Working from Home Not Working for You?
Seven Tips to Help You Thrive in the New Normal
Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, the workplace has changed, and it may have changed for good. As COVID forced us all to work from our homes, it also proved many of us can be just as productive without a morning commute, a cubicle amongst colleagues and a full schedule of in-person meetings. Still, many others struggled with the newfound freedom and found it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. However, most of us, whether we enjoy working from home or not, are dealing with some degree of mental fatigue due to the lack of variation in our new routines. Here are seven tips for staying sharp and focused during those ever-increasing hours in your home office.
Recognize Fatigue as What it Is
Many people have reported feeling depressed after several months of working at home, but experts suggest what they are feeling is really just the fatigue of repetition. “People are no longer getting on trains, having pop-up conversations with people, experiencing the things that happen in the world during the course of their day,” says psychologist Dr. Jamie Wasserman. “People are not getting those external stimulations, so they feel like they are depressed and want to retreat, thinking they need a break, but what they really need is the opposite.” Because these stimulating activities no longer occur organically, Wasserman suggests artificially adding in things that energize you. Go for a walk. Exercise. Organize a Zoom cocktail. Plan a picnic lunch. “As adults, we forget we need to engage with the world,” Wasserman says. “We need stimulation.”
Don’t Worry About the Kids
While most adults need more stimulation, Wasserman says kids are just fine without it. “Our kids have been overstimulated and overscheduled for so long that it’s OK to lighten up and let them live a bit more of an old-fashioned life,” she says. “It’s OK for them to get bored, because it gives them the opportunity to learn how to create their own fun and have relationships with themselves.” This will actually benefit them in the long run, as research shows overscheduled kids often don’t eat well, sleep well or make friends properly. When they become young adults expected to manage their own schedules, they often develop crippling anxiety because they know how to check boxes but can’t think for themselves. So don’t stress about having to entertain your kids every minute of every day. They’ll manage. Instead, focus on entertaining yourself so you can concentrate on your work.
Create a Home Office, but Don’t Be Bound to It
Many people feel the need to create a dedicated office space to separate their work life and their home life, and this is certainly a good idea, as it can reduce distraction and inspire creativity. However, many people just don’t have the room, and existing in a teeny apartment has become a source of despair. In that case, the “home office” can simply be a different seat at the kitchen table or breakfast bar, or a different colored place mat under your laptop for working and under your dishes for eating. However, Wasserman suggests that moving around can be alright, too. “You may want to use your office space for private conversations and for when you need total quiet, but variety is also good for the mind,” Wasserman says. “Moving from the home office to the couch to the front porch to a bench in the park can provide a welcome change of scenery that helps to reduce fatigue.”
Get Dressed, or Don’t
For many, working in pajamas can seem tempting, but getting dressed does signal a start to the day and provide separation between the work day and the rest of your life. Others welcome the break from the pressure of having to plan outfits and look put-together all the time. So, recognize and accept which type of person you are, and go with it. “If you need to get dressed, do it,” Wasserman says. “Put on heels for an important meeting, or dress in suits. But if not having to get dressed gives you a sense of relief and provides you with some mental space to think about other things that are more interesting to you, that’s OK too.”
Your Regular Hours Don’t Have to be the Same as Everyone Else’s
Everyone needs a routine that is going to eventually get them to sit down at their desk and do their work, but that routine doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. If working from 9 to 5 is your thing, great. But if you want to play golf in the middle of the day and you know you’re capable of working from 8 to midnight, that works, too. “If you’re not careful, your work-from-home workday can never end, so working in that time for yourself is so important,” Wasserman says. “Many look at the situation and see an opportunity to create a unique schedule for themselves that can help them both be productive and provide enough stimulation to stave off that general malaise.”
When you had a morning commute, you’d probably listen to music or a podcast if driving, or read on the train. At lunch, you’d step away from your desk, eat with a friend, try a new place for takeout. Try to mimic those practices at home. Give yourself a few minutes at the beginning and end of each work day for your “commute” back to your normal life. Actually take your lunch break, and if you can leave your house to do it, great. “This new situation is making us all have to step up and learn how to take care of ourselves and our own lives,” Wasserman says. “Assess what you personally need, and make a point of prioritizing yourself.”
Mind your Body
All this screen time means many of us are ignoring the basic principles of caring for ourselves. To avoid eye strain, every 20 minutes, stop working, look away from your computer screen for 20 seconds and focus on something at least 20 feet away. To reduce the impact on your body of sitting all day, try stopping at the top of every hour for 20 air squats, 20 pushups, a short stretch or a few laps up and down your stairs. We’re drinking way too much coffee and not enough water, so try to reduce the former and increase the latter; make sure you’re drinking a least half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. If you’re a 140-pound woman, that’s 70 ounces of H20. Or, instead of an extra espresso, try a focus supplement like Kore Focus, which has half the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee, amino acids L-theanine and n-acetyl-L-tyrosine and herbs ginseng and ashwagandha help to increase focus and reduce mental fatigue.