Due to Covid-19 and massive shutdowns worldwide, many of us now find ourselves suddenly and unexpectedly working from home. I’d like to help if at all possible to those of you who are new to this. I’ve been self-employed and working from home for 10 years now. Nine of those years I’ve also worked from home alongside my partner, John, and most recently this past year we have now worked from home with a baby (and limited childcare e.g.in the form of grandma playdates a couple times a week). WFH especially with children is not easy, but it is possible. So, if you find yourself overwhelmed and frazzled as you transition to your new norm, I’d like to share some of the most important things we’ve learned about working from home as well as intertwine some questions I received on how to do this successfully with your partner and family. Please note that this list of tips comes from two highly self-motivated people who love their jobs and love to work, so finding the motivation to work is rarely if ever our problem…
Self-care (and hygiene) matter.
It’s ok to spend the whole day in PJs every now and then, but don’t do it every day. Sometime after waking, change clothes and freshen up. Brush your teeth. Brush your hair. Wash your face. Reapply deodorant. Even small little self-care habits beyond showering can make a hug difference. And trust me, this is something your WFH partner will appreciate as well. On the other hand, don’t worry about full makeup, ladies! Your partner probably likes you better more natural anyways!
Get up & move frequently!
Avoid “tunnel vision” i.e. getting locked to your computer screen for hours on end and losing track of everything. If you have to set a timer to remind you to take mini breaks, then set it up for once an hour. I love movement snacks (lunges, squats, single leg balancing, pushups, yoga poses, you name it!). If you have a kid at home, that should help keep you moving more. Whether or not you have a stand-up desk you need to step away and reset your brain and body. Additionally, aim for dedicated daily movement outdoors and some form of exercise whether inside our out with a minimum of 20 minutes. A walk, hike, strength training, running, stationary bike or whatever mode of fitness you enjoy. If the sun is shining, go outside and soak up the natural vitamin D, which is proven to keep you healthier. On the other hand, for you athletes—you may have to hold back to avoid overtraining with all your newfound time; don’t forget that you have a job to do and a parent to be, so drilling yourself into the ground with overexercising doesn’t do any good for anyone.
Have an office (or at least a dedicated workspace).
Have your workspace set up separately from your bedroom and separately from your place you like to chill out and relax. One of the hardest things about WFH is knowing when to shut off work mode mentally. So if you have an office or “office like setup” in its own dedicated space away from everything else, this really helps. I once had my desk right next to my bed when I lived in a small 500-square-foot apartment and that did not bode well for my stress levels or sleep habits. If you can’t have a dedicated office space and are in your living room or bedroom, have a way to “close up shop” e.g. fold up the desk or close the laptop, or even put a curtain or room divider up!
Be “on the clock.”
When working from home it’s so easy to work overtime, lose track of all the hours and blur your worklife into homelife. This is no bueno. Part of setting healthy boundaries is not just about where your office is located but also the time aspect of your day. Allow yourself to shut it down when it’s time. So if you must, set a timer, or watch the clock and give yourself time boundaries—it’s ok to call it a day! it’s ok to take a lunch break away from the desk! It’s ok to “clock out” for the day! Now this doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to a strict schedule because that might be unrealistic if you’re juggling family life as well, but the most important point is to avoid being in “work mode” 24 hours a day, you’ll wreck yourself.
…But understand that hectic schedules happen.
Speaking of unrealistic strict schedules, when it comes to being “on the clock,” if you have kid(s) you may need to work early or work late or whenever while they sleep or nap so your “office hours” may be all jacked up (and they may change every day). This is part of WFH with kids, as I’ve learned the past year. So your definition of a workday may morph from a 9-5 job to a 4-7am + 10-11am + 2-3pm + 9-10pm work day, or it may evolve around your partner’s work schedule too. It’s crazy and chopped up, but you have to do what works and let go of perfection, control and the idea that it’s all about you—because it’s not.
