In this time of unknowns and discomfort, more of us than ever are being forced to develop new norms for our daily lives. We’re learning to grocery shop with social distancing, connect with our friends & family without being physically with them, and limit the way we live our lives on a daily basis, among many other things.
For so many of us, transitioning to a work from home (WFH) setup is one of the biggest changes this crisis has brought on. If you’re anything like me, I used to say working from home would be a dream. I could avoid time-wasting activities like commuting, dress however I want, and have everything I need throughout the day right by me.
Now, over 2 months into forced stay at home orders, you’re probably feeling trapped in an endless cycle of “wake up, work, eat, sleep, repeat” that will inevitably end in burnout. Well my friends…it doesn’t need to feel this way! There are very practical things we can be doing to help ease the stress, gain some structure, and regain your control of the circumstances you can.
10 Work From Home Tips For High Achievers
Tip 1: Set Your Hours and Stick to Them
If you’ve done any searches for new WFH tips, this is likely the most common piece of advice you’ve seen. There’s a reason for that. Working from home can easily alter our perception of home.
Whereas we used to leave the office and come back to a space free of coworkers, we’re now constantly in the space where the work is getting done.
This gives us that “always on” feeling you’re probably battling right now. To avoid burnout and maintain our mental health, it is critical to break this mentality.
Some of this is out of your control, as certain lines of work just require longer hours. That’s less of what we’re talking about here. Instead, we need to target the hours that we’re not being explicitly asked to work.
You’ll be tempted to check emails, get busy work done, and check in with colleagues in the middle of dinner or while you’re out on a run. Don’t.
The time we spend on self-care is more important now than ever, so make sure you’re actually taking that time for yourself!
Tip 2: Set Up Your Space Like You Would Your Office
Experts in business and mental health, together are uniting around the idea that a designated work space is incredibly effective in sustainably working from home. Find a space in your room, apartment or house that you’ll use for work and only work.
Set the space up like you would your desk at work, with everything you might need in the day available (think power cords, 2nd monitors, etc.). Finally, make sure you are comfortable enough in the space to do a few hours of work at a time.
If you’re sitting on a stiff wooden stool that bothers your back, you’re much more likely to move away from the space, defeating the whole purpose.
Once your space is set up, treat your mornings and evenings just like you would if you were in the office. Start with your morning routine (get out of bed, make a cup of coffee…whatever works for you), then enter your workspace with the intention of getting to work.
Step out of your workspace for lunch or to take personal calls. At the end of the work day, close or shut off your computer, step out of your workspace, and don’t revisit it until the next day.
This is a difficult practice to stick to, but I promise you’ll come to find it has incredibly helpful benefits to your mindset and productivity.
Tip 3: Establish Expectations with the People You Live With
Like what you have in an office environment, developing some general guidelines and best practices with the people you’re living with will go a long way.
A buddy of mine living with his long-time girlfriend mentioned the other night that the two of them only see one another in the morning before work, at lunch, and after they’ve both finished working for the day. Otherwise, they are in separate rooms in their apartment.
While this might seem excessive, they’ve managed to keep an already great relationship free of the stress of being around the same person 24/7…and it’s helped a lot!
Whether you have roommates, a partner, family members, or children, letting them know what you need to focus on and get through the day is crucial. Because physical boundaries between the people or pets you live with are so much harder to find now, you have to create them.
Tip 4: Recognize You Will Face Unusual Distractions While Working & Embrace Them
You can be incredibly dedicated to making tip #3 work for you, but the reality is that distractions will still come up. Your kids will burst in the room looking to play a game; your doorbell will ring with your roommate’s food delivery; your phone will ring with a call from that friend who has a few minutes to kill and wants to chat.
Limiting constant distractions is important, but you’ll never be able to eliminate them entirely. Instead, I suggest embracing the ones you can’t avoid and being okay with it! This is much easier said than done, but try it out.
Let your friend chat your ear off for a few minutes and then let them know you have to go back to work. When your child comes in the room, recognize they’re just looking to kill some time too…read to them a bit!
At the end of the day, we’re all human, so accepting and embracing distractions will go a long way in reducing the amount of stress you deal with on a daily basis.
Tip 5: Plan Out Your Days
Suddenly being pushed into a WFH environment brings lots of confusion and disorganization. After all, organizations around the world are reacting in real time to make sure they can keep their employees safe and the business running.
That doesn’t mean you need to give into the mood and mentality of functioning amidst chaos. This environment can be incredibly draining and tire you out quickly. The solution? Organize what you can! Take time at the end of every day to set yourself up for success the next day.
What does this look like in practice? Using a calendar and blocking out time to work on your top-priority projects. Scheduling working sessions with your colleagues to talk through roadblocks everyone is encountering.
Things like this will give you ownership of each day, keep you from feeling the monotony of nearly identical days, and ultimately allow you to get more done every day because you have prioritized.
Tip 6: Be Creative…Always Be Aware of New Ways to Do Things
We all know that we’re in uncharted territory. For each of us as individuals as well as the organizations we work for, the challenges posed by the current climate are barriers we’ve never encountered before. It is very easy to be intimidated by this reality.
