Work from home

9 Ways to Shake Up Working From Home

If you’re missing your pre-quarantine work routine, these simple tips can help rejuvenate your work from home experience.

Source: PC Magazine UK
Anyone newly working from home in the last few months has likely experienced some benefits and some drawbacks to their new situation. Seeing as good news is in short supply these days, I want to focus on the good things here. Working remotely comes with some wildly fantastic advantages. Let’s look at how can we use those advantages to shake up our routines when we feel them stagnating.

Recently, I posed this question to some friends, colleagues, and acquaintances: “What changes have you made since working from home that have had a positive outcome?”

Their answers point to ways you can try changing your work-from-home routine if it’s feeling tedious, unproductive, or otherwise stale.

1. Review Your Agenda First Thing

Without a commute, you might have more flexibility in the morning in terms of time and how you use it. My sister mentioned that she’s changed her morning routine completely and for the better. Instead of riding the subway, she now looks over her email and to-do list while having coffee and breakfast. She then goes for a walk before really digging into anything in her workday. In other words, she orients herself to the day’s agenda and then gives herself time to process it.

While it’s new to her, this strategy of reviewing what needs to be done before starting work has been around for a long time. It’s common among people who are organized and efficient because it prevents surprises, like forgotten calendar appointments, and creates an opportunity to adjust their outlook and intentions for the day. 

2. Take More Breaks

More than a few people told me that since working from home, their relationship to breaks has changed dramatically and for the better. In particular, I heard that people are taking more frequent breaks when they need them. Doing so can prevent eye strain and other injuries. Breaks also help prevent burnout.

When working in an office, it’s easy to feel silently judged if you walk away from your desk too often or for too long, and that can prevent people from taking the breaks. At home, this pressure might not exist at all, making it easier, mentally speaking, to take a pause when you need one. The trick is that you have to actually do it. Because you may have fewer interruptions (Zoom Meetings aside) you might find that you actually forget to take your breaks. If you find this happening, set alerts, alarms, and reminders—whatever works for you.

It’s important to acknowledge that for people with care responsibilities, being home will likely mean that some (perhaps many) of your break times go toward helping children, other people, or pets. In that case, your breaks might feel like obligations or distractions, rather than moments of relaxation. This is one of the ways that the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected women, who have a disproportionate share of these responsibilities.

3. Sleep More

When you don’t have to commute and you don’t have to spend as much time making yourself presentable for the day, you might have earned back a little slice of time. If you’re using that extra time to sleep a little longer, bravo! Don’t underestimate the power of sleeping more. If you can get an extra 25 minutes of sleep per day, that’s more than two hours of additional sleep over the course of a five-day workweek. 

Sleep helps us recover from the day, as well as function at our best when we’re awake. If you want to be able to focus and put in good hours of work, you need to also put in good hours of sleep. Sleeping enough and getting high-quality sleep takes time, and an extra 15 or 30 minutes each day adds up. For some ideas about how to get more and better sleep, read our article on how tech can help (and hurt) your sleep. We’ve also collected the best technology for getting a good night’s sleep.

4. Write Your To-Do List Differently

Jodi Harris is a personal coach who has been running her business from home for several years. She told me that when she switched from office life to that of a self-employed person working from home, she made one tiny change that had a huge positive effect. She stopped writing a daily to-do list and instead created a weekly list. 

Doing so, she said, helped her think differently about how much she could move tasks and appointments around to make them work together. A daily to-do list was too restrictive.

If you’re hitting a wall with your ability to work from home, try shifting how you write your to-do list. You could try a weekly list, or you might try another method of organizing your tasks altogether—switching, for example, from keeping lists to using a kanban board.

5. Change Your Working Hours

Dedicating yourself to fixed working hours can be a great habit. If you’ve been working from home for a while, however, and need to shake up your routine, changing your hours is certainly one way to do it.

