If you find yourself in the newly minted droves of those practicing the work-from-home life, welcome. We wish it weren’t for the reason it is, but here we are. Here’s hoping you’ve stocked up adequately on toilet paper despite mass shortages everywhere (who woulda called that as the prepper item of choice?). Your first thought might be “Oh fun!” It’s like a snow day for big kids. Granted, instead of fluffy snow it’s a global pandemic and it wasn’t until now you realized you’ve been washing your hands all wrong.
Once you get past the sparkle of working from home (No commute! Skip the shower! Cuddle your dog (or cat) at any time!), you will realize a few things:
- Having control of your own thermostat is a power like no other
- That meeting really could’ve been an email
- Your worst enemy to your productivity is yourself
On that last note, here are some tips for your productivity, your sanity, and your ability to thrive outside of the confines of a traditional office (and stay safe out there people!):
1. Put on Real Pants
Sure, give yourself a few free passes (because sweatpants are life and they will tempt you each and every morning), but as Matt from our team put it: “When I first started working remotely I was wearing sweatpants/comfy sweatshirt every day. It turns out being just a tad bit less comfortable keeps my brain sharp and ready to think.”
We’re not saying rock a pencil skirt or button-up for that WFH life, but maybe just save those Saturday sweats for…Saturday.
2. Set a Start Time and an End Time
I have alarms set on my phone: one to start working, one to stop working. Not only will this satisfy your brain and body’s thirst for rhythm and routine, it protects your time. Turns out remote workers end up working more than office workers! Reclaim your time, folks. Reclaim your time.
3. Have a Designated Work Area
Commandeering a guest bedroom, a corner of the kitchen table, or setting up a TV tray work just fine. We will give one caveat: if working from home has a longer-term future for you, we definitely suggest looking for a spot that has a door.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Switch Things Up
Sometimes a little change can do big things for productivity or creativity. I’ve got a spot in the house for deep writing, and a normal office desk for the usual pitter-patter of emails and scheduling. Some folks go to a coffee shop once a week for a change of scenery and some human interaction (though at present a switch between the corners of your own place might be more advised).
5. You May Need to Take Some Calls from the Bathroom
Not while using the bathroom though! But if you’re in a studio, or if more than one person is working at home, you may need to take some calls in the bathroom. Laura from our team has a top tip: “I hope you have a pretty shower curtain in the background! I’m not saying this from personal experience or anything…”
6. Gift Yourself a Virtual Commute
A gift you say? What commute is a gift?!
While a halt in commuting to the office might be the thing you’re cherishing most, it turns out there might have been a silver lining to that stop-and-go road-ragey episode that ended each work day. It separated work from the rest of your life with real physical space (and mental space too as you’re belting out your favorite tunes on the way home).
A handful of folks here at YNAB suggested adding a “virtual commute” to your workday— specifically at the end of it. Maybe it’s a walk, or even just a pause before you leave your work room/corner—whatever it is that allows you to stop thinking about a work problem and start focusing on your favorite people at the end of the day.
7. End Your Workweek with a Walk
Think of this as the virtual commute taken up a notch. As you wrap up your workweek, try capping it off with a walking brainstorming session. YNAB team member Jason ends his workweeks like this:
“I capture any ideas that come to mind (work and personal) as I walk. I don’t listen to anything, I just think and walk slowly. Whenever I have an idea, I pull out my to-do app (I use Sorted³) and use voice text to capture the idea. When I get back, my work week is completely over and I can enjoy my weekend without dwelling on thoughts about work. Anything I thought of is captured and will be dealt with when I clear my inbox next week. It really is a nice way to cap off my week.”
8. Set Some Ground Rules
Set some ground rules for yourself and also those you live with. What’s gonna be OK? Folding laundry during lunch, sure—but is it OK during your working hours? Do any of the chores get divvied up in a new way if you work from home and your partner doesn’t? Lay these out for your own sake: it’ll save you brain space and mental stress.
