Working from home has so many incredible benefits. It’s easier to maintain a work/life balance without a commute – plus, it’s better for the planet. And when you have more time at home, there’s (presumably) more time to cook and workout, leading to additional overall health benefits. Without a train ride or drive home at rush hour, we can also spend more time with loved ones.
But those positives have a dark side. Barriers between work and home crumble. You have to become your own manager. Roommates can be even more distracting than co-workers – and even if you have a Zenbooth office pod to help you focus, there’s a lot of mental hurdles to overcome.
So what can we do? Below is some advice from remote employees across industries.
Get out of the house first thing in the morning
Taking a walk in the morning increases blood flow to the brain, which will help your cognition throughout the day. Movement also lubricates your muscles and joints, which will fight all that tightness that comes from sitting at a computer for too long. Plus, walks remind you that you’re a person in the world – not a mind in front of a virtual metaverse.
If you can’t take a walk, take a second at a window with a cup of tea or coffee – staring out at the world helps your eyes refocus, which will keep them from over-tiring as you look at a screen for hours. Try to do this throughout the day.
Strong work set up
Not only is it key to have a designated workspace at home (check our Zenbooth Quad for this), it’s also important for it to be up to par so you’re not battling chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain. This is something I neglected for a long time and am now paying for – by upgrading my desk, keyboard & workspace in general! Because believe me, nothing stops creativity, flow & productivity like physical tension.
First, find the right desk for you. Whether you prefer a standing desk, a lap desk, an L-shaped desk – pick one and don’t skimp on the make, model & design. Use accessories to make sure you have all your outlets accessible. This is the beginning of a beautiful and emotional friendship, so choose wisely and follow your gut.
People can rave about standing desks all they want, but if it’s not right for you, don’t go with it! I love standing for administrative work, but I cannot write a single creative sentence while standing – I don’t know why. So the only standing desks I’ll consider are those with flexible height options.
(Reminder: the Zenbooth Solo & Duo come with adjustable desk options!!)
If you work from a laptop, get a separate keyboard. And while you’re at it, also a mouse and ring-light for zoom calls. But seriously, an additional keyboard is a game-changer. And a split, ergonomic keyboard is life-changing. There are a lot of great, affordable options out there and your wrists (and mind) will thank you in the long run.
Every time you finish a task, stand up and take a breath
Anyone who has ever had to memorize an entire play knows that it does not happen in one sitting. You have to give your brain a break, then return to it again and again, refreshed. Same thing with all work, but especially at home.
At work, breaks are built in – everyone is on lunch, or you have a few minutes before your next meeting, or you have a 5 minute conversation with your coworker or office mate. But at home… you have to do it yourself. The amount of times I’ve attempted to go straight into writing from being in a meeting, or vice versa and have it blow up in my face is… countless at this point.
In your head, you think you’re saving time – you’re trying to rush to get it all done, but really, you overwhelm yourself and you’re less efficient.
A Johns Hopkins study supports this: “The sweet spot seems to be either in a dedicated amount of time to study—in this case, forty minutes—or by taking a number of small breaks but returning to the information relatively quickly. Discovering what method works best might require personal experimentation, but one thing seems certain from all this research: the balance between complete focus and giving your brain space might be nuanced, but extremes in either direction do not appear helpful.”
So taking the equivalent of a cat nap for your brain will help you throughout the day. Mark these breaks on your calendar – or, once a meeting or task is finished: force yourself to stand up, do some stretches, or take a walk around the block.
Schedule public-facing days & admin days as separate and hold to it
There’s nothing like waking up in the morning, checking your calendar, and realizing… you don’t have any meetings on the books! You can actually get things done! For me, knowing there’s no deadline or stopping point is the most freeing feeling for innovation and creativity.
If I know I can get into flow… I do. If I only have an hour before a meeting, I get a little bump of cortisol and stress out about finishing in time, which puts pressure on the work in a way that’s not conducive to actually doing the work. Our brains are sneaky little children sometimes who we have to corral and sweet talk in order to get things done.
“The human brain is a machine designed by natural selection to respond in pretty reflexive fashion to the sensory input impinging on it. It is designed, in a certain sense, to be controlled by that input. And a key cog in the machinery of control is the feelings that arise in response to the input. If you interact with those feelings via tanha—via the natural, reflexive thirst for the pleasant feelings and the natural, reflexive aversion to the unpleasant feelings—you will continue to be controlled by the world around you. But if you observe those feelings mindfully rather than just reacting to them, you can in some measure escape the control; the causes that ordinarily shape your behavior can be defied, and you can get closer to the unconditioned.”
― Robert Wright, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
So, if possible, schedule days of the week where you have meetings, and block off days where you don’t. This will allow you to properly prepare for those public-facing days – i.e. put on make-up, set up nice lighting, or just get emotionally prepared for social time – and also the days where you can wear sweatpants, a sweatshirt and get cranking on writing and administrative tasks.
This makes organizing your calendar and scheduling much simpler in general – if people want to book time with you, they can only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, etc. This gives you a sense of ownership over your time and schedule, which is empowering, too.
Change scenery when you finish work
When you finish your work day, change something in your space, no matter how small. Light a candle. Open the door. Take out your instrument. This is the equivalent of turning the ‘Open’ sign to ‘Closed’ at the end of the day. Rituals matter. When you signal, physically, to your brain that you are done with work in some kind of way, you’re going to be more inclined to hold to it. And you’re not literally leaving an office, you’ve got to find a different way to “leave” the office.
Maybe you have a little sign or pin on a bulletin board. Maybe you turn the light off at your desk. Whatever it is, find something and stick to it. Boundaries around work are so important – not just for your coworkers, your boss, your partner… but for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself checking slack at 2am about a project you’re stressed about.
Promise yourself that once you hit that button/light/door… you’re done with work for the day. In a few weeks, you will feel a difference.
We’re living in strange times full of worker autonomy. And even though mental health has never been more mainstream to discuss, and there’s an abundance of available resources out there, no one can help us if we don’t set ourselves up for success by taking care of our bodies, spirits and brains in a holistic way.
“Do you already know that your existence--who and how you are--is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?”
― Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds
Feed yourself. Creating a haven for work that’s separate from play and home is a way of nourishing yourself, and reminding yourself you’re more than just one facet of your life.
So now that you’ve finished reading this article, why not take a walk around the block to smell the roses?