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Working From Home: A Field Guide

written by Lauren Rice September 28, 2020
Working From Home: A Field Guide

I have been fortunate enough to work from home for the last year or so, and I have absolutely loved it. It suits my lifestyle well, with time for #selfcare in the mornings, and I make the dress code. It also gives me the flexibility to be with my partner and our dog, Blue, whom you may have seen in some of my Instagram posts. It’s now clear who the real star of my account is, and he has more hair than me.

I worked from home initially by choice. But for many of you reading, that may not have been the case in the last couple of months. Most people have been thrust headlong into a “Work From Home Hell” period, with an indefinite ending.

Parents are taking conference calls in the shower to get some peace and quiet from their now-homeschooled kids, animals are accidentally hurting themselves out of excitement at having their people home, there is a seeming lack of awareness of which day of the week it is, and lots of generally terrible stress-eating choices, probably leading everyone to the ‘Quarantine 15.’ All of this on top of the fact that pretty much everyone’s actual work is in some way impacted, with slowdowns, de-funding of projects that may have taken significant time and energy to create, rampant supply chain issues and challenges in keeping staff on the payroll…it’s tough all around.

Anytime a large group of people, or in this case basically the entire world, is asked to do things differently without a good system or strategies in place to do so, chaos ensues.

Enter, the voice of experience. Here are some things that have been invaluable to me in working from home.

Have Structure

I can’t stress this one enough. It can be tempting to let your wandering mind dictate what you should spend your time on, but I can assure you this will not make you feel more relaxed or free. It will actually rob you of your valuable time and make you feel less energized. When you don’t pre-plan your schedule, you can easily end up spending more time on something than you intended to. A friend of mine on a recent morning decided to “just clean out her [4] kids’ closets, real quick”, and 5 and a half hours later had 6 trash bags to donate to consignment.

When you plan out your day in small, manageable chunks such as with the Pomodoro method, whereby the relevant day’s tasks are broken down into roughly half-hour sections, you are better able to focus. You get welcomed brain breaks and time to stretch your body, getting your detoxification system flowing. We are more productive with frequent breaks and tend to not miss small mistakes that can add up to larger ones. This also reduces task-switching, which can reduce productivity and effectiveness by up to 40%.

What about when it’s hard to get through even one given task because you have all kinds of distractions at home that you wouldn’t normally at work, or what if your workload is now higher (hey, newly-homeschooling parents)? Structure wins again!

Planning your day doesn’t have to mean pre-assigning every minute to something and then never deviating from that schedule. Real life is hard right now, and perfection isn’t possible. Here are some ways you can integrate more structure into your day, while still maintaining the flexibility you might need or crave:

1) Pre-make lunches or snacks the day or weekend before

This way, you have one less decision to make during the day. Family lunchtimes should be used for relaxing and sharing, not taking a conference call while hurridly making a sandwich for three kids and two adults, with the chef finally “relaxing”, only to have to clean-up and get right back to hammering away on the keyboard.

2) Take short mediation breaks.

Set reminders on your devices for short, meditative breath breaks following calls or stressful times. This way, the choice to stop and relax is already made for you.

3) Batch your tasks, so that you are working on similar tasks together.

Do this rather than spending precious mental energy switching between different kinds of things. Making updates to databases, answering certain kinds of emails, making notes, creating digital content, prepping meals, etc., are all similar tasks that you can complete in less time if you bunch them together. Block off space for this time on your calendar so you are more likely to complete them.

4) Use your calendar, not your to-do list or reminders app.

If it’s not scheduled, it isn’t real. We tend to structure so much of our lives around a calendar, and most people’s work certainly is this way as well. If you have a to-do list that isn’t handy or visible when you’re looking at your calendar, it can be hard to conceptualize what you would like to do amongst all of your other pre-arranged commitments and needs.

Have an Uplifting Mindset

This section is deceivingly simple. It’s just one small question you should ask yourself every day, or even before every project or task block.

How would you do your job if you were the best in the world at it?

Most people have some idea of what it would mean to do their job well. They may not always have all of the resources or tools, or even the most experience or know-how, but they do understand what it takes to make a great whatever-they-are.

