I started working from home way before the first wave of COVID-19 hit. At the beginning of 2019, my then-boyfriend was working on a project in another town and asked me to move in with him. Since I was responsible for the redesign of close to 20 corporate websites at a pharmaceutical company at the time, my boss gave me a chance to work remotely. Then came the pandemic that forced many to do the same. I witnessed people around me struggling with setting up a new routine. As I’ve been juggling a full-time job with a number of freelance projects during the past 6 to 7 years, I’ve become pretty good at managing my time, staying focused, ticking off one item after the other on my to-do list.
A lot has changed since. The relationship eventually fell apart, and I moved back to the city. New apartment, new life – which I happen to share with my furry child, a dog I adopted from a shelter. Even though I recently changed jobs, I still work from home about 80% of the time, and I still have freelance projects on the side.
I’d actually caught COVID about 3 months ago for the first time. It wasn’t too hard on me, I took 2 days off to relax and recuperate. Then I got it a second time…now that was not much fun, I must admit. As the virus forced me to stay in bed for a week – not the type of rest I was really dreaming about obviously, though it turned out to be necessary – I started realizing how this way of life is not working for me anymore. I’ve been stressed, anxious, and showing symptoms of a complete burnout for a while – all of which I kept (and kept) ignoring.
Now, after recovering, I am faced with the same type of difficulties I heard so many of my friends and colleagues complain about when the pandemic forced them to cuddle up on their sofa with their computer or order the first desk that came up on Ikea’s website to have something close to an office in their living room. It’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I find it hard to focus. I get fidgety after having to sit in one place for too long. I don’t sleep well which is no news to me, but still. All of these made me realize that it’s time to change my daily schedule a bit. Here are 5 tricks that helped me improve and get back on track with my productivity!
Yes, I do roll my eyes whenever I hear a youtube guru say ‘make your bed in the morning’. (DUH) Truth be told, as banal and ridiculous as it may sound, it actually makes a good point. When I was a child and a quite messy one, my Mom used to say you can’t focus when you’re surrounded by chaos. (One of the many gold nuggets I was yet to recognize.) It is important to make your bed and keep your environment neat and comfy.
In addition to setting up the right mood and environment, it’s just as important to prepare yourself, both mentally and physically, for the day ahead. In that department, I tend to fail miserably. Okay, I do get out of my pajamas but that could hardly pass for making a real effort.
My new challenge: I try to wake up a bit earlier and spend some time getting ready for the day after walking my dog each morning. I don’t put on make-up, but I dress better, follow my skincare routine, lose the messy bun, and have more time for my coffee and breakfast. Not hours, just a few extra minutes – it’s a small detail, but I know it goes a long way towards a more balanced life.
Learn to take a break
One of the biggest mistakes I make when working from home is that I literally almost never take a break. I sit down in front of my computer at 8 in the morning, only to realize that it’s 11 o’clock and I haven’t even moved a muscle. I work out 3-4 times a week, a routine I established quite some time ago: as I spend my work hours sitting, I found this truly beneficial not only for my body but for my mental wellbeing as well. (Funny how these two are almost always connected, huh?) So even though I work out fairly often, I used to sit still for hours on end.
When you’re at the office, you go to the kitchen and grab some coffee or chat with some colleagues along the way – you take a bit of a break. Just because you work from home, it doesn’t mean that you cannot, or should not take a few minutes every now and then to recharge.
My new challenge: Whether it is to grab a snack or some water, say hi to my pup, or simply get up and move, I take regular breaks. And guess what? A few 5-10 min off-screen sessions a day can make a world of difference!
Get up from your desk
Taking a break should not only mean fiddling with your phone or putting some music on. Nononono. Get your ass up and move around a bit!
My new challenge: I try to get up from my desk at the end of every hour and move a bit. Just walk around the room, and play with my dog for a couple of minutes as a part of the above-mentioned off-screen sesh.
Set – and keep – boundaries
Sometimes I hear how certain employees don’t work as much from home as they would at the office. Honestly? I never understood that. I work long hours and push myself harder when I work from home. Especially with my freelance projects, I tend to work early in the morning or at some ungodly times at night. I seldom have a completely work-free weekend.
We must set boundaries in all areas of life: family, relationships, working out, etc. For me, it is easier to keep them if I put some physical distance between me and what I’m trying to avoid overdoing.
My new challenge: I shut my laptop at the end of the day and leave the room right away. (Having a dog actually helps a lot with this.) I won’t check emails – corporate or freelance- at night. I will have one day of the week without any type of work and will take one full weekend each month to recharge those batteries. I work on reducing my screen time and plan more outdoor activities to make sure I get enough sunshine and fresh air.
Know the worth of your work
When you work from home, you need to be strict and consistent not only with the hours you spend at work but the hours you spend relaxing as well. Since I only need my laptop and a solid WifI connection, sometimes it’s hard to set up healthy boundaries and know when to let go.
I’m not a surgeon or a firefighter. People’s lives do not depend on the type of work I do. It’s easy to forget all this and let my ego trick me into thinking that my job is sooooo important that the world would stop turning if I didn’t do everything on that given day.
The funniest part is that – based on my experiences at a number of companies – if I put in about 80% of my energy, it is usually perceived as about 100-110% compared to a regular corporate employee. I have fallen into this trap at every single workplace so far: as I do more, I will be given more and more (and more), yet the salary stays the same.
My new challenge: I aim for doing 80% of what I would initially do as I can see that based on the average standards it still comes off as 100%.