I am an expert on very few things but working from home is one of them. And since many of you have now joined me in working this way, I have gathered my best tips to share.
I’ve been WFH, as the kids say, since 2004, long before it was a) cool b) required or c) accompanied by streaming video and social media. Here are a few things I have learned along the way to keep myself sane, productive and, for the most part, focused.
1) Set a schedule and keep a routine.
This is the most important rule of working from home: If you typically get up at 6 am, take a shower, grab some coffee and then head in to work—keep doing all of those things, without the driving, obviously. Continue to get up at 6 am, shower and get ready and then head to your home office (or kitchen table—not back to your bed, we’ll get to that in a minute) to begin your day. If you stop for lunch at noon when you are at work, do that at home. If you wrap your work day at 6 pm, that’s when you should wrap your work day at home.
Also, everyone thinks it is amazing to work in your pajamas. That is amazing for about a day—then it’s just gross. Take a shower, get dressed, dry your hair. If you regularly put on makeup and jewelry, keep doing that. You’ll just feel better about yourself and your life if you do—plus with video conferences becoming more common, you will actually need to appear in a sort of virtual public. (Full disclosure: I avoid video conferences and usually call in from my landline but that doesn’t mean you should!)
It’s tempting to take working from home as if it’s a big vacation—and maybe it will feel like that for the first few days—but if you do that, it’s just going to delay your adjustment to this new reality. So don’t stay up until 2 am binge-watching Cheer on Netflix just because you can—go to bed just like you have to get up the next day and go to work—because you do.
2) Work from a designated workspace.
Ideally, this is a home office with a desk and an ergonomically correct chair, but considering how quickly this all came down, many people are not blessed with this option or this much space. If you do not have a home office or a home desk, then setting up shop at your kitchen or dining room table or kitchen counter is just fine. Granted, if your spouse and your kids are also at home, this is going to make things even more challenging, but the main thing is that you want to work in a chair with a supported back. You also want a dedicated space that tells your brain “when you sit here, you are working.”
I know people who do this but I highly advise against working from bed. It is absolutely horrible for your back and also not great for your whole bedtime routine. You can use your bed for many personal things, and especially sleeping, but do not work from it.
3) Embrace collaborative apps.
From my vantage point, Google Docs is the most incredible remote-work tool the world has ever known. You can create an infinite number of documents, all of which are constantly saved and are available to you wherever you can log into your Google account. Do you know how amazing this is when you need to work from an airport or hotel ballroom?
Also, no one ever again needs to send an email with a Word attachment with a request for indecipherable inline text edits. What, do we live in the Paleolithic age? We do not, except when it comes to carbs. Share your document in a Google Doc or Google Sheets and let your team add edits and suggestions that way. Freedom from those interminable email chains is magical, I promise you.
4) Instant messaging apps are key.
I was a late adopter to instant messaging because I felt like when I started chatting with someone, it was rude to just stop and huge portions of my time would be suddenly sucked away. That said, apps like Google Hangouts and Slack are absolutely essential to maintaining team communication when everyone is working remotely. They are like virtually being able to lean over your co-worker’s cube or pop into your boss’ office and tell him something on the fly.
Plus Slack allows GIFs!
5) Value your time.
Just because you are working from home does not mean you are not working. This is a point I struggled for years to get across to friends and family. Oh, you work from home? You must be semi-retired! Let’s have lunch/play golf/go hiking. I will admit that all of that is very appealing—and occasionally doable—but for the most part, I work a regular schedule like any full-time worker (and often longer, that’s one of the downsides of working from home).
As a person who is on deadline essentially every day, protecting and prioritizing my time is key. That’s one reason why keeping a schedule and a routine is important. Another danger—and this is true for all people—is falling into chat or social media holes. The way I pull myself out of these holes, and I definitely fall into them, is to put my headphones on and start listening to music. (Right at this moment, I’m simultaneously typing and chair-dancing to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us.”) Once that happens, my brain knows it’s time to settle down, focus and write. (Think With Google calls this a “work trigger.”) Listening to music might not have the same effect for you, but the point is that you need a way to let yourself know that it’s time to stop scrolling Twitter and switch into work mode.
I don’t do this, but you can also turn off your email alerts during times of focused work. Seeing that you got an email from your husband or that new girl you’re dating or even your boss interrupts your workflow. Every time I start and stop costs me time. Sometimes, you need to turn everyone off and just complete the task at hand.
Also, sure I could fritter away my time and sit at my desk until 9 pm every night because I didn’t work efficiently, but that’s a bad way to live. Set your hours and get your work done inside of those hours.
