How to Work From Home and Not go Crazy
Fatigue from radical change and constant stress hits you after a week or two of working from home.
It’s time to set boundaries and establish rhythms.
#1. Establish rhythms and routines.
Know what you’re going to do every morning, for example.
Know and leverage your body’s rhythms. I’m at my best in the morning. I also have a couple really great hours after dinner.
I get up early and write hard. Usually by 7 a.m. I’ve finished a post. It’s time to stretch.
Breakfast is usually at 8 a.m. (But sometimes it’s a little later.)
Typically lunch is at 11:30 or noon. That’s when we turn on the television for a while.
Predictable rhythms enable performance.
How might you align your work schedule with your body’s rhythm?
#2. Take breaks.
I need to get back in the habit of taking short walks. I promise that you will be more productive if you don’t work every minute of the day.
#3. Create boundaries.
I’ve had a home office for years. Boundaries are the toughest thing to manage. You either work too long or Netflix steals your time.
Turn off your laptop at night. I confess that my laptop is almost always nearby and open. Try not to do that.
Disconnect from technology if you want to maintain peak performance.
It’s impossible to be always-on and thrive.
#4. Control your environment.
I’m the kid who is easily distracted. Thankfully, my home office is quiet. Often I completely block the light from my office windows.
You might try headphones if outside noise bothers you.
Control as much of your environment as you can.
What are you learning about working from home?
Thanks, Dan. This is really helpful. I’ve got to keep a clean desk or the clutter gets distracting which pulls me away from the tasks at hand.
Thanks Steve. Great point on clutter. Thanks for adding it.
great common sense, 25% of my week is from home for the last year. I call them sprints – no Internet browser open, even close email sometimes. So much can be accomplished in a two hour sprint, then stretch. Took a little while to figure what environment allowed me to preform. Last week it all changed, moved to a spare bedroom – we call it the bunker – ready if I need to quarantine
Thanks Scott. Re the browser. I continue to learn to NOT have a million windows open in the browser. I tend to leave too much open thinking, “I might come back to that.”
Love the “bunker.”
Be well and best to Mrs. Shaffer.
thank you my dear friend
I love the advice and structure….however, add some kiddos to homeschool and I need a whole new post! It seems as though the expectations just increased for the person working from home.
Thanks Shannon. Your situation weighed on my mind as I wrote. The challenge of working from home is exponentially more difficult when you add children and/or other unpredictable disruptions.
We homeschooled. … WELL, that’s a generous we!! But in any case, it requires commitment, time, and energy that many don’t have.
One thought comes to mind. Is it possible to schedule short, highly focused work times?
Hi, same bandwagon here. After those initial weeks with full remote I can say it takes even more discipline than a one-off. All those routines are simply golden:
1) If you are helping the kids with remote schooling, set everything up before, say, 8-9 am and then commit to your space and professional tasks.
2) Turn off your home computer / avoid checking personal notifications (consider adding a ‘focused mode’ app on your app).
Good luck, stay healthy!
Thanks for these. Some really key elements of being successful while working from home! And good reminders. I would add that you have be deliberate about maintaining connection and building relationships (with your team if you have one). Don’t assume they are going to reach out if they need you. And don’t forget that you need them, too.
Thanks Nicole. Yes!! Short unstructured interactions might help with this. Best to you.
I am at the week mark and started going stir crazy last night. I feel completely exhausted. Today I vow to get up and take breaks several times. M-W this week I didn’t. I just stayed here all day. My set up is nice and I can see my bird feeders, so that makes me happy. I hope everyone is staying healthy. Please remember, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
Thanks Dawn. Your moment of self-awareness is important for all of us. Notice the fatigue. Acknowledge it. Adopt a strategy to deal with it. Best wishes
I learned my job can really be completed on a part time basis. I do not need to be sitting in front of my computer all day. I find I can work from home easily but then managing my child’s schoolwork on top of that can be a nightmare. He’s not a self starter and has learning disabilities. Switching gears between school and work is tough.
Thanks Kelly. I’m feeling your pain and also some frustration that there aren’t nice, neat answers to these types of situations. I sure hope you have some support.
They say that switching gears is a real killer to productivity. I wonder if setting up work in small increments that can be completed in a short amount of time might be helpful? Take care.
I work from home a lot, and I have found that it is really important for me to get dressed in whatever I would wear to the office. That helps be in “work mode”. Then I change clothes at the end of the day when I am done, just as I would if I came home from the office, leave “work mode”. Thank you for your suggestions.
Thanks Rachelle. Yes, those rituals help our mind get focused. Love how changing clothes at the end of the day might be a way to shift out of work mode. Brilliant. Be well.
