Tips for Staying Sane While Working From Home
For many, a remote job has long seemed like the holy grail of nine-to-five work. But doing your job from the comfort of your own home, far away from the trials of your irksome coworkers, bad snacks, and rush hour commute was a mere dream for most office employees. That is until concerns around the fast-spreading coronavirus compelled many companies to allow teams a work-from-home option in an effort to limit contagion. With collaborative technologies like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, working from home is a safe and efficient alternative to the close quarters of in-person offices that can exacerbate COVID-19 transmission. But as many workers are beginning to learn, the reality of telecommuting isn’t exactly ideal. Working remotely can be a little isolating at times, and the resulting boredom can tank your output. For those who are new to WFH life, here are a few tips for staying productive—and sane.
Start everyday as if you were actually going into the office.
Hit snooze four times, rush your shower, drink terrible coffee, somehow lose your keys — you know, the usual. Maintaining your status quo is key to staying productive without the structure of the office.
Dress as if you’re going to work.
Don’t fall into the trap of staying in your sweaty pajamas all day just because you’re not leaving the house. Wear a full suit! Even if you don’t normally dress up for work, the extra formality will help to make up for the fact that you’re on your couch. Wear a tie and stay in the zone.
Keep a regular routine.
Working from home can dissolve the barriers set by a regular work schedule, and make staying on task a challenge. Even if you’re just walking from your bed to your computer, you should set a time to begin working and pack a full suitcase. Make sure to budget in at least half an hour for morning gossip with coworkers!
Communicate with your remote team.
It’s crucial to continue interacting with other human beings so that they remember you exist. Start a group chat with remote coworkers to send memes, funny tweets, that story about the spider in your shower this morning — nothing is too boring for the WFH chat. Trust me, they’re just as desperate for human interaction as you are.
If you really miss the office, microwave some fish.
Nothing makes you feel like you’re working in cubicle hell like the pungent odor of hot, day old tilapia. If you’re especially nostalgic for the 9-5 life, get a terrible fluorescent lamp and bathe in the artificial glow.
Don't work from your bedroom.
Getting too cozy will make your productivity nosedive. Plus, the sight of your pillows and stuffed animals tends to make video calls a little awkward. Clean at least one corner of your home to give the illusion that you have your life together.
Do work from your car.
Change things up by dialing into your conference call from the driver’s seat! You can pretend you’re a high powered executive with no time to waste, or that you’re calling into your favorite radio show and finally got through. The prize? A paid working vacation in your very own home. Fun!
Hide your non-work related tabs while screen sharing.
There’s nothing worse than giving an incredible presentation, and then ruining it by accidentally revealing how many times you’ve visited your crush’s Facebook that day. When working from home, it’s imperative that you maintain a healthy separation between the personal and professional. That means turning off notifications, closing out unrelated browser windows, and muting calls when you’re not speaking.
Show up late once in a while.
Just because your commute is only five feet doesn’t mean you can’t get caught up in the morning just like everyone else. You might take an extra long shower, get way too involved in a Twitter thread, or even simply feel hungover! Keep things interesting by slacking off now and then.
Set aside time for fully uninterrupted work.
Okay, obviously slacking off isn’t solid WFH advice — but it is something that can happen when there isn’t anyone else around to keep you on task. Practice self-discipline by participating in deep work to curb burnout and get your work done efficiently.
Take breaks throughout the day.
Just because you can’t walk over and gossip with your work bestie doesn’t mean you should be on task nonstop. A key part of deep work is scheduling down time! Stretch, make tea, check Instagram (obviously), and give yourself brain breaks at regular intervals.
Use your body.
No one wants to think about their burdensome flesh bag of a body while they’re trying to be productive, but physical and mental health go hand in hand. Apps like Stand Up! remind you to get out of your seat, and make staying active while you work from home a breeze. If you really want to multitask, use a standing desk and balance board while you check items off your to-do list. If you don’t have a balance board, your roommate’s skateboard will work in a pinch.
It’s okay to keep it a little casual.
The best part of working from home? No one is going to know if you wear your favorite threadbare pajama pants all day. Even a video chat doesn’t see below the waist! Every seasoned telecommuter knows the WFH motto, “Business on the top, cozy on the bottom.” Throw a blouse on over those torn, hole-y snowman PJs you’ve had since 2007 if you need to dress it up for a video conference. Just don’t stand up.
But not too casual.
You know that chair you absolutely love, the one with the matching ottoman at the perfect height that also faces the window overlooking that pretty oak tree? Don’t work from there. Even though this heavenly spot might seem like the ideal space for maximum productivity, hours sitting there typing away with a hot laptop burning the front of your thighs will ruin its relaxation magic forever.
Get doughnuts “for the office.”
