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Tom Werner/DigitalVision via Getty Images
Tom Werner/DigitalVision via Getty Images
The kids are wreaking havoc in the living room, the dog just tracked mud into the house, a seventh pile of laundry just appeared, the sink is brimming with dirty dishes, and you still have four more hours of work yet to finish. This new normal of working from home while at the same time keeping your kids busy, your home organized, your mental health strong and meals cooked and ready is a lot. But what can help is a routine to ground you and lend a sense of normal in these abnormal times. Take a deep breath and use these tips to get back into a work-from-home rhythm while you’re quarantined due to coronavirus.
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Because of the coronavirus pandemic, life is not what it was months ago. You might be cooking more at home to save money during this uncertain time, and you might be homeschooling your kids while also trying to make deadlines at work. “Normal” doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and that’s OK. Accept that for the time being life is going to be different, and you can’t change that.
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Just because you can’t change the big things doesn’t mean you can’t make small changes to have a little bit of normalcy. If your pre-shelter-in-place routine was to pick up Starbucks on the way to work, wake up five minutes earlier to make your own coffee at home.
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If you’re able to work from home and don’t have to commute or go into work for the time being, it’s a fantastic opportunity for you to finally start eating breakfast. In fact, research shows that breakfast can provide a mental boost. While the coffee is brewing, scramble some fluffy eggs and grab a slice of toast for a healthy start to the day.
If you didn’t scroll through social media while you were at your office, don’t do it at home either. Leave your phone in another room for a couple hours at a time to refrain from distractions while at home. And though phone breaks can be taken in short bursts throughout the day just to get your mind off a stressful project or assignment, having your device within reach can be distracting. And being distracted isn’t the only adverse effect your phone can have.
If you’re finding yourself dozing off during work hours, you may want to reevaluate how much sleep you’re getting. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night, though sleep needs can vary depending on your exact age group. And if you’re not loving the quality of your slumber, try revamping your bedroom by painting the walls or plugging in a humidifier. The better you sleep, the easier it will be for you to learn and process new information and retain it throughout the day.
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It’s super easy to roll out of bed and flip open your laptop without changing out of pajamas, but you can do better. Take the time to wake up a little earlier and change into different clothes, even if it’s just another pair of sweatpants. If you’re able to put on a pair of real pants and a top, more power to you. But it’s OK to start small and take solace in the simple act of changing your clothes before the workday.
Making a list is both therapeutic and effective for many areas in life, including work. To-do lists create order in your day by helping you visualize each task so you can delegate time accordingly. They also make you feel productive when you’re crossing lines through the stuff you completed. Make a list first thing in the morning while you’re sipping your coffee or tea.
Similar to making a to-do list, visualize your work and allocate your tasks into designated time slots of morning, midday and afternoon. This may be easier if you work traditional 9-5 hours, but anyone can prioritize their work as needed. Try to tackle the big tasks first thing in your day, particularly if you’re a morning person.
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Whether you have a home office or a small desk near the kitchen for your things, you spend the majority of the day in your workspace. And if it’s piled high with papers, cereal bowls and old sticky notes, it can get tiring to look at. The less you enjoy your workspace, the more reasons you’ll find to be away from it both physically and mentally. Similar to decluttering the messy parts of your home, toss out things you don’t need and add some pleasing touches like a houseplant or a calming candle.
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A lot of modern offices have co-work spaces and lounges throughout the building, which can help employees re-energize by changing the scenery up a bit. When you’re working remotely, start off at your main workstation and see if bouncing around different rooms in the house helps you be productive. Sometimes staying in one place for too long can get you stuck in a mental rut too.
Most people don’t have proper office chairs or even an actual desk, and working for extended periods of time at the kitchen counter or hunched over on the couch is not too great for your back. If you can get your hands on a lumbar support pillow to help your posture, do so. If you can’t, try sitting on a pillow or put a rolled-up towel on your seat behind your lower back. You should also elevate your laptop on something like a stack of books so it’s eye level and you’re not straining your neck.
The importance of taking lunch breaks cannot be stressed enough. According to a recent survey by workplace hygiene brand Tork, some bosses view employees as less hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, which is the opposite of the truth. Regular breaks actually create better employees. In fact, according to the Tork survey, workers who take a lunch break feel more engaged and productive and scored higher on a wide range of engagement metrics. And especially when home life spills into work life, establishing a clear break time can do wonders. Just communicate with your boss and team before you step away.
