It feels like March 2020 was just a few months ago, yet it feels years away simultaneously. I remember going into my office and learning that the first recorded COVID case had hit New York City. To try and combat it, we would be spending two weeks working remote. We packed up our laptops and grabbed a few items we might need in order to operate while away from the office for the short duration. Weeks spanned to months and now, one year later, most of us can hardly fathom how we used to wake up, commute to the office, and work our standard 9-5 workdays every single day.
Maybe you got lucky and hopped on a plane (and got tested both prior to departure and after arriving at a new destination) and have been working remote from somewhere warm and tropical for months. Maybe you locked down with your roommates and had to figure out which spaces you would each claim as your dedicated office space. Maybe, like me, a cramped studio apartment forced you to work remote from a couch for quite some time before you finally could upgrade to a larger space. But what holds true is this: we’ve all had to make a lot of pivots this year and find a balance between working remote and staying in the confines of small apartments.
So why am I writing this now, when this drastic shift in our working lifestyle occurred so many months ago? I’ve had a few people say to me, “Since so many of us are working remote, you should write a blog post on how you balance work and life in the same space all day long.” But the truth is this: I didn’t have an answer. I was struggling for so long to find the right balance. I’d spend hours working on the aforementioned couch, and wouldn’t realize that hours had passed without me getting up to stretch or grab water or take a break. And then I’d sign off, but my work would still sit beside me on the sofa as I curled up and watched television in that same spot for the evening.
I wanted to be knowledgeable on this subject and offer tips to help keep us all sane and productive simultaneously, but my mind kept coming up blank with each passing day. But as time went on, I finally recognized how to break out of the slump of bad habits and start setting myself up for success.
And now, a year later, I’ve finally learned what’s working and what isn’t.
For starters, take a long, hard look at your living and working space.
Do you have an area that’s strictly set up for work/productivity and an area that encourages relaxation or creativity? No, working from your bed will not cultivate productivity. If anything, it will only disrupt your sleep and make it impossible to establish a routine. Having a space that you can allocate to your home office will help boost your productivity and keep you focused on the task at hand. If you’re limited on space, try working from a small kitchen table and then spending your evening in the living room to break up your day.
Get dressed, even a little.
I’m not saying you need to put on dress pants. Or even jeans. I would probably judge you a bit if you told me you’ve been wearing jeans every day since the pandemic hit. The reason I recommend getting dressed is because sticking to a routine will help you thrive; we need a bit of structure, especially during tempestuous times. So challenge yourself to wake up twenty minutes earlier tomorrow and shower, put on a comfortable outfit (no, not pajamas), and get ready to conquer your day.
Take it from someone who didn’t have a desk and sat on her couch from 9 am until 10 pm and then climbed into bed. Invest in a comfortable desk chair and ensure you’re sitting comfortably and giving your body the boost your posture desperately craves. Ask your employer about any stipends and credits for remote work – they might be able to cover the cost for that extra monitor you’ve been dying to spend a little extra money on. Also, keep an eye on your screen time. Maybe it’s time to purchase a pair of blue light glasses.
Take breaks. And stop checking your email at 8 pm.
Normally, you’d sign off from work and head home after a long work day. Your computer would likely stay behind at the office, and you wouldn’t be able to check in on your projects after hours. Keep that in mind and remember to unplug and set aside time that allows you to focus on doing things that bring you joy in your personal life – whether it’s cozying up with your pet and watching a movie, or just listening to a podcast or audiobook. Also, if you were in the office all day, how many times would you get up and take small breaks? Even if you’re getting up for 15-20 minutes to eat lunch away from your office area, this will allow you to recharge and conquer your afternoon tasks. Perhaps take a look into the Pomodoro technique.
Whether it’s setting boundaries with family members or roommates, or setting realistic expectations with coworkers, this is a big one. Make it clear that if the door is closed, you are on a conference call and shouldn’t be disturbed. Or communicate with your manager on hours you’ll be working so that they know you won’t be responding to that email that came in at 9 pm.
Take time to discover and pursue new hobbies and interests.
With all this extra time at home, is there something you’ve always wanted to learn? I’ve always loved music but never really put much thought into exploring an instrument. But, this year, I purchased a new guitar and decided to use some great resources such as Yousician to teach myself how to play. And now I have a playlist of over 50 songs I can comfortably play, and I love it! Some other hobbies I’ve picked up that I highly recommend: virtual singing lessons, writing more poetry and some song lyrics, sketching on my iPad, reading more nonfiction, listening to every single episode of Jay Shetty’s podcast (highly recommended!)…. the list goes on and on.
Make your office space your own oasis.
Do you have a favorite candle? A small office plant? Or a scent you can diffuse to boost productivity? For me, putting some grapefruit or citrusy blends into a diffuser in the morning while crafting my to-do list for the day has been giving me the extra boost I need. If you can, try and situate the space you are working at near a window or somewhere with natural light to help your circadian rhythm.
Remember to stay active.
It’s easy to stay sedentary all day when you have nowhere to go. But getting up throughout the day to stretch or to take a brisk walk is so important. Remember to get some sunlight as well. Take advantage of free or discounted workout programs as well while working remotely. Yoga with Adriene is a great place for beginners to start, and yoga will help both your mind and your body get through this.
Know that you aren’t alone.
We’re all going through it. We’re all feeling these growing pains. And we’re all still learning. If I haven’t made it abundantly clear by now that this took me ages to adapt to, I’ll remind you again. I was working from my couch. I barely moved throughout the day. I was logging in and doing work on Sunday afternoons. But, once I began incorporating some of these tips into my day-to-day, I felt such a drastic shift in my mood and in my productivity. Be kind to yourself during this time, and know that your value as a person isn’t measured by your productivity.
Remember to check in with your friends and family members and see how they’re holding up through all of this. Maybe they could benefit from something you’ve learned this past year – the same way I hope you all benefit from what I’ve learned!
So how about you? Are you still remote? What made your work/life balance more manageable this year? What hobbies have you picked up? And how do you think this will impact your working style going forward as we begin shifting back into whatever the next year may have in store for us? I am intrigued to know what the future of corporate 9-5 will look like!