To my new work-from-home friends, I’m sharing a few more tips to help you adapt to this lifestyle. I joked last week that working from home is like your freshman year of college (you’ll gain weight, love-hate your family, and the laundry will pile in incomprehensible mounds), but now I want to get a bit more serious and detailed about what this means for your career and your family.
If you take away nothing else, I hope I encourage you to work more thoughtfully than you ever have before. This is no time ease off the accelerator. I will argue that working from home requires more focus and planning than work in an office, and when you add home-schooling, a volatile economy and other side effects of a global pandemic, your high performance is even more critical. Plus, I don’t want you to settle for survival. I want you to come out of this a better version of yourself.
Begin every day with gratitude for the privilege of working from home. This isn’t hippy-dippy advice, it's a responsibility. A tragic amount of Americans are out of work because they can’t work from home, so when you start to feel bored, restless, or annoyed, take stock of your situation and don’t take it for granted. As my grandmother used to say, you’re a lucky son-of-a-gun. (She actually said something entirely different that’s not appropriate, so we’ll go with that instead.)
Start your workdays the evening before to account for every single hour of your day. Sit down with your partner after dinner or before bed. (I know you’re tired but you can do this – it’s 5 more minutes.) Block chunks of time for when one of you will be with the kids home schooling while the other gets time to focus on work.
If you skip this step, you’ll start your day defensively. You’re going to feel like life is a constant fire drill. In just 5 minutes you can prevent this feeling by taking charge of your schedule the evening before. Your plan will fall apart sometimes, Susan. I know. DUH. But it will go well more often than not, and planning gives us an assemblance of control in a scary time. You need to do this for your sanity as much as you need to for your productivity.
Note: For single parents, please know I used to be one, and I'll be writing more about that soon. For now, do not feel guilty about screen time. My daughter learned more academically from her screen in a week than I could teach her in a year. This is first-world guilt and it doesn’t serve you or your kid(s). You’ll get in your QT with your children after you do the work that keeps the lights on. Hunker down and remember that these are not ideal circumstances, so it’s not going to look ideal. Also, you’re a fricken superhero. Don’t forget it.
Designate your former "commute" time to something else productive. Your 9 to 5 hours are no longer devoted to solely work, which means you have to use other times of the day to fulfill your obligations. Your former commute is a solid chunk of time you now get to work instead of drive/bus/walk/whatever. Make good use of it, whether it’s work around the house or work-work.
Schedule house work into your work schedule. This changed my productivity and mood drastically. I used to see dishes and laundry in my periphery and it would either drive me crazy (disrupting concentration), take my time from work randomly throughout the day (because I couldn’t resist the urge to tackle it), or I let the house completely go for a week and then hated myself for not being able to stay on top of it. Just like you’d schedule lunch or working out, plan time for projects around your house. You would plan time to clean your office to stay organized, so consider your home an extension of your office.
Let go of ideal. If you try to execute some Pinterest brand of home-schooling and work-from-home balance, you’re setting yourself up to be miserable. It’s not going to happen if you’re really committed to your work AND your kids. Stay scrappy and proud of the mess around you. This is an incredibly unique and difficult time for us all, and it is certain to make you more flexible, adaptable, resilient, thrifty and creative IF YOU LET IT.
Move your body. I won’t spiral into a dissertation about the importance of working out. I’m just going to tell you that you’re a dum-dum if you don’t at least squeeze in some jumping jacks twice a day. Get your heart rate up. Move your body, change your mind.
Hydrate. Does water even need a spokesperson? I don’t need to elaborate, do I? Want to feel your best? Have more energy? As Rachel Hollis says, Drink the stupid water.
Find quick videos/podcasts/thought leaders who inspire you. I am not kidding you when I tell you that I HAVE to revisit resources like these to find purpose and motivation. I work for myself, and it is easy to fall into a “does it really matter” mentality. YES! IT REALLY MATTERS! And thankfully, when I revisit my mentors (personal or celebrity) they never fail to inject me with adrenaline for possibility.
Know what de-rails you. If my daughter enters my office, or if I head to the pantry for food, 9 times out of 10, I will be so de-railed that I will wonder away from my desk for as much as 30 minutes to an hour. I have learned how upsetting these disruptions are to my focus, so I have to be intentional about how, when and where I approach my work. Pay attention to your triggers. Is it Instagram? Beautiful weather luring you outside? Do you need to shut your blinds and crank up music? Figure it out.
Get dressed and shower more often than not. This is a common piece of work-from-home advice, and it’s because it works. Working and feeling your best often aligns with looking your best. Get out of the PJs so you continue to feel a sense of normalcy and professionalism. We have to keep adulting, which sometimes means putting on pants.