In June 2019 (doesn’t feel like an eternity ago sometimes?), I wrote about the joys of working from home if you’re able to be so lucky. I do all of my work from home and, after having worked more “normal jobs,” can’t ever dream of going back to working anyplace else. I feel most productive when I’m in a space that I can completely design and control.
I also wrote a whole lot about some of the drawbacks to working from home. Make no mistake, the work from home life can be a wonderful thing, but it’s not always the relaxing pajama party you might imagine it to be.
In fact, sometimes it can downright stink.
Working from home, most of the time, means working in isolation. Yes, you can play whatever music or podcasts you want as loud as you want or not worry about grossing your coworkers out when you microwave your Indian food leftovers in the break room. On the other hand, you’ve only got yourself for company in a place you both work and live in.
This non-stop pajama blowout has all the potential to become a nightmare if you’re not careful. Luckily, there are some concrete steps you can take to help alleviate those pitfalls. They’re all in the name of helping keep you as productive as you’ve always been with your work while also keeping the cabin fever from setting in.
When we come up against an unplanned change in our work environment, either because of structural shifts in your workplace or an international pandemic, staying sane while you’re working in unfamiliar places is an important responsibility.
Let’s recap a little bit
First, make sure you check out my previous post. It’s a great primer to this work from home life you may now be living.
Whether you’re working from home by choice or because you’re trying to follow the rules set by some form of authority, a new environment without any other people around can be a little jarring. You’ve got to ensure that you set some rules for yourself so you don’t start uncontrollably babbling all your thoughts out loud.
Don’t give your loved ones a reason to be concerned for your health, is what I’m saying.
In that previous post, I touched on five main points:
- Find a coffee shop or co-working space (which admittedly can be difficult/impossible depending on the circumstances).
- Make a schedule and stick to it.
- Go for a walk.
- Learn to love music or podcasts all over again.
- Don’t neglect your hygiene.
All five of those points are still vital to a healthy work from home life. This post you’re reading right now seeks to add to that previous list with a new heap of essential tips to stay sane while working from home.
Consider a second monitor
When you’re working from home, there’s the potential for more space than you’ve ever had before. You could be working from your expansive kitchen table, your home office with its sweet desk, or you might have even busted (and dusted) out that old folding table from your garage and set it up in the living room.
No longer does your working space need to be dictated by the proximity of another person’s office/cubicle/desk! Heck, you even could take up an entire room of your house if you wanted to. Just make sure you’re not driving anyone else you’re living with crazy with your new workspace.
You don’t want to be kicked out of the house and have to work in your backyard or a nearby park. The wi-fi out there is probably terrible.
Using a second monitor to expand your computer’s working space is a luxury that you’re not going to want to give up. It’s simple “math”: having one computer is nice, so having what’s almost like two computers is even nicer.
Additionally, if you’ve gone from using one giant monitor at work to being stuck at home with just a laptop, then consider hooking up an external monitor to that thing and giving yourself the desktop space you deserve.
For all my Mac friends out there with an iPad at hand, consider extending your workspace by using the amazing Sidecar feature. You can wirelessly turn your iPad into an extension of your Mac’s desktop. That tablet you’ve been using as an e-book reader or Netflix screen has suddenly gained so much more utility. Even cooler—using Sidecar means that you can also use an Apple Pencil with all your Mac apps.
Seriously, you need to take breaks
When you’re stuck counting down the minutes at work, taking a break doesn’t ever seem like something you need to talk yourself into doing. In fact, it’s probably a legal requirement.
When you’re relaxing at home, suddenly taking as many breaks as possible doesn’t seem as important. In fact, you might even start to feel more focused in your new working location and completely lose track of time.
There have been many occasions when I’ve just breezed right past lunchtime because I was so into what I was doing.
I don’t think that’s the best way to enjoy working from home long-term. Breaks are not only a nice way to get away from what you’re working on, they’re also essential to clearing your head and feeling healthy. You’re going to feel more refreshed by the end of the day if you make it a regular task to step away from your computer.
