Editor’s note: Looking for creative ways to improve your days when working from home? This article, originally published in September 2020, is full of helpful tips that are still as relevant today.
Work styles are a very personal thing. What works for one person can be a real nightmare for the next.
I’ve been in advertising for a decade now, and if you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I pretty much figured it out. I am a morning person (a five-and-a-half-hour meeting? No thanks!). My brain can only be in one place at a time (no podcasts for me, please!). And I work best in the office or in a cafe with lots of busy people.
Then COVID-19 hit. I worked from home with only my husband. My anxiety skyrocketed, and my usual 6 a.m. alarm slowly rose to 7, then 8. My productivity plummeted. I was back to square one.
I completely transformed everything I knew about the job. I was forced to examine my flaws, find new routines, and learn ways to cope and grow as a professional.
Over the past six months, I have completely transformed everything I knew about work. I was forced to examine my flaws, find new routines, and learn ways to cope and grow as a professional.
One day I will look back on 2020 and remember a lot of anger, stress and sadness. But I will also see a lot of personal growth. I hope you can do the same.
Here are eight tips to improve your days when working from home.
When it comes to sleep, listen to your body.
I used to start work at a cafe every day at 7am. This allowed me to get things done before days of back-to-back meetings. And while my brain is definitely running at full throttle in the morning, in hindsight, it’s pretty silly (and honestly unhealthy) to define my productivity by the time I open my laptop.
I’m still a morning person, but I’ve become much less strict about my schedule. If I have a rough morning, I allow myself to sleep. Listening to what my body wants helped reduce anxiety and kept my energy levels up throughout the afternoon.
Buy a screen now!
Screens are something a lot of office workers take for granted, but I’ve spent the last five years in an open-concept workspace where everyone works on laptops. After three months at home, my husband convinced me to buy a monitor. Besides being a total game changer from a productivity perspective, it has improved my posture and eliminated the strain I cause on my eyes by constantly squinting at my laptop.
Don’t want to invest? Ask your employer if you can grab a screen that’s been sitting in your lonely office for six months.
Take a lunch break.
When working from home, the line between work and home life can easily become blurred. And while I’ve never been someone who knows how to take lunch breaks well, when COVID-19 hit, I regularly found myself working entirely through lunch.
Forcing myself to take the time for a thirty-minute walk has totally reshaped my afternoons. I found I had more energy and was more creative after taking a break and exercising. I listen to podcasts and keep up to date with what’s going on in this wild world. And sometimes that break from my desk will even help me solve a problem or spark a new idea.
Think about your faults.
I always thought that my greatest skill was being able to pretend to be a “generalist”. i have always been good sufficient to many things. My main job is to run campaigns, but I’m also good at writing and coming up with creative ideas, and I have enough of an eye for design to be dangerous.
If I let others do their jobs, I’m less stressed and I’m not working 24/7. And guess what? The job usually turns out better when you have a team of experts doing what they do best, rather than a team of generalists doing what they do best.
I spent years getting offended when I wasn’t asked to do all of these things. I now realize that is ridiculous. But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that if I let others do their jobs, I’m less stressed and I don’t work 24/7. And guess what? The job usually turns out better when you have a team of experts doing what they do best, rather than a team of generalists doing what they do best. Imagine that!
Use working from home to your advantage.
If there’s anything good that can come out of being forced to stay home, it’s that you can clear your to-do list while you’re at work. I no longer spend Saturday mornings doing laundry and dusting my living room. Instead, after finishing a task or when I feel stuck at work, I will take five minutes to do something at home. Feel frustrated? Go water your plants or consult a friend or significant other. The break will help reset you when it’s time to get back to work.
Redecorate your space.
Since COVID-19 hit, I’ve probably redone the walls on our floor (which doubles as my office) at least four times. My husband says I “care way too much about how things look.” I do! But being in an aesthetic place is something that makes me more productive. If I can’t sit in nice cafes every morning, I’ll have to create that space for myself. Additionally, I find that solving creative challenges in my environment helps me solve them better at work.
And redecorating doesn’t have to be expensive. Just swapping out a print or adding a new decorative piece here or there can change the mood of an entire room. Looking for inspiration? Go to a thrift store or checkout Etsy or online retailers like Juniper Printing where you can usually find parts for under $50.
Find new ways to create calm.
My collection of candles and essential oils has tripled in the last six months. I’m more stressed than ever, but being able to light a candle at my desk or put on a soothing scent (I’m obsessed with Little Barn Apothecary Body Oil) is a great way to stay calm throughout the day.
Remind yourself several times a day to loosen your jaw, remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth, lower your shoulders back, and take a deep breath. Maybe do five minutes of yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
I am always amazed at the amount of stress I carry in my body, so it is also important to remind yourself several times a day to loosen your jaw, remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth, lower your shoulders and take a deep breath. Maybe do five minutes of yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
Turn off your camera.
I don’t know about you, but the number of meetings I attend each day has skyrocketed over the past six months. With Zoom taking over the way we work, I’ve found staring at myself 5-7 hours a day to be increasingly exhausting. I (admittedly) have a bit of RBF and I’m constantly worried about people thinking I’m pissed off when I’m just sitting there listening to them. So I started taking breaks from the camera.
While client meetings and brainstorming sessions can certainly benefit from face-to-face conversation, whenever I listen, I like to take a little break from worrying about how I look. It’s the little things that can make all the difference.