Maybe it’s just me, but I have absolutely loved working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Absolutely. Love. It.
It’s not that I don’t miss my coworkers.
It’s not that I don’t miss having a nice office to go to.
It’s not that I don’t sometimes miss the business intimacy that comes from face-to-face brainstorming.
I simply enjoy the solitude in between Zoom meetings and calls to really focus and hone in on my craft.
I write, and manage writers, for a living. This job requires a lot of discipline and concerted effort in claiming time for myself to get lost in the writing and editing. At the office, I did not often get to control chunks of time for that. At home, I am the master of my schedule.
And productive? Oh my gosh am I productive from home! I realize this does not come naturally for some people. I know there are people out there who really struggle without the built-in structure of an office to go to.
If you are one of those people who struggle with the unstructured day of a work from home life, here are some of my thoughts on keeping yourself in a good routine.
Get up earlier
Try to get up an hour earlier than you are used to. Go ahead and get ready for the day, and start work early. There is something magical that happens in the early morning hours, before the calls and emails start flowing in.
Even if you do not have a creative job like me, there are creative elements in every job on the planet. Use that early morning time to plan your days and weeks, and to work on projects that are most difficult.
Do the thing you resist first thing in the morning
A former boss and mentor used to call these “shit sandwiches.” Projects that are critically important, but you resist getting them done for some reason. The more you resist and skip them for other tasks, the more your anxiety starts slowly boiling just beneath the surface.
My advice? Set aside 20 minutes to start. Make yourself stop after 20 minutes. You’ll be amazed how overcoming your initial inertia will help you move through the project much more quickly. I actually bought a manual kitchen timer and I often use it to block off 15 or 20 minute time periods to make myself get started on my “shit sandwiches.” It has made a huge difference for me.
Take a decent lunch break
Our tendency when working from home is to keep going on a project when we are on a roll. I make myself stop every day around 11:30, go downstairs and have lunch, and then do a 20 minute meditation. It’s such a clear delineation between work time and personal time, and it sets me up for success in the afternoon.
Afternoons are especially difficult for me, because I do my best work in the morning so I tend to be sluggish after 2:00pm. I find that having this established break in the middle of the day that I honor refreshes me enough to tackle my afternoon projects.
Do not work in your living space
I realize that not everyone has the luxury of having their own home office. And I know it is tempting to set up at the kitchen table to do your day’s work. But I strongly suggest you find a corner or a small space in a spare bedroom to do your daily work. it sets up boundaries for you so that when you are done for the day, you leave your computer behind and move from your "office" space into your living space. You draw an invisible line that represents the difference between work and home life.
These sorts of boundaries are more important now than ever before. You no longer have the tangible boundary of leaving your office, walking out to your car, and driving home. So you must make extra allowances for delineating the place where you work from the place where you spend time with your family or your hobbies.
Speaking of hobbies....
I am not a hobby person. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I can honestly say I did not have a hobby. A few weeks into working from home, I discovered that I am fascinated by miniature outdoor gardening. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about miniature plants and accessories. Now when I finish work, I am out in the yard tending to my Miniature Garden, and dreaming and planning on what I will add to it next. It has brought so much profound joy and peace to my life.
Think through the things that fascinate you both now and when you were younger. Start looking at things on Pinterest and Google that resonate with those fascination topics. You’ll be very surprised with the number of different hobbies that exist out there that are related.
Finding a hobby has been a life changing experience for me. It gives me something to look forward to during the day, and then it gives me something to escape from my own head with after work.
Create your own structure, no matter how untraditional it may be
Perhaps my own structure gives you some inspiration about things you can do to create your own structured work day. It really doesn’t matter how you prescribe your day, so long as you put intention and repetition behind it.
For example, my spouse is ADD and found it very difficult to work from home during the pandemic. Her method of setting a schedule for the day was to do bursts of work, then long breaks in between. She gets up earlier (no small feat!) and works later into the day to accommodate her long breaks, and that works beautifully for her.
So figure out what works for you, and then do it. Keep true to yourself regarding separating your business life and your personal life. Figure out what can make you happy after work besides just binge-watching Netflix. And suspend the rules of how you think your work day "has" to be structured. With a little experimentation and soul-searching, you'll have a new routine suitable for your personality in no time.