7 Tips on Staying Sane When You’re Working From Home

Organizational Management March 31, 2020

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

Across the world, workplaces are transitioning to remote work in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

At this point, some of us have been at home for two weeks already — and as exciting as the thought of that might have been initially, it might have started to pall since there’s no end in sight. 

Don’t get me wrong, working from home still offers a lot of advantages. 

But, as long-term remote workers will tell you, working from home also comes with challenges. 

We’ve assembled some tips and tricks to get the most out of working from home during this time. 

1. Adjust Your Expectations

Working from home because of a pandemic isn’t the same as doing so under normal circumstances. You might have children or other adults at home with you who wouldn’t be otherwise, and the developing news and the anxiety that results from it are major distractions. Don’t expect to be a model of remote work productivity at all times while sheltering in place during a pandemic. 

And remember, the rest of your coworkers are also in these less than ideal circumstances. 

So, try to extend grace to them, especially when it comes to deadlines. Expect to see their kids or pets in the background during video calls, or occasionally hear a baby shriek or dog bark when you’re on the phone. We’re all doing the best we can. 

2. Make a Plan

First things first: make a plan. Without external reminders, it’s easy to drift when you’re working from home. A plan makes it easier to stay on task and get things done. 

Some remote workers create formal schedules, others use a looser to-do list, but take a little time at the beginning of each day to think about tasks and when you’ll do them. Write it down to solidify your commitment and reduce the amount of information you have to mentally track.

One of the advantages of working from home is that it offers the freedom to plan according to your strengths and energy, because often the only person you’re scheduling for is you. 

Are you a morning person? Do your most important tasks first thing, and save the boring admin for the afternoon. 

Conversely, if you know your brain doesn’t really wake up until 11 AM, use the morning for routine things you could do in your (almost) sleep, and do your deep strategy work later in the day.

3. Start Your Day Right

Your morning routine sets the tone for your day. When you work outside your home, there’s already a lot built in to help you make the transition from your cozy bed to your workplace — eating breakfast, getting dressed, commuting. By the time you get to work, you’ve already prepared and started your day. 

When you work from home, it’s possible to roll out of bed and into your “office,” but it’s not advisable. Give yourself a little transition time and a strong routine to signal to your brain that it’s time to work. There’s a reason every article about working from home suggests getting dressed at home like you were going to the office — it’s hard to get out of relaxation mode when you’re wearing a robe and slippers. Try to keep to as much of your usual routine as possible. If it’s allowed where you are, consider taking a quick solo walk outside to replace your commute.

When you’re building a morning routine, it’s tempting to plan for what you wish you would do, instead of what you’ll actually do. Resist the urge to schedule a 5-mile run and an hour of meditation if those aren’t already part of your life. You can always add new things to your routine as time goes on, but getting too ambitious too quickly makes it easy to skip the whole thing. You might start with something like:

  • Wake up at a set time

  • Make coffee, eat breakfast

  • Get dressed and ready for the day

  • Spend 10 minutes checking the news, social media, etc.

  • Look at your to-do list and start your day. 

4. Create a Space

Where will you work in your home? If you have a home office, that probably answers the question, but if not, look for a space that is:

  • Reasonably quiet. Try to avoid the highest traffic areas of your home. 

  • Convenient. You’ll need some kind of work surface with room for your stuff. 

  • Ergonomic. While you can work curled up on your couch, you’ll be more comfortable long-term if your workspace is well-lit with adequate back support and a good keyboard and screen setup. (Or follow in my footsteps and put an end table on top of another table… voila, standing desk!) 

  • Not your bed. Enough said. 

5. Use Tools to Help with Distraction

When you first picture working from home, you might imagine a quiet day in which none of your coworkers can interrupt you, and you get more done than you ever have. 

But in reality, you may find that you’re more than capable of distracting yourself, especially with some help from the Internet. 

Luckily, there are tools to assist you in combating distraction. If you find yourself losing time on social media, checking the news, or otherwise not working, consider trying out: 

  • A plain old timer
    Help yourself focus by setting a timer for work sessions and breaks. You can try the Pomodoro Technique, in which you alternate 25-minute work sessions with 5-minute breaks, or set whatever intervals make sense for you. The important thing is to create an external signal to prompt you to go back to work.

  • A time-tracking app
    Setting up a time-tracking app like RescueTime will help you understand where your time goes. If you’re not getting as much done as you expected, time-tracking apps can help you figure out why. It may be that what feels like 5 minutes of web browsing is actually 20. Sometimes it’s easier to make good choices when you know you’re tracking yourself, too.

  • A site-blocking app
    If you know where your temptations are, disable them for a while with a site-blocking app or browser extension, like StayFocused or Limit. You can make sites unavailable for windows of time, or set a number of minutes each day you want to be allowed to access them. Site-blockers are good for productivity in general, but they’re particularly helpful if you’re finding yourself reading more of the news than is good for your mental health or constantly scrolling through Twitter.

  • A drawer for your phone
    Depending on your job, you may not be able to put your phone away. But if you can manage it, it’s often worth it to put your phone somewhere you can’t see it during work hours. Turning off sound notifications and putting it in another room, or hiding it in a drawer in your desk can remove the temptation to keep checking it. 

6. Create Boundaries

One of the challenging things about working from home is that you have to make your own boundaries. Without the “end of the day, time to go home” signal of leaving a workplace, it’s easy to keep working.

This is a recipe for burnout. 

If you find yourself working late into the night, checking your work email while you’re supposedly watching a movie with your family, or regularly skipping lunch to finish things up, it’s time to reevaluate your work-life balance. 

As much as you can, set office hours and stick to them. Develop an “end of work time” ritual like closing out your work email and shutting your laptop. Include breaks when you plan your day, and commit to taking them.  

7. Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Even the most stalwart introverts can get lonely working from home. If you manage a team, use Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or another platform to keep your regular meetings as much like they are in-person as possible. 

You might also find that the way meetings are held will change. Many teams (ours included) find that once they go remote, a quick all-hands stand-up meeting in the morning to discuss what everyone’s working on that day (and even more importantly, how we’re all feeling) can help you feel more in sync. 

And even if your team isn’t doing anything official online, try to check in with your coworkers via video chat or phone, rather than just email. It will help you feel more connected. 

This might make you feel like you’re having more calls than you would have before to do the same kind of check-ins that would happen more naturally in person. It might seem like your calendar is much more full as a result, but if you think about all the informal chats you’d have throughout the day, it will even out. 

Read More: 6 Steps to Run a Productive Virtual Meeting with Templates and Examples

You Can Do It!

While the current situation is far from ideal, working from home can be productive and even fulfilling. Make the best of it by setting a routine, avoiding distractions, and prioritizing work-life balance — good skills to cultivate anytime, not just during a pandemic. 

And for more tips on working remotely, check out our complete guide here. 

Do you have any other working from home tips we missed? Let us know in the comments. 

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