When you’re working, work. When you’re not working, don’t be thinking about work. Point is, do your best to be present with whatever you’re currently doing—playing with your kid, hanging with your partner, cooking, eating, napping, sleeping, heck even watching TV. Avoid the trap of busyness + always connected + multitasking + being a slave to email. Put down your phone and stop checking email if you don’t need to be. When your with your kid(s) PLAY with them!!! You’ll be more productive the more focused you stay on any given task.
If your partner is also working from home (and especially if you have one or more kids) SHARE A CALENDAR! This one is so important I think. Especially if you have a job that includes frequent scheduled phone calls and/or scheduled meetings, or even joint appointments. Sharing a calendar is basically advanced communication, and it also makes sure you guys don’t have to verbally remind each other of when the other person is going to be busy and tied up. John adds so much to his calendar, even his planned workouts, and we’re both good at keeping ours up-to-date, so this helps our lives run smoothly and we know when one of us is on baby duty while the other one has to be on the phone, etc.
In addition to the calendar, spend some time with your partner chatting about “what is your day like tomorrow?” or “what is your week like next week?” Ask and understand what is going on with him or her. If one person is extra stressed or busy with some kind of project or just big task, respect that and give them their space. This is crucial when also caring for kids at home. If John’s busy with a court case or I have a research-heavy podcast to prepare for or extra training plans to write, we know that one of us will have to put in extra time with childcare to give the busier person the space they need to finish their work with as low as stress as possible.
Give each other the space each person needs, be fair, and be patient with each other. Sure there’s a lot of shit to be done but don’t start tallying up what you’re doing vs. your partner and getting angry or being an ass saying you’re doing more (unless it’s really that lopsided). There’s a good chance each person is working really hard and feeling spread thin. We all need breaks, so allowing each person the freedom and space to have that “me time” without judgment is crucial. Empathy is key. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and stop making it all about yourself and how hard it is for you. We get it. It’s hard for all of us. The more you guys work together and give each other some freedom to step away from all the shores, duties, tasks and childcare responsibilities the happier the household. GUARANTEED.
Divide and conquer.
If you have one or more kids and two parents who are both working from home, it may help to have one parent take the “morning shift” for work while the other parent takes care of the kiddos, and then switch so the other parent gets the afternoon/night shift and so on. John and I have loosely tried this. Basically, I get the early morning shift (I’ll sometimes get up as early as 4am to start) and John will take the afternoon shift while I hang with Cora. This is just one of many ways and we don’t adhere to this every day, but it is nice to have it in place as needed. Whoever is not working—trust me, it behooves you to not try and secretly work while caring for the kid(s). Just be with your kid(s). You’ll get your time in the office.
As much as you want a routine and lack of interruptions like you have at the office, I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen. You just have to learn to be flexible and not lose your shit if you are feeling like you’re fighting time and the work is piling up. Patience.
Nurture your relationship.
If you and your partner and feeling the stress of WFH, do your best to keep some spice and mystery to your relationship as much as humanly possible!!! Maybe some surprise cuddle time between the sheets on your lunch break is what’s needed. (Or if you have to be that couple who schedules sex otherwise it won’t happen, that’s at least better than no sex!) But an element of mystery and surprise to your intimacy goes far. And on the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, take a moment for a random hug or back scratch, just because. (Someone asked: “Do we do the horizontal boogie more than normal?” Yes. More sex is never a bad thing. Just be diligent with your form of contraceptives!)
Say you’re sorry (without the tone).
Just face it: You’re going to fight. The key to working through these difficult times is to let go of your ego and stubbornness and learn to just say you’re sorry. Again, it’s not just about you so get out of your head. Have patience with your people. John and I have had countless arguments, but we always learn and grow from them, with an ongoing theme of “don’t be such a hot head.” Oh and if your partner has their own way of doing things, whether it’s how they choose to spend their free time or how they decorate their desk, don’t be an ass about it. The truth is sometimes I get so annoyed at John for his little quarks and I’m learning to stop that and especially to keep my mouth shut and/or not be a nag!!!
Stop staring into the fridge and pantry.
