Work From Home Tips it Only Took Me a Year to Learn

Welp, we’ve seen the one-year mark of the pandemic come and go, and along with it some other strange milestones. People are celebrating their second quarantine birthdays, sharing vaccine selfies, AND many of us are marking a full year of working remotely. While I’m grateful for the privilege of remaining employed this whole time, it has been a unique challenge and sometimes slog to switch from a job based in offices, sound stages and live events, to working entirely from my tiny bungalow. It was a pretty massive shift, trading out loafers for slippers, film shoots for zoom calls, and team lunches for inhaling leftovers at a laptop. 

There’s a lot that I haven’t figured out during this weird era, but I do finally feel like I’m getting the hang of working from home. (which is good since it looks like I’ll be doing it for the next 6 months and a hybrid model after that.) I generally love my job, but after a few (kind of miserable) spells of extreme work burnout in the summer and fall, I started paying attention to what was working and what wasn’t. If everything happening in the world was going to be miserable, I wasn’t going to let how I spend 40 hours a week also be. 

Here are some things I’ve applied to establish a better work-from-home-work-life-balance.

Create some “Human Buffering Time” 

A friend of mine used this term and I immediately stole it. Without a commute acting as the shock absorber between waking up and plugging in, or closing up in the early evening signaling a return to your time, creating rituals that mark the beginning and end of the work day is imperative. Here are some of mine. 

Ease into and out of Screen time: During the early phase of the pandemic, then again in particularly tumultuous months surrounding the election, I developed the bad habit of waking up and checking my phone immediately, desperate for news. Despite working in social media for years, that had never been an issue for me before, but boy is it a challenging habit to break. I have since been trying to implement a stricter regimen of laying with myself for a while first in the morning, then stopping checking at night. Some things that help: 

Headspace Morning & Nighttime Meditations: I am a morning person but  not an early bird, generally hitting snooze a few times before opening my eyes. These morning meditations help me ease into the day while still staying cozy in bed. Then again at night they help me unwind and shift gears into a sleepy zone.

30 Day Challenge to Set a Morning Routine: Despite the click-bait nature of this link, I have found so many of these small adjustments helpful, and that it’s quite doable to practice a lot of them all within the first 20 minutes of the day

Breathwrk App: I cannot praise this app enough. I downloaded it as a last ditch effort to help with the bouts of insomnia I’ve been having since last march, and it is truly incredible how much 2 minutes of concentrated breathwork can help calm you down or wake you up. Perfect for early mornings, restless nights and even to reduce anxiety during the work day. The timed breathing exercises make your phone vibrate, so you don’t have to look at the phone to do them. 

Create Sensory Cues: I light nice scented candles when I wake up, and then blow them out when I open my laptop for the day. It’s a visual and aromatic cue that separates work time and my time. (I received a candle care kit, and blowing out the candles with a snuffer makes me feel very fancy.) And, as you may have guessed, when the laptop shuts around 5, they get lit again. 

Treat your skin! Ease into the day with a small splurge in your skin care. Keep a jade roller in the fridge and roll the coolness over your face while making coffee. I don’t care if the toxin-release is only placebo effect, it is such a nice way to wake up. I also love using these eye masks while reading the morning headlines.

Practice Micro-Mindfulness: I don’t know if this is a real term, but let’s make it one. A great way to start the day is to take some time to mindfully wake up. For us that looks like making coffee more meticulously – Taking the time to weigh out the beans and do pour-over in a cone or chemex is a simple way to consciously start the day. Go Analog: Even if we spent a lot of time on computers before, nothing compares to the zoom marathons we now find ourselves on. Creating off-screen rituals before and after work make a monumental difference. I’m a longtime fan of journaling, so I like to put pen to paper before checking my slack in the morning. Taking even 10 minutes to do things AWAY from screens is so helpful. Other things I love include playing records instead of spotify, and pulling recipes from actual cookbooks instead of websites for dinner after work. 

Use PTO differently 

I am notorious for hoarding my vacation days to go on long adventures in other countries, but since it’s become clear THAT will not be happening for a while (SEE YOU IN 2022, PORTUGAL!) I’m rethinking how I use my paid time off. Do NOT let that time expire! Instead of long trips, I started taking off some random days each month. And I have to say…. It feels positively decadent to take weekdays off just for fun. Some ways I’ve been using them: 

  • Solo Dates: As an extreme extrovert and recovering codependent, carving out intentional time for myself has never been my strong suit, but taking off a random weekday while everyone else has work (and… ya know… you can’t see people,) has helped me see the beauty in taking myself out. This has looked like afternoons reading at the beach or a picnic for one at the park, driving farther than I normally would to try a new sandwich place, trips to the flower market and making arrangements with some bubbles, or decorating/rearranging my living room while watching Hamilton. 
  • Local Staycations: I was late to the game on enjoying vacationing in my own city, but this has been a perfect way to safely get a change of scenery and unplug from work for a bit. Find an airbnb or a good hotel deal nearby and enjoy 18 hours or so curled up somewhere cozy without having to pack or plan a ton. Sometimes it’s just nice to watch tv in a bed that isn’t yours. 