Our CEO extended our WFH order until mid-April. Our company produced a podcast with a therapist regarding working from home, with a spouse/partner also at home (maybe for the first time ever), and with kids also in the house & schooling them. The family dynamics change dramatically. Her advice was similar to yours, but also be kind. We are all in this together.
Thanks Kris…. A little kindness makes a huge difference. For me, it’s trying to chill. I’m so impatient. Breathe…. in – out – in – out… 🙂 Take care.
Some readers, like me, may be working from home regularly, for the first time. Yesterday, I went to my office and brought the chair from my desk, home with me. It was like being reunited with a lost part of my body. I guess the point is that being comfortable, matters.
Love it Mark! Familiarity in unfamiliar situations helps. I think our brains can handle only so much change and then we just start drooling. 🙂 Stay well
I appreciate your timely posts, especially this week. This is the first time I have worked from home and it is taking time to get used to. Great tips.
Thanks Penny. I wish you well as you navigate this turbulence.
Fifteen years ago, my 7 year old son was diagnosed w/leukemia. Our lives changed in an instant. I worked for the corporate headquarters of a large bank. It was terrifying trying to imagine how we would cope. My one year old could not be in daycare for fear of what he might pass to my now immune compromised son due to his chemo treatments.
In the days before telecommuting was common, my manager came to me and said “We are a big company and we want to help you get through this”. IT put my tower, screen, printer on a cart and wheeled it out to my car and for the next six months I worked from home. Due to his treatments, I worked many off hours during that period but the job got done. The only time there were issues were during the week he was initially hospitalized because no one was able to step in to my role.
It was challenging but we all got through it. My husband worked on race cars so he did not have the option to work from home. Both my sons were troopers despite both of their worlds turning upside down.
I have thought of that time often during the past few weeks. We will get through this too! Make a comfortable space to work (just not too comfortable lol). And keep in contact with your coworkers. Be safe!
Thanks Karen. I gotta say that story brings tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing and encouraging others. Best wishes.
I have loved having the flexibility to work from home. Now that it’s my daily experience, I am finding the need for more routines that ground me. Thanks for this post!
Thanks Christi. Yes, the flexibility is awesome. But too much is chaotic. 🙂 I must confess that I still wear PJ’s for pants. (That’s flexibility that shouldn’t be mentioned.)
Right now so many are teleworking that never have before. Trust me when I say some can do it and others should just take some leave time. It takes discipline to work from home and if you have kids good luck. Stay to your normal shift, don’t do the “i can flex and work later on that”. Make sure everyone know you are working and no you cant do things you didn’t do when you were at the office, like go to the store or pick up the kids. If you didn’t do it before you should not be doing it now. OH working in my PJ’s is one thing that I don’t do at the office that I do now. Sorry TMI?
Working from home needs certain level of discipline and cultivated good professional habits. Set office hours and don’t allow personal calls or visits by relatives and any social contacts. Have fixed schedules for lunch and afternoon tea/coffee. As far as possible, no entertaining to official visitors except for water or tea/coffee if you have any office assistant.
Sit on your table with an official dress code to start a day and wind up the day at fixed hours. No physical rest by way of aftenoon naps is allowed.
Make full use of electronic communication mediums and quickly respond to any enquiries vide recorded call messages, fax messages and e-mails within 24/48 hours.
Keeping a separate designated room for office or converting a drawing room with office like environment is desired.
I have learned how truly difficult it is not to come into contact with others periodically. I usually work from home but this is a completely different experience. I need to reach out to others every once in awhile, either virtually or by phone or I would go crazy. I also am one that needs a routine but I am learning not to feel guilty if my routine differs from others. I am not at my best in the morning so I give myself a break and don’t start early unless I have a meeting, usually about 9 works for me.
I try to find an activity that ‘calms my soul.’ The other night I opened my book on National Parks. Beautifully photographed, it allowed me to focus on something totally different; to recognize that the world isn’t just about COVID-19. This type of activity allows me to balance what else is going on in my life. I learned this in 2008-09 – focus on what you can control and don’t spend too much time with the “news.”
I have worked from home off and on over the last 5 years. I have made the mistakes of working longer but felt I was more productive. There is something to be said for not having those “drop-ins” for a quick discussion to derail your momentum. On the flip side, I recognize that I have a dedicated space and only interrupted by the mailman and a 4lb YorkiePoo.
I have a triple screen for work and school; however, I have to make sure I am not getting drawn into the CNN “Breaking News” that is up on one screen. The information overload right now is the challenge for me right now.