If you can set your own hours, you can shift your whole day by an hour or two in either direction, or you can split up the day differently. What happens when you work for two hours early in the morning and then take two hours to do yoga and take a hot shower before getting back to business? How would it feel to stop working an hour earlier than you do now and then take an hour after dinner to wrap up? Remember, the change you make doesn’t have to be permanent, so if it’s not working for you, you can always go back to your previous schedule. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your hours, though, if you need a change.

6. Eliminate Lunchtime Indecision

Working closer to your personal refrigerator can be a pain point, but it also allows you to eat differently while you work. If you used to buy lunch out when you worked in an office, you might notice that you’re saving a lot of money by eating at home. The decision, however, of what to eat and when can really sap some people’s energy. So what can you change about your lunch habits while working from home? 

My partner, who has been working from home since mid-March, has found that removing the decision about what to eat and when really helps him not get preoccupied with food. He makes the same lunch every day and at the same time every day. It’s always a sandwich on toasted bread, and while he might use turkey one day and roast beef the next, the other toppings and condiments typically stay the same. He doesn’t have to think about it, and he knows exactly how much of each item to buy when we shop for groceries. This tactic is great if you struggle with eating at home. 

If you prefer more variety and don’t feel wiped out by lunchtime choices, then working from home lets you experiment with new foods, which is such a perk. For those who struggle, though, pick a time and food for lunch, and stick to them. Meal kits can be a great option for those who find that planning ahead is less stressful than deciding in the moment. The bonus is that you can work in some meals that you might not otherwise have time to prepare. Daily Harvest’s smoothies and soups are excellent healthy options, and Ramen Hero’s soups are well worth considering, too—if you don’t mind a the extra cash-and-calorie splurge.

7. Dress for the Occasion

A lot of people told me they love being able to dress down while working from home. PCMag lead software analyst Jeffrey L. Wilson mentioned that being barefoot all day has made him noticeably more comfortable. Others said being in pajamas or loose-fitting clothes not only feels better but also makes them happy.

If you’re in a rut with your work-from-home life, however, changing your outfits might also help change your mindset. Putting on a work-appropriate outfit, shoes and all, makes some people feel more confident. Similarly, some people find that getting dressed at a specific time of day helps them get into the habit of starting work at a specific time, too. Try it before your next meeting or for phone or video-based job interviews. You can kick your nice shoes off when it’s over.

8. Customize Your Workspace

In an office, we can’t always choose the furniture, lighting, temperature, proximity to windows, and other elements of the workspace. At home, you may not have an office and you may not be able to buy all new furniture for your workspace, but you can customize your work area in other ways to brighten your day.

Start by checking that your space is comfortable and safe, ergonomically speaking. An ergonomic expert I interviewed explained that you can use common objects around the house, such as a small pillow for lumbar support, to improve your setup. At home, you can also add candles or aromatic diffusers, which aren’t usually welcomed in a shared office environment. Bring in a few potted plants to boost your mood and clean the air. NASA’s well-cited Clean Air Study names several common house plants that clean indoor air well.

Additionally, if there’s something you need to work comfortably, such as a mouse, keyboard or monitor, ask your employer whether it can cover the costs. It’s not unusual for organizations to have a budget for supplies—ask!

9. Stretch, Play Music, Read

One reality of being in an office is that you’re constantly seen by others: your colleagues, your boss, the head of the organization, the interns. In these shared spaces, there are certain things people tend not to do because it might look bad. For example, if you picked up a book and read at your desk for 10, someone might jump to the conclusion that you’re slacking off rather than taking a needed break by doing something you enjoy.

In the comfort of home, it’s much easier to do activities we enjoy as a way to take a short break. Get on the floor and stretch. Play an instrument or dance around to music without headphones. These kinds of breaks not only enrich our lives but also can give us a much needed mental switch so that when we return to work, we can see a problem in a different light or have fresh ideas.

More Tips for Working From Home

If you’re new to working remotely or are still adjusting, see my other tips for working from home. Some of them are specific to living in a COVID-19 world, when children, partners, and roommates might also be home with you, and you might not have options for secondary working locations, such as coffee shops and co-working spaces. Other tips apply to working remotely any time. It can take a while to adjust, and it helps to check in with yourself from time to time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

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