A lot of existing advice about working from home is focused on being productive and actually getting work done. Which makes sense; when you’re working from home, you should definitely prioritize doing whatever it is you’re being paid to do.
But, also: Fuck your employer, broadly speaking! If you’re being advised or required to work remotely because your employer is worried about the spread of coronavirus, you’re working from home for your—and everyone else’s—health!
It’s easy to get so caught up in impressing your manager and proving that you’re good at working from home that you neglect to take care of yourself. By day’s end, you’re a shell of your former self: Your hair is greasy, your sweatshirt is covered in bits of the stale tortilla chips you grazed on all day for “lunch,” and your back hurts because you’ve been hunched over your laptop in bed without moving.
It doesn’t have to be this way! On the cusp of a global pandemic, perhaps it’s time to think a tiny bit less about productivity and a little bit more about not feeling like a garbage-pail person. Here are some tips that might help.
Don’t start working the moment you wake up.
It’s very easy to open your phone or laptop first thing and get sucked into emails… and then not come up for air until noon. Instead of bypassing your normal morning routine, make a point to not look at your work emails or Slack until you’ve gotten up and moving and are feeling a bit more human.
Since you’re not commuting, take a bath instead of a shower, or do an extra skincare step.
Taking a shower = a bummer. Taking a bath = a treat! Starting your day with a quick soak feels slightly luxurious. Another option: Make use of your many face masks. Hell, do one in the morning and another one during that boring conference call you’re taking later.
At the very least, wash your face, brush your teeth, and put on clean underwear.
The above constitutes the holy trinity of “bare minimum steps to not feeling gross” here, which is ultimately what we’re trying to hit, if not surpass.
Put on clean day pajamas.
The first tip in nearly every article about working from home is “put on real clothes.” You should get dressed... but you also don’t need to be Dressin'. Much like wearing biz caj is not terribly comfortable, neither is sitting in your own filth all day! Make a point to change out of whatever you slept in and into something cleanish and comfortable before you start working for the day.
Alternatively, put on something that makes you feel vaguely active or put-together.
Wearing sneakers while I’m at home makes me more amenable to getting up and moving around, and ultimately less sluggish. My colleague Hannah says she feels better when she puts her hair in French braids. “[It's] something about the no-nonsense look of having all of my hair pulled back,” she said. Figure out what makes you feel like you’re Working, and do that.
Don’t work from your bed.
If your bed is comfortable and/or you don’t have a great desk setup, it’s tempting to spend the day there… but what feels nice at 8 a.m. can feel unkempt, and possibly like a health code violation, at 3 p.m. Make a point to set up in another place in your home, and consider relocating (from the kitchen table to the couch, etc.) throughout the day—it’ll help stop you from feeling too slovenly.
… But if you must work from your bed, at least make your bed.
It really is the little things that make all the difference.
Make a point to actually talk to other people.
When you’re working remotely, it’s very easy to not interact with any other humans IRL—which can contribute to that feeling of being both brain-dead and way too keyed up come 4 p.m.
If spreading germs is a serious concern, make a point to have phone conversations or FaceTime with other humans (your co-workers or your friends). It’ll stave off loneliness and help you feel a little more alive and connected to the real world.
Figure out lunch.
Nothing makes me feel like crap when I’m working from home faster than constantly grazing on bad snacks (does leftover Valentine’s Day candy count as a snack?) because I have nothing to eat for lunch. Decide in the morning what your meal plan is for the day, and set an alarm to remind you to actually do it.
If you’re going to be working remotely for a few days, it’s worth buying sandwich supplies, canned soup, eggs, frozen pierogies, or other foods you can quickly and easily turn into something resembling a balanced meal.
Don't stress too much about being productive.
You need to do your job when you’re working remotely, but freaking out about it to the point that you’re not willing to take a shower or eat lunch isn’t helpful. You probably waste time here and there when you’re at your office, and it’s going to happen when you’re at home, too. If it doesn’t, and you end up being done with your work a few hours earlier than you usually would, embrace it.
And try not to get overly caught up in performing productivity at the expense of everything else.
Be aware of the degree to which you want to "seem" present on Slack—and don’t overdo it to the detriment of your work. Instead, make use of Slack statuses and/or let your manager and coworkers know when you’re stepping out for lunch, taking your dog out, etc.
Set a quitting time and make a plan for the evening.
When you don’t have office rhythms to mark the passage of time, it’s very easy to lose track of your evening entirely and find yourself sitting in total darkness and Slacking your co-workers well after the time you normally would have gone home. You may want to make a calendar event or set an alarm to remind you to log off at a normal hour.
Make plans for the evening so you know what to do with yourself once the day is over. If you’re staying home to avoid a viral outbreak (or because you personally might be sick), your plan for the evening might not be going out. That’s fine! Even just deciding, I’m going to stop working at 6 tonight, and then I’m going to make soup, can be enough to keep you from sliding into a state of decrepitude.
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Rachel Miller is the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People, coming May 2020. Follow her on Twitter.