, you just cannot seem to get any more work done. You’ve hit a wall that no break will fix. What you need is to be finished for the day.
So be finished. And cut yourself some slack.
But how could I ever justify this??
Well, ask yourself a couple of questions: are you still getting your work done overall? Are you still meeting your deadlines? Are you still delivering high-quality work? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you absolutely can justify stopping work when you’re mentally done for the day.
In fact, that’s one of the biggest benefits of working from home. Think about how many times you’ve spent the last hour (or maybe two on a bad day) at the office getting absolutely NOTHING done. Probably more times than you can count, right?
And what you’re probably thinking: Ugh, why am I even here? If I was home already I could just be _____________. Well, now you ARE home. And you CAN just be ________________.
#8. Establish an end-of-workday routine.
I think this is probably the most-neglected item on this list. Every listicle you find on work from home tips touts the importance of morning routines and nighttime routines (we’ll get to that one in a sec), and they are both very important.
But an end of workday routine helps turn a comma into a period. You’re making a very clear distinction between work and life, and it will help you find the work-life balance you’ve been craving.
Like a morning routine, an end-of-workday routine can be very basic. It can be as simple as shutting down your computer, pushing your chair under your desk, turning the light off, and leaving the room.
Or it can be more involved.
It can include playing the same song every day and having a 3-minute end-of-workday dance party. Or doing a quick yoga session to quiet the mind and calm the body (one of my personal favorites).
Whatever it is, establish a routine that clearly tells your brain “We are DONE working for the day.” And then be DONE working for the day.
#9. Let your evenings be YOUR time.
And then be DONE working for the day. A perfect segway into this point. As much as you can, let your evenings be YOUR time.
I know that work emergencies happen, and sometimes it’s just not possible to ignore work until the next day. But as much as you can, you should try.
Life outside of your job is where your life happens. Work out. Watch your favorite movie or TV show. Spend time with family, friends, or pets. Do whatever YOU like to do.
You’ve probably already picked up on it, but the key to working from home is setting firm boundaries and STICKING TO THEM.
Boundaries are what help you find that mystical, magical work-life balance everyone is always talking about. They’re what let you go from being a work machine to being a human being with a job.
Your evenings are when you get to live your life – so go out and live it!
#10. Establish a bedtime routine.
Arguably just as important as a morning routine is a bedtime routine.
As human beings, our bodies crave routine and pattern, so doing something different every night before bed will inevitably affect your sleep schedule.
Like your morning and end-of-workday routines, your bedtime routine can be simple. Wash your face, brush your teeth, put your phone down, turn down your bed and go to sleep.
Or it can include more elements: nighttime stretches, melatonin gummies, prayer/meditation time.
No matter what elements you choose to include, one of the most important things you can do is PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY.
And especially, especially do not check your work email right before bed. You’re not getting a headstart on tomorrow. You’re setting yourself up for a restless night of tossing and turning and worrying about why Dianne in accounting needs to have a one-on-one meeting with you.
So put your phone down, try to get into bed at the same time every night, try to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, and wake up each morning feeling more refreshed, energized, and ready to face the day ahead!