6) Make time and space for exercise.
This is just good life advice but it especially applies if you work from home. Since you aren’t driving anywhere or parking anywhere, you also are not walking anywhere. But you really really really need to. You need to get up, stretch, breathe deeply and move around. (And if you have a dog, he does too.) So get up every so often and take a walk or do a few downward dogs.
6b) Workout from home.
I am a big fan of workout apps and streaming classes. Several days a week, I put on my workout clothes and shoes and head to the basement where we’ve set up a little workout space. Again, I recognize I am lucky to have these different spaces in my house where I can do these things, and I know many people don’t have that option. But if you have a smartphone, wi-fi and a yoga mat, you can easily, happily and effectively work out from home.
One app I really like is Centr, which comes from Chris Hemsworth’s team of trainers and nutritionists. You’ve seen him in Marvel’s The Avengers so I know you see the appeal.
Centr costs about $20 a month, less if you subscribe for a year, and offers a plan with three healthy whole foods-based meals a day plus snacks; daily workouts that include high-intensity interval training, cardio, boxing, yoga and pilates; meditations and other features. (And starting March 23, Centr is being offered for free for six weeks if you sign up to try it this week.) Besides Centr, there are lots of other online fitness apps out there that can provide you with almost any workout that you desire.
Lots of local studios are also streaming classes online right now, so that’s a good way to check out a few things and see what you like. It also allows you to support your favorite yoga or spin studio, since they are all unable to offer classes right now. A yoga studio in my metro area just announced virtual movie nights, which I think is an amazing idea.
6c) Leave the house every day, even if you are just walking around your neighborhood. My heart goes out to all of my Los Angeles peeps, who are now on shelter at home rules through at least March 31. You guys need to go out for walks too—just stay six feet away from everyone else.
7) Plan and cook your meals.
This might sound crazy and not really relevant to your situation but bear with me. One thing I hear a lot from people who suddenly find themselves working from home—or just stuck at home with no work—is that they are spending the whole day eating. Some of that is likely emotional—anxiety and boredom are both key triggers of emotional eating.
I combat this by planning a week of meals, which includes recipes and a shopping list. I use Google Sheets and several apps and websites, including New York Times Cooking ($40 a year or $5 every four weeks), Centr and others, including Epicurious, Cooking Light and Saveur. Cooking is a passion of mine, so that definitely makes this an easier practice and I’m not gonna lie, it can be time-consuming, at least on the front end.
But planning your meals for the week allows you to make a very specific shopping list and acquire exactly that. When you go to the store (assuming you go to the store—if you never go to the store except to buy beef jerky or Bugles or kale chips or whatever your snacking pleasure, please skip to the next section), you can avoid the practice of just throwing junk food in your cart.
Once your delicious and healthy ingredients are acquired, you now have a road map for exactly what to eat and you will be less likely to have a bag of potato chips for lunch. (Unless that is your standard lunch, and if so, again, please skip to the next section.) Moreover, you have solved the problem of what to have for dinner, which, without planning, literally comes up every single night.
Circling back to my first point, try to keep your meal and snack times on track with your regular schedule. One mistake I still often make is skipping lunch or scrounging for it because I don’t feel I have time to make a real meal. That results in more snacking and getting way too hungry before dinner and then eating a whole can of mixed nuts or dipping into your peanut butter stash by the clamshell-full like Tyson on Survivor.
An easy way to make sure lunch is covered, especially if you are busy during most days like I am, is to make a soup or a stew early in the week and then eat that all week long. You can also make (or order, if you are a person whose kitchen is merely the place you pass through on the way to the couch) double portions of dinner and save the rest for lunch the next day.
8) Wear your shoes.
This suggestion comes to you from Promax President and CEO Steve Kazanjian. If you know him, you know he’s always snazzily dressed. Putting on your shoes every day is akin to putting on your earrings or your makeup—it sends your brain the message that you are dressed and ready for the day. It is not Saturday, it is Tuesday and you need to go work.
Steve, I admit I’m not always wearing shoes—very often slippers—but I hear you.
9) Appreciate that you have a job and work to do and that you can do it from home.
So many people right now are in fear of so many things—coronavirus, job loss and a crashing stock market being high among them. Working from home can be isolated, distracting and less than ideal but it is gainful employment. Take a moment to be grateful—and to appreciate all of the people who are on the front lines of this pandemic, the medical professionals, grocery-store workers, delivery truck drivers and so many more. It will make the rest of your day that much better.