How to Keep it Together While Working From Home (Indefinitely)

Last Thursday, we received a memo at work that all employees needed to begin working from home if able. With COVID-19 now in the news on a daily basis, we couldn’t deny the drastic shift that was upon us.

I’ve been home for 6 days, 4 of those have been actual work days. I have to say though it’s really… strange. In some ways, I feel like it’s a positive change for me because now I have to be more self-disciplined and regimented about my morning routine.

Start Promptly and Get a Morning Routine Down

Work starts for me at 7:30 a.m. Because I no longer have a commute, I start getting ready for work at 6:50. I shower and I eat a quick breakfast. Then I dress to shoes; I even do my hair and my makeup. I don’t do a full face, just simple, every-day makeup and straightened hair. Some days I wear my glasses, some days I don’t.

By 7:25, I’m usually at my desk in my home office. This means I have to disconnect my personal laptop and connect my work laptop. I’m also fortunate that I have a proper office setup so that I can close the door if needed.

Starting at about the same time every day encourages self discipline, which builds character and self worth.

Be Regimented About Taking Breaks

My company requires that all employees take a lunch break during the day, up to an hour. We also are allowed two 15 minute breaks during the day for getting up and walking around, bathroom visits, or, for some people, smoke breaks.

It’s important to not forget those extra breaks during the day. I will usually get up and do something else around the house like start a load of laundry or take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher. If it’s not raining like it has been all week, I’ll walk out into the garden to see how things are doing out there. Not only do I get some fresh air and sun, but I also get to check on some of the growth, or maybe even plant something.

Breaks allow your brain to rest from grueling and otherwise repetitive tasks. Don’t deprive yourself of them. They’r essential!

(Try To) Keep a Tidy Workspace

I almost feel a pang of guilt writing out that sentence. Considering that, as I sit here, I’m staring at an endless pile random shit that really doesn’t belong on my office desk, this is something I should practice, not just preach.

However if you had told me weeks ago that there would be a global pandemic in my community that would lock me up in my home, I would’ve laughed and said, “What movie is that from?” That’s how I find myself trying to make do with what I have, which in this case is a really cluttered home office.

I know that my office has potential. So during some of those breaks, I spend 10 to 15 minutes tidying up. I focus on one particular area and one by one, I just start putting things away. Pretty soon I’ll have a home office that I will be worth the 5 second commute.

I believe that having a reasonably tidy desk does help with productivity because it removes all distractions and gives you a blank canvas to work with.

Model Your Home Desk After Your Actual Work Desk

Friday friend told me over chat that she was just as productive working from home now (if not more so), once she modeled her home work space after her real work space. She even went as far as buying the same keyboard and mouse.

My coworker took all her desk plants home as well as a monitor. I’m sure though that taking home the plants was more out of their own survival than to maintain a zen workspace.

Since she and I were planning to meet up, she disconnected my headset from my docking station and brought it to me. I’m often in meetings or doing training sessions enough to warrant having a really good headset. Thankfully our company permitted us to take home whatever equipment we needed so I chose my headset. Sometimes having familiar items around just helps us get into the proper mindset. It doesn’t have to be specific work equipment. It can even just be as minuscule as a picture frame of you and your spouse on your wedding day. Whatever it is, don’t downplay its importance if you know it helps you keep your morale up.

If You Started Your Day Promptly, End Your Day Promptly

This is one of the first lessons I learned. Not only do I start my day on time, I end my day on time no matter what. In fact, I’ve started winding down my day about 20-30 minutes before my actual end time.

I review everything that I’ve done that day and document meetings and important reminders. Next I make note of any outstanding items that need to be addressed for the next day. Then I update my project hub in Microsoft Planner.

Once I’ve done all of that and it’s time to end the day, I put my laptop to sleep and physically disconnect it from my monitor so I can connect my personal laptop. However, I don’t dive right back into another screen. Instead I get up and I walk to another room and do something else for a while. Sometimes I watch TV in the bedroom, sometimes I go out into the garden. But either way, I make sure to mentally switch gears out of work mode by doing some other mindless task for a while.

Ultimately: Do What Makes Life Easy For You

There’s no right or wrong way to survive this whole work-from-home thing. Some people can do it, while for others it’s a challenge. Whatever you do though, remember that supporting your mental health is key here. Do what makes you happy.

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