Going into the office usually means getting up early, putting together a professional appearance, commuting, and interacting with our co-workers. By the time we leave the office at the end of the day, we’re tired and can’t wait to get home.
Working from home sounds like a great way to save time and hassle. But, now that many of us are being asked to work from home, we may find the transition more difficult than we anticipated.
Many of the things that may frustrate and exhaust us when we go into the office also fulfill important functions for our mental and emotional health.
When we spend time in the morning showering, getting dressed, or doing our hair, we are sending ourselves a clear signal that “the day is beginning.” And when we walk out of the office in the evening, we know “today is over.” The commute to and from work may be long and uncomfortable, but it helps separate our personal time from our professional time.
Interacting with our co-workers – listening to their stories or simply working on a project together – can seem distracting or frustrating. It takes a lot of energy to remain patient and relaxed in a high stress environment. But that face-to-face interaction gives us the social stimulation that humans naturally need (yes, even introverts).
Work also provides us something to focus on. Everyone likes the feeling of accomplishing something or advancing towards a goal. In the office we spend our day trying to do just that alongside our co-workers.
So, when we work from home – as so many of us are doing right now – how can we make sure we don’t lose these important functions that working from the office usually provides?
Structure Your Day
We need boundaries for our personal and professional lives. When you spend your whole day at home, those boundaries can be hard to find.
It’s easy to let your working hours drag on late into the night, or to get distracted in the middle of the afternoon with non-work activities. Try not to let that happen. Instead, try these strategies:
- Maintain aspects of your normal routine that already signal to you that the day is beginning – shower, get dressed, brush your teeth. These habits will help maintain a sense of normalcy and help motivate you to get going.
- Create a morning and evening routine for yourself to replace your daily commute. Like the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympics, you should have a daily event that signals when your workday is starting and when it’s over. Maybe you listen to a certain song or podcast when you start your day, and you can go for a walk around the block when you finish. Shutting down your computer at the end of the day can be a powerful signal.
- Designate a specific area of your home as your workspace and keep it separate from spaces associated with sleep or leisure; you don’t want your bed to become your new office.
- Throughout the day, give yourself “landmark” moments to keep track of the passing time. Maybe you spend a few minutes brewing a cup of coffee or tea at a specific time in the middle of the morning. And at another specific time you go for a walk outside for some fresh air. These rituals can provide structure to your day that keeps you from letting your work drag on far later than it needs to.
- Work in cycles. Without the constant interruptions and distractions of people coming by your desk at work, it’s easy to find yourself in the same spot at home for hours at a time. Consider working – and staying focused – for 25 minutes, and then taking a 5-minute break to do something like walk around your house or listen to a song. Just make sure you get back to work when your break is over. These off-and-on cycles can make long stretches of empty time feel much more manageable. Try TomatoTimer to help you structure these cycles.
We are fundamentally social beings, and it’s not healthy to lose out on social interaction. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become isolated while working at home.
The good news is that you’re not the only one trying to avoid isolation: so is everyone else working from home. If you feel like you need to talk to someone, there’s definitely someone else feeling the same thing.
While it might feel awkward at first, consider scheduling short chats (phone calls or even video conferences) during your day. In fact, it’s the perfect thing to do for one of the breaks you built into the structure for your day.
If just talking sounds boring, consider making your chats interactive. Maybe you can have a video call while both drinking a cup of coffee or tea. If a one-on-one chat is hard, try setting up a group video conference with multiple people. The group dynamic can be much less demanding.
Focus on Yourself
The very definition of work is completing tasks. But those tasks are usually for someone else. Transitioning to a work-from-home arrangement is a great opportunity to pick one thing to do for yourself. All that time you’re saving by not commuting can be put to a personally rewarding and productive use.
Maybe you want to spend 30 minutes per day reading a book, or you want to start meditating. There are several great apps available that will guide you through meditations. They are especially helpful for beginners.
Perhaps you have a hobby that you haven’t engaged in a long time. Or a skill that has fallen out of practice. This is the perfect time to pick it back up. Not only can you reclaim the time you used to spend commuting, but dedicating a slice of your day to a personal activity can be a great way to give yourself that ‘off signal’ at the end of the workday.
Regardless of what you choose to do for yourself, try to find an excuse to do something physically active. A walk around the block or a trip up and down the stairs of your building counts. You might not have to leave your home, but you will probably feel better if you do.
Ask for Help
Even if you’re doing it all – finding time to talk to friends, family, or co-workers, structuring your day, and investing in yourself – you may find that you’re still struggling to adjust to the emotional demands of working in isolation.
Chances are you might be missing something that you had in your normal office-based routine. Or maybe this new style of working has created new stress in your life. If you feel like things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped, teletherapy with a licensed mental health professional may be worth considering to help you adjust. Taking time to explore and process these thoughts and feelings can be an important step toward finding the balance that we all need.