Put together a routine—but build in flexibility
When you have children or pets at home, you can’t expect to work a full day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., especially if you don’t have childcare. “People are going to be most effective and most productive if they stick to some kind of regular schedule, but it very likely won’t be the same schedule as if they were going into the office every day,” said House.
So your work times might involve getting up early while the kids sleep in, or working while they are focused on Zoom classes, schoolwork, a creative activity, or TV. Ideally, you and your partner can coordinate work and childcare so that you’re both not simultaneously on Zoom calls. And you might even have to sometimes work evenings or weekends.
If you don’t have children, you may still be managing life and work at home with a partner who’s also working, or you may be dealing with just the distractions of being at home. So make sure your routine includes specific appointed times to do house chores as well as downtime. “You want some hours set aside where you’re not focused on work, since the risk is that your whole life becomes about working from home,” said House. “It’s easy not to have boundaries, which can lead to a sense that you’re always working or should always be working.”
Give yourself space—office space
Please, don’t let your office be you sitting at your laptop, in bed. “As much as possible, have a particular place, even if it’s just a chair in one corner of one room,” said House. Setting up that space helps cue your brain that this is your working time, which can help you focus. So have your calendar there, your Post-Its, your penholder—and if you can, use separate devices for work than you do for play. At the very least, turn off notifications on your phone to help you focus during the times when you are working.
Dress the part
So you definitely don’t need to put on a suit every day. But do take a shower and change your clothes. “There is something to be said psychologically for putting on actual clothes that might help you get in the mind frame for focusing and working. All of these things cue your brain that it’s time to be alert, awake and focused,” said House.
Use this trick to gain focus
“Some people are more distractable than others, and some people have an easier time getting themselves to do things they don’t really want to do,” said House. For people struggling to maintain focus on an assignment or project, she suggests trying this: Make a deal with yourself that you’re going to work on it for just 10 to 15 minutes at a time. “Most of us can get ourselves to do something for that long,” she said. “And once you’ve started on something, it’s often easier to get ourselves to keep going.”
If you find yourself missing the office environment and feeling lonely for your coworkers, “it’s valid to feel that way,” says House. “People need people and need to be connected to other people.” While there’s no hard and fast rule for how often you should connect, if you are feeling lonely, reach out, she says. Schedule Zoom or FaceTime meetings to discuss a project, instead of just exchanging emails—or set up a Zoom lunch to catch up with coworkers. Another option is to call a coworker or client just to hear a real, actual voice. Just don’t think that texting or emails is enough, though. “The more sensory input you have, the more satisfying it is,” said House. “While connecting over Zoom or telephone calls is not the same, it’s better than not connecting at all—and it’s more connecting to see and hear somebody using these technologies than seeing words on a screen.”
Another important part of your routine should be sleep, says House. “When our other routines get out of whack, it’s easy for sleep to get out of whack,” she said, “even though good sleep is super important for general physical and emotional well-being.” So stick to a regular sleep routine, such as turning off electronics one hour or more before bedtime, having quiet time, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, and aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep.
Give yourself grace
Finally, give yourself and your family plenty of grace and patience, says House; in other words, lower your expectations. “This is not something any of us have tried to do before,” she said, “and we shouldn’t be expecting to do this well or think that this is not hard.”