Have you always loved the flexibility of working from home? I did. I was immediately overjoyed at the prospect of working in my pajamas and carving out time for a workout in between work obligations.
But working from home, I soon found out, came with its own set of curveballs. The things I had taken for granted, such as taking a coffee break, the office printer’s whirr, and then the walk back home from work, had all served important functions. Now that they were no longer a default part of my day, I was tasked with being my own watercooler buddy, cheerleader, and person who said, “Let’s get out of here!” I picked up from where I left off in a romance novel at the same desk I clocked out of work from, still partially stricken by the latest work emergency, only to see a mail notification pop up on my laptop screen.
Was I working from home or living at work?
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to pace yourself, instead of letting the workday stretch on and defeat you. The keys are to be kind to yourself, treat the day as fundamentally yours, and to set boundaries. While work is vital, it does not have to be more than 50% of your waking hours.
Designated Time & Space
Establish a definitive workspace, start and end time. This could be a desk in your living room or a home office. It doesn’t have to be big, just defined. My work desk faces a big window overlooking a distinctively-shaped tree. During moments of stress or overwhelm, the sight of the tree is an unwavering and familiar presence. It anchors and grounds me.
If you can afford to take this one step further, keep all work-related communications and activity (including answering work emails) within this space. This means essentially “leaving” your work (including your work laptop) here when the workday ends.
Communicate these boundaries to your colleagues and the people you live with. This may involve letting your colleagues know you don’t check your work email outside business hours, or letting your family know it might be better for them to text you rather than enter your workspace during work hours unless it is an emergency.
Visualize Three Main Work Goals
When working from home, begin your day visualizing 2-3 main tasks you want to accomplish. This curbs the vague anxiety stemming from the need to get everything done immediately from taking over.
Stay Hydrated and Well-Nourished
Keep a 16-ounce bottle at your desk and plenty of healthy snacks such as dates, nuts, or fruit. Staying hydrated and well-nourished is pivotal in feeling energized and motivated throughout working from home.
Take a Self-compassion Break
Take a self-compassion break to recharge and care for yourself. When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is more important than ever to be compassionate to yourself. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, this involves tapping into the core components of self-compassion: mindfulness (i.e., awareness of the present moment in a clear and non-judgmental manner), common humanity (i.e., a sense that we are all connected, that everybody gets stressed or feels overwhelmed sometimes) and self-kindness (i.e., caring for yourself the way you would for a close friend or co-worker).
The practice begins with closing your eyes and visualizing clearly in thought and body-level the situation that is causing stress. It involves saying to yourself: This is a moment of suffering (or if the language isn’t relatable to you, simply, This is stressful!). Suffering is a part of life (or I’m not alone, or maybe, Everyone feels this way sometimes). May I be kind of yourself (or alternatively, May I be strong or May I be on my side) as you give yourself a hug or place your hand on your heart. You can read more about this practice on Dr. Neff’s website, which includes a guided audio recording of the practice.
Listen to your Body & Respond Compassionately
Slow down when you feel your fists clench, shoulders tense, head feels clouded with intangible fears or you feel the need to stretch.
Take a few minutes to practice compassionate movement, an informal Mindful Self-Compassion Practice. Stand up and anchor awareness to your feet. Feel the soles of your feet, and rock backward and forward and side to side. Make circles in your knees and feel the change in sensation to the soles of your feet. Open your field of awareness to the rest of your body, identifying areas of tension. Focus on these places of discomfort. Respond compassionately by:
Moving your body in a way that feels good to you, turning at the waist, a forward bend or rolling your head forward.
Letting your body guide you, as you move in the way it needs, giving it what it needs right now.
Come back to stillness, scanning your body again, and noting any changes.
Take Short Breaks, Preferably Outdoors
Another essential to prevent a vague sluggishness from taking over your workday is taking breaks. Staying in too long can bring in stress in many ways, such as getting sucked into the intricacies of a task so much, you forget there is a world outside of your head. Step outside every few hours. Take short walks. Breathe slowly and deeply, before heading back to resume work.
Account for Buffer Time
Plan to end work an hour before your actual clock out time. This way, you’ve set aside some time to plan for working from home the next day. And if a work emergency arises, you have some time to take care of it; it does not have to leak into your personal time or delay other priorities. Think of it as a way to proactively care for your future self.
To Avoid Extending Work Hours, Send Yourself Closing Emails
Has a tedious, not urgent but important task popped into your mind a minute before it’s time to end the workday?
Send a reminder email about the task to yourself that you’ll see when you log in the next day. You need this time in between to recharge!
Respect and Adhere to the End Time
When it is time for work to end, close your laptop. Walk away. Get a drink or go for a run. Watch the sunset from your window with a mug of home-made hot chocolate. Plan a Zoom Gaming Marathon. Call a friend or start a knitting project. Play a game of Chess With Friends or listen to a podcast. Whatever you do, do not keep working! You deserve to process the workday, rest, and recharge to nurture your best self. Work can wait eight more hours.
Neff, K. & Germer, C (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. Guildford Press: New York, NY.
Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/