Full disclosure: I don’t follow most of my own advice. This is very much a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because I’m terrible at establishing any sort of healthy habits or routines. I started a work-from-home position in February, before the rest of the world transitioned to the same lifestyle, and I very quickly devolved into a slightly feral hermit-goblin, so I started scouring the internet for various tips and tricks to working from home, and I also began to come up with my own tips for improving my work-from-home experience. Some of these tips are specific, some are ridiculously generic, but they’re…well, here.
Anyway, all that is to say that I’m very much not an expert or even a slightly experienced work-from-home person, and this post is as much of a joke as it is actual serious advice, and of course bear in mind the usual disclaimers: YMMV (your mileage may vary), you don’t have to follow prescriptive advice, take what you like and leave the rest, etc, etc.
1. Move around!
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t exercise as often as I should. Or, actually, at all. I haven’t gone out for a walk since – oh, mid-March? And no, I don’t do at-home workouts. It’s bad. I’m a disaster.
BUT, exercise aside, one thing that’s good to do is just to move around! Don’t sit still in your chair for longer than 30 minutes, and ideally no longer than 15! This doesn’t mean get up and run a marathon or even do pushups, but just like…get up. Wiggle your arms. Stretch your hamstrings. Get your blood pumping a little bit.
Ideally you would do this for at least five minutes, but I usually do it for like…less than a minute. Still! I find that this helps me from falling asleep at my desk, and it also stops my lets from going numb, especially since I tend to sit in very odd cross-legged contortionist positions.
2. Get into ASMR/Relax Melodies/Calm/etc!
Generally speaking, I’m not a big…music person. I like my peace and quiet. I don’t like music or noise in the background most of the time, but especially when I’m reading. I have music on sometimes when I’m writing, but if I listen too long I start to get a headache.
However, now that we’re under quarantine, and I live with my family in a tiny NYC apartment, and my mom likes to have some sort of background noise on 24/7, it means I can constantly hear her soap operas coming through the next room, which is incredibly distracting.
So, when I want to read, or do some kind of work that requires concentration, I resort to ASMR stuff. I don’t mean ASMR as in those whispery videos; I mean the videos that are like “fireplace and thunderstorm” sounds, the sorts of things you see on apps like Calm or Relax Melodies. They’re great white noise to have on in the background to block out distractions, and they can be very relaxing. I tend to find them headache-inducing after a few hours, but they’re very helpful for short bursts of time when I have to do something and need to tune out my family’s sounds!
On a semi-related note, consider noise cancelling headphones! Personally, I despise headphones because I wear glasses and so they squish the glasses against my ears and then my ears are in screaming pain after only a few minutes, but if you don’t suffer from this particular malady, then noise cancelling headphones may be for you!
3. Drink water in a fun reusable water bottle!
This is like…the most generic advice ever but HEAR ME OUT. It took me about twenty-seven years of life to realize that most of the time, when I’m feeling sleepy, I’m actually just dehydrated. For some reason, I just never tended to drink water. Like, if I were spending the day at home, I could literally go the entire day without a single sip. That is…not great, obviously. I realized part of it was a convenience issue; I hated having to go to the kitchen and fill a glass of water every time I was thirsty (are you starting to recognize just how lazy I am yet?). I also just…don’t like drinking water from cups? I realize that must sound bizarre, but there’s just something about like…the wide mouth of cups that makes drinking water a different experience than when drinking from a bottle. But the bottle matters too!
Which brings me to my next point: keep a reusable water bottle next to you at all times, and make sure it’s one you like! For literal YEARS I could only use plastic water bottles because I just couldn’t find the right reusable bottle; I just think a lot of them smell weird or are configured weird. But now I have two that I switch between! One is red and has little black terriers on it. The other is bright pink. They’re both fun to look at and fun to use, which encourages me to keep both of them full. They’re also large, so I don’t have to refill them all that often. I take small sips throughout the day, and it’s super easy, because the bottle is literally within arm’s reach!