Consider setting alarms to remind you to take a break from your work. Just a few minutes away from your desk every hour is a great way to keep fresh. Tearing your eyes away from the computer screen at regular intervals is also an important part of keeping your eyes healthy.
If you have an Apple Watch, pay attention to those Stand reminders it gives you every hour. It’s a great feature.
I also recommend actually making yourself something for lunch. No, in this case throwing something in the microwave doesn’t count as cooking. That’s just a machine heating something up. Even something as simple as crafting your own sandwich can help get your mind off your work and onto something new.
Creating something is fun and healthy, plus you’ll end up with a tasty lunch and that’s always a treat.
Tame those notifications!
Don’t you just hate it when you’re at the office and you’re trying to get your work done but your phone keeps ringing, Slack keeps pinging, and that dang Todd from two desks down keeps showing up to talk with you about an upcoming project that you just spent ten minutes talking with him about?
Talk about annoying. Also, if you’re that Todd (or Karen), then please knock it off. You’re bugging everybody.
When you’re working from home, limiting those interruptions is just as important as it is at work. If your phone is blowing up or people are talking way too much on Slack because they’re all sharing their own working from home stories, then you’ve got to start silencing those notifications.
You’ve got work to do and you need to stay focused. Do Not Disturb that noise!
However, having a “water cooler” can also be a healthy thing to do. I get a lot of happiness from sending some messages to my special lady friend or other friends when I have a few moments to spare. We may be working from home, but that doesn’t mean we need to completely sequester ourselves away from humanity.
We shouldn’t all be our own islands.
Treat your home like your office
In my personal working environment, I’ve got a pretty relaxed policy about boundaries and dress code. If someone needs to talk with me, then I’ll usually let them if I have the free time. I also work pretty exclusively in comfy lounging clothes.
However, if you’re the sort of person that thrives on your office routine, then my relaxed attitude may not work for you. That’s totally okay.
Your work from home environment needs to be something that works for you, not against you. This can manifest in many different ways, for example:
- Shutting the door to the room you’re working in to block out the house noise.
- Getting dressed in your normal work clothes every morning and keeping your suit routine going.
- Making sure the kids know that just because you’re at home doesn’t mean that you’re available to play whenever they want.
When you’re working from home, you’re still doing your work. The only thing that should be different in this whole scenario is your physical location. Set some boundaries that make sense for you and make sure you stick to them.
Yes, really stick to them. Once you let those boundaries ease up it’ll be hard to enforce them again.
Make a to-do list for tomorrow at the end of your day
At 9:00 p.m. every day, I have a task set to remind me to make my itinerary for the next day. This allows me to evaluate what I’ve accomplished and what I need to do the next day. It’s a routine I’ve set for myself and it’s one I don’t think I can live without.
I do this so I don’t have to think about what work I need to do when I should just be doing that work. Instead, I already have a list of important tasks I need to accomplish ready and waiting for me.
I feel much more productive at the start of a new day when I don’t have to slow down and think of things that need doing.
I encourage you to start making yourself a daily to-do list at the end of your working day. It’s a good habit that reinforces positive productivity no matter where you happen to be working.
As a bonus tip to all the people who may be considering working from home on a more extended basis, I have one last mini-tip for you: seriously consider getting a good desk chair. Scratch that, I mean a freaking great one. Unless you’ve got a standing desk, you’re going to be spending a majority of your daily time sitting in a chair.
It’s important that you take care of your body by investing in a chair that’s both comfortable and ergonomically beneficial. It could possibly be a large expense, especially if you’re considering the Cadillac of desk chairs, but this is your health we’re talking about here. There really isn’t anything more important than that. Take care of yourself.
Working from home can be a wonderful benefit. I feel it helps me do my best work.
However, it does take some getting used to, especially if you’re not used to working in the same place you’re living. Not having that physical separation between your living and working spaces can be disruptive to a person’s life. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to take a lot to help ease that stress.
Whether you’re working from home by choice or by circumstance, make sure you’re taking care to follow the tips I’ve set out in this post and the previous one I wrote. They’ll all go a long way toward helping you stay sane.
Work hard, cats.