Go for a Walk

My friends are probably so sick of hearing me preach the gospel of walks, but I swear that going for a walk every day has been one of THE most beneficial habits I’ve ever developed. Some times it’s really helpful to break up the work day – For me, usually around 2 or 3 when the east coast winds down their day is a perfect time for a 30 minute break. (Remember breaks? And actually TAKING a lunch? Nobody is supposed to sit down at their computer and work from the second they start til the second they quit.) I put the little walking lady emoji next to my name on Slack so my teammates know I’ll be back in a bit and hop off. Even ten minutes outside to break up the day is truly game changing, and I inevitably come back to “the office” with a burst of creative energy to push through the rest of the day. Now that it’s light out later, I also really love going on a longer one after work. It’s the perfect transition between work and the night. (Don’t just take my word for it – Read more about the mental & physical benefits HERE)

Have a Croissant Day

I designate one morning each week as “Croissant Day.” I walk to my corner coffee shop for an iced latte and butter croissant. It’s such a small thing, but I look forward to it so much. Pick something that you can do consistently and get excited about, but that also integrates variety into your routine. Maybe it’s Thai Takeout from a different place each Monday night, a midweek lunch postmates delivery, a bubble bath with the new episode of This is Us (Randall, we Stan.) Figure out whatever your Croissant Day is and allow yourself a small indulgence to look forward to.

Up Your Beverage Game

To say I’m a beverage person is an understatement. I essentially structure my entire day around them. Morning coffee, afternoon iced matcha, an evening glass of bubbles, and sparkling water throughout the day, these make me so happy. So without office access to constant bubbly water, a morning ritual of going to the coffee shop, etc, I realized I needed to step it up. (insert infomercial voice) AND YOU CAN TOO!  

  • Fancify Your Coffee: 
    • We got this grinder and scale, and even though it takes some extra time and care, the coffee is noticeably significantly better. 
    • My dad got me this Cold Brew Coffee Maker and it couldn’t be easier
    • I also love a frothy oat milk latte in the morning, so getting a frother or steamer is an excellent move. (I also hear people go nuts for their nespressos….) 
    • IF I were to invest… which seems… like I might… I would get an espresso machine at home
  • Soda Stream: This is a bit pricier than I wanted it to be, mostly because  of the  cost to replace CO2 cartridges,  but I cannot express enough how game changing and lovely it is to have sparkling water all day every day (and way more sustainable without all the LaCroix cans) 
    • To double down on THIS, add slices of citrus to it to feel fancy AF
    • Lately Ben has started making ice cubes with lemon juice and it is A DELIGHT
  • Recess CBD Sparkling Water: Because, let’s face it – no matter if it’s from a corner office or under the covers, work gets stressful. 

Some Other Things that Don’t need much Elaboration but  help a LOT: 

  • Don’t Neglect Small Talk. Be sure to shoot the breeze with coworkers over slack or zoom. Cling to that one inside joke like there’s no tomorrow. Send GIFs, ask about their niece’s birthday party or pandemic puppy. I’m not saying be disingenuous, but these small water cooler interactions are highly formative to the groove of day-to-day work and make such a long lasting impact in overall workplace satisfaction.   
  • Get dressed. Like actually dressed. It’s incredible what hard pants and some mascara can do. 
  • Have Things in Your Workspace that Make You Smile. Maybe that means something small like always having fresh flowers, or treating yourself to a nice ceramic mug. Or go big by getting a new rug or throwing up some removable wallpaper. Investing in your workspace is now also investing in your home, so have fun with it!
  • MAKE. THE. BED. It doesn’t matter if you live in a studio apartment where you stare at it all day or if your bedroom is upstairs – nothing makes me feel more blurry about work/home lines than having an unkempt bed.
  • Learn to Properly Poach an Egg. The ULTIMATE quick lunch: This premade rice, pickled onions, hot sauce, and a perfectly poached egg. It’s not hard, I promise. 
  • Have a Fun Desktop: Make staring at your computer more enjoyable with desktop designs by artists. I love choosing from these collections.

And, while I stand by all of these tips, at the end of the day what it comes down to the most is what is the hardest one to do… drawing boundaries. 

B O U N D A R I E S

This is number one. When I close my work laptop for the day, I do not reopen it. I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on so I don’t miss anything, but I really don’t check my email or slack between 6pm – 9am. Period. I work in kids TV. Nothing is too globally urgent that it can’t wait. I know this can be extremely hard for some people, AND I understand the leniency of my particular position/title/etc, but I urge you to take at least baby steps towards drawing lines for clear work hours. I will go deeper into my anti-capitalist-corporate structure at another time, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I will reiterate: We are meant to work to live – not live to work. After my max burnout last year, I had a sobbing conversation with my boss (who I am lucky is extremely understanding) and he helped me immediately break down ways I could adjust my bandwidth. Then, as we are required to set quarterly company goals every few months, mine was to achieve better work-life balance. Putting it in writing and being open with my team & supervisor made me feel less afraid and more confident to actually enjoy my downtime. It was a breakthrough for me that the only person really putting the pressure on me – was me. Our jobs don’t define us, so don’t let them define your home life.

I really love my job, but I’m not my job. I value my TIME over money, and having space to pursue other interests. There is a deep rooted fear in all of us that if we aren’t being seen at the office, we need to work harder to prove ourselves. Trust yourself to know you’re working hard and smart enough, and make your job work for you, not just the other way around.

When I put out a call on Instagram for blog topics, so many of you requested my work from home tips, so I hope these help! Please feel free to send me yours too, I would love to add to this list!

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