I’ve received your posts regularly for awhile now and very much appreciate them.
Thank you for this as I’m still working towards improving my time, effort, and productivity while working remotely.
It has been so difficult to switch to working from home! I have been attempting to make my body fit the schedule that I already had, rather than using this extra freedom as a boon to make my schedule work to my rhythm. My mornings are slow going, but my evenings are optimal work time. It does not make sense that I have been attempting to cram in most of my work in the mornings, then! And it certainly does not help that once I finally get into a decent grind, I forget about lunch. I have been taking little breaks, though, even if it is just laying in the sunshine for a short while and I would agree that it has made me a more productive person afterwards. Disconnecting from technology, for me, is the hardest part about this pandemic. I am constantly worried that I am going to miss something, or someone will need me, and what kind of excuse would I have? I was out laying in the sunshine? I have read time and time again that it helps with performance and mood, so maybe it is time to give it a chance. I think the most pressing lesson I have gotten from working at home is that my discipline needs some serious work. Hopefully, by incorporating a schedule and disconnecting, I can moderate this better. I do not have much luck with controlling my environment, as I live with others, but I can focus on the items I can control and go from there. “It’s impossible to be always-on and thrive” seems like a big departure from what we have been told from the start, but I sure hope it is true. Trying to work all day and only getting a handful of tasks completed is exhausting. I’m looking forward to taking breaks and giving myself time limits!
I am one of the very fortunate people who have been able to continue working without interruption (other than trying to install my virtual desktop software on my home computer!). Another blessing is that my only child still in the home is a young adult, and that she has a stress-cleaning habit.
It was soon clear that having an actual “office” and a set routine is important to maintain productivity. I bought an ergonomic chair, and set up both a desktop and laptop computer at a proper workstation. No work is done on the bed or couch; I go to the “office” to work (even if it is in the master bedroom). The benefits of a climate-controlled office were soon clear. I had to buy a humidifier to counter the dry eyes and burning throat that had me convinced I had “the virus.” Several lamps needed to be positioned just so.
My morning routine changed slightly, given that I no longer have to commute, and make-up is optional. A shower, breakfast and reading the news of the day takes about an hour before work begins. One of my bad habits is that I tend not to take breaks when I become engrossed in what I am doing. I now make a point of having 10 am tea with my parents in their basement suite, and a 3 pm chat with my daughter on the deck. Of course, the cats have noticed that there a full time doorman on duty, meaning they do not have to trudge through the pet flap. That is microbreaks taken care of.
One thing I have realized, is that I miss going to work. I am not a particularly social person, and I always thought that working from home would be nirvana. However, I miss the drive to work, seeing whether the cherry trees are in bloom or the maples leaves are turning, popping into the grocery store on my way back from work or walking into a colleague’s office for a quick chat without having to launch MS Teams or Skype.
The world will be different after this. I do hope it will mostly be for the better.
This post is very useful for all of us working from home right now. I have definitely been implementing a few of your tips. My routines have saved me. They have helped me stay productive and complete all my tasks for the day while still prioritizing working out and other non-work-related activities. I would also say environment has played a huge role in my success at home. I enjoy tons of natural lighting and a large comfortable chair. Sometimes when my back starts to hurt, I move to a standing desk. Standing desks are really great for people who sit for long hours – I highly recommend this.
I will say that I have struggled with taking breaks and creating boundaries. As a medical student, we study for many hours at a time. Taking breaks is important. But I have found that I either sit down for 6 hours and do not look up or I am taking too many unproductive breaks by looking at my phone. When I take these breaks, I find it hard to get back into work. This is something I need to work out. I think by changing the types of activities that I do during my break I can maybe make them shorter and more effective. Instead of using my phone, I should get up and go on a short walk around the block. I also find myself losing the boundary between work and home. It is easy to do this as a medical student. Having removed the time spent traveling to school, libraries, coffee shops, and the hospital, I have endless time to study. You would think this is good, but all the time to study can lead to overworking and burning out. I have been trying to stop studying around 10:00 PM – 10:30 PM now.
I am embracing my home routine and continuing to stay positive! Stay safe during the pandemic.
