I began working from home over a decade ago. In 2013, I returned to doing it full-time when my husband and I established our small business. I still toggle between working solo and in collaboration with virtual teams, but it’s all done from home or wherever my mobile office takes me. While I consider it a great blessing, it’s not without some challenges. There are still areas that I need to work on (isn’t that always the case), but I have learned the basics of how to stay sane.
Many joined the work from home ranks this year out of necessity but may not have been properly equipped to do so. If you share the bedroom to home office “commute,” here are a few fundamental working from home tips.
Set Up a Dedicated & Conducive Workspace
Having a dedicated workspace is important. I’ve shared about having a prayer space that lets your body, mind, and heart know it’s time to pray, and the same holds true for a workspace. Since your office resides within your home and you are not commuting to work, having a space that says “it’s time to work” is helpful. That not only lets family members know that you’re “at work” but can help you focus and manage distractions and background noise, especially while you take calls or video meetings.
Having a home office conducive to work is equally important. While I’m practical, I’m also creative – so I consider function and form when dreaming up and decorating a space. The right tech is essential, some beauty will help with inspiration, and ergonomics are crucial. While you may love that Swedish modern wood chair, spare your back and your bum and get something with proper support. See my home office and more helpful hacks, tips, and tricks for setting up a creative & organized home office on my DIY Home Office blog.
If space is lacking in your home, work with what you have. There are many creative ways to utilize smaller spaces or set up an office within another room while affording some privacy. Apartment therapy is one of the countless sites with small home office ideas. And a good pair of noise-canceling headphones can go a long way.
Don’t Get Caught Up in Being Ultra Productive
I am an efficiency nerd, but not a productivity hacker. My experience with several productivity hacks is that they often promote a “do more, be more” mindset of constantly striving and always doing. While hustle is sometimes necessary, I find the American concept of productivity has repeatedly left me caught up in comparisons that result in feeling not enough, overworked to burned out, unbalanced, impatient, or lacking focus because I’m trying to do it all.
Organization, accomplishment, measuring effectiveness–all those tools and systems are cool, but what if our doingness masks a hollow core, or gives us fuel for avoiding the life we say we’d like to be living?”Lifehack.org
Modern workplaces can suck us into “doingness.” They often propagate working longer hours for a multitude of reasons, such as understaffing, unmanageable workloads, or negative impacts on anything from performance reviews to advancement opportunities. While companies may fear that their staff may slack off while working from home, in many cases, the opposite is true – they work more.
I’ve learned about this the hard way, likely due in large part to my choleric side of my temperament. If left unchecked, I could fall back into old patterns that range from overextended to workaholic. I’m more achievement-focused as a choleric, which are highly driven leaders. Thankfully God created me a choleric-sanguine, so my sanguine side can balance that a bit with creativity, sensitivity, sociability, and playfulness. My husband is the other great equalizer for my temperament.
I know that doing more does not equate with success, and while I’ve grown in some ways, this is still a work in progress for me. Some key contributors towards my growth have been learning from others and my own mistakes, praying for wisdom and prudence, developing discernment and self-knowledge, seeing my therapist, and doing work that I love while seeking to lead a full life.
Set clear priorities and boundaries that you communicate and strive to practice. Then evaluate how you’re doing on those regularly to make the necessary adjustments as you go. The tool I’m using right now to help me with “peaceful being and purposeful doing” is the Monk Manual. While it looks like a planner, it’s a daily system, and I highly recommend it.
Get into a Rhythm
Your workplace may have set office hours, or like me, you can choose your own. I love the flexibility that I have working from home. I can run downstairs and toss a load of laundry in and out between calls. Dinner can get started in the oven while I get back to writing. I have to be cautious of daily chores that can easily bleed into working time and vice versa, take over, disrupt my focus, and push working or chores into much later in the evening or to the weekends. If I’m crashing on a deadline or playing catchup, I’ll work late. Still, experience has taught me that making it a habit takes away my downtime and precious moments with my family, recreation, relationships, personal responsibilities, etc.
Working late depletes more than time, it affects well-being. It can make us anxious, disrupt our sleep, steal our sanity, and worse. A study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine discovered that every hour beyond 39 hours a week could have a negative impact on your mental health, which also affects our bodies.
