Work From Home Tips for Sanity & Productivity
Updated: Mar 31
COVID-19 got you working remotely? Never considered WFH? We've got you covered!
Working from home can be a tough transition, especially if you didn't choose this type of work and had it sprung on you due to COVID-19. If you've spent your career going to an office where you have physical boundaries delineating work and home, it can be a big challenge to tackle working from home. Got kids? Even more to balance! We've got extra tips for parents at the bottom!
We collected some tips from our staff, a mix of WFH veterans, parents, and newbies, about how to be productive at home and maintain a healthy mindset while working in your living space.
Step One- Pause.
Truly pause. Just for a moment.
Breathe. Sit up straight. Roll your neck. Relax your shoulders. Breathe again.
If you're here because you're already frustrated, that's normal and understandable, so take a minute to accept your frustration and let it clear your head.
Step Two- Take a moment to feel grateful and be thankful.
"In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships." (1)
We are grateful that we are able to work from home, even if it is an abrupt adaptation. We are grateful for jobs and employers keeping us paid, to consumers and businesses keeping our businesses moving forward, and to each other for showing up.
Times are crazy. We just need to get through them. Not perfectly, just through. You got this.
Work From Home Basics
Regardless of why you're working from home, if this is an unexpected transition and/or you aren't well prepared to transition your work to remote work, this is an uncomfortable time for everyone. That's compounded if you have family living in the house with you, whether that's kids or parents or in-laws. More so if their lives are equally disrupted, or your caregivers' are and are unavailable.
Take time to take stock of your personal situation, list out everything that needs your time or attention in addition to work, and figure out what is reasonable. If there's anyone around who needs your time or attention during work hours, expect to cut your productivity in half. Don't set a high bar and fail to achieve it.
Setting realistic goals is critical to being successful working from home, and to feeling successful by meeting your goals.
Setting a Schedule
This can make or break your productivity working from home. It's important to schedule time for everything you just listed out, whether that's walking the dog, doing laundry, or a quiet hour when you can brainstorm ideas for your new project. Make sure you're including meal times, breaks, and the beginning and end of your day. Don't "work until you're done with your work or project," but rather be mindful of when you're working.
Owl Labs put out this easy WFH Scheduler app to help reserve time and space in advance. "Your office has systems in place to help with space management so you can reserve conference rooms and squat in phone booths when you need them. Odds are, your home does not. That's where Work from Home Scheduler comes in."
Staff Pick: "Try the 52/17 Rule! It sounds random, but it's science-based."
-Kayla Morrissey, Small Business Owner, four years of WFH
Both utilize dedicated periods for focusing on work, with breaks to reset your brain, body, and concentration.
Schedule breaks. Every. Single. Day.
If you decide to try one of the methods above, you'll be scheduling your breaks in already, but if they aren't for you, it's still important to have dedicated time to put your work down. It's not time 'off' of work, but rather work you're doing to stay productive.
Stick to your schedule as much as possible. Whether it's daily or weekly, having a schedule helps you make sure you're allotting and spending enough time where you need to.
Create a dedicated work space. Using your kitchen table to work might seem okay in the short term, but trust the WFH vets here and find some space just for working. It sucks to clean up your 'desk' to eat dinner, and just as much to set everything up again each morning. Now's the time to clean off that desk that's been collecting mail for thirteen months :)
Portion your snacks! It's easy to grab a bag of chips and sit down, and just as easily, poof! There they all went. Portion your snacks to curb over-eating and boredom-eating. A bowl reminds you to stop when you finish, before you finish a mega portion (aka the whole bag).
Stop working at the end of your day. If possible, close the door to your work space, but at minimum you close your laptop. This seems like common sense to some, but some never-stop-working folk have to work harder on boundaries now that work is inside the home. Just because you could respond to that email you saw on your screen on your way to the bathroom, doesn't mean you should respond. Whatever schedule you set for yourself, try to stick to it. Trust that you have given yourself enough time to do everything during those hours, and don't work outside of them.
Ditch your commute (time). This is one of the best perks, whether your commute was five or fifty five minutes. Remember that this is not work time, so use this as more time for yourself or your family. A walk outside for some fresh air, if possible, is a great substitute that gets you moving and still cues your brain up for 'work-time' the way your commute used to do.
Expect some technical issues. Things will not go 100% to plan, because when do they ever? Breathe, call your tech support, and take a walk or listen to some music if you get overwhelmed.
If needed, Zen provides On Demand Tech Support Services,
prices and online booking here, or call 720 547-1819.
Staff Pick: "Stretching does wonders, don't let yourself sit still all day!"
-Rebecca Burd, Office Manager, three years of WFH
Default to 'mute' on conference calls, 'un-mute' to participate
Movement is important! You probably don't have as many reasons to stretch your legs working at home, so make sure you are scheduling time to get away from your work and screens.