Dan, thanks for another insightful post. This is an interesting post to go back and review since it has been over a month of working from home for many people. At my place of employment, the transition to 80% of staff working from home happen very quickly. Prior to the virus, some staff already had the ability to work some from home, but others never had that opportunity. So, for some staff the transition was an easy one and others a very difficult change to their regular routine. Your first point is a very important one. It is key with all the changes that have happen for us to establish rhythms and routines. For my wife and I, we have tired to start work around the same time when we were going into the office, it has been nice not needing to commute. A major difference in the routine is getting the kids ready in the morning which usually fell to my wife prior to working form home. We have started a new routine with them being home. The second point of taking breaks is an area that my wife and myself could do better. It is easy to start working away and lose track of time. As someone who works in health and safety, taking breaks is a must from an ergonomic standpoint. With this current situation not all work areas at home are setup from a healthy ergonomic standpoint. Many people are working from dining room tables, couches and temporary desks. People are in postures that put a strain on the back which can lead to pain and many health issues. Taking breaks is a must and individuals must ensure they take them at home. Creating boundaries is another area that can be difficult to manage. Since we are already working at home, it is easy to get back on the computer after logging out for the day to do a quick task. We should ask ourselves if it can wait until tomorrow. The last point of controlling our environment is another area that ties into boundaries. There are some aspects that we can’t control so the areas that we can control we must take those steps
Hey Dan, I hope you are having a good weekend. I have had the luxury of being able to go through some of your older, yet still recent, posts and found this one to be particularly relative to the current timelines, as well as my own. After reading over and thinking back on my own timeline regarding my transition to a work-from-home lifestyle, two weeks sounds about right for when the fatigue starts to set in. Establishing a rhythm was definitely my first priority, but after multiple weeks you almost begin to stray a little from it but that is where I think your discussion on setting boundaries applies. Considering many people now, including myself, have been working from home for months, and may continue to do so for many more, these boundaries are a clear necessity. Defining your home office boundary clearly is vital, and it seems to almost go hand-in-hand with controlling your environment.
There are so many small little work ques in your environment that can trigger stress and anxiety, or distract you form taking the time you need to decompress. You also do not want to associate your home with your office, otherwise you will never have a true sanctuary. The example you use with the laptop is perfect. Simply cut all ties off with the source of work responsibility until you clock back in. You cannot let your work own your free time in your house, it is just too good a recipe for going crazy otherwise. Taking breaks is perhaps the other most important aspect of adjusting to working from home. You are totally right in that taking just even ten minutes to walk or stretch can change the productivity of the next few hours. You do not want to develop an association between the mundane of sitting at your home desk for twelve straight hours while being unable to enjoy the benefits of being at your own home. Breaks and routines are a must.
Finding myself working from home during this pandemic has proved to have it’s challenges that I have not had to face before. Working in the construction safety industry, historically my days are spent on job sites identifying and mitigating potential hazards that may arise. However, with the construction industry on “pause” in New York state, majority of the industry finds itself working remotely from home planning the safe reopening of our construction sites. I’ve tried to maintain the same rituals of when I wake up and get my daily routine started to maintain consistency. This has helped me ensure that I remain productive and maintain a certain level of comfort while doing so. By working in an environment where you are not accustomed can result in being productive. I found by working from my desk within my apartment everyday has brought a sense of normalcy and has allowed me to keep my productivity at acceptable levels. Knowing that working from home is not something I have a lot of experience doing, trying to be reasonable and not be too hard on myself has allowed me to remain relax and focused.
If we can all be a little less hard on ourselves and try to maintain a positive mindset when finding ourselves in tough situations (like working from home) it can be easier to adjust to overtime.
The current pandemic has caused many changes to everyone’s lives. One of the biggest changes is that people are either not working or working from home now. I am one of those people who have begun working from home the majority of the time. This has been a big adjustment that I have, thankfully, taken pretty well. I adjusted easily, but I’m sure not everyone has been able to adjust so quickly and easily as myself. I have noticed, however, a slight lack of motivation to do certain work tasks from home. Having a routine in everyday life is very important to keep consistency and a sense of normal going.
Establishing a routine at home has definitely helped me to get in a rhythm and complete work at home. One routine I have established at home is that I clock in at 7am every morning, get up and drink either coffee or an energy drink to get my morning going and to wake up my mind and body. I agree that taking breaks is necessary for everyone. I typically do an at-home workout or walk around my apartment complex for at least 20 minutes to get some exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, and I recommend this to everyone! This is good for the mind and body.
I am also a morning person. When I am functioning at my “best,” I usually wake up around 6am, have my workout done by 7:30am, then make breakfast and prepare for my day. I also don’t work past 8pm. I am aware that I do not produce quality work by that point in the day, so that is a boundary I hold myself to.
The transition to working from home has been less than smooth, if I may be honest. I am very used to relaxing in my home- I don’t own a television, and when I come home at the end of the normal work day, I utilize the time to relax, unplug, and not work. This is now not an option. Also, if I may add, I live in a studio apartment, so my office is also my bedroom and my living room.