However, we need to remember that times of unpredictable crisis often lead to the greatest advancements in human history. This is your opportunity to come out of this situation stronger than you were before, and potentially do that for others as well.
Is this a very heady idea? Absolutely! Don’t get me wrong though…I don’t expect every one of us to invent the next space travel vehicle or a solution to climate change.
What this situation presents that is really exciting, though, is the opportunity to develop new approaches to things that took more time and effort before.
There are likely things about the work you do and how you do it that frustrate you, so take some of the brain space you have to spare yourself of that tension!
Tip 7: Take Time for the Breaks We All Need
Take a step back for a second and think about what your normal routine in the office looks like. You likely get in, put your things down, get to working a bit, get up to use the bathroom or talk with a colleague, sit down for some more work, walk outside or to the cafeteria for lunch, so on and so on.
What often gets lost in the transition from an office structure to WFH is that in your office, you take small breaks that you probably aren’t even aware of. Many studies show that professionals can’t go longer than 3 hours with work consistently before they stop being effective and productive.
Our bodies have adapted to this in the work setting, but now that we are working from home are going to need some adjusting.
Give yourself these breaks! Get up and chat with your roommate for 5 minutes as a way to release your mind for a bit, walk around the block and get some fresh air, or even read a few pages of a book you like.
Taking short periods of time to let your brain unwind and reset allows you to stay alert and fresh during your peak work hours. A good rule of thumb is 50 minutes of work to 10 minutes of non-work related activity every hour. Also read up on the Pomodoro Technique, a classic time management strategy.
Tip 8: Get Your Fresh Air!
Having a full day fly by while you work nonstop is incredibly easy while you work from home. One minute the sun is rising and you’re signing on to start work, the next you look up from your computer and its dark outside. This is just not a sustainable way to work.
You need breaks in your work and fresh air in particular. It is incredible what a 15 minute walk around the block or a few minutes standing out on your porch can do.
Getting fresh air into your system is proven to help awaken your senses and cognitive functioning because you are giving your body and brain something new to adjust to. Not to mention you are also breathing in air that you haven’t been sitting in for 10 hours!
Tip 9: Acknowledge Your WFH Weaknesses and Make a Plan to Avoid Them
For some it’s constantly having the TV on in the background. For others it’s the constant draw to check your social media accounts.
Whatever your vice may be, it is likely to be exacerbated in a WFH situation where you have constant access that isn’t limited by an office setting or your boss being around. Take time to list out the things you anticipate being challenges to your productivity.
Structuring your WFH environment intentionally to avoid these weaknesses is a great way to make sure you are working productively and efficiently, ultimately leading to fewer hours spent actually working because you can accomplish your goals.
Turn off your social media notifications on your phone or put your personal phone aside altogether. Out of sight out of mind. Set up a workplace in your house that is away from any TVs. These are just some examples of things you can do…be creative and set yourself up for success!
Tip 10: Build in Time and Activities That are Socially Driven
Undoubtedly the most challenging part of the WFH environment and current crisis is the lack of social interaction we are used to. We are social beings and often crave emotional stimulation and connection, even if we’re introverts.
This is why taking time around your work schedule to connect with friends and family is so important! With bars, restaurants, parks, and so many other things closed, we have to turn to what we do have.
Organize a night of Zoom trivia with that group of high school friends you haven’t connected with in years; cold call your best friend who lives across the country during your lunch break; take a socially distanced walk around the block with your roommate.
The connection to your work life might not be clear, but it is definitely apparent over time. So much of our social engagement comes in the workplace, so we need to find new ways to bring in the energy we’d be getting in the office.
Tip 11: Take Care of Your Body (Bonus)
The trajectory of our days and lives are largely determined by how we feel, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. When these things are not aligned, we can’t perform at optimal levels. The following 5 things are important in taking care of your body, mind and spirit:
Get adequate sleep. It doesn’t matter when you sleep, just that you’re getting the right amount which for most of us is 7-8 hours. Eat less junk food. I’m not saying you still can’t have that cheat day, but be aware of what’s going into your body.
Instead of a snack with artificial sugar, how about a luscious red apple? Stay hydrated by drinking more water throughout the day. 2 liters is a good goal. You’d be surprised how much better you’ll feel by just drinking a handful glasses of water daily.
Be sure that you’re making time to exercise too. The New York Times created a 7-Minute Workout backed by science. Anyone can carve out 7 minutes of their day, there are no excuses. And finally, get your mindset right.
Maybe look into guided meditation. There are free apps to help you get started. In the end, focus on the things you can control. Stay up to date with current events, but avoid the news if possible, it’s almost always negative. Shout out to John Krasinski and SGN for sharing Some Good News.
These times are tough on us all. One of the things that has helped me in getting through the past few months is recognizing that we are all in this together. We’re all adjusting to a new, temporary normal. This is particularly true in our work environment.
By taking some proactive steps like the ones mentioned above, you’ll take back control of your work life. And by doing so, I have no doubt you’ll find loads of positive changes overall!
How are you setting yourself up for WFH success?
Let’s continue the discussion over in the Gentlemen Within Private Facebook Community. Looking forward to seeing you in there.
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