Working for our income is the reality for most of us. So, what do we do? A friend recently shared this reflection by Padre Pio with me, which gives excellent practical and spiritual advice toward this point.
Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply.
Do not complicate matters unnecessarily.
How do you live simply?
You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty.
Consider your duty.
Then move through each day and try to serve only that duty.
Have order in your life and in the life of your family.
There should be a rhythm to each day that does not change.
Rise at the same time.
Retire at the same time in the evening.
Pray at the same time.
This creates an environment in which you are free to consider God.
Do not think, my friends, that you live in a world where the need for simplicity has disappeared.
Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service.
There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.
The act of sitting and reading these words is forcing you to consider heaven’s wishes for you. Pull yourself away from the world even further and spend some time in silence when you are finished with reading.
Ask Jesus to show you which activities should be removed.
My friends, the lives of your children, if you are a parent, should also be simple.
Children should not be stressed by too many activities.
They should have responsibilities in their home and their parents should be present to see that the children meet their responsibilities.
This will make children feel good and holy.
If there is calm in the home, and not constant noise, a parent is able to consider each child and see that each child is proceeding in the acquisition of virtues.
This is not happening if there is a constant stream of activity that prevents souls from consideration of these matters.
– St. Pio of Pietrelcina
At the very least, the Pandemic has been pushing society back towards living simply, and we are striving to embrace our new normal. As I write this post late into the night, I’m convicted to try again to keep my rhythm tomorrow. St. Pio, pray for us!
Self-Care, Managing Expectations & Interruptions
There’s a lot of advice about how to function well at home. Waking up early is a common one. I’m a night-owl, so I don’t perform my best mental functioning in the early morning. I had to rise early for years between work and school, so I’ve done it, and still do at times. But whenever possible, I avoid scheduling early morning meetings or brain-powered activities since I know that it’s not my strength. I do try to maintain a good sleep schedule and morning routine.
I used to pick up my phone upon waking and begin checking notifications and emails immediately. Now, I get my phone to check the time and pray the morning offering. I commit my day to the Lord, asking for the grace to use it as He desires. I check for any important notifications, and OK – I usually browse my Social Media a bit, but then move on to my morning routine. When I don’t get to do the normal things–like making the bed, getting dressed, fixing breakfast, and doing morning prayer–before sitting down to work, I’m off-kilter.
Many experts recommend grooming and dressing professionally every day. Things are pretty laid back in our home and even more low-key here in Austin, Texas, so that’s not how we roll. But I do get fixed up as the occasion requires. Many days are athleisure wear over here, but if I’ve got a client or board meeting, I’m professional and ready. When I meet virtually with my LWGL teammates, since we’re a ministry of friends, we come as we are. Sometimes we may look snappy and others we may appear cozy, but I like that we’re comfortable and able to do either.
With everything virtual, feeling isolated is a common issue for many work-from-home folks. The isolation of this Pandemic has further intensified that. Carving out time for meaningful connection – especially with God, family, safely with friends, or via video or phone chats – is even more vital now. Even if you’re super busy, don’t skip out on prayer time – that will keep you grounded. If you want peace, you need time for silence. Stay connected to what nurtures you.
One of my crucial working from home tips is setting priorities and then being attentive to the needs of the moment. Being present can be challenging. God continues to teach me how to better attune myself to the gift and grace found in right now. Sometimes distractions present themselves, and those need to be dealt with, but not every interruption is a distraction. A sudden issue or need that arises may not be in my plans, but it may be the work that I need to give myself to in the moment.
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”C.S. Lewis
Tending to our needs isn’t being selfish, it’s necessary, especially when we’re home nearly all the time now. If we hit the wall, then we’ve blown past all hints that our mind and body gave us along the way. If we’re experiencing things like feeling moody, distracted, or overwhelmed, then pause and reflect. What are the root causes? Refrain from always trying to push through and then becoming more frustrated. Reevaluate, adjust, care for yourself. It could be the perfect time to check on your family, call a friend, or do a healthy activity such as stretching, walking, or resting. Recharge your battery so that you are better equipped to do what your work requires of you.
Working from home has a lot of benefits. The right tools, mindset, focus, and flexibility are all foundational. Work in a way that plays to your strengths. And when you struggle, remember to be patient, care for yourself, pray, and make time for what matters most to you.