How to work from home without losing your mind
When you work from home alone, you will need to get your own shit together every single day, over and over again.
Working from home is the best thing that’s ever happened to my work life and productivity. But while the positive far outweighs the negative, there is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning as you get to know your own personal bad habits. If you don’t pay attention to those weaknesses and accommodate them, before you know it, you might find yourself wearing the same crumb-covered sweatsuit for the fourth day in a row, becoming a sloppy, distracted work-from-home cliché.
Here’s how I protect myself from myself while working from home:
Define your work space
Give yourself a dedicated place to work, and then protect the rest of your space with your life. Never let work bleed out of its designated area. This means closing your work tabs when you’re done for the day, walking out of your “office,” and not going back for the rest of the day.
Your work area doesn’t need to be large to be effective. Before I had enough room for a dedicated office, I had a designated couch cushion where work happened, and made a conscious effort not to sit in that particular spot during relaxation time. Sure, it felt stupid sometimes to just get up, close my laptop, and scoot over, but it was effective enough to serve as a mental reminder that being “at work” and “at home” are two separate mindsets.
Give yourself a commute
Take some time alone to decompress before getting into your home routine. Having a buffer that’s not quite work, but not quite home creates some space to slow your work thoughts down, shake off any residual stress or grumpiness, and mentally prepare for the evening and any non-work responsibilities you have to address.
I usually spend this time getting some sun, going for a jog or hike, or some other mindless activity I can do with headphones on and a podcast playing. This has also been crucial for me being able to keep a clear physical separation between my work space and my home space, since it helps me feel like my home office really is a half hour to an hour away. After my commute time is over, my productive work day really is over.
Learn how to manage your own headspace
If you work from home alone, you will need to get your own shit together every single day, over and over again. When I work alone for long stretches of time, it can be pretty easy for me to fall into my own personal echo chamber and veer farther than I intended down a stray thought path. But when you go start going nuts silently in the quiet space of your own home office, there’s nobody there to shake you back to reality but yourself.
Early on, figure out what energizes you, renews your focus, and calms you down. Even if it’s something weird like having an entire conversation with your dog about the current political climate or doing jumping jacks in front of your mirror for 30 seconds. (This is when working from home alone comes in real clutch.)
Live and die by the clock
Don’t rely on finding a good stopping point in your work every day. Sometimes, when it’s the end of the day, you’ve just got to go. Pretend you have a carpool waiting for you or that you can’t miss the 5:15 train. This keeps you from falling so deep into “the zone” that you snap your head up several hours after your scheduled stop time and realize you’re starving and sitting in the dark.
Side benefit: I’ve noticed that when I leave mid-stream, it’s often a lot easier to hit the ground running the next day.
Remember to move
Now that you’re not walking around an office building or climbing flights of stairs in a parking garage, you’re going to need more excuses to move your body around. When you live and work in the same location, it’s appallingly common to never walk more than 15 yards at a time. And, if you want to see a sight other than your own four walls ever again, it’d help if you left your house.
Look for ways to sneak in a little extra physical activity. I drink tons of water throughout the work day, which keeps me getting up for bathroom breaks regularly. Taking a quick break outdoors can give your eyes (and brain) a break from staring at things close-up, plus you benefit from an added jolt of sunshine-y energy.
Don’t forget to interact with other humans
Remote work doesn’t have to be lonely. If you work for a fully remote company, make it a habit to briefly pop in and enjoy some non-work conversation with your coworkers. It always helps me to have a reminder every day that there are people out there—even if I can’t see them—who are working toward the exact same goals as me.
At MeetEdgar, we have a daily Question of the Day in our Slack watercooler. Anybody can add a QOTD, so sometimes the questions end up being pretty wacky. Thanks to QOTD bot, I’ve learned that peanut butter tastes great with sriracha and which other MeetEdgar team members had bowl cuts in the fourth grade like I did.
It can be easy for remote workers to feel isolated and forgotten about, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you don’t have coworkers you can chat with from time to time, start a group chat with other remote workers you know or join a community Slack, like the one at remotive.io.