How to Successfully Work from Home and Keep Your Sanity
If you’ve ever spent your weekdays in a cubicle, chances are you’ve dreamt of working from home and not feeling like you’re trapped in Office Space.
But, the truth is, working at home all alone is not all fluffy bunnies and rainbows. It can be lonely, and you can find yourself easily slipping into some unhealthy habits.
A few years ago, I asked to work from home a few days a week. All of the work we were doing in the office was on the computer, and I didn't see the need to physically sit at a desk in that office in order to do it. This was my first foray into working from home, and I loved it. Looking back, I think that the balance of alone time and time spent with coworkers was nice, because while I don’t mind the quiet, sometimes you need to talk to other living, breathing people face-to-face.
After that, we moved, and I went back to working full-time in an office, but I found it really hard to get work done. No one actually wanted to put their head down and finish a project, so we sat around and talked about our weekend plans instead. After about 9 months, I approached my boss about working from home, and he had no issues with it. I’ve been working 100% from our home office (or the couch) ever since, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and how to make the most out of my work days.
I’ve definitely found myself going for days wearing yoga pants and not bothering to put on makeup.
I’ve spent hours on the computer, turning into a pile of mush. So, these are my tips for you to keep your sanity while working from home (and reminders to myself!):
Get up and get dressed. Seriously, take a shower and get dressed as if you were at least going to encounter people during your day. You don’t need to put on dress pants and a blouse, but at least put on an outfit that you feel good in. I don’t know about you, but when I dress like a bum, I feel like a bum, and I’m less likely to be productive.
Have you ever heard the doorbell ring at 11:00am and hidden because you were still in your pjs? Yeah, me too. Most days, I make sure I’m showered and dressed before taking my son to school. If not, I know I’ll put it off until mid-afternoon, and I just feel bleh all day. This is my most important step to having a good work day at home.
Move, move, move. All of my work is on the computer. It is so easy to get wrapped up in writing the next blog post, scheduling pins on Tailwind, and emailing potential clients for hours on end. We’ve all seen the recent studies about how bad sitting is for your body. Make sure you get up and move around periodically for the sake of your health (and your sanity). I have an app on my phone called “Stand Up!” that reminds me to stand up and stretch every 30 minutes.
Working out isn’t a bad idea either, of course. Since you’re working from home, chances are you have the flexibility in your day to exercise whenever you like, not just whenever you can squeeze it in before or after work. There are tons of benefits to exercising, both mental and physical, so making time in your day to do it can really help you keep it together.
Leave the house. I can literally go days without going anywhere except school to drop off and pick up our son. If I’ve gone through one of those stretches, I can tell that my mood has dropped. Even though it is so easy now to not ever leave (hello, delivery!), it does your brain some good to get away and take a break. Sometimes, I avoid going out because that generally means I’m going to spend money, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Go to the library and check out a new book, or just run errands, like going to the bank and checking the mail.
Spend some time with other people. I am on a board for a local non-profit, and sometimes I dread going to those meetings. “Peopling” is not always high on my list of priorities, which is why I thoroughly enjoy working from home for the most part. But, once I force myself to go out and engage with other human beings, I usually feel pretty good about it. We all need interaction with other people on a very basic level. So, make time in your week to meet up with friends or colleagues, go to a networking event, or volunteer with a local non-profit. Spending time with other people will greatly help you stay sane when the majority of your time is spent alone, whether you care to admit it or not.
Work from somewhere else. You may be like me and feel like leaving the house just for the sake of getting out for a while is a waste of time because you have so many things on your to-do list for your work. So, if you’re able to pack up your laptop and work from anywhere, do it. There’s a reason co-working spaces are appearing all over cities now - people actually like to work around other people, but on their own terms. Make the effort to go sit in a coffee shop for a while one day a week, or pay for a few hours in one of those virtual offices. Sometimes, a change of scenery is just what you need to jumpstart your productivity and recharge your mindset.
Take care of yourself. Okay, this is along the same lines of getting dressed and moving during the day. But, letting yourself go is easy to do when there’s no one else around to see it happen. Get up early and have that first cup of coffee early in the morning before you start your work day. Take a shower, shave, moisturize - the works. Get dressed, fix your hair, put on makeup (if you wear it), and put on that perfume you love. Make sure you stop working and eat a healthy lunch - don’t eat from a bag of chips and not stop. When you feel good, it will show in everything you do.
Give yourself a break. It’s tempting to work non-stop when you’re working from home. Especially if you’re running your own business, it may seem like you have a never-ending list of things to do, so why stop until you sleep? Even if you’re not feeling well, you may be tempted to sit on the couch with your computer because you can still sit upright. Give yourself a break! Being a workaholic will not do anything except wear you down and create burnout. Choose a stopping time for your work day and stick to it - let your brain wind down after a long day before you head off to dreamland.
Get a good night’s sleep. Burning the candle at both ends is a quick way to wear yourself out. At the least, you’ll end up producing inferior work, and at worst, you’ll makes yourself sick from being worn down. Shut everything down at that predetermined time, and relax before going to bed. Get to bed at a reasonable time, taking into account the time you want to get up the next day. Whether you want to stay up late working, or you prefer to get an early start, do what works best for you, just not both.
Work when you’re most productive. One of the joys of working from home is that more often than not, you can set your own schedule. So, if you know that you have a hard time focusing before 10:00am, don’t force yourself to start at 8:00am and dawdle until your motivation kicks in. Similarly, if you’re so tired after 4:00pm that you have a hard time being productive, start earlier in the day. If you have the ability to work when you want, take advantage of it. Personally, I like to start my day pretty early, take a break mid-day, and pick back up after lunch. I’ll pick up my son from school, catch up with him and eat dinner, then do a little more work after that. Do whatever works for you!
Let yourself have fun. Again, just because you work from home, that doesn’t mean that you should always be working. If your significant other has the day off, and your kid is in school, take some time to spend it together and enjoy your freedom for a while. Meet up with friends for lunch every once in a while, or enjoy shopping in the mall mid-week for that upcoming event. Let yourself do the things you enjoy, and don’t feel guilty about it. I always remind myself of the time I wasted working in a traditional office, and it helps me remember that not every single minute of my workday has ever been spent only working.
As the “workplace” keeps changing, more and more employers are accepting the idea of their employees working from home. If you’re self-employed, you may find yourself at home more often than not. I hope that you find these tips to be helpful reminders on how to stay sane, no matter your official work title.