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With almost everyone at home at all hours of the day, it helps to create some ground rules with your family or with anyone else you share your space with. If you have children, they need clear direction about what they can and cannot do during certain hours and which rooms of the house are off-limits. Depending on how you divide domestic chores, household tasks should not become a burden or something you have to carve out time for during the day unless you’re able to slip away from work without any fuss.
If you’re used to plugging your headphones in at work, do the same at home. Music can help to drown out outside noises and other commotion in the house.
Taking regular breaks aside from lunch might sound counterproductive, but taking short breaks between tasks can actually boost productivity. According to a study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, taking self-initiated short breaks from work in the afternoon boosted daily work engagement and restored people’s energy. It’s easy to feel exhausted within just an hour or two of non-stop working — even more so when you’ve been glued to the same seat since you woke up. Stepping away from your work area for just five or 10 minutes when you need a breather can go a long way.
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Not going to the office means you’ve cut commute time out of your schedule. You can enjoy a quick run outside before work in place of sitting on the train or do some stretches instead of being stuck in traffic. Try to remain positive by thinking of that extra time as a bonus to working from home.
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Just how you would start your day with a cup of coffee and a to-do list, create a routine that signals the end of the workday. It might be something as simple as setting yourself as “away” on email or chat or something more pronounced like an evening dog walk or turning on a podcast you’d normally listen to on the commute home. Whatever it is, do it consistently to mark the end of working hours.
The workday may consist of many small failures — from not getting the assignment in on time despite working hours on end to blowing that sales call — but the wrong attitude can make every miss feel like a huge loss. One way to encourage yourself is to jot down the things that went well to focus on the positive instead of what went wrong. Things happen and it’s important not to let one trying day define you.
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If you normally worked out before work, you should try to do the same while working remotely. There are actually quite a few perks to starting your day with physical activity, including reaching those weight-loss goals. And if you have trouble focusing during the day, a morning workout just might be the boost you need. A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that morning exercise improves attention, visual learning and decision-making.
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When you're not feeling well, take the sick time you need just as you would when working at the office. Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you have to power through illnesses or any ailments that come up — you still need to be mentally present to be productive. Do not feel guilty for taking time off to recover, whether you’re bouncing back from a fever or recovering after feeling burnt out.
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With a million things to do in a single day, it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. But as long as you know what’s expected of you during work hours, you can try your very best to meet those expectations. And even if the kids are wreaking havoc behind you, it helps to have a concise picture of what you have to get done so you can check in and check out accordingly.
You can’t just walk to your colleague’s desk to ask a question these days, and spending too much time going back and forth on a messaging platform can waste time. Pick up the phone and make a call to save minutes and frustration. Hearing a familiar voice might be nice too.
Working from home does require a lot of discipline, but it also comes with a lot of perks worth recognizing. You can use this time at home to finally tackle bread making or to start gardening. Take advantage of this change of pace — when things are back up again, you’ll wish you did.
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Staying “on” at all times can lead to more frustrations during your actual workday. You may feel like you haven’t had a solid break. Turning off messaging and email notifications when you don’t need to be receiving them will help you come to work the next day with a clear mind.
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You can get back on track tomorrow. Everyone has days that are more distracting than others. If your neighbor is getting construction done on his home, it’s going to be difficult to concentrate. If you’re working from home with kids, and they’re sick or irritable, you’re going to need to step away from your computer more often, and that’s OK. The good thing is, all your coworkers and everyone you work with can absolutely relate.
Video chats are useful to touch base with your team, especially if you have a collaborative workplace and employees are used to regular face-to-face meetings. It can help everyone feel more comfortable by seeing their coworkers on a weekly basis.
Communication is the backbone of any workplace, but working remotely requires you to over-communicate. If you have a day off planned, be proactive by telling your coworkers ahead of time so they don’t expect you to be on. And when you finish an important task, alert whoever needs to know. Over-communicating doesn't mean you have to explain your every move, but it does mean repeating yourself and offering clarifications.
You know those fancy chocolates you ordered from that amazing local candy shop? Make it your work reward. Reward systems can make any day go by a little easier. Create weekly goals and work toward accomplishing those with an incentive in mind. Maybe you’ve been waiting to watch that newly released Netflix movie or order takeout from your favorite place? Sure, you can do those things anyway, but implementing a personal reward system can make a busy work week just a touch more fun.
The most important thing you can do for yourself is establishing a regular workweek routine. The daily routine should include eight hours of sleep (or as close to it as possible), regular meals and consistent breaks from work. And after it’s time to clock out, put it all away and unwind as you normally would. With the workday spilling right into home life, it can be hard to set boundaries between your two worlds — but it is essential to do so. According to mental health experts, sticking to a routine is key to managing anxiety in these uncertain times.
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