Open access to all your food all the time with no one to judge?! The thing dreams are made of!!! But… Hold on there… This is not a free-for-all time to be a glutton. Do your best to keep some structure to your eating habits and avoid grazing all day or mindless snacking. And if you can swing it, avoid eating at your desk. Mindful eating, at a table, taking the time to breathe after bites and not rushing food really does make a difference. I do understand this is sometimes literally impossible with kids, and I’ve found myself scarfing food over the sink or wherever, so accept that some days will be better than others.
Be gentle with yourself.
If you’re feeling stressed out and unmotivated to work (maybe you’re out of sorts with a new at-home setup), give yourself some space to step away and come back to it. I’ve been doing this for 10 years now and I’ve had weeks where I just didn’t feel like doing a damn thing work-wise and felt dried up of creativity and all brain cells to function. But here I am—I still have a thriving business and haven’t fucked it up. So I’ve learned to accept that when I’m in a funk it’s temporary and I’ll get my mojo back. I don’t see the unmotivated days/weeks as a failure. If you need to have a day or week with extra time away from work, then there’s probably a reason for that, and just let it be. You’ll come back and be yourself.
…But also know when self-discipline is needed.
Ok so you were gentle with yourself but now you’re seeing that you’re just being lazy and avoiding work? A gentle kick in the butt may be needed. Turn off Netflix. Sign off social media. Sit or stand at your desk and start with simple tasks that get you in work mode. Tell yourself “Ok just 20 minutes… 60 minutes… then I can have a break.” Make a check list and keep it brief as to not be overwhelmed by to-do’s. Trust yourself that you are good at what you do and people need your services. Baby steps rather than getting overwhelmed…
The bottom line.
Establish rules, routines and structure, but be willing to let all that go to shit because some days are just going to be crazy. Keeping stress and tension low, and keeping constructive communication flowing, is the best thing you can do for yourself and for your family.
Lastly, answering a couple unique questions that came up:
How not to be controlling about the use of the space?
This probably plays into your overall partnership so if there is some underlying tension or you guys have trouble agreeing on certain things as it related to the household, then it’s time to have a conversation and during this conversation watch your tone and avoid letting it heat up into an argument. Hear what the other person has to say and what they want out of the work space; explain what you envision. Be willing to make a few sacrifices and compromises and realize it won’t be perfect. We live in a small house where we share a desk, and the “office” is also where we have our baby’s changing table/dresser, and where my closet is (meanwhile, she sleeps in our bedroom—yes it’s tight). Is it perfect? No. But we have learned to not sweat the small stuff over the years. We’ve lived in even smaller spaces (i.e. a sprinter van) so having a 2-bedroom house is actually pretty fantastic. Perspective.
How do you get some alone time to decompress in tight living quarters?
Run. Run far, far away. Haha JK. A few things here. I think communicating your schedule and desired schedule is important. So if one person wants to do a long workout, then plan it that way, so the other person can be on child duty. But for every long workout you get to do (or whatever solo thing you choose) give the other person an equal chance to go off and do something on his or her own. Under the circumstances, the easiest thing to do to get away right now is just step outside for a walk. Or take up meditation. Tell your partner that you would like “Tuesdays & Thursdays at noon” as your time to do your thing. Don’t dictate though. Say that this is something you desire, and if you get Tue/Thu at noon, the other person can have Mondays and Wednesdays at noon to do their thing. Or maybe you’re more fluid with the actual scheduling of it, but the secret is equality and also knowing that we all need some time to get away. So when one person is having their “me time” the other person is on task dealing with everything, and vice versa.
One other thing that came up is something we’ve discussed on my podcast long ago, and it’s the idea of chronotypes. Basically it explores your unique biorhythms. When do you best, most focused work? When’s your ideal time to work vs. exercise vs. relax vs. eat vs. sleep? We all have a preference and turns out it’s not just preference but something with which we’re born! The 9 to 5 schedule is something society has created, but it doesn’t mean it’s how we best operate. So now’s the time to explore how you best function in a 24-hour period. Are you a night owl? Me—no way!! I’m a diehard morning person till the end of time, and I love going to be early, hence why I am perfectly ok with early mornings of work before everyone wakes up. John’s better staying up late to get things done. It’s a good way to explore maximum efficiency within your household!