The transition from working daily in the office to the comfort, or sometimes discomfort, of our own homes, has presented many of us with some excellent benefits alongside a whole new set of challenges. While the potential drain of a long commute is gone, we are now faced with mountains of distractions and a merging of work and home. Sometimes these can lead to the formation of unhealthy habits that are hard to curb if we try to tackle them all at once, but there are some things we can all do to help prevent them and alleviate them once they come to light. Here are five things you can do to keep yourself happy, productive, and sane in these new and unique times.
1. Manage your Sleep Schedule, Keep it Consistent
This one comes first as it is likely the first thing to go in your new situation. Without having to wake up every morning to catch a specific public transportation method or find that perfect pocket of traffic, the hours we must wake up at have become far more flexible. Alongside this, the hours we decide to sleep can shift to match or sometimes mismatch our schedule, resulting in some highly irregular sleep patterns. Getting proper rest is essential for our bodies and minds to function at a healthy and active level. Adequate rest is a concept referred to as “sleep hygiene.” Much like physical hygiene, not practicing good sleep hygiene can leave you feeling sick, demotivated, and even depressed, even if you are getting a consistent eight hours of rest but going to bed and waking up at different times every day. The problem in such cases is a lack of consistency; not going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will throw off your body’s internal clock, referred to as your “circadian rhythm.” This clock tells your body when it’s time to become tired, prepare for sleep, and when your body needs to become active and wake up. If you find yourself going to bed energetic and waking up tired, it is likely that your circadian rhythm is off, and your sleep schedule is inconsistent. Pick a time that works best for your situation to wake up at and pick a time relative to that for you to go to bed each night to catch those eight hours of rest. This change can leave you feeling worse as your body adjusts, but in due time you will find yourself feeling refreshed in the morning and having more consistent energy levels throughout the day.
Information cited from The National Center for Biotechnology Information.
2. Maintain a Workspace, make it Work for You
The second tip, and the other most common problem you’ll find yourself having, is maintaining a functional workspace. This is a tip you’ve likely seen elsewhere. Still, it bears reiterating, working in a space that distracts you or makes you feel uncomfortable is going to have noticeable impacts on your ability to do good work. Having an area full of clutter, noise, and other things to focus on is likely going to pull you away from your work continually. Some of these things can be unavoidable, especially if you live with other people or have children to care for. In these situations, make the most of what you can and try to find ways to improvise. If you have an office or small room you can work in with a closed door, consider implementing some form of white noise or noise cancellation to keep it as quiet as you need to. Sometimes having music that plays over the outside distractions or high-quality noise-canceling headphones can be just as effective as an isolated room. Desk and space cleanliness can also play a factor in this; while some of us thrive in a certain level of disorganization (or claim to), the vast majority of people do perform better in a clean and organized space. A lack of clutter is a lack of distraction, and knowing where all of the things you need for work are will save you time later when you go digging around for them. Overall, try to make your work area as pleasant and relaxing to be in as possible, take as many stressors out of your work as you reasonably can. If you dread going into your work area because of the area it is in; it may be time to change locations. Take some time to explore your options and find what the best fit is for your tastes.
3. Start and Stop Working at the Same Time Each Day
With open schedules, more time on our hands, and the convenience of our computers being wherever we want them to be, it can be shockingly easy to fall into a habit of working inconsistent hours. Much like sleep, your body prepares itself for expected daily activities. It adjusts and plans on being active at certain hours and resting at others. If you aren’t able to give your body a pattern, you may find yourself working a lot less or even working a lot more; it can be surprisingly easy just to keep working when you have nowhere else to be. Overwork is a severe problem for a lot of people who aren’t used to working from home; with more energy and more time from a lack of commute, people tend to put that into immediately available outlets. You may find yourself approaching the end of your eighth hour of work, working on finishing a task or fixing a bug, and saying, “well I’ll work a bit more, I want to get this done.” In the presence of a hard deadline, this can simply be what you need to do, but if you do not have such a deadline, this can be the beginning of some issues. Eight hours becomes nine, nine becomes ten, and you suddenly realize the sun is going down while you are trying to hammer out the last kinks of something that could have waited until tomorrow. Now you have only a few hours until your scheduled bedtime from following Tip # 1, thoroughly exhausted from work, having to get back to it in twelve hours or less. This situation often leads to going to bed later and waking up tired or waking up later and throwing off your sleep schedule. These effects cascade upon each other and create a vicious cycle, leading to days of extreme productivity followed by days of underperformance as you try to recover. On top of this, you become harder to track by your co-workers and bosses as your hours go from “9 to 5” to “8-ish to around 5:30?” When it’s time to stop working, stop working. It can be as simple as turning off your monitor or putting your computer to sleep and stepping away from your desk to decompress, though sometimes it doesn’t feel so simple. Sometimes we need an extra reminder to take a much-deserved break; if you find yourself unable to stop working, set an alarm that goes off every day when you’re supposed to stop or ask a friend to remind you to log off if they see you online.
For more information, see Monster’s article on overworking while teleworking.
4. Remember to Eat, Take Short Breaks, and Maintain Balance
Old habits die hard, and an all too common one that many of us had in the office is not taking breaks when we just need a breather. At home, you would figure that this should be the opposite, but the merging of the place we go to relax and the place we go to work can make this problem even worse. When you are working where you rest, it can sometimes feel like there’s nowhere else to go; you’re already home, so you might as well keep working. Not taking breaks and “forgetting” to eat is much like overworking. It is the start of a bad habit and a terrible cycle. Refusing to step away for a few minutes and step outside or go elsewhere in the house leads to refusing to step away for anything, even skipping meals. We become so worried about responding to a message we could be receiving that we forget to maintain ourselves, which of course, can lead back to us working longer and longer hours. Much like with tip #3, make sure you are giving yourself consistent times to take short breaks and eat meals, not just for your own sake, but for people knowing where you probably are throughout the day. If your co-workers know you step away for fifteen minutes at noon to eat lunch, they’re not going to worry when they message you at 12:05 pm and don’t hear back from you for a bit. Maintaining a structure for breaks also gives you something to look forward to when you feel the hours draining on you, preventing burnout, and keeping you working towards something. Just make sure that you’re coming back on time, so that you can take off at your scheduled “end of workday” time.
5. Don’t be a Stranger, Keep in Touch.
This tip is more important now than it has ever been, and that is to make sure you’re keeping in touch with your co-workers and that you’re still talking to them. Though isolation restrictions are lifting across the country and world, we are still in a time where social interaction is cut far down from where it once was at the beginning of the year. Teams have had time to adjust to make sure meetings happen with everyone dialing in, but the sense of working with other people in the same space is one that is going to be radically different. It can become easy to forget you’re one person in a team of a dozen or more people, people who just as capable of helping you get things done as they were before working from home. If you find yourself stuck on a task, reach out for assistance, and be proactive in your engagement. One of the most significant advantages of the office environment is being around people who you can talk with to bounce ideas, get help, and sometimes just to relax a bit. Try to find ways to revive and maintain the best parts of that experience, whether it’s through text-based chats or voice-based group calls. Create your own virtual work area and encourage others to participate, giving the group a way to keep in touch and reach out when things go wrong. Being separated physically doesn’t mean we have to be a castaway on our private islands anymore; we have the technology and services to keep us connected even when we’re apart. Every team works better when its members are communicating effectively, consistently, and often, and for many people having that human interaction can be very important for their mental health and mood. If nobody has tried to start a group on your team, go through the required channels to pitch something like this to your managers, and if one was made but fell apart, try your hand at revitalizing it. Sometimes all we need is a reminder that our coworkers and friends are still out there to start talking to each other again.