With Covid lockdowns, stay at home orders, and social distancing precautions, a lot of us have transitioned to working from home this past year. At first it may have been a refreshing break from the office or a fun excuse to get an unnecessary amount of matching sweat suits from Aritzia, but the reality is, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high this year and people are struggling to find work life balance in this new reality.
We all need breaks, vacations, and days to work from home in our pjs, but we also need routine, structure, and purpose. It’s all about balance and unfortunately this year has been filled with a lot of unknowns. Whenever things feel out of control or overwhelming, I try to focus on the things I can control and create an organized consistent routine around that. I read somewhere that it is crucial for a toddler’s development to have structure and constants in their life, and I believe that applies to adults as well. Whether the constant is something you enjoy doing like drinking wine on Friday nights with your significant other or if the constant is something less exciting like beginning work in the morning and finishing in the afternoon, constants help us feel safe and secure.
In my opinion and from my experience working from home and being my own boss, half the battle is 1) Figuring out of a plan and 2) Time management. If you are used to being in an office or having a superior delegate your tasks, it’s challenging to transition to having to do the same work but in the most distracting, tempting environment (your home). Below I’ve outlined some of my tried-and-true tips for eliminating distractions, maximizing productivity, and finding balance.
Tip #1- Make a plan. I used to rebel against writing things down. I thought I was able to keep track of all my ideas or tasks in my head but obviously that isn’t realistic. To-do lists not only keep you organized but they hold you accountable. It’s like a mini contract you are making with yourself. Plus, if you believe in manifestation, writing goals down brings you so much closer to accomplishing them. Here’s how I make my to-do lists/ schedules.
– Make 3 separate lists. List 1 is an overview of your entire month -maybe this is a giant calendar hanging above your desk or maybe you use your phone’s calendar. This is the most macro general list that you can reference every week when creating list number 2.
– List 2 is a breakdown of everything you want to accomplish that week (Monday- Friday). This should include everything from projects, to appointments, to zoom calls with friends. I suggest writing this every Sunday night before bed so you can wake up Monday morning mentally prepared for the week ahead.
– List 3 is the most micro of the lists and is created the night before. I love time blocking but if this doesn’t’t work for you, prioritize your tasks from most important to least, starring your top 3 non-negotiables.
Tip #2- Create firm work hours for yourself. This comes back to structure and our inherent need for some kind of routine. When we go to a shift or the office, we know how long we are going to be there and can mentally prepare ourselves, switch to “work mode”, and then “switch off” when we clock out. The issue with working from home is the constant temptation of our comfy bed, Netflix, household chores, and distracting roommates. If it’s up to us every day, we’re probably going to choose to sleep in, have a slower paced morning, and eventually get to work when we feel ready. Although I indulged in this routine when I began working from home, ultimately it made me feel groggy and I always ended up working past my bedtime and needing to sleep in later the next day.
I’ve discovered that the classic work schedule that is Monday- Friday 9-5 helps me stay on track and check those items off my list. To be honest though, I’m more of a Monday- Thursday 10am- 3pm type of gal. I would rather work smart than work long. My old routine of doing a couple of hours of work 7 days a week, left me feeling constantly behind and like I never had a full day to relax and reset. Now when I work 5 hours a day, 4 days a week, I get more done and can actually “turn off” and enjoy my nights and weekends. Days off always feel better when we actually work for them.
Tip #3- Dress for success. Surprisingly this tip has helped me the most. After my morning routine (meditation, water, gratitude journal) the first thing I do is put my makeup on, do my hair, and get dressed (pjs don’t count but presentable loungewear is allowed -we want comfy but not too comfy). Not only does this signal to my brain that it’s time to work but it prevents me from getting back into bed and having a nap (foundation and white sheets don’t mix). It might sound silly and maybe this tip doesn’t’ apply to you but it’s all about finding those little ways to hold yourself accountable and switch to work mode. If I’m clogging my pores with 10 pounds of makeup, best believe I’m going to get a Pilates class filmed out of it!
Tip #4- Reward yourself. Positive words of encouragement is fuel when things become challenging or you lose motivation. Sarah Nicole from The Bird’s Papaya podcast spoke about giving herself gold stars (literal gold stickers) when she accomplished something positive. I like to reflect on my day’s to-do list and check off all the things I completed.
Whenever I’m feeling anxious or am being hard on myself for not getting enough done, I mentally or physically list 3- 5 things I did right that day. This includes anything as small as putting a load of laundry in, doing the dishes, shaving my legs (lol), to bigger things like finalizing a blog post or filming and editing a Meditation.
Reframing the way you speak to yourself and focusing on what you did right instead of dwelling on what you didn’t get done is so important. When our attention is on the negative, we are going to feel discouraged and unmotivated to do the work but when we are compassionate and supportive towards ourselves it boosts our confidence and we want to continue to succeed.
Tip #5- Put the MF phone away. We know this, we’ve heard this a million times and its obvious our phones are one our biggest distractions, but it’s hard to create that space away from it and focus. Some tips I’ve found helpful are…
– Leave your phone charging in a separate room. The charger is important because it prevents you from grabbing it and taking it with you (it really is the little things!). If you need to check it, you have to get up and walk to it -use it while it’s still plugged in, then return to your work.
– Set an alarm for 60 mins or however long you want and agree to not touch your phone until the alarm goes off. This has helped me so much!
– If social media is your biggest distraction but you still need to send and respond to texts, set up your iMessage on your laptop -that way having to text isn’t your excuse to have your phone close by
– Give yourself a “screen time” allowance. iPhones show your daily screen time and being aware of that and monitoring it is a great way to hold yourself accountable.
This year and the various changes and transitions we’ve all had to go through have been challenging and there’s always an expected learning curve with any new thing. My advice is finding a balance between giving yourself boundaries, goals, holding yourself accountable and also being aware of your mental health, stress, and leaving time for self-care and wellness. Productivity isn’t the most important thing in life -creating a healthy and positive environment for myself and finding a balanced routine is what I’m striving for.