Time works differently at home
If you’re a person who spent your pre-pandemic work life in a cubicle or office, right now is a good time to throw yourself into looking on the bright side: You’re not stuck at home; you’re free. This is what you dreamed about every morning and evening when you were stuck in traffic or jammed onto a crowded subway car. Yes, it’s all terrifying and apocalyptic right now — but at least you can sit in your pajamas all day! You can hang out with your dog. You can make a snack anytime you want, and you can eat it with the TV on in the background.
But how are you supposed to get any work done while all those episodes of Love Is Blind are calling to you and your bed is right there? And why are you so tired at the end of the workday when you haven’t even left the house?
I’ve been working from home for most of the past decade, so let me just reassure you: You will get your work done. With everything to stress about right now, don’t stress about that.
In fact, those of us who work from home often find ourselves overworking. We tether ourselves to our desks and stress ourselves out more at home than we do at work. That’s why it’s important to make sure we take care of ourselves and don’t burn out while working remotely.
The most important thing you can do while working from home is assert boundaries so that you aren’t working around the clock. Your boss cannot expect you to sit in front of your computer or be on Slack for 24 hours straight. If you try to do that, you will fall apart. Trust me.
Here are some principles to keep in mind as you adjust to these new circumstances.
Time works differently at home
If you think about your workday at the office, there’s a lot of wasted time. You’re visiting coworkers’ desks, hanging out in the common area, or goofing around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked Instagram during the workday and seen my non-remote colleagues enjoying someone’s birthday by spending three hours at lunch.
So don’t feel bad about the 30 minutes you spent browsing the internet or searching for the perfect chair. You waste the same amount of time at the office. You just feel more guilty about it now.
First, think about how much work you usually do while you’re at work. Do you file two reports? Do you write one article? Do you finish four spreadsheets? Figure out what your typical output looks like, then set that as your goal for the day.
Worry about tasks done, instead of time sitting at your desk. You may well find that you can finish things faster from home. If that’s the case, don’t feel compelled to be in front of your computer all the time so you don’t get “caught” living your life.
Take back your commute time
Start your day at the same time as when you’d usually show up at the office — not when you usually start your commute. If you’d typically get in at 9, then don’t even dare open your computer for work until 9.
The benefit of working from home is that the two hours or so you spend waking up, getting dressed, and traveling to an office aren’t necessary anymore. But you can — and should — still take the time to take care of yourself and get set up for the day. Have a nice cup of coffee. Exercise. Have morning sex. Whatever.
You may be inclined to get a jump-start on your work early in the morning, and that can sometimes be beneficial — but only do that if you are going to take longer breaks during the day, or quit early. If you have rigid hours that you have to be online, or meetings throughout the day, you might as well not start until your usual workday actually begins.
Leave your bed
Do not, under any circumstances, work in your bed. Your bed is your sacred place. That is where you relax and recharge. If you let your work invade that space, then you will never sleep soundly there again.
Take this from someone who has to put his phone in another room overnight to get a night of sleep. Physical space and physical movement are hugely important, even while working from home — and even if that home is starting to feel cramped.
Step away from the computer
Even without a commute, it’s important to have clear transitions from work life to home life. You’d be amazed at how committing to something physically can make a difference. That’s why I always take a full lunch break. I sit at my dining table and eat, and my computer is only ever open if I’m watching something on YouTube for fun.
Many freelancers swear by a midday walk or exercise session, which can be a vital reset. And when it’s 5 p.m. or when I’m finished with my tasks for the day, I commit to the physical act of closing my computer.
Then I leave it alone. I make sure I’m present with my family. I cook dinner, we all sit at the table and eat, and then we play a board game or watch a movie. I make sure to spend my evenings doing something that feels like home.
I’m working on a book right now, so I often return to my desk later at night, after the kids are in bed. But in between, I keep myself out of work mode for those couple of hours where everyone is feeling my presence.
Cut yourself some slack
Now, a couple of caveats: One, I learned these principles the very hard way. I have spent many years overworking myself to the point of burnout, so I understand that it’s difficult to settle into some of these routines.
You’ll ultimately have to find what works best for you, but let me reiterate that you will get your work done. That part comes easily. Taking care of yourself? That’s markedly tougher. Cutting yourself some slack is pretty critical.
Especially now. Despite my years of working from home, I’m not well-versed in life during a pandemic, and the existential crisis of wondering whether you are carrying a potentially deadly virus. I’m new to this, too.
For instance, I had a pretty normal workday one day last week. Sure, my whole family was home, but that has happened before, and I can handle it. But at the end of the day I was exhausted. Like, more than usual. This whole state of semi-panic is wearing on everyone. So make sure to be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to fall short a bit in your work as you adjust.
If you’re a parent, you probably have by now mapped out a schedule for your kids and their home-schooling, but don’t stress if you give up and let them watch a movie for two hours.
If you need to, veg out on TV after you’re done with work. Get dinner delivered (budget permitting) if you don’t feel like cooking. These are unprecedented times and the best, most important thing you can do is take care of yourself. Allow yourself the grace of flexibility and the time to recharge.
Ideally, you have an employer who will be understanding about any reduction in productivity as you try to be a parent, teacher, and worker all at once. If you don’t, then you may want to spend some of that work-from-home time buffing up your resume for when normal life resumes.
David Dennis, Jr.