I’ve been working from home for years now. While it took me too long to get good at it, I now have steady routines and habits in place to help keep me sane, present, and engaged in my work. Even still, I’ve had to reassess these routines and make some adjustments now that our whole family is “working” from home.
Because many people have just now switched to working from home and are fumbling to create new routines and habits, a few readers asked if I could share some of my tips. These aren’t offered as prescriptions, but as inspiration. You could try out some of these suggestions, then reassess and make your own adjustments. I hope these tips help you find some peace, productivity, and calm in your own work life.
My favorite work from home strategies
1. Walk yourself to work.
My home office is only about ten steps away from my kitchen, which gives me almost zero transition time between my family life and my work life. (I don’t like these strict demarcations between the two either, but let’s just go with it.) And so a year or two ago I decided I’d walk myself to work.
I don’t really “go” anywhere—just around the block—but this 10-minute walk gives me time to transition into my work day. The important thing isn’t the walk itself—although the movement and fresh air sure don’t hurt—but the movement into a working frame of mind.
2. Put on pants. And maybe lipstick.
I’m not gonna lie: one of the advantages of working from home is that you can finish that important assignment in your pajamas, or your workout gear. I’ve done that (a lot).
But I know that for me, if I’m not wearing real clothes by 10am my body thinks I must have the flu. And if I don’t get dressed for the day before my work day starts, then I end up having to take a break to get ready—and I hate taking a timeout to get ready at 11am; it just doesn’t feel right. I’m happier when I do it first. (I will note that in my quarantine life, I totally count leggings as pants. Also cut-offs. They’re not pajamas, so it works.)
And the bang-for-the-buck on lipstick is unbeatable: when I take six seconds to swipe it on, I feel more put together. This little thing is often just for me, though I’ll be honest, I’ll ALWAYS wear lipstick for Zoom calls. I’ve been loyal to the same shades for years, and I’m also loving this bright red that a kind reader gave me.
3. Learn by doing.
Slack, Zoom, Asana … these tools were not in my repertoire a few years ago, and when my team asked me to start using them I mightily resisted. I didn’t know how to use them, and I didn’t want to learn.
If you’re working from home for the first time, you’re probably using tools you’ve never had to use before. It’s gonna feel weird at first—and that’s okay. You’ll get better, with practice.
I didn’t want to learn how to use new tools, either, but I slowly adjusted … and now I can’t imagine running my business without them.
4. Find a routine.
When you establish a rhythm to your work days, you can focus on doing the work, not on how you’re going to do the work. I always tackle my biggest writing project first, check in with my team to see what everyone needs from me, and then move into more administrative and project-oriented tasks.
True confession: I build my days around my three-cups-a-day coffee schedule. I know when I’ll stop to make a new cup, and which tasks go with each. It works for me.
Speaking of coffee: routines and rituals are so important to the rhythms of my work day. I deep dive my own routines and rituals in my book Don’t Overthink It.
5. Get off the computer.
For my job, I’m required to be at my computer A LOT. Much of my work has to be done at my machine; there’s no way around it.
But I don’t want to spend all day with my eyes glued to a screen, and with my kids at home, I don’t want to spend all day holed up in my office by myself, either. That means I’m constantly on the lookout for device-free ways to do my work. Throughout the day you’ll find me sketching out essays on a legal pad, making notes on a giant post-it on the wall, and voxing my team while I fold the laundry.
We may work online, but that doesn’t mean I ALWAYS have to be at my machine.
6. Eat lunch.
When you’re in the middle of a project, it’s easy to keep working instead of taking a time out to tend to your body’s needs.
But what’s good for the body is good for the brain. I simply won’t get any quality work done if I’m hungry. To keep the transition from work to lunch quick and easy, I eat the same thing for lunch every day. I know that for some, this might seem boring, odd, or impossible. But for me, it prevents decision fatigue and helps me stay focused on the project at hand.
If you want more variety but don’t want to spend time making lunch everyday, consider meal prepping on Sundays just like you would if you were packing lunches for the office each week.
7. You’re sitting more than you realize.
Because my home office is just ten steps from my kitchen, it’s easy to sit at the computer all day, then sit at the table for dinner, then sit on the sofa to read at night. All that sitting makes my body feel awful.
This is truer now than ever, now that I’m not running errands on foot or even walking to my car. When our Stay Home order first kicked in here, I almost immediately began to experience hip pain from too much sitting, which hurt both my body and my ego, because shouldn’t I be too young for that?
Though I’ve long been aware of the hazards of too much sitting, now I’m more mindful than ever of moving my body throughout the day. That means taking conscious breaks to walk around the block or up and down the stairs. I’m checking messages and taking calls outside. I sometimes work at my kitchen counter, which doubles as a makeshift “standing desk.” I’m doing yoga for the first time in a few years.
8. Build hard stops into your day.
When I first dabbled in working from home after my first son was born, my dad warned me: once you start working from home, he said, your work is always right there calling your name. That’s why firm boundaries are so important. You don’t necessarily have to work a regular 9 to 5 day, but I do recommend building hard stops into your day. Otherwise it’s easy to be always working, or thinking about work.
Plus, you really do need time to relax with your family, chat with friends on a Google Hangout, or simply go to bed early. Lately, my hard stop has been the nightly 5 o’clock update from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. It keeps me informed and gives me something to look forward to.
9. Take advantage.
Working from home has its challenges, sure. But it also has some serious perks. Take advantage of them! Work outside on the front porch on a beautiful day, take a short walk to mull over a problem, load up your desk with your favorite plants, put dinner in the oven while taking a call, work with your dog curled up at your feet. These pockets of joy are there for the taking. Look for them.
10. Take care.
Even if you’ve been working from home for years, like I have, these are tough times. If you’re having a hard time focusing, if you’re working at a slower pace than usual, if your attention span is suffering, or if your typical routine has been thrown off, know that all these things are normal.
Stick to the fundamentals: brush your teeth, eat healthy food, move your body, and be gentle with yourself. You might have some really productive days followed by some much-needed days of rest. That’s okay.
We’re all trying to do our best in these strange times. We may not feel like we’ve reached a “new normal” (I sure don’t), but if we take simple steps to care for ourselves and those around us, we will feel a little bit better each day.
I love hearing about other people’s habits and routines. Do you have any advice to add for those working from home? Have you found any new WFH tips and tricks in this time of social isolation? Please share in the comments.
PS: 15 books for new routines and fresh starts, plus these 15 books to help you achieve New Year’s resolutions are also great resources for new WFH habits.