First and foremost, I hope you are reading this post in safety and health. These are uncharted waters as we navigate the current and future states of the Coronavirus’ impact to our country and our world, and while many of us are lucky to have jobs that allow us to work from home in the midst of a global crisis, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that life right now has new challenges and that I hope you have the opportunity to put health and family before your work.
There are beaucoup posts floating across the internet detailing tips and tricks for successfully (and sanely) accomplishing the transition to working from home. I myself have found these articles to be helpful during this time, if even just to remind me that this CAN become a new normal without breaking me. The tips I have for staying happy, focused, and productive pair tactical working tips with a mix of physical and mental care, as well. I know that I can’t be my best professionally if I’m not feeling grounded emotionally or physically.
Keep a Morning Routine. The practice of a morning routine has been one of the single greatest practices I’ve instituted in my life, even long before “quarantine” and “Coronavirus” were part of my daily vocabulary. Admittedly, the up-ending of our “normal life” took my morning routine for a ride and it was a couple of weeks of testing and adjusting to figure out a new routine that served my new normal – I’m currently living in rural PA with 6 other adults, two loud dogs, and the furthest thing from a resemblance to my Brooklyn lifestyle. Now, I’m not nearly as specific in my routine and allow myself flexibility and grace, while keeping within a loose construct of consistency in the mornings. My routine now consists of a quick gua sha facial massage, 10-15 minutes of prayer/meditation, journaling, and a cup of coffee outside on the porch when the weather permits. The whole point of my routine now is start my day with some deep breathing and gratitude. That’s it. Everything else is a bonus. I don’t wake up at the exact same time every morning and it doesn’t feel like Groundhog Day for the first 30 minutes of the day (two things that were big themes of my Brooklyn routine, which I actually loved), but it gets me mentally to a solid starting place for the rest of the day and that’s all I need right now.
Midday Activity is a MUST. I realize this will look different for everyone, depending on where you are and who you are sharing your work from home life with. Those of you with little ones, I salute you and don’t pretend to know the challenges of balancing parenting and professionalism within the same 4 walls, but where you can squeeze in some midday movement, DO IT. Take conference calls during an outdoor walk, do a quick body-weight circuit, alternate 1 min. wall-sit with 1 min. plank 3x, run up and down your stairs a few times. Whatever it is, just move. Even for those of us who work behind a screen in an office building, we take for granted how many little breaks we take during the day to walk to the restroom or the water cooler or to get a cup of Joe. Those little breaks add up and help you keep your sanity, so make a point to implement the same in your WFH day – and if you can work in some fresh air, all the better! Just get out of your home office space and get your blood pumping.
Get more sleep (if you can). Again, I realize I’m speaking from a place of privilege in not being accountable to tiny humans running my life yet, but if you’re able to clock more hours of sleep, now is the time to take advantage of having no commute or school drop-off commitments. For me, this means not setting my alarm for 5:30, like usual, and allowing myself to sleep until the sun wakes me around 7. That hour and a half of extra ZZzzzzs is solid gold and makes a huge impact on my productivity – especially as I try to keep the afternoon slump snacking to a reasonable level. Going back to my morning routine, this is one of the biggest adjustments for me but it’s one that’s brought me so much peace. So, yes, I do believe you should still set a time for yourself to be up and at ’em by, but if you can consciously pad more sleep into your night, you’ll see the benefits in work, mood, and immunity.
Set limits on screen time. If you don’t find yourself mindlessly checking your phone 7193920294x per day just because it’s in front of you, feel free to keep scrolling. But if, like me, your weekly update from Apple tells you your screen time has been steadily increasing since quarantine began, try setting limits to how much time you’re able to spend on apps each day. I find that the days I am most discontent are those where I allow myself to scroll the news for hours or get sucked into rabbit holes on social media that leave my head aching and my general emotional wellness on the fritz. Instead, put your screens away and read, stretch, play cards, FaceTime a loved one, go for a walk outside, or just go to bed earlier and you’ll find it much easier to get into and stay in a more balanced headspace.
Maintain normal meal times. According to an unofficial Instagram poll, >80% of us are pattering to the kitchen multiple times throughout the day – I am one of the 80%. While I am doing my best to keep those snacks on the healthy, nutritious side, the biggest factor in my overall nutrition planning is keeping the normal meal times I had before being in isolation. The reason this has helped me is because it adds a structure and framework to my day and helps to keep my energy level consistent so I can ward off that mid-afternoon crash. Since we’re talking about nutritional intake, here’s an additional plug to limit caffeine (I try to stick to one cuppa Joe in the AM and that’s it) and drink your H20.
Set boundaries. This is an absolute non-negotiable for me when it comes to maintaining my sanity and productivity while working from home. What this looks like for me is to start and end my day at consistent times each day – that means I’m accountable to being online by a certain time and that I’m offline by a certain time. I cannot stress this enough – working from home does NOT mean that every hour that you are home you are working. When my workday ends, I make a list of the things that I may not have completed that day and that need to be addressed tomorrow and then I sign off. When your work and personal spaces are blurred together, it’s SO important to draw a hard line between work and personal time in that space. That means not monitoring email all night, not “just finishing one quick thing” from bed, and respecting certain hours that are a no-go for work related calls or tasks. This can be tough both from a personal discipline perspective but also when it seems like all of your co-workers are also online at all times. I encourage you to kindly but firmly create boundaries with your colleagues if it seems like their expectations are to be available at any hour. I have blocked off the hours before 9:30 AM and after 5:30 PM to prevent any meetings from being put on my calendar during those times. That way, I can start and finish my workday intentionally and can wrap up any end-of-day items by about 6:00 to start dinner and power off my laptop.
Do your best and give yourself grace. The truth is, right now most of us are being challenged in ways we’ve never prepared for before – it’s like being asked to run a marathon with zero training. But, if I believe anything about humankind it is that we are adaptable and capable beyond measure. What an incredible opportunity for us to grow! For some people, that means setting lofty goals for themselves – learn a new language, start a blog, get in the best shape of your life, complete a business certification, etc. – and if that’s where you’re at and you have the time and resources to commit toward self-improvement in that way, DO IT! BUT – and please hear me on this – if your reality looks a whole lot less like goal-crushing and a whole lot more like surviving, DO THAT and know that that is more than enough. If it’s all you can do to feed yourself 3x a day, or keep your kids occupied for 15 minutes so you can squeeze in a work call, or if you feel guilty about the amount of time your kids are in front of the TV, or the fact that you’ve had a glass (or two) of wine every night this week, or that by the end of a day you are so emotionally exhausted that the last thing you can tolerate is the 100th push-up challenge you’ve been tagged in on social media – you are doing enough. This time can be lonely, worrisome, uncomfortable, disconcerting, and unsettling. It ain’t easy, folks. But I am nothing if not a seeker of silver linings, and I believe whole-heartedly that every single one of us can come out of this time stronger than when we entered it – yes, even without acquiring any new skills and with pants that fit a little tighter than they did before. Whatever your reality is, I challenge you to seek opportunities to be grateful and hopeful and to focus on areas of growth within yourself daily – maybe that’s one more moment of patience or a daily habit of practicing self-love. And when you get to the end of a day not feeling like you’re measuring up, give yourself grace because you’ve got this and you’re stronger than you may ever believe.