Beginner chefs know a great meal when they taste one; engineers appreciate efficient design everywhere; everyone can tell a star athlete from someone who plays casually. Take a moment just to let this powerful idea sink in and imagine what you might do differently. Like right now. Oftentimes we get caught up in the “doing” of our work, and we forget to let the deep principals that often drew us to that work in the first place guide our decision-making processes. Our careers and lives are really just a string of moments put together. Each one is important to the formation of the next, and the context of the last.

So, ask questions like Oprah. Stay organized like Marie Kondo. Be creative like Einstein. Do your work as only you can. If you adopt this guiding principle, you will 100% make better decisions. You will work smarter, not harder because it will be easier for you to see what is necessary and what isn’t. You will be calmer and more put-together in your communication. You might also have more fun!

Embrace The Idea of Cozy Zones

The internet is awash with more news about the popular Scandanavian concept of Hygge, or “the art of creating a nice atmosphere, taking things slow and enjoying the simple pleasures of life,” and this is a perfect model for a healthy work-from-home/life balance. Creating cozy little nooks for reading or relaxation, wearing comfy clothes that you wouldn’t let non-family members see you in, and creating cozy lighting are all a part of this lovely tradition. I once spent the Christmas holidays in a cute little cottage on a swamp in Denmark, and we totally hygged-out. It was magical.

Easy ways to adopt Hygge into your lifestyle:

1) Have dedicated work and relaxation zones.

Set up a home office space if you don’t already have one. My office also has a couch for napping and everything I need for yoga and meditation, so it’s a bit multipurpose and perfect for me. Don’t have the space for a home office? Then choose a quiet area of the house, maybe convert a guest room, take up space on the kitchen table or in that dining room you never use.

Choose somewhere with a nice view outside if you can. If weather permits, you can even create a small set-up on a deck or porch. You also don’t need a traditional table and chairs. You can use a small poof or medicine ball for sitting and end table as an impromptu desk. Be creative! The important part is that you know that when you are in a certain space, it’s time for work. That way, when you go to relax later, it’s easier to make the mental shut-off.

2) At the end of your workday have a bath or shower, and then put on some real pajamas.

Take time to use a great natural moisturizer, like a pure shea butter or something that smells wonderful. Do your skincare routine, trim your nails. Whatever feels like nighttime mode to you. This pampering will signal to your mind and body that a new phase in your day has begun, and this one is about relaxation! Have too many kids running around for such luxuries? Get them in on it too! Set an alarm or timer for “Hygge time,” and teach them to get ready for evening relaxation, with either bathing or a change of clothes, signaling to them too that this is time for chilling out.

3) Set the mood with dimmed and diffuse lighting.

At Hygge time, go around your home and turn down any aggressive overhead lights, perhaps light some candles or turn on a fireplace. Light some incense or even drape some silk scarves over existing lighting (if this is safe!) when you can’t dim. This change in light can dramatically shift the mood. If your lights aren’t already on dimmers, you can order easy plug-in remote-operated switches that can turn any lamp into a dimmed set-up. We have these all over our house and love them.

4) Play games and eat fun snacks.

Hygge is about family time. Togetherness and play are central to relaxation, so have some jigsaw puzzles, cards or board games on hand to encourage further tech-free play. Kids and adults are spending more time than usual on devices and taking a break from one kind of mental activity is the only way to signal to your mind that you are actually having a break. Meaning, playing video games on a computer or mindlessly browsing for comfy clothes online are not mentally-relaxing activities when you’ve spent all day looking at a screen. Set up a snack tray with your favorite fruits and veggies, some healthy gluten-free crunchies or dark chocolate for the group to share. Hot cocoa, easy flatbread you can make together  as a family served with hummus or olives, homemade popcorn or a cut-up fruit bouquet kids of all ages will love to make are the perfect after-dinner Hygge snacks. Or perhaps they are dinner. No judgment here. Global pandemics call for some fun.

The biggest thing you can do to help yourself have a happy and healthy work-from-home/life balance? Appreciate what you have. You are not stuck at home, but safe at home.

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