Nothing quite like a global pandemic to make us really push our limits and challenge the status quo. With the global coronavirus outbreak digging its claws into literally every corner of the world, more and more corporates are encouraging their people to practice social distancing and to ‘work from home’ (WFH).
I’ve been a solopreneur consultant and coach for 12 years now. To keep my overhead expenses as low as possible, I work mostly from home, so for me it feels like the world is finally catching up to what thousands of others like me have been doing for over a decade.
Now, I’m not about to take advantage of a global pandemic to make some quick cash by trading on people’s fear and uncertainty because it’s just not who I am. I will, however, gladly share with you the many lessons I have learned over these past 12 years and hope that you can avoid some of the (literal) headaches and lower back issues you are headed for. Here are my top 5 tips to help save your sanity:
But I’ve realized in this past week that although I’m an old hand at this WFH thing, there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are totally overwhelmed by this sudden change.
1. Space is Sacred
Up until now, you have left your home every day to go to the office. Your workplace and your home sanctuary were totally separate spaces.
To maintain your sanity, you need to find a way to maintain some kind of separation and keep sacred space for family time, relaxation and rest.
This means that you need to NOT work in bed or on your couch or living room floor or at the dining room table. Instead, find yourself a designated ‘office’ space. If you don’t have a designated spot and you have to work at your dining room table or kitchen counter, then you need to make sure that the space returns to its intended use at the end of your workday. This means packing away the laptop and paperwork so that you can cook dinner or have a meal or family game night the way you always used to.
Creating a form of distance and distinction between work and life outside of work, is both a physical and psychological action that you need to take with clear intentions and understand why it’s important for your mental health and wellbeing, to have that distinction in your space.
And wherever you designate to be your workspace in your home, get a decent chair, please. Your lower back will thank you
2. Routine Matters
I cannot tell you how many times I have caught myself working on my bed in my pj’s at 11:00 and realized that I’ve neither showered, nor had anything to eat or drink. Obviously this is super unhealthy on so many levels! Yes, I know that I’m totally messing up my back and straining my eyes and just murdering my metabolism and circulation. So please, learn from my many mistakes and be strict with yourself about having a morning routine. Your emails and video calls will be waiting for you whether you have breakfast or not. You might be tempted to sleep in a bit because you’re saving time on your usual commute – don’t.
Remember that your levels of physical activity and human interaction are about to be turned upside down, so best you become a morning person super fast.
The absolute best morning routine I have tried out over the last 12 years, is a slight variation on one recommended by Robin Sharma (he also recommends you rise at 5am, but baby steps here). It’s really all about how you spend your first hour and if you have kids, you will soon find that you look forward to this 60 minutes of bliss.
20 minutes for exercise – whether you go for a run or you do yoga or sign up for one of the amazing exercise streaming options available, the point is that you want to get your body moving and kickstart your metabolism to have energy for the day.
After a workout you’re also likely going to want to hit the shower and you may as well fix your hair and get your work face on while you’re at it so you don’t look like a yeti on those video calls.
20 minutes for learning and self development is a stroke or pure genius. Read or listen to a podcast or audiobook that will help you grow and improve as a leader and a human being. Alternatively, use the time to catch up on new technology and trends in your industry or do some coursework to improve your technical skills. The point of this time is to hone your craft and to improve your emotional intelligence and abilities as a leader- even if your job title doesn’t suggest that you are one yet.
The last 20 minutes of this golden hour, you can spend on reflection and on planning your day. It’s a great time to have a cup of coffee and some breakfast and reflect on the things you have learned, before planning your day.
3. Keep Moving and Take Breaks
When we are working in an office environment, we are constantly moving. We are walking between meetings. We get up to go and get water or coffee. We take a stroll to go chat to a friend in a different department. Working at home, the furthest you’re going to walk is from your workspace to the refrigerator. I’m really bad at this and consciously working towards improving in this area and making sure I get more steps in. In the past, I’ve set reminders and alarms or used that little ‘sedentary alert’ vibrating function available on fitness trackers and some smart watches. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to take a ten minute break once in every hour. Get up from your work space, walk around the house, get some water and just clear your mind like you would if you were walking to your next meeting in the office.
4. Productivity and Time Management
It won’t be long before you realise just how much more productive you are at home, than in the office. Even if you have back to back Zoom calls and a ton of emails and text messages to deal with, I can assure you that you still have a helluva lot less distractions at home, than you do in the office. This is a double-edged sword though. You might start slacking off a little and take longer breaks because you know you can still get the work done, or you may go to the other extreme and find yourself in the express lane to burnout. I could write an entire book about everything that is wrong with our notion of the five day work week and the 09:00 to 17:00 and challenge misguided feelings of guilt anyone may have if they’re not actually working for a full 8 hours a day. The truth is that even when you’re in the office – especially when you’re in the office- you’re not working for 8 hours and you’re spending at least 2 to 3 hours a day on things that you either shouldn’t be doing at all because they’re not a priority, or things that are a total time-suck (like the 15 minutes at the water cooler talking about tv shows or gossiping about a colleague or the hour in a meeting that could have been an email).
So, the best thing you can do, is to manage your time, prioritize your tasks and be sure to meet your deadlines without working yourself to death.
It’s very tempting to ‘send just one more email’ or ‘just finish this one last thing‘, but if it’s 17:30 or 18:00 or whatever and you would ordinarily either be on your way home or already sitting down to dinner, you need to close your laptop and deal with those items tomorrow morning. Nothing is going to breed resentment and contempt faster, than your work constantly edging its way into your time at home and your life outside of work. Sure, we all have the odd days when we have to work late to finish something urgently, but don’t make a habit out of it whilst working from home. You need time to relax and your brain and body need time to recuperate.
Use the time that you would have spent commuting, to either get in another 20-30 minute workout or spend some time learning things you have always wanted to learn (right now, there’s a ton of free offers available online to learn to cook or sew or paint or learn to play the piano or guitar). Spend some time genuinely connecting with family and friends / even if it’s on FaceTime.
The point is that you need to use some of this time to enrich your personal life and relationships and you need to intentionally design some balance between work and life, especially if you’re going to be doing both from the same physical place.
It’s really only a couple of weeks since I was last called a ‘futurist’ or a ‘thought leader’ due to my views on work-life integration and the “future of work”. Now, suddenly, the things that my colleagues and I have been touting for five years or more, aren’t seeming as far-fetched anymore. As the world adjusts to this new normal and as this virus runs it’s course, let’s use this time to learn and grow and reinvent the way we work and live. We can all do a lot better and we can be better, kinder, less anxious and stressed human beings – especially if we prove to ourselves and the global corporate machine, that working from home is one of the best things to come from this global pandemic.