Work From Home Strategies (6 months late)

I kind of hate working from home.

There are a variety of reasons why working from home has never been ideal for me: I’m an extrovert who thrives better in social environments, the external (if imagined) accountability of people around me keeps me too guilty to slack off, my home environment is full of tempting distractions like tidying and organization.

In simplest terms, being at home puts me in a home mindset, and personally, going to a physically different location for work helps immensely with putting me in a working headspace. Ever since I started working full time, I keep work and home very separate, very rarely touching work after leaving the office.

So the last 6 months have been, admittedly, a huge challenge. If you’re like me, they may have been a challenge for you, too. I have long understood that trying to be work-productive in the space I strictly reserve for my home-headspace is really difficult. But I’ve had to do the best that I can, given what I understand about myself. It’s been 6 months, so here’s hoping that we have learned a little bit about how we work from home, even if it’s just what doesn’t work well for us.

My personal strategy boils down to 3 main things:

  1. Getting in the work mindset
  2. Staying in the work mindset
  3. Leaving the work mindset

It seems straightforward but it’s hard, especially because I really don’t want to be in the work mindset at all when I’m in the comfort and safety of my home. I don’t hate my job at all but I don’t want it in my home. The hardest step of my strategy is step 2: saying in the work mindset. (I sometimes struggle to get properly or quickly settled into my work mindset even when I go into an office so the struggles I have at home are not new, and I shut myself off from work so strictly ordinarily that it comes more easily for me to do so at home.)

man in white sweater sitting on chair using Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
Photo by Charles Etoroma

Note: Alice Goldfuss has written a really great guide to working from home during this pandemic, and she wrote it at a more helpful time at the beginning of the shutdown. Honestly, I recommend reading that before reading on here, but if you want to know more about what works for me, personally:

GETTING in the work mindset

person holding blue ceramic mug and white magazine
  • Wear a different outfit. It’s been said time and time again but even if you wear pajamas during work hours, they should be different pajamas than you wear outside of work hours, or at the very least different from what you wear to sleep. If you are feeling up to it, yes, dress for success. I find that wearing my business casual shirts or a more structured dress can help me feel a bit more put together on days when I need that mental boost.
  • Take care of your face, body, hair. Wash your face, do your skincare, put on makeup, even spritz on a bit of cologne or perfume. These are not rituals we perform just for the sake of other people. Many of these are to our own benefit (keep tooth decay and gum disease at bay, you’re not just fighting bad breath) and the rituals help ground you.
  • Physically signal that the work day has started. Whether this is with a splash of water on your face, a hot beverage, or one last morning hug for the kids, it really helps have something be the last thing you do before heading to your work station and then committing to being in the work headspace. Some people suggest incorporating a “commute” that will signal the start of the workday, so ideally this last thing would not happen at your workstation. The walk from the bathroom/kitchen/etc. to your workstation should be your “commute” to work; once you’re there, you are “at work.”

STAYING in the work mindset

macbook air on brown wooden table
Photo by Wouter Beijert
  • Have a non-bed workstation. For the sake of both protecting your work mindset and maintaining sleep hygiene, I implore you not to work from the same spot in your bed that you sleep in. If you have limited space options, try to at least sit up straight and NOT where you sleep, like at the foot of your bed.
  • Dedicate your workstation to work only. If possible, try to carve out a physical space that is just for work. If it’s at your kitchen table, try to make it a corner of your kitchen table that you don’t eat at, and then make it a point to not eat there. Take your lunch to the other side of the table to eat. If that’s not possible, it might help to create a work setting with things that you will only have out during work hours — a work laptop, a specific notebook and pen, a framed picture, a decorative figurine, etc. — and put them away to leave work behind for the day.
    • Remember, not only does this mean doing your work things here but not doing non-work things here. Try not to eat your meals here. Check your personal email sitting on the couch. Definitely don’t scroll social media here. Protect your work mindset.
  • Have a plan for taking calls. Unless you live alone, you probably have to figure out some kind of maneuver for when you have a video call/meeting, especially if the people you live with also have video calls/meetings. Make sure you have a plan for how to coordinate taking more sensitive calls with your manager, for example, or where you can make a presentation from without being interrupted.
  • Take breaks, especially your lunch break. Make sure you take a full lunch break (especially since you aren’t able to work through lunch because you followed the above advice to only do work in your workstation right?). If you find that you don’t need a full hour, for example, to prepare and eat lunch, use that time to safely take a walk, do some stretches, watch some videos, or even do some micro-tidying. And take small breaks during the day if you need to, because more likely than not you took little breaks when you were in an office. You can also sit in different parts of your house if you need to but do not sit in your bed, trust me.

LEAVING the work mindset

girl in white and black shirt holding baby in white onesie
Photo by Charles Deluvio
  • Physically signal that the work day has ended. This can be a variety of things but once you do it, you can’t turn back. Similar to your morning “commute”, this physical thing will help you leave work behind. A few suggestions for what you can do as this signal:
    • Meditate. I’ve been trying this one out and it’s really nice, especially because morning meditation always felt nice until I had to start working. Ending the workday with meditation is a nice way to ease out of that mental headspace because you’re so conscientiously changing your mental state.
    • Put on workout clothes and exercise. This is especially good for those of you who are used to working out right after work, but the simple act of changing your clothes alone helps. Exercise itself also does a lot to change your mental state.
    • Take a shower. I recall Ingrid Nilsen saying this was her end of work signal, because she was washing away the workday. I like this idea of having a physical stimulus and the washing of the workday, and showers can be pretty powerful for that. If you don’t want to add another shower to your day or move your morning/evening shower, might I suggest
    • Splash your face with water or do a bit of skincare. Washing your face after work can be just as powerful as taking a full shower, especially if you splash some cool water to refresh yourself after a long day. Sometimes, I’ll do a simple skincare routine of cleansing and moisturizing to really signal that my work face is gone.
    • Start dinner. It is really difficult to let yourself get sucked back into work if you are chopping vegetables or stirring something at the stove. Focus on feeding yourself and/or your family, leave work behind.
    • Light a (scented) candle. Scent is really powerful, so if you can associate home or not-working with a scent, it will have a huge effect on your mental state, even if you are only smelling it for a few minutes.
  • Leave the work behind. Log out of Slack. Log out of your work email. Keep it off your phone, if you can. Turn off your work laptop instead of just putting it to sleep. Or close the work laptop and put it away entirely, in a drawer or in a backpack. Put away any of the workstation props you set out at the beginning of the day. Maybe even replace them with some home station props instead.

Obviously, my strategy hinges on a certain amount of allowances from your job, and of course, the foremost one being that you can work from home at all.

My hope is that this 3-pronged strategy helps you find a balance that resembles the one you had before your office was shut down. If you are finding that this is actually more separation of work and home than you had previously, and you’re enjoying that, keep that in mind and try to adapt these techniques if/when you return to the office.

I’m still working on this so please let me know if you have any specific tips for working from home successfully! I’ll admit I don’t follow all the advice up here all the time, so this blog post is mostly me nagging myself.

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