Stretch, dance, walk, skip, do push-ups, jumping jacks, whatever gets your blood flowing! Get away from your desk for at least five minute breaks!
Don't forget greetings and sign offs/signatures in your emails
Keep it professional- you are still working, even if it's a relaxed environment at home
Work From Home Q & A
Q: Can I work from my bed?
A: Science says it's a bad idea.
Here's Why: It has been repeatedly proven that working in your bed (or bedroom!) is not as productive compared to other spaces in your home, and actually detracts from your overall quality of sleep. (2)
Just as you don't want to be in a sleep or nap mindset while you're working, you don't want to fire up your work mindset when you get in your bed at the end of the day, right?
Unless you truly have no other option, avoid working from your bed. If you have a studio or very small space, try to find a place to sit upright with good lighting. Quick office ergonomics checklist, courtesy of Mayo Clinic.
Q: Can I do __________ while I'm working?
A: It depends, of course.
Two quick questions help out most of the time here-
1. If you this came up while you were at work, how would you handle it?
Kid on the roof? Washing machine overflowing? Dog stuck in a hedge? Handle it.
Dishes piling up in the sink? Sudoku book in your bathroom? Not a priority.
2. Is this for work or is this for me? If it's for you, do it on one of your scheduled breaks.
Dishes in the sink from the last example? Cleaning 'em up won't do much for your job. Slow internet connection frustrating you? Go ahead and fix it since it's both limiting your productivity and actively aggravating you.
It's a good idea to get a mix of things done so you don't go stir-crazy, and again we recommend using a schedule to make sure you can attend to everything. Some things are both, like cleaning up to make a work space, if you haven't already.
Try to have some productive breaks, and some relaxing breaks. Take a short walk or play with your pet(s), another time load the dishwasher while you call someone to catch up.
Q: Do I need to video call? Can I call my coworkers just to chat?
A: No right answer, do what feels right for you!
You don't have to lose out on all your chatting at the coffee pot. You can retain some social aspects of your office by using video chat instead of phone calls for the faces you want to see. It's nice during this crisis to call one or two coworkers a day to check in, say 'hi', and bemoan the situation.
Do call some coworkers to blow off steam when you need to, they're probably feeling similarly, and it's a good bet they could use a little time to let it out too. Just make sure it's a quick venting session to get it off your chest, and not a two-hour gripe session.
Don't feel like all your meetings have to become video or even conference calls. Have that sneaking suspicion something could be handled better via email? Say so. If not now, then when?
Do try to keep social calls limited, but don't feel like you have to keep work calls restricted only to work. Do what feels good for you.
Bonus perk: video calls will help get you dressed and feeling presentable, which is great wake up call for your brain!
WFH with Kids: Parents, your attire can be a great visual cue to your (school-age and older) children that you are working. Explain that you are working, but that you're available if they need you. In this case, set aside time to check in with your kids and see if they need anything.
For all parents, but especially ones with younger children who require more attention, we stress again the importance of setting realistic expectations with your employer. If you are care-taking for your children, even in shifts with your partner (if you are lucky enough to have one), expect and understand you will not be working at your normal capacity. That's okay.
Times are crazy. We just need to get through them. Not perfectly, just through. You got this.
WFH with Kids
Staff Pick: "Keep your finger on the mute button!"
-Josh Stark, CEO, 15 years of WFH
If you have suddenly taken on additional care-giving hours, now is the time to be frank about it with your employer. You've basically just taken on two full-time jobs. Given the nature and difficulty of the situation, most employers are being forgiving, but it's still important to set realistic goals.
You will not have a 100% productive normal workday and that is OKAY!
Be realistic. If you need to set up your kid(s) for online learning at set times, or make sure they are doing it, these are hours to count yourself unavailable. You can't join a 9am meeting if you're getting a seven- and a ten-year old ready for 9am online learning. Don't over-commit. Propose new times for meetings that overlap with other duties.
This Vox article we liked recommends, "a maximum of five goals for the day: one or two things you really need to accomplish at work, one or two things you want your kids to accomplish, and one family or partner activity, even if it’s crashing on the couch to watch TV for 30 minutes. Don’t expect to or try to do more, because you’ll get frustrated and even more stressed out." (3)
The above article also includes lots of activities for kids (middle of the article, at right), as well as more WFH tips for parents.
Scheduling Your Whole Family
We mentioned this WFH Scheduler app earlier, but it also has great features for families, especially if your kid(s) is old enough to do have household responsibilities. Schedule time with (or away from) your family as you need.
Here are a few additional articles for parents:
Tips from Moms: The Penny Hoarder (4)
Care.com: Actually Get Stuff Done (5)
Atlassian: How to Work From Home When Your Kids Are Home Too (6)
How did you like our tips? Leave comments or more questions below, and we'll be sure to address them in future articles!