Editor’s Note: Looking for creative ways to improve your days when you work from home? This post, originally published in September of 2020, is full of helpful tips that are still just as relevant today.
Work styles are a very personal thing. What works for one person may be an absolute nightmare for the next.
I’ve worked in advertising for a decade now, and if you’d asked me a year ago I would have told you I pretty much had things figured out. I’m a morning person (a five-thirty meeting? No thank you!). My brain can only be in one place at a time (no podcasts for me, please!). And I work best in the office or a coffee shop with lots of people buzzing around.
Then, COVID-19 hit. I was working from home with only my husband. My anxiety skyrocketed, and my regular 6 a.m. alarm slowly crept to 7, and then 8. My productivity tanked. I was back to square one.
I’ve completely transformed everything I ever knew about work. I have been forced to examine my faults, find new routines, and learn ways to cope and grow as a professional.
Over the last six months, I’ve completely transformed everything I ever knew about work. I have been forced to examine my faults, find new routines, and learn ways to cope and grow as a professional.
Someday, I’ll look back to 2020 and remember a lot of anger, a lot of stress, and a lot of sadness. But I’ll also see a lot of personal growth. I hope you can do the same.
Here are eight tips to improve your days when you work from home.
When it comes to sleep, listen to your body.
I used to start work at a coffee shop every day at 7 a.m. It allowed me to get things done before days of back-to-back meetings. And while my brain is definitely firing on all cylinders in the morning, in hindsight it’s pretty stupid (and honestly unhealthy) to define my productivity by what time I open my laptop.
I’m still a morning person, but I’ve become much less strict about my schedule. If I’m having a tough morning, I’ll let myself sleep in. Listening to what my body wants has helped decrease anxiety and keep my energy levels up through the afternoon.
Buy a screen already!
Screens are something a lot of office workers take for granted, but I’ve spent the last five years in an open-concept workspace where everyone works off a laptop. After three months at home, my husband convinced me to buy a screen. Along with being a total gamechanger from a productivity perspective, it has improved my posture and eliminated the strain I cause my eyes by constantly squinting at my laptop.
Don’t want to invest? Ask your employer if you can grab a screen that’s been sitting in your lonely office for the last six months.
Take a lunch break.
When you work from home, the line between work life and home life can easily become blurred. And while I’ve never been someone who is good at taking lunch breaks, when COVID-19 hit I regularly found myself working through lunch entirely.
Forcing myself to take some time for a thirty-minute walk has totally reshaped my afternoons. I’ve found I have more energy and am more creative after taking a break and getting some exercise. I listen to podcasts and stay up to date on what is happening in this wild world. And sometimes, this break from my desk will even help me sort out a problem or spark a new idea.
Reflect on your faults.
I always thought my greatest skill was that I could claim to be a “generalist.” I’ve always been good enough at a lot of things. My primary job is to manage campaigns, but I am also good at writing and coming up with creative ideas, and I have enough of an eye for design to be dangerous.
If I let other people do their jobs, I am less stressed out and am not working 24/7. And guess what? The work usually turns out better when you have a team of experts doing what they are best at, rather than a team of generalists doing what they are good at.
I spent years getting offended when I wasn’t invited to do all of those things. I realize now this is ridiculous. But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that if I let other people do their jobs, I am less stressed out and am not working 24/7. And guess what? The work usually turns out better when you have a team of experts doing what they are best at, rather than a team of generalists doing what they are good at. Imagine that!
Use work from home to your advantage.
If there’s anything good that can come out of being forced to stay home, it’s that you can knock off your to-do list while you’re at work. I’m no longer spending Saturday mornings doing laundry and dusting my living room. Instead, after completing a task or when I feel stuck at work, I’ll take five minutes to do something at home. Feeling frustrated? Go water your plants or check in with a friend or significant other. The break will help you reset when it’s time to return to work.
Redecorate your space.
Since COVID-19 hit I have probably redone the walls in our upstairs (which doubles as my office) at least four times. My husband says I “care way too much about how things look.” I do! But being in an aesthetically pleasing place is something that makes me more productive. If I can’t sit in beautiful coffee shops every morning, I will have to create that space for myself. Plus, I find that solving creative challenges in my surroundings helps me become better at solving them at work.
And redecorating doesn’t need to be expensive. Simply swapping out a print or adding a new decorative piece here or there can change the feel of an entire room. Looking for inspiration? Hit up a thrift store or check out Etsy or online retailers like Juniper Print Shop where you can usually find pieces for under $50.
Find new ways to create calm.
My collection of candles and essential oils has tripled in the last six months. I’m more stressed out than ever, but being able to light a candle at my desk or put on a soothing scent (I’m obsessed with Little Barn Apothecary’s body oil) is a really great way to help keep myself calm throughout the day.
Remind yourself a few times each day to unclench your jaw, remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth, drop your shoulders back, and take a deep breath. Maybe do five minutes of yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
I’m always amazed at how much stress I carry in my body, so it’s also important also remind yourself a few times each day to unclench your jaw, remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth, drop your shoulders back, and take a deep breath. Maybe do five minutes of yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
Turn off your camera.
I don’t know about you, but the amount of meetings I’m in each day has skyrocketed in the last six months. With Zoom taking over the way we work, I’ve found looking at myself 5-7 hours a day to be increasingly exhausting. I (admittedly) have a bit of an RBF and am constantly worried that people think I’m pissed off while I’m just sitting there listening to them. So I started taking breaks from the camera.
While client meetings and brainstorms can definitely benefit from face-to-face conversation, whenever I’m just listening in I like to take a little break from worrying about how I look. It’s the little things that can make all the difference.
Maggie is a marketer and writer based in New York. She has a husband she met on Twitter, and spends her free time cooking, thrifting and watching stupid TV shows. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @MaggieLaMaack.