Remote work rates have skyrocketed since the coronavirus pandemic began. For some, returning to the corporate office is imminent, but others may be working remotely for much longer¹.
Here is a comprehensive guide to help you balance self-care with the unique pressures of remote work.
How often do you get up on the right side of the proverbial bed? How you begin your day has a significant impact on your mood, and starting your morning off wrong can ruin your attitude for the whole day. This advice is always pertinent, but with many people working from home, a solid morning routine can replace some of the normalcy that’s been lost since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Find a morning routine that helps you establish a positive and productive mindset. You may find that completing even one small task in the morning can set the tone for a more productive day. Scheduling out goals can also help you avoid unwanted distractions.
In an interview with Forbes, Michael Xander, and Benjamin Stall, the founders of My Morning Routine, detailed their findings of what makes a morning ritual most effective². After cataloging over 300 morning rituals, they noticed that the most successful routines shared one element: simplicity.
Your morning routine is an excellent place to implement healthy habits like exercise and mindful eating. Still, if you overcomplicate your morning schedule, you’ll find it hard to follow through. The best-laid plans won’t help you if you don’t follow them. So choose meaningful activities and be mindful of how much time you’ll have to complete them.
Our brains are creatures of habit, and when they latch onto an idea, it tends to stick. If you’ve spent most of your life “getting ready” in the morning before school and work, then that can be a hard association to break.
Remote work tempts us with the siren call of day-long pajama fest, but there is a science that suggests how we dress affects everything from our mood to how well we work³. Of course, no one expects you to spend forty minutes in front of the mirror just to sit down at your home office and log into your laptop. However, each morning, taking some time to ready yourself for work as though you were still heading into the office can help your brain click into “work” mode.
Dressing down in the evenings will also become an excellent way of signaling to your mind that it’s time to leave the work stress behind.
Your home is your castle; don’t let your work invade it. Set up a designated home office. If you don’t have a full room to dedicate to your work, then choose a calm corner of your home with limited distractions.
Avoid working in environments that you typically use for relaxation. For example, keep the work spreadsheets out of your bedroom. Working in bed can ruin your brain’s association between that room and rest, lowering your sleep quality. The blue light exposure from using cell phones and other screens before bed can also affect your melatonin levels⁴.
Multitasking makes more stress and decreases productivity. In a remote work environment, multitasking involves a mixture of work assignments and home responsibilities because you’re merging the two environments. Trying to manage too much at once will weaken each project.
Between your computer, phone, and family, there is a constant stream of distractions pouring in and demanding your attention. While a little multitasking is unavoidable (we’re all guilty of pausing mid-email to answer a more urgent one that just arrived), it is best to commit to one thing at a time.
Multitasking increases your cortisol and adrenaline levels⁵. In other words, it makes you stressed. Multitasking also delays the completion of tasks, thus postponing the feeling of relief and contentment that often accompanies finishing a job.
If you find yourself up to the elbows in half-finished work and family tasks, try these tips to stop the multitasking madness:
Before you can accurately schedule your time, you need to know roughly how long each task takes you. Spend a few days monitoring your work and getting a rough estimate of how long each type of work tends to make.
Don’t be shy about asking for help. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Reach out to colleagues and family members to make sure they’re pulling their weight.
Schedule your workday
Drafting a schedule is crucial. You don’t have to follow it exactly, but giving yourself some structure will help you stave off the temptation to start too many things at once.
Turn off notifications
Is the “ding” of a new email too tempting? Are you guilty of checking your phone every ten minutes? Turn off notifications and put away any tech you’re not using for your current project. Focus on the task at hand and remind yourself that those messages will be there when you finish.
Let’s dig a little deeper into creating a compelling work schedule. Timeboxing is a simple concept: you designate a set period for each task and hold yourself accountable. It can be an excellent way to fight multitasking and perfectionism (which tend to go hand-in-hand).
While setting up your timeboxes, be sure to make room for breaks. The point of timeboxing is to focus on individual tasks and get them done better, rather than panicking and trying to accomplish all your work at once, which often sacrifices quality. Taking adequate breaks is key to doing your best work.
