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At work, you can walk to a coworker's office or cube to vent and take some time away from your desk. You can walk to the coffee shop or convenience store for a latte or just some fresh air. You could take lunch in the courtyard and use it as a time to discuss anything but work with colleagues or to discuss nothing at all during a moment of solitude. You can sit around a table and brainstorm together, taking facial and hand gesture cues to know when to speak, when to cut someone off, when to bounce off an idea. And now work is home and home is work. Your coworkers are miles away and you’re either tripping over family or feeling more alone than you would on any other day just a month ago. How do you stay productive when working from home?
I left my job in Corporate America at the end of 2017 to be a full-time blogger, writer, influencer, and occasional government contractor but prior to that, I worked from home a substantial amount of time. I've been the person who felt she couldn't separate home and work life, the workaholic, the person who was working a lot but achieving very little, the person who struggled with being inside, the person who felt a lot of guilt with a continuous headache. A lot of people are sharing ways to successfully work from home; I know every person is different so I wanted to share mine in case there's a nugget of help you haven't seen elsewhere.
- Schedule everything. Schedule a FaceTime with your sister at 10:15, your 12:00-12:20 lunch when you get up from your laptop, a 15-minute recharge or a quick meditation session at 3 pm. Schedule them just like a meeting or a doctor’s appointment or a staff meeting. Schedule a start and end time to the workday; even at the office these aren't always adhered to but they at least give structure to your day and goals. Seeing all those blocks on your calendar gets you into a different mindset and you end up more productive between those blocks seeing a finish line, even if temporary.
- Put water bottles everywhere; I found for some reason I drank less water than when I was at an office. I think I challenged myself to hit a walk to the kitchen for a refill at a certain time of day and it just didn’t seem like a fun challenge anymore when the refill took place across the room.
- Don’t look at email or Slack or even texts until after you have brushed your teeth. This way you can fully wake and won’t forget basic hygiene after seeing a reply all that makes your blood boil. If that seems too late, at least don’t look at any messages until you’re vertical and completely out of bed. Nothing, absolutely nothing is so pressing you can’t stand up first before you read it and you handle pressure better when not in a prone position.
- Wear shoes. Your feet are not used to being barefoot (0r in thin flat slippers or slipper socks) all day and soon you will be dealing with all sorts of aches and pains. Stop them before they start with a pair of sneakers or Birkenstocks or another shoe with support that is dedicated to only being worn indoors.
- Take naps. Even 15 minutes horizontal while flipping through a magazine or listening to Audible is rejuvenating. Remember, you used to be able to leave your desk to use the bathroom down the hall, grab lunch, or hang out with your smoker friend outside the front entrance. You deserve and need those same breaks even though you’re home. You can’t hit Starbucks so hit your bed or couch. It will make you more productive.
- Consider a light therapy lamp. I got a light therapy lamp for my desk when I worked in a windowless office with brown walls. It helped my body regulate, keeping me awake during that 3 pm slump and feeling less glum each day. I now have it on my desk area at home. Follow the directions, you only want it on for a certain amount of time and time of day.
- Don’t up the coffee. If you drank 6 cups before, fine. But if you were a one or two cup kind of person don’t add more to try to feel energized. It will only make you jittery and jack up your stomach. A 15-minute chill in bed (or honestly even on the floor of your closet with the door closed, a great place to hide from the family just like you may have done when you were a kid) will do you better.
- This is a marathon, not a sprint. Imagine your office moved to this new location. Don’t treat it as a temporary switch but a new office and set up as such. Is your chair and desk the right height? Do you need to set up a normal desk into a standing desk? Is the light good for seeing the screen but not straining your eyes? Do you have access to the files, the phone, the scanner, the different colors of highlighters you use to note different clients on a spreadsheet? Do you usually have a large monitor or a separate mouse or noise-canceling headphones? Do you have a USB hub to handle all your needs? If you don’t have them see if you can get them. It’s scary to go out there but I know of offices that are scheduling employee visits so they are solo and they can get what they need to be comfortable and productive while home. Other companies are ordering basic needs to be shipped to employees. If your company isn’t offering this contact your boss or HR and see if anything can be done. If not now, check back in after a week or so as they have heard from more employees and felt the pains of working at home for themselves. I know at a past job I was able to lobby for everyone in my department to receive noise-canceling headphones, bought from the company office supply source at a lower rate. Even a small step like that can provide morale to you and your teammates.
- Give your company some time to adjust. If your company is not used to telework, they may not have a good gauge of productivity when they can't see their employees. I know I had bosses who tracked how often our icons on the interoffice chat was “green” more than how much we produced or how happy our clients were. But with time, companies will get used to their new normal. I found sending end of day recaps to my green-seeking supervisor helped them have a tangible way to know I was earning my salary and after a couple of weeks of this it helped them relax and feel more in control.
- Be kind to yourself. Often the pressure we feel is self-inflicted. We feel guilty because we don’t seem as productive or focused, we work longer not harder, as though we need to pay penance for that 30 minutes on Twitter scrolling through the news. No business succeeds on harder not smarter work. Working from home is a completely different thing from working at the Seattle office for three days or working from The Wing. There’s no separation of business and personal, and that can wear a person down fast. Give yourself time and grace, routine and tiny pleasures, plenty of hydration and chances to move and you’ll get through this in better spirits and as a better employee.