Until recently, only 7% of the employed population in the United States worked from home. But due to social distancing guidelines, millions of people are discovering the challenges of confining your personal and professional life into the same space. Staying at home in the interest of public health is certainly important and with so many people unemployed right now due to the impacts of the pandemic, those who can work from home are trying their best to remain grateful that they have this option. It is indeed a privilege.
Still, if you’ve found yourself unmotivated, succumbing to cabin fever or losing the ability to tell one day from the next, you may need to proactively refresh your working from home routine. Here are four ways to help you get started.
1. Do something to recharge during your "commute" time
Nobody enjoys traffic jams, but there are probably parts of your commute that you miss. During your commute you were able to shift from your morning routine into work mode and you may even have had a special treat to look forward to (like a stop at Starbucks or your local donut shop) that is now missing from your day.
Take a walk or exercise while listening to the same music, podcasts, or audiobooks that you used to listen to on your commute, before diving into email. If you can’t get outside, listen while you get dressed. Or have a cup of coffee on the patio before starting your work day.
Or try something else that will help you get started on positive note for the day.
2. Give each week a theme
Nobody knows how long this current state will continue. But it’s fair to guess that you’ll need to plan for several more weeks of working from home. To break up the monotony, consider giving each week a theme that reinforces a critical self-care habit.
For example, one week might focus on fitness while another on getting extra sleep. You may designate humor as a theme and choose to ramp up how often you watch comedies, send funny memes and tell jokes. While it can be hard to prioritize laughter during difficult times, it will help you de-stress. During a week focused on humor, you’d work to balance your news consumption and constant multitasking with more moments of whimsy — which is an important habit to develop for your working life in general.
It doesn’t matter what themes you select as long as they help you focus on building and maintaining your capacity to work in your new situation at home.
3. Create a sensory experience
On a daily basis, you and your senses are used to moving in and out of new spaces. The city or town you work in probably has many different types of visuals, scents, sounds, foods to sample, and things to touch. It’s even more exciting when you get to add in the novelty of a first-time visit to a restaurant, store, park, museum or theater. If you travel for work, this goes even further in stimulating and inspiring you, providing an onslaught of newness.
Unfortunately, none of those experiences are available to you right now. Instead, you’ll have to work to cultivate some of the same enjoyment at home.The easiest way to enhance your sensory experience during the workday is through music, touch and scent.
Putting on smooth and relaxing or upbeat background music, even at a low level, can alter your mood significantly. Retailers have known this for years which is why they pipe in music in their stores that corresponds with the feelings they want you to associate with their brand. Take this same approach when setting the environment in your workspace and frequently try new genres that correspond with your mood.
You can also change the feeling in your workspace by focusing on scents. Experiment with scented candles or essential oil products, and take time to smell the aromas of your coffee, afternoon treats or end-of-day glass of wine.
Finally, don’t neglect the sense of touch. Take just a few extra moments to feel the surfaces in your home. What does your desk feel like? Which pen feels best in your hands? You get the idea. Have fun with this exercise and it will help bring you out of the numbing fog of repetition and allow you to stay connected in the present moment.
4. Renegotiate your relationship with video
Remote workers are embracing the many benefits of video conferences during this time but make sure you aren’t overdoing it, especially if you’re an introvert. Video meetings can drain you even more than a physical meeting because in addition to having to engage in discussion, you know that participants are staring at a closeup of your face on the screen the entire time.
Yes, video helps ward off the negative impacts of isolation and lets you simulate spending time with people that don’t live in your house. But it is not easy to keep smiling at the screen for hours each and every day.
If you have the flexibility, try to designate certain blocks of the workday when you will show up on video while leaving predictable space for focused work time or calls. Every job has different demands and some people don’t need as much downtime from video as others, but make sure you assess your capacity and make adjustments if your current way of working is unnecessarily draining your energy.
If you’re worried about breaking team norms, don’t be afraid to discuss limiting video with your boss. Most leaders are trying to be as flexible as possible right now so there is often a lot of room to recalibrate team dynamics if you express your needs. You probably aren’t the only person feeling this way and the overall team may see a boost in productivity from dialing back the video usage just a little.