Also, make sure the water is water you want to drink! For example, I can’t drink lukewarm water. I can kind of do room temperature water, but for me to actually enjoy my water it should ideally be very slightly cool, but not cold! I can’t drink cold water either. If you don’t like plain water, maybe throw some fruit in there or something. Filter your water, if you don’t like tap water (I was raised on filtered water, so now I can’t really drink tap water unless I’m in Vermont, apparently, which somehow has amazing tap water).
4. Put a bra on!
This is like. Terrible advice. One because it’s terribly gendered. But also because remember that article by the guy who was like “don’t wear sweatpants when you’re working from home” and the internet rightfully dragged him? But this is different, I swear. It’s not about how you have to get dressed in the morning to make yourself feel like you’re working or whatever (although maybe it’s a little bit like that, but just to a lesser extent, but also, it’s a metaphor, so bear with me).
When I’m wearing a bra, I’m always a tad bit uncomfortable, which means I’m unlikely to fall asleep. Somehow, having a bra on makes me just a bit more alert, and I feel like it also helps with my posture, somehow (it almost definitely doesn’t, but I think it does, so that’s good enough). When I’m planning on doing Serious Work I try to put on a bra so that I can concentrate better.
For you, it may not be a bra. Maybe it’s a headband (I do this sometimes too; it activates my brain!). Maybe it’s jeans. A blazer. Earrings. Glasses instead of contacts. Point is, figure out what it is that makes it easier for you to do something productive and maybe do that.
Or don’t. I haven’t actually put on a bra in weeks.
5. Leave the house every now and then!
In the past two months, I’ve left the house precisely four times. Three of those times, I was in the car the entire time, driving my mom to the laundromat. The fourth time I went grocery shopping. Other than that, I’ve been holed up in my room for weeks, not even going for walks. This is…not ideal! Obviously!
If you are lucky enough to live in an area that’s not super densely populated, try to get out and about! If you’re as lazy as I am and don’t even want to go for walks, don’t, but maybe just like, step out onto your porch/front step. Take a deep breath of fresh air. Stand outside for five minutes. If you have a backyard, hang out there for a bit, get some sunshine. It makes a difference, I promise!
6. Make fun to-do lists!
I’m not a die-hard to-do list type of person, but I enjoy crossing things off a list as much as the next person. I also have a completely garbage memory, and so if I don’t write things down, they won’t get done because I will literally forget all about them! There’s just something so stimulating about the act of writing something down; it cements it into my cognitive sphere like nothing else.
So, write down the stuff you’ve got to do! Better yet, buy yourself a pretty planner! Personally I’m obsessed with stationery, so I’ve got piles of notebooks lying around, but I hadn’t realized just how much fun a planner in particular is. Mine has colorful motivational quotes and colorful section dividers and STICKERS, and maybe it’s because I have the dopamine receptors of a small child, but things like that excite me. Writing in my planner makes me want to do things, and crossing things off makes me feel productive.
If you don’t like writing things down, consider a digital organizer! Lots of people like Evernote. Personally, I love Trello, which I actually use for plotting my stories, but it works really well as a productivity organizer! I also hear good things about To Doist! And there’s so many more!
7. Consider aesthetics!
I cannot stress to you how much of an impact aesthetics makes on my mental health. In general, I’m obsessed with aesthetics, which is rich coming from a person who wore sweatpants every single day for all four years of college. But aesthetics matter! Learn about feng shui! Here are some things that are helpful for creating a pleasing aesthetic in a working and living space:
- Buy a desk organizer! They’re really cheap; I got mine for like $12 off Amazon, and it’s purple and keeps all my pens and random pieces of papers and other small bits and bobs all in one place.
- Light! Light! Light is so important just like, for your brain (I’m not a scientist, don’t @ me for details). Open your curtains to let the light in.
- Keep your space organized. Clutter is the worst. Clutter in your physical space = clutter in your mental space. At least for me it does.
- Drink tea or other fun drinks; keep them at your eye level where you can see them, so you can feel appropriately cozy or refreshed.
- Wipe off your desk often so you don’t have to see it coated with a thick layer of dust (she says, as she stares at the thick layer of dust on her desk).
- Burn candles or incense if that’s your jam. I have one of those Badger Sleep Balm tins, scented lavender and bergamot, that I sniff from time to time to relax.