Carb laden treats are one of the few things that make working worthwhile. So why sacrifice your cheat meal just because you’re not sharing? A dozen or two should do the trick. You might even earn an employee of the month award for your generosity!
If you have kids, get a babysitter.
If at all possible, find someone else to hang out with your kids — even if it’s just the TV. You want those tiny, adorable, drooling little distractions as far away as possible. Remember, you still have to like them enough to feed and clean them after working hours.
If you don’t have kids, get a cat.
Eventually, it will be crucial for your mental health to have another living creature in your periphery. Cats are a great addition to any household, lonely or otherwise. They’re cute, smart, relatively self-sufficient, and make great lap warmers. As an added bonus a cat will also make you feel inadequate most of the time, just like a surrogate boss!
Reward yourself like a dog.
Finish an hour of intense work? Snack. Cross a big task off your to-do list? Walk to the coffee shop. Send one single email? Indulge in three hours of mindless social media scrolling. The canine reward method is highly effective because humans, like dogs, are very simple creatures who get distracted easily and live for small treats.
Make sure you have a solid internet connection.
You’ll need it not only for your work, but for the high-volume electronic communication you’ll be doing with your remote team to maintain sanity. You’ll also want the extra bandwidth for all the digital distractions needed to make it through the day.
Podcasts are your friend.
When you’re cooped up all by yourself, listening to hours of buddies making each other laugh on podcasts can make you feel just a little less lonely. Subscribe long enough and you’ll start to understand their inside jokes, learn about their lives, and even kind of feel like one of the gang. But remember, be careful with content. For example, listening to true crime podcasts by yourself all day can spark your paranoia and make working from home a living nightmare.
If you really miss socializing, fake it.
Remote workers know, that WFH silence can be deafening. If your ideal working environment includes a little background noise, YouTube offers a rich selection of coffee shop chatter, rain storms, calm oceans, and every ASMR video you can think of to give your solo workday a fresh soundtrack. Ten hours of “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to,” anyone?
Write everything off.
If you’re working from home as a freelancer, knowing what to write off can make a big difference come tax time. Partial internet and phone bills, work related purchases, and even a home office can help decrease your federal and state contributions. For example: when you’re tallying everything up, be sure to remind your CPA that Spotify Premium is an essential professional expense.
Set social media guidelines.
You’ll want to limit scrolling during the workday not only for your own productivity, but also to ensure you don’t annoy your friends and loved ones with how desperate you are for human connection. Three selfies to the IG grid in one day is not a good look, no matter how satisfying those likes are.
Tidy up… just enough.
You know that pile of clothes you usually leave on the chair by your bed? The one that’s made up of stuff you wore once so it’s too dirty to hang back up, but not dirty enough to go in the hamper? It’s time to address that pile. I’m not saying you have to wash it, or fold it, or put any real effort into it. Maybe just hide it under the bed? A mess can be distracting while you work, and any distraction is an opportunity to get sucked into the vortex of procrastination.
Put a lock on your fridge.
It’s hard enough not to snack all day at work. But when you’re alone at home with no one to judge how many chocolate almond breaks you’ve taken, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the siren call of your kitchen. Unless you establish firm guidelines from the jump, you’ll be out of snacks in a day.
Find new things to complain about.
There are tons of terrible things about working in an office. Traffic sucks, it’s always too cold or too hot, your co-worker eats yogurt in a weird way… the list goes on. When you work remotely, you can’t complain about your commute. But don’t worry! There are plenty of other fun things that can ruin your day, right from the comfort of your own home. Loud neighbors, door-to-door solicitors, and intense FOMO are just a few of the many things you may soon gripe about.
Give your roommates and neighbors space.
Just because you miss coworker culture doesn’t mean your roommates are interested in watercooler talk. If you want to maintain a healthy living situation, fight the urge to corner your neighbor in a long conversation about whatever is trending on Twitter that day. Remember, working from home is a marathon, not a sprint.
Buy a birthday cake for no reason.
You’re going to miss out on a lot of office birthday celebrations, but that doesn’t mean you should have to stop eating mediocre grocery store sheet cake. Make sure to drag out a slow, uncomfortable rendition of “Happy Birthday” while you cut a slice so it really feels like the office.
Schedule a virtual happy hour.
After a long day of productive telecommuting, you’ll be ready to have some fun and get out of your work bubble. But when everyone is already at home, it’s a little tough to round up the team for an evening bar crawl. Why not keep the party going with remote drinks? You’re technically not drinking alone if it’s in front of a screen facing all your co-workers. I think.
Remember a life before work from home.
Look out the window. Say your name aloud. Plan your escape. One day, you will be free to return to life as you once knew it. Mondays, am I right??