9. Give Kids (and Partners) Boundaries
Make sure your kids/partner understand if or when you can be interrupted, and when you need to be left alone. Renae had a great idea if you have kids also at home while you’re working: “Set a timer for regular intervals. Let the kids know that when the timer goes off, they get five minutes to chat/ask questions/etc. Then, repeat throughout the day.”
10. Have a Plan B for Communication
Every video conferencing tool will fail at some point—whether it’s human error, a spotty wifi connection, or a lawnmower that seems to be pacing right outside your window at max volume.
Trust us. It happens. Sometimes even nine times in a company-wide meeting. Have a backup. Try it on slack. Try it on zoom. Practice everything and be prepared to share a link if plans A, B, and C fail.
11. Video Calls are Best
When it comes to the order of operations for communication with coworkers, it goes like this: video call is better than phone call. Phone calls are better than email or slack. And any communication is better than no communication. Get your team on the same page to encourage the video chat default (at YNAB we use a smattering of options: Slack, Google Hangouts, Loom, and Zoom). And also, if one person is on video, take the cue and turn on your video too (unless you verbally raise the surrender flag of “Today I didn’t shower/I look a mess). It’s weird if just one person is on video. Don’t be weird.
12. Know Thy Appetite
We found folks in our office sorted out into two categories when it came to working from home: people that started snacking all day because they had tasty and close access to the kitchen, and people who forgot to eat entirely (there’s nothing like the endless parade of free office brownie bites to soften up your midsection). If you’re in the former category, remove the snack food from your house (yeah, especially the ice cream in the freezer. Not even the self-control of Chuck Norris could resist that one). If you’re in the latter, set another alarm, this time as a reminder to eat lunch.
13. Get Up and Move
If I’m not intentional about moving, a day can go by and I’ve slugged out a mere 1,000 steps. Walking is good for my brain, so I set a timer for a 3 o’clock walk. Every day at 3pm, I take my dog for a mile loop around our neighborhood. It gives me an incentive to sprint to finish whatever I’m working on by 3pm and when I come back, I’ve got a second wind of creativity and focus. These are the little work-from-home gems that the office version of you dreamed of—and it also causes my pup to look at me expectantly in the minutes leading up to the three o’clock walk.
14. Keep Some Quick Pick-Me-Ups Nearby
“Didn’t Shower Today” Rachel looks different from “Going Out for Dinner” Rachel—can anyone else relate? In working from home, I err on the former side. So, I bought some oversized frames (even though I don’t wear glasses), I have some lip gloss in my desk drawer, and a scrunchie for a rockin’ top-knot. Why? Because my oversized-frames/messy bun/burgundy-lipped self makes me feel much better about taking a video call when I feel like a mess. Plus, I can do these things at my desk in the 30 seconds before a video call starts. And you better believe I do them.
If you could care less what you look like on a video call, your pick-me-ups might be a candle, an aromatherapy roller, or a fidget spinner. Whatever it is, let it pick you right up from a midday slump and keep you sailing through.
The one glaring downside to remote work is the lonely little island it can become. If you’re a work-from-homer (whether introvert or extrovert!) you need these little blips of human interaction. That might mean taking the first 10 minutes of your video call to talk about anything but work.
In my weekly call with our wonderful designer (who makes the ingenious artwork at the top of every blog), we end up getting a little cultural lesson in. She’s from Argentina. I live in Michigan. Do you know she sees her extended family every Sunday, without fail? Isn’t that just a gem of Argentinian culture? More often than not, these conversations will strengthen your working relationships and they’re just plain fun.
Outside of work, I make a point to see friends on a regular basis. I set up as many standing weekly or monthly dates as possible. Sure, I skew slightly extroverted, but no matter where you fall—a little intentionality is required to make this one thrive.
With both your remote coworkers and your friends or family in the flesh, be sure to keep weaving your social support system stronger.