To cope, I have attempted to do a few things:
1. First, I am still setting aside time to exercise.
2. I sit outside on my patio for my morning coffee and meals when it’s nice out.
3. I generally attempt to schedule my “working” hours in blocks of an hour to two hours each, with breaks in between.
4. I only sit at my desk when I am working. It’s the most I can do to “break up” the space I have to work with.
Any other suggestions are welcome!
As a freelance writer and the media coordinator for a nonprofit organization, I have been working from home long before the COVID-19 pandemic and I am in total agreement with all of these tips! It is not easy to work from home, because you not only need to be productive but you need to do so in an environment in which you associate with rest, relaxation, and fun. I can’t even imagine how challenging it must be for all the individuals who have had to undertake such a drastic shift from an office environment to their own bedroom or living room. However, as you discuss in your post, a regular schedule is key to maintaining productivity and sanity. I am easily distracted and being so close to my bed and TV is a struggle every single day, which is why I like to think of myself as two people when I’m at home. I’m either the ‘home me’ or I’m the ‘work me.’ This allows me to ‘get into character’ and assign a fixed schedule to work me, so ‘home me’ does not get confused with the other and vice versa. When I’m ‘work me,’ I get up early, get coffee, get some work done, eat lunch, get more work done, take a snack break, get more work done, finish for the day. Having a strict schedule helps my brain to know when I am in work mode, and when I don’t have a strict schedule, I know I’m ‘home me’ and I can relax in bed without feeling anxious about not doing work or thinking about doing work. As you mention, creating boundaries and controlling your environment is critical to work from home effectively. I implement both of these methods by creating boundaries within myself and controlling my environment by knowing when it is a working environment and when it is my home.
Prior to quarantine, I worked Monday through Friday in a hospital. I find myself to be more of an introvert compared to extrovert, but after working from home I’ve learned to appreciate and miss daily interactions with my coworkers. My peers allowed me to have fun throughout the day while encouraging motivation and increasing productivity. In order to successfully work from home, I believe routine is pertinent. I’ve always believed that we should separate work from home in order to find a balance in life. However, this is a bit challenging when everything is being done at home especially when quarantine is in place. Personally speaking, I need a schedule put in place or else my day will be in shambles. My day at home typically starts with enjoying a morning cup of coffee or tea, focusing on some projects for work, then switching to schoolwork afterwards. In between tasks, I like to take breaks to give my mind some time to relax, otherwise I’d lock myself in a room for 8 hours straight and go crazy! On these breaks I talk a walk outside with my dog, perhaps do some laundry or other housework, or squeeze in a few exercises. Although I normally would not be doing these things if we were working in an office, it’s important to find a balance in times like this. In a way, I feel privileged to be able to work from home while catering to my own personal needs at the same time. Before the quarantine, I would never have been able to conduct all of these tasks on a daily basis. I’ve learned to appreciate the time I’ve gained while continuing to push forward and not fall behind. This thought process allows for me to focus on the positive aspect of this pandemic. Taking things day by day rather than think a few days, weeks, or months into the future helps me maintain a peaceful state of mind.
It’s so interesting to have this glimpse into the past! I’ve worked two jobs semi remotely for at least a year, so the transition wasn’t as rough for me as it was for many others. Still, transitioning to ONLY being able to work from home while doing the home school thing with the kids meant a lot of structure, fast! I agree about starting on the right foot. I would add that making your list or schedule the night before is an even faster way to get on that foot. For myself, I know I’ll want to list in my head what I’ll need to take care of the next day, so I may as well write it down and have a quiet mind to get some sleep. It’s the waking up and eating at a consistent time that I still haven’t gotten the hang of, unfortunately. This wasn’t always the case, but, can I blame the kids for this one??
As for boundaries, I agree that there should be physical space between you and the stuff that equates to work. I’ll work on my laptop in my bedroom sometimes for a change of scenery but I put it in the kitchen or dining room when I’m ready for sleep. There’s just something invasive about having that in the place I’m supposed to recharge. I also don’t support tv where you sleep, either, so that’s probably related.
Have you used the Pomodoro Method for structuring work time at home? It’s simple and incredibly effective. Traditionally, the method consists of short work periods broken up by breaks. I find that working this way is very conducive for focus because I know there’s a break coming, as opposed to feeling chained to my computer for hours on end. The original timing consists of 25 minute work periods and 5 minute break periods. As a writer, I benefit from longer work periods, so I use 45 minute work periods and 10 or 15 minute breaks. The breaks go by incredibly fast, I get a lot done, and I don’t feel drained like I would if I were to just drag myself through the, day end to end.