8. Have an ergonomic setup!
I have terrible posture. I went to a chiropractor for like a year when I was twenty-four because I was suffering from really awful neck pain, and I learned a ton about how I’m supposed to walk and sit. I ignored most of the advice because it was too hard to follow, but what I did do was buy an ergonomic chair. If you’re gonna be sitting in a chair for half your life, it may as well be comfortable. Get one of those ergonomic wrap thingies that you can attach to your chair if you can’t afford a whole ergonomic chair.
And it’s not just chairs, either: if you’re working from a laptop, don’t hunch (I hunch all the time). Get one of those laptop risers and a separate keyboard so you can look the laptop right in the eye. Also, if you have a enough room, consider a double monitor situation; this doesn’t have anything to do with an ergonomic setup, but it can make your work a lot easier, depending on the kind of work you do. I really loved the double monitor setup I had in my
office cubicle, when I worked from on-site.
9. Do NOT screw up your sleep cycle!
For me, a typical week involves all of the following: sleeping more than 12 hours, sleeping less than four hours, sleeping at 4AM, sleeping from 2AM to 4PM, napping for three hours after sunset, etc, etc. In other words, my sleep cycle is a goddamn clusterfuck. However, on the days that I do manage to have a reasonable sleep cycle, I feel a lot better! More awake, more energized.
Listen. I know it’s hard. I’m a night owl, so I’m naturally predisposed to stay up late anyway, but now that I know I don’t have to endure a 1.5 hour commute every morning, I’m even more inclined to stay up late, since I know my commute involves three steps from my bed to my desk chair. I also have a really hard time falling asleep, so I tend to avoid my bed until I’m absolutely collapsing with exhaustion, in the hope that I’ll fall asleep quicker and won’t toss and turn for hours. All of this is terrible.
Ideally, you should maintain regular hours. You don’t have to go to bed at 9PM and wake up at the crack of dawn, but if you’re gonna go to sleep at midnight and wake up at 9AM, try to do that everyday. Get the right amount of hours for you. For me, it’s bizarrely specific: I need 10-12 hours of sleep a night to be truly rested, but if I go even a little bit over 12, I feel groggy. Meanwhile, my brother is perfectly fine on 6 hours of sleep (he got ALL the good genes). Figure out what works for you and stick to it.
10. Enjoy breakfast; or, enjoy a morning routine!
I know breakfast is controversial. Personally, I love breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day. Every day I wake up, wash up, make myself a nice breakfast and cup of iced coffee, and then I sit down at my desk to eat while watching a YouTube video.
Remember how I said earlier in this post that I struggle to maintain a routine? This is the only routine I’ve been able to maintain, ever, in my life, because I so deeply enjoy it. I look forward to waking up in the morning because I know I’m going to have a delicious cup of iced coffee, good food, and a fun YouTube video. Part of this ties into what I said about aesthetics, because mental aesthetics are as meaningful to me as physical ones, but it’s also about giving myself time to shake off the fog of sleep. After I do this, I’m energized, and ready to do something productive. It starts the day for me.
This doesn’t have to be your morning routine. Some people hate breakfast. That’s fine. I don’t get it, but you do you. Maybe you enjoy just a cup of coffee in the morning. Or a hot cup of tea. Or hot chocolate. Or lemon water. Whatever floats your boat. The point is, try to avoid rolling out of bed directly into your desk chair/work setup. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Do a face mask. Shower, maybe? I personally hate showering in the morning, but it wakes some people up! Go for a run? The idea or morning exercise makes me shudder, but I hear it’s popular. Do your morning stretches. Pray. Meditate.
The crux of all this babbling is, find something that you really enjoy doing, find a way to make it fit into your morning, pre-work routine, and then do that thing. The trick, of course, is this truly has to be something you enjoy, and if that means it’s self-indulgent, then so be it! Live your life!
Has this post just been a thinly-veiled attempt at regaling you all with my disastrous work-from-home routines (or lack thereof)? Maybe. Does this feel a little bit like a Livejournal post intended for public consumption? Perhaps. I also realize most of these tips are just like…very generic self-care advice that are more about existing at home and like…living as a normal human being rather than working from home specifically, but what can I say. This is what I’ve got to work with.