Working from home is fast replacing going to the office, thanks to the pandemic that has already changed a myriad of behaviours, across the world. This offers many advantages, like less driving (and pollution) and time wasted stuck in traffic, more freedom to manage your day, and extra hours with family. But it’s also a more isolated way of life, and it can become very difficult to manage the practicalities of your productivity in private. The structure that an office environment creates, combined with the motivating social bonus of being surrounded by coworkers, can be a huge part of what makes work enjoyable and rewarding for many.
As we learn to embrace this new way of life, it’s still important to recognise how strange things have become, and make space for finding new ways of achieving a balanced and enjoyable life. Starting off on the right note sets the tone for the rest of your day. Many who feel rushed and inundated with urgent notifications while waking and transitioning into work feel frazzled for hours thereafter, without even knowing exactly why. Thankfully, there are a few simple things you can do to set a healthy morning groove in motion.
1. Wake up at the same time every day
Routine is your friend when it comes to productivity and giving your brain the best chance to perform optimally. Stabilising your inner clock means getting better sleep overall, feeling less drained and more refreshed on waking, and better able to focus for the rest of the day. Try to also wake up with enough time to start your day at a comfortable pace: it may be tempting to sleep as late as possible, but giving yourself the chance to wake up properly, and spending time on nurturing yourself first thing, will have you feeling way more energised than an extra hour of sleep could have achieved. How you wake up is also important, so avoid checking emails, news notifications or social media as you fall out of bed – save that for later.
Tip: Drink a full glass of water right after you get up, and reap enormous brain rewards – here’s why.
2. Feed your brain
The sedentary nature of working from home needs to be balanced with regular movement. Exercise is food for the brain: it improves memory and brain function, strengthening and even repairing neural pathways. The burst of endorphins helps boost your mood right from the start of the day, giving you more creative energy and emotional reserves to tackle stressful demands. Morning exercise is also linked to hormone regulation for better overall health and balance. However, this doesn’t mean you have to do an intense workout. Take things at a natural pace for your body – even gentle yoga, a few lightly paced laps around the block, or breathing exercises will help to ground your mind and body. You can build up slowly over time too, especially if lockdown has made maintaining fitness difficult.
3. Eat breakfast
Eating breakfast kick-starts your metabolism, feeding your brain with much needed glucose that powers better concentration, and fuels the rest of your body too. During the night, our bodies ingeniously use a lot of energy stores for cell renewal and repair, which means that we naturally wake up slightly depleted. If you eat something balanced and healthy first thing, you’ll be topping up your reserves with powerful protein, calcium and other important vitamins and minerals. It’s now also commonly accepted that good gut health boosts brain function, so taking probiotics isn’t only for when you’re on strong medication. Also, make a jug of water for your desk so you stay hydrated throughout the day. Examples of good breakfasts include protein-rich easy overnight oats, scrambled eggs on brown toast, and a variety of fresh fruit.
4. Get dressed
When you’re done with your workout, and have cooled down over a nutritious and balanced brekkie, take a refreshing shower, and change into something comfortable (no need to don your power suit, but at least get out of the clothes you slept in). It will send the signal to your brain that it’s time to focus. Getting dressed and looking spiffy will instantly make you feel better about yourself, and more in control – powerful subconscious currents to help you get into a great headspace for work-mode.
5. Create a dedicated workspace
Don’t be tempted to work from your bed or couch: nevermind the terrible ramifications for your posture, it will make going to sleep or truly relaxing when the time comes, even more difficult. Getting a good night’s rest is arguably the most important task in ensuring a productive day thereafter. Following good sleep hygiene can help make going to sleep faster, quality of rest better, and waking up in the morning will be less painful (with no surprise cat-naps needed). This doesn’t mean you have to have the luxury of an entirely dedicated home office, but a desk in your bedroom or even a spot at the kitchen table can make all the difference. Make it a nurturing space for focus: think undemanding house plants like succulents, a mini humidifier, candle diffuser with your favourite smells, place your station near a window or source of fresh air and natural light, and splurge on all your favorite stationery.
6. Structure a bespoke workday
Take advantage of the freedom that working from home gives you to design your own, ultimate workday rhythm: Do you concentrate better in the morning, or are you more of a night owl? You get to decide when to take lunch, or how to space out your breaks for maximum impact, according to how you like to work. Firstly, start strong by listening to your favourite playlist or podcast and get into the zone with something that energises you. Set alarms to signal your breaks so you don’t forget the plan.
Tip: Set another alarm 10 minutes before you take your break, giving yourself time to wrap up what you’re doing and pull your mind out of deep concentration.
However, be flexible, and if you find yourself propelled into a state of hyper productivity, keep going and rather take your break as soon as you feel the natural dip of mental fatigue. To stay on track, set weekly and daily goals with deliverables for accountability. But, make sure not to overload yourself, and work systematically along with deadlines so you can best prioritise and pace your workflow. For some great life hacks on managing your time, check out this article.
Between online meetings, social media and having your office inside your home, it can also become hard to tear yourself away from the screen. Force yourself to break away by actively scheduling a walk with the dog, some time for housework or cooking, meditation, journaling, or doing something fun with the kids. Set some boundaries between work and home: don’t go online first thing in the morning, and be strict about cutting off your workday at a certain time each evening. Also, leave the area you’ve been working in and don’t be tempted to keep popping back to check emails. This will allow you to work better and more consistently when it’s go-time, avoiding the possibility of dreaded burnout.
Keep it simple, focus on what you can do to help make your life easier, and stick with it – because all routines require the hard work of creating new habits. Don’t try to change everything too fast either, or it may end up feeling overwhelming. Remember, it’s not about becoming the perfect WFH machine, but rather learning to honour what your body needs on a daily basis, and enhancing the best balance in your life. This will require some introspection and probably lots of trial and error, but that’s all part of the journey of embracing the freedom of working from home.