It’s a weird time to be alive, folks. We’re experiencing a pandemic that not only disrupts life in the world on a global scale, but as we practice social distancing and quarantining, interferes with our daily lives on a micro level. Earlier today I was running with Hank (our sweet brindle golden retriever mix) and as we passed neighbors also out for walks or runs with their dogs, we all crossed the street or literally ran IN the street to stay six feet away from one another. At one point there were about six of us coming to a four-way stop at various corners and sides of the street and all turning different ways, and it was a mad dash of jay walking and chaos as everyone tried to get where they were headed without being near other humans.
Working from home has been the norm for me for several years off and on, and even when I’ve had an office, since I’ve been self-employed I’ve also always had some sort of home office set-up. It took me a year or two to really hit my stride, and I’m constantly tweaking things to make my daily life and work flow more efficient and pleasant. Since pretty much the entire world who can work from home now has to do so, many people don’t have the luxury of easing into the WFH lifestyle. I’ve put together my top tips and must-haves that make my day-to-day much easier and more pleasant, and I hope you find them helpful.
The first thing to remember is that a new routine takes time to adjust to and make your own. Don’t expect to be as productive as you normally are, because it’s next to impossible to change your entire daily life and NOT have a significantly lower level of productivity. First and foremeost–you are doing great, no matter how much you’re doing. Surviving is enough right now. These are just some ideas to hopefully help you survive working from home a little more easily.
John and Sherry talked about this on their podcast (Young House Love Has a Podcast, if you love renovations) and I think it’s so true. I make a rule of not bringing my work with me upstairs into our room. We’ve set the intention that if we’re upstairs, we’re not working, and it helps me tremendously to have spaces in my house that can help me shut my brain off. If I don’t have that rule, I end up working everywhere, all the time. I do think there’s an exception to this rule–we have an office, and I’m grateful and use it every day, but sometimes I need a change of scenery. I’ve never worked in a cubicle or had a traditional 9-5 job where I had to sit in one place all day, and I find it helps me stay creative and energetic if I move from the office to the kitchen island to the front porch if it’s nice outside. This would be harder if you have a job that requires a big computer monitor setup, but mine just requires my laptop and a notebook most of the time.
Blue light glasses block the blue light that comes from your computer screen. While they would probably help in your office too, with all of your meetings now being conducted via zoom or other video conference call, your screen time is likely up significantly. I find that if I wear these, my eyes don’t get tired, I don’t get headaches throughout the day, and those things combined help me to feel better mentally and physically.
Let’s be honest, snacks are definitely a perk of working from home. We’ve been getting our groceries delivered for a while now, and it’s even more important to me now. Use this link for $10 off your annual Shipt membership–and don’t forget to tip your shoppers well!
One of the things I dislike most about a traditional office is the fluorescent lighting. I always end up with a headache and my eyes feeling strained and tired. Let’s be honest, nobody looks good in fluorescent lighting anyway. I prefer to ditch the overhead lights entirely and opt for a warm desk lamp. This is my general rule of thumb for home decor too–warm, soft lighting always makes a space feel cozier and more inviting than overhead lighting. I have a vintage lamp that I love, and I also love this one from Amazon’s Rivet line.
When you don’t have your normal routine in place, your entire day can get thrown off, and you might find your productivity at zero. I’ve learned that it’s important for me to get plenty of sleep, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and stick to a schedule to make my days efficient and fulfilling. Almost nothing gets me in a rut quicker than getting out of my routine. I usually leave my afternoons open for meetings (which are on zoom or via phone if they’re not showings these days) but my mornings look something like this:
I’ve found that scheduling time to answer emails 2-3 times a day works really well for me. First thing in the morning, I catch up on anything someone emailed me the night before. Around noon, I catch up with everything from the morning, and at the end of the day I answer everything from the afternoon. If I don’t break them up, I end up being distracted from projects every time a new email hits my inbox, and I’m much less efficient.
I live and die by my daily to-do lists and schedules (obviously) and writing out a hand written to-do list for each day helps me stay focused and prioritize my day. I have a bad habit of putting too many things on my to-do list, but I find that if I have an open-ended to-do list without a date or timeline, I don’t get nearly as much done. I use a bullet journal for my daily lists, and every Monday I write out my lists for the entire week. I can add to them as I go, but taking the time to think through my week on Monday mornings keeps everything more consistent.
I’m a visual person, and self-employed, so this may not be for you if you’re not. But if you need to have everything in front of you and written down to have it top of mind, a whiteboard can be amazingly helpful. If you don’t have a whiteboard or the space for one, Post-it notes work well too. I use both to break down big projects and track progress on my contracts in addition to my digital filing and scheduling.
I usually use my phone/laptop for my calendar, but I know many people who need a paper planner or calendar to keep things in order. This one is hanging in my office, and while I don’t use it for scheduling, I love the simple design of it.
This is one I’m not very good at, but I think is important. Take breaks! If you live and work in the same place, it can be hard to distinguish personal and professional time, so taking time to go for a walk, scroll through Instagram, or something else that relaxes your mind is crucial when working from home.
If you’re having a hard time focusing, or you have a project you don’t enjoy (or even one you do!) using the Pomodoro technique can help keep you on track. Here’s how it works: set a timer for a short period of time (25 minutes is usually a good place to start) and only work on that project for 25 minutes. Don’t answer any calls, emails, or start other projects during that time (I know this is hard if you have little ones at home right now!). After that timer goes off, set a timer for 5 minutes and take a break. I often find that the project I didn’t want to start becomes easier once I get into it, and will go over the time I’ve set to work on it.
Last but definitely not least: movement. It’s easy to get comfortable or hyper focused on working, but movement is so important! Taking time to go for a walk, run, do yoga, or just get up and stretch helps me to keep a positive outlook. For me, a positive outlook = creativity, and creativity = productivity.
All of these are just tips on what works for me, but also remember–this is a crazy time to be living in the world and being a human, so if your days aren’t productive, or you feel like you’re getting behind, it’s okay. I know for a fact the world won’t end if you don’t get everything done… because it kind of already did. Kidding. Kind of. But in all seriousness, your best is enough, and you are enough, no matter how much you get done in a day.♥
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