Speaking of breaks, Forbes recently reported on a study linking employee engagement to frequent work breaks, and lunch breaks in particular⁶. The science is in, and skipping or even postponing lunch is detrimental to your health; it also tanks your work quality.
Treat your lunch break as sacrosanct, because it is. Don’t work during lunch, and try to get up from your desk and eat your food in a different, stimulating environment. Your lunch break is also an excellent time to check in on your social wellness by calling up a loved one.
By getting outside for some moderate exercise, you can cross both these needs off your list. Without a daily commute to and from work, you’re probably getting less activity and fewer rays of sunshine than you would normally. Make a concerted effort to get outside and move around every day. You don’t have to run a marathon, just stretch your muscles and soak up some sunlight.
We’ve already mentioned how blue light from phones and laptops can disturb your sleep, but strategizing your screen time goes beyond leaving the gadgets out of the bedroom. You should strive to reduce your screen time as much as possible.
When you choose to flip through the news or browse social media, make an effort to seek out positive content that will lift your mood. You don’t have to cut yourself off from reality or ignore what is happening in the world; just don’t let yourself fall into the digital black hole of depressing news.
The trickiest part of working from home is “shutting off” at the end of the workday. It’s so tempting to keep working into the evening. Before you know it, you’re answering work emails at the dinner table and tackling work assignments over Sunday brunch.
The separation of your work and home life is crucial, and you need to find ways to unwind at the end of the day.
Ending your day with a small measure of gratitude can improve your health and help you handle any adversity that comes your way⁹. There’s an endless list of things to be grateful for; you can express that gratitude in many ways, from practicing positive thinking to writing handwritten thank-you notes.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can read our 21 Easy Ways to Cultivate Gratitude Every Day for inspiration.
Writing down your thoughts is another great way to unwind. A lot happens on a given day, and taking a second to organize your thoughts on paper can help you work through any unresolved stress or tension. It’s also an opportunity to remind yourself of all the good things in your day.
Sleep is the glue that holds you together. There isn’t a single aspect of your well-being that isn’t directly affected by your sleep quality. Consistent, high-quality sleep can boost your immune system and mood. In contrast, sleep deprivation can make you irritable, sick, and less productive.
Working from home leaves us all kinds of opportunities to sleep in, nap during the day, or stay up all night. To protect yourself, you may need to set up a strict sleeping schedule that you adhere to even on weekends. Block off roughly eight hours each night for catching some z’s. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every night to maintain consistency.
The casualness of working from home can be great, but these relaxed boundaries can also be harmful. Draw distinct lines between your work time, family time, and personal time.
Make sure your family understands that when you’re working, you need to focus. Unless it is an immediate emergency, they shouldn’t bother you.
Just as your family shouldn’t interrupt your work, you shouldn’t let your job interfere with family time. When you are with your loved ones, make sure you are giving them your full attention and not glancing away every two minutes to email your boss
It’s not selfish to need time to yourself. A good start is to designate parts of your morning and evening routines as moments when you can be alone with your thoughts.
Working from home is a challenge, but it can also be an opportunity to control your well-being. The flexibility of a remote work schedule lets you slip a little more self-care into your daily work routine. So embrace self-care in your remote work. You just might find that some of these habits carry back over nicely when you return to your regular office!
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(1) Streitfeld, D (May 2020) White-Collar Companies Race to Be Last to Return to the Office
(2) Wilding, M (May 2018) What You Can Learn From The Morning Routines of Super Productive People
(3) Adam, H ; Galinsky, A (July 2012) Enclothed cognition
(4) National Sleep Foundation (November 2014) Three ways gadgets are keeping you awake
(5) Klemm, W (August 2016) The Perils of Multitasking
(6) Kohll, A (May 2018) New Study Shows Correlation Between Employee Engagement And The Long-Lost Lunch Break
(7) Harvard Health Publishing (February 2011) Exercising to relax
(8) Mead, MN (April 2008) Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health
(9) Harvard Health Publishing (June 2020) Giving thanks can make you happier