Systems are beautiful things. When setup properly and with regular maintenance, systems allow things to keep moving and ensure safety and productivity. Systems enhance our daily lives and improve the conditions around us, even in ways we might not have expected.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, many people have found themselves working from home, or worse, not working at all. I myself have been working from home and have been thinking about this idea of systems while working from home. The last several weeks I’ve been attempting to figure out a system that works for me, a task that has been reevaluated weekly due to changing circumstances at home.
The way I’ve experienced it, work from home systems are based on two key pillars – physical setup and time management.
The actual space you’ll be using to work from home matters. For example, you’re much more likely to be successful if you setup in a closed room or arranged corner of your dining table or kitchen counter than relaxed on the couch. No matter how much will power you have, if you’re comfy on the couch and in front of the remote control, you’re going to end up dozing off to day time soap operas at some point. If you don’t have an actual office with a desk at your place, find somewhere you can setup a space that feels more like your work space. Get yourself a pen cup, set aside a note pad and make sure there’s an outlet close by to charge your phone or laptop. Even if you’re in the middle of a big room, set yourself up for success by not tempting yourself with several naps a day on the couch. You might also consider facing toward a wall and not the middle of the room. That way your less likely to day dream by wishing you were on the couch.
“Put your body where you want your mind to be.”
I’m not sure who said this or where it came from, but it’s something that’s stuck with me for a very long time. If you’re trying to get into work mode, put your body in a place that you know will work for you. If you put your body on the couch next to the remotes and the book you started reading last night, it’s going to be difficult to focus. If you sit in a wooden chair with a nice cushion, facing the corner of the room where there’s nothing on the wall and you have your your notepad remininding you of your to-do’s, you’re like to stay focused. If you’re setup near the kitchen, don’t face yourself toward the refridgerator – avoid the same temptation as the couch.
Once you’ve got the room setup for success, time management is the next, more significant hurdle you’re going to face.
If you don’t have experience working from home, you’re going to want to figure out a routine and you’re goiing to have to figure out some boundaries. The routine is important, because it will help you align your mind around the fact that you don’t have to set an alarm, you don’t have to rush out the door to beat the traffic, you don’t have to make that long trek through the hallways of your office building, you don’t have to make small talk with six different people as you settle into your desk, no matter how much you miss those things.
You can just wake up, pour the coffee and start working. This can also be dangerous because you can easily slip into working overtime and burning yourself out pretty quickly. My suggestion is to start working around the same time you usually do and end work around the same time as well. Give yourself a lunch break. Exercise around the same time as you usually do, even if you can’t go to the gym, do something at home or outside around the same time of day. Give yourself plenty of breaks too. Our bodies were made to move and we’re likely not going to be moving as much. It’s likely the office water cooler and restrooms are much closer at home than they are at work, which means you’re getting far less steps during the course of your day at home.
Moving my body more is definitely something I need continued reminders on – I tend to get really focused on what I’m doing and find myself often sitting for three or four hours at a time. Not good. To fight this, I set the alarm on my phone or on my browser and try to stand up to get up to stretch and get a drink of water every 20-25 minutes. This is enough to keep my body feeling good until I can take a longer break or go for a walk or stretch out for several minutes.
The last note about time management is to give yourself some credit. Working from home during a pandemic is difficult. Your entire world seems like it’s been turned upside down. And if you have children or multiple people in your home, it feels even more out of control. In this situation, remind yourself that everyone else is going through the same thing, no one expects perfection, and use this new experience to talk to other people about what you’re going through.
*A note on boundaries – communication with the people you’re living with is critical. Share with them your new routine, your start time and end time and let them know if it’s ok to stop to each lunch together. Maybe you could plan your breaks at the same time so you can actually talk to another person face to face. If you don’t talk to your cohabitants, you’re likely going to end up resenting them or vice versa. Don’t let that happen. Talk to them about what you’re thinking and what your plans on. Odd are, they’re thinking the same thing too.
I just spoke to someone yesterday on the phone, someone I respect, and he told me there’s been a couple weeks where he didn’t shower for three or so days. Whoa! I thought I was the only one who got into a slump like that, but nope. I’m sure we’ve all fallen into a crevice of ignoring ourselves a little bit during this pandemic. It’s ok. Just stop reading this right now and go take a shower. Shave. Brush your teeth. And just by doing that, you’re going to feel better.