“Light tomorrow with today.”
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning
As I write this, our world is in the midst of an unprecedented global shift. Worldwide, we’re all grappling with the implications of COVID-19 and trying to flatten the curve through social distancing. Events are being canceled, schools are closed, and workplaces are making big changes in how they operate. With all the changes going on, one big effect is that a lot more of us will be working from home over the next few weeks while we wait this out.
Whether you’re a WFH expert or a total novice, I think we could all use a refresher about how to structure our days, stay healthy, and get work done while we’re stuck inside. Because while it FEELS like all we want to do is cozy up in our pyjamas and watch Netflix, the truth is that life carries on. We still have responsibilities and priorities (albeit shifting ones) that require some level of focus and dedication to complete.
So if you’re currently working from home (possibly even for the first time!) here are ten tips for making the most of your working-from-home workday:
1. Put on real clothes & do your makeup!
..if you wear makeup, that is. The point is: stick to more or less the same routine that you’d normally have for going into the office. Getting dressed and ready, whatever that usually looks like for you, is an easy way to tell you’re brain that it’s time to work. The temptation to stay in your pyjamas all day is STRONG, but I learned early on that whenever I did that, I felt worse about myself and got much less done. Does it feel weird to get up and put on earrings when I know I’ll be home all day? Yes. But does it help me feel like I’m ready to tackle my work day? Also yes. Experiment with different levels of getting dressed to see how you feel, but when in doubt, err on the side of more put-together rather than less.
2. Do not go back to bed, do you hear me?
After pyjamas, the next biggest working-from-home temptation is the siren song of getting back into bed with your computer. If this works for you: great! You probably don’t need to be reading this article. But for the rest of us: don’t get into bed until you are ABSOLUTELY SURE that you can be productive while working from home in other areas of your house. Until then, choose one designated workspace to work from every day: the end of your dining room table, your kitchen island, your home office. Pick a spot that feels the most similar to your desk at work. Just like with clothes & makeup, choosing a workspace helps your brain know when it’s time to switch on and focus.
3. Working from home ≠ working all the time.
“Leaving work” is not a luxury that one has when one works from home. So it’s up to each of us to create boundaries around our space, time and technology that create a contained workday. Choose your designated working hours ahead of time. Pick a lunch hour and stick to it. Turn off your email notifications after hours. Set alarms on your phone to remind you to do all these things! You’ve heard these suggestions before, but they become even more important to stick to when the physical boundaries of work are removed. Set them up now.
4. Create a work shut-down ritual
While we’re talking about boundaries, another great way to create some delineation between your workday and your home life is to establish a work shut-down ritual! This idea, from Cal Newport, just means creating a set routine of actions that you perform at the end of each work day to finalize your day and signify that your work day is done. You can see some examples of shut-down rituals here and here, or just make up your own! The key is to practice doing the same thing every single day so that you can walk away from work feeling like the work day is completely done. Cal says the most important part of his saying “schedule shutdown, complete” out loud, so you could also experiment with using a phrase to wrap everything up.
5. No worker left behind!
Working from home doesn’t mean you have to feel totally disconnected! If you’re the kind of person who needs accountability to stay on task, it’s important to find ways to meet that need, even though you’re alone at home. Plus, not only will this help you stay focused, it will also give you a dose of connection that I think we’re all craving right now. Here are a few ways to work together, while apart:
- Join Make Lemonade‘s daily virtual coworking sessions (info here, access here)
- Use FocusMate, which pairs you with another worker somewhere in the world (and is free!)
- Set up a daily work sesh with your business besties on FaceTime or Zoom
6. Be realistic about your focus
Let’s be real: working from home comes with new distractions to grapple with. I’m not going to say that your home has MORE distractions than the average workplace, because I’ve been in some, and I’m always totally baffled as to how anyone gets anything done with all the noises, coworker conversations and interruptions. But working from home has its own unique distractions: your bed, your kitchen, your kitten, etc. So rather than expecting peak productivity from yourself at all times, be realistic about the fact that you WILL get distracted sometimes. Instead, find ways to guard your focus carefully and work in short bursts, with restorative breaks in between. Here are two methods I really like:
- Try The Pomodoro Technique and track your progress with an applet like this one
- Download Forest and plant real trees when you stay focused for the allotted time
7. But also: limit those distractions for the love of all that is Holy!
We can do ourselves a major solid by limiting the interruptions and distractions that we can control. Yes, there are so many factors we can’t control during this hectic time. But we absolutely can turn our phones onto Do Not Disturb and put them in a drawer in another room. We can turn our computers onto Do Not Disturb mode. We can sign off of Slack during our work sprints and close our email when we’re not using it. And we can use programs like Freedom and BlockSite to block certain websites and apps during certain times of day.
We do not need to be slaves to our devices and the distractions they bring. Stop relying on your willpower (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work!), pick some solutions, and get your power back.
8. Fail to plan, plan to fail
Working from home is going to mean fewer meetings, less oversight, and less accountability. But no direction = no productivity! Time to take matters into your own hands by creating a plan for each workday. I use Asana to manage all my tasks and projects, but you could just as easily make your lists with pen and paper. Whatever you do, don’t just wake up and base your day on your email inbox – unless you’re an email support person or receptionist and that’s literally your job! For everyone else, here are a few guidelines to creating a simple but effective plan for your day:
- Choose no more than three major priorities for each day
- Make your to-do list for the next day at the end of your workday a la Marie Forleo
- Don’t forget to schedule in time for your non-negotiables (aka your Sacred 6!)
9. Plan lots of things to look forward to
While you’re making plans for your work day, make sure that you’re also making plans for your life outside of work. It’s hard to stay productive and motivated if every day feels like a total slog. Working effectively from home also has a lot to do with taking care of yourself and your mental health. So plan fun activities with your friends or family! Go for walks together at a safe distance, set up a Zoom call with your coven, plan a fun movie night with your family, learn a TikTok dance or two, buy yourself a lovely new magazine or book to read, or plan to try a new recipe that has a lot of components. We still can (and should!) have fun during these stressful times.
10. Take advantage of working from home!
With all of the above being said, I also want to encourage you to reap the rewards of being in your own cozy space while all this plays out! Working from home can make your life easier in so many different ways. I’m never behind on laundry, because I can throw in a load between calls. I can take a walk around the block whenever I want. Eating healthy food and making perfect cups of tea is easier, since your kitchen is just a few steps away. You can play your favourite music and actually sing along! You can do your work with your snuggliest blanket thrown over your lap. And you can sleep in a little more because there’s no commute! So while we’re dealing with all the downsides of being stuck inside, remember that there are a lot of benefits to it, too.
What would make your workday feel more special, in a way that you could only implement at home? Do that.
Keep Calm & Carry On
I find it so inspiring and deeply moving that we are making these hard choices in order to protect our community’s most vulnerable individuals and support our healthcare workers. While it might be an inconvenience for us to work from home, it’s a beautiful sacrifice we are making for others. As my friend Priyanka so beautifully put it, “My solitude is the service / I give to the world”.
I’d love to know: What makes you feel the most productive when working from home? How do you stay on task during stressful times? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @stephpellett.
PS. I’m sharing as many helpful and positive resources as I can over on Instagram in my stories. Click here to see the saved highlight!