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8 Tips to Help You Adjust to Working From Home

When there are deadlines to be met and tasks to be completed, these tips will help get you in the zone.

With six weeks of lockdown behind us and many more to go, a socially distanced world has become our new normal. We’re ordering our groceries online, catching up with friends over a screen, and limiting all outdoor activities. Perhaps the hardest adjustment, though, has been learning how to work from home. Especially tricky for those with children or large families, figuring out how to co-habitate 24/7—literally—with others is a challenge. Add to that the stress of a global pandemic, and it becomes tougher still.

With no more boundaries between work and home (or school and home), learning how to be productive takes patience—and planning. While we’re by no means propagating that productivity-during-quarantine meme, we also can’t ignore the fact that for those still employed, there are still deadlines to be met and tasks to be completed. So we drew up a list of tips to help get you in the zone and focus on the task at hand, with inputs from Clare Kumar, a Toronto-based productivity coach.

Carve out a separate “work” space

Whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment or a large house, it’s important to demarcate your “work” space from your “living” space so that your days don’t all meld into one blurry haze, hunched over the couch (been there). The biggest advantage of having a “work” space and a “home” space is that it eliminates distraction, says Kumar.

“If you’re in an office and you’re looking at your laundry, maybe you’ll start thinking ‘I should do this’ or ‘I should cook dinner’ or ‘I should help the kids with their games.’ So by having some kind of separation—and it might even be just putting a table against the window so you’re looking outside—you’re minimizing the conversations that would be going through your head if you were looking at the other spaces in your home. That’s visually. If you’re able to separate your space from an auditory perspective, that’ll help maintain focus too.”

So if you’re fortunate enough to have a separate room to call your “office,” shut the door during your “work hours.” If all you have is a kitchen table, try noise-cancelling headphones to shut out distractions from your “coworkers.”

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Figure out how to share space efficiently

“If you live with roommates you have to get more people functional in that same space, so look at the work surfaces you have, and try to make them comfortable to work at,” says Kumar. “Reimagine your kitchen counter as a standing desk. Or your dining table as a work space.”

Kumar also recommends having an honest and “curious” conversation with the person you’re living with, whether that’s a partner, a roommate or a friend. “Ask each other, ‘what do you need right now and how can I support you?’ If you could just ask each other that, it’s a great framework to explore the topic before it gets derailed [in arguments].”

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Create a ritual

While we can no longer do simple things like stop by our favourite cafe on our way in to the office or pop out for an afternoon walk with a colleague, Kumar advises trying to create similar ritualistic traditions at home.

We need these rituals, she says, to get us in the mindset to work. “We might want to start our day with a walk around the block if it’s safe to do so, and get some sunshine. It keeps our circadian rhythm in check, and can give us a transition, which we probably had earlier in terms of going to work with some sort of commute. For me, it’s yoga that gets my body ready to work. Those transitions are really important.”

So instead of just shuffling from your bedroom to your desk in the morning, savour the ritual of making your morning coffee. Spend five quiet minutes with your cup of coffee (or tea) in a sunny spot in your home, preparing your mind for the day ahead. If you like to start your day with exercise, make that a part of your ritual—do some yoga, an at-home workout, or start your day with a spot of meditation if you prefer.

Try to create a similar ritual for the evening. Mark the end of the “work day” by lighting a candle, putting on some music or even just spritzing your favourite perfume—anything to signal that the relaxing portion of your day has now begun.

Have a comfy WFH uniform

As tempting as it might be to spend your entire day in sweatpants, resist the urge. Similar to the rituals that help transition from work mode to relax mode, a change of wardrobe does the same. This doesn’t mean you need to spend the day in jeans in order to be productive. Stick to something comfortable, but make sure it’s different from what you wear when you’re lounging or relaxing at home. Get some WHF outfit ideas—such as a cashmere hoodie or cozy fleece pants—here.

“Choose a wardrobe that energizes you,” advises Kumar. “I don’t know what that looks like for you but for me it involves pops of colour. It’s really phenomenal what we can do not only to energize ourselves but to even extend that energy out through our connections now, through video, to energize other people.”

Kate Middleton, for example, made a case for a cheery WFH wardrobe by showing up for a Zoom call in a bright yellow sweater and gold earrings.

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Have a roadmap for the day

Draw up a list of the major items you want to get accomplished during the day. It could be a large task, such as finishing a project, or a small one, like answering all the emails piling up in your inbox. Set aside chunks of time for the things you want to finish, and at the end of the day, make your to-do list of priorities for the next morning so you can dive right in.

“I think the biggest anchor in anybody’s day—whether it’s working in the office or at home—is having a roadmap for your day, which is outlining your day in the calendar so you’ve got something to come back to in terms of setting intentions,” says Kumar. “I encourage anchoring any big work project in your calendar so you can look at it and know what your intention was for the use of that time.”

Follow a normal eating schedule

Similar to the roadmap of tasks, it’s important to have portions of your day allocated for non-work tasks such as, you know, eating. It’s easy enough to get caught up in work and end up having just eaten scattered snacks throughout the day, but getting complete nutritious meals in is key. Plus, having to get up to fix yourself a quick sandwich for lunch gives you an excuse to move around a bit instead of sitting at your desk all day.

“I would definitely encourage movement,” says Kumar. “Because even when you go to your office, you’re not sitting in your chair for the entire day. It’s going to vary for each person depending on what their individual nature is, but you do want to have some movement throughout the day.”

Take short breaks

In lieu of a walk around the block or coffee with a colleague, set aside chunks of time for short breaks from work. Call a friend or family member for a 20-minute chat, or step away from the computer screen and fix yourself a cup of tea to enjoy on the balcony or backyard if you have one. Even just stretching or doing breathing exercises for a few minutes can make a big difference.

“You have to have your re-centering go-to practice,” says Kumar. “Some people are daunted by meditation if they haven’t tried it but we can go to something as simple as a breathing exercise. Breathe in slowly for four counts and out for a count of eight. That’s 12 seconds. If you do that 10 times that’s a two-minute ritual that will have you feeling absolutely different than when you started it. That deep breathing calms your nervous system and your mental state.”

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Cut yourself some slack

“We need to redefine what productivity is right now,” says Kumar. “We’re in a global crisis, which nobody knows how to navigate. So you’ve got to practice extreme self-compassion. What I love about this period of time is that we’re getting so much closer to being in touch with our humanity, which is really the way we need to operate all the time, but now we’ve been given an excuse to talk about it.”

Stay attuned to your needs, and give yourself the space to process feelings of anxiety and stress without the guilt or fear of being unproductive or inefficient. These are unprecedented times we’re living through, and we have to adjust our own expectations accordingly. During this time of crisis, Kumar advises identifying the people in your life who bring you joy, and reaching out to them as often as needed.

“Think of who in your network lifts you up,” she says. “And really be intentional around knowing who those people are so that you can reach out to them whenever you need to. Know who those people are, those pick-me-up people. People that you always laugh with… you want to make sure those people are in your week.”