While many of us are entering our seventh or eighth month of working from home thanks to COVID-19, some are having to adjust to it now as school resumes or jobs change. I’ve been working from home since 2014, and while it’s done wonders for my time management and productivity, it isn’t always easy. There are certain skills one has to develop to be successful and effective in working from home, and some of those skills come more easily to people than others.
Luckily, the Internet is full of wise masters who have learned the art of scheduling, listening to their bodies, and achieving that delicate balance between the light side and the dark side – by which we mean the elusive work-life balance, something which might seem unattainable now that coronavirus restrictions have made those two physical spaces overlap. So whether you’re about to embark on your work-from-home adventure or you find yourself in a rut and need some refreshers, let’s get some advice from the pros on how to be successful working from home.
1. Keep regular hours and a regular workspace.
True, you now have the ability to conduct your workday from your bed or couch – but there are good scientific reasons for keeping your leisure spaces and your workspaces separate, if you can. That said, we’ve all had days where we were happiest and most productive wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, and hey, if that works for you, great. Maybe you’re limited by where you can set up a workspace and it has to be in your bedroom, and you know what? The Rebel Alliance had their headquarters on an ice planet for a while and they made that work. What matters most is that you can create an area in your home – even if it’s just a couple square feet, and even if you have to set it up and take it down each day – that your brain can associate with productivity.
Similarly, you’ll want to set and keep hours for your workday. It doesn’t have to be 9-5. The goal is to create a schedule you can stick to, no matter what the hours are. On Jakku, Rey had her routine down: she worked all day scavenging as far as she could travel, cashed in her haul at sunset, and made herself dinner every night. Setting a workday schedule for yourself – and clearly communicating it to your coworkers and supervisors – is going to be key in protecting your personal time while working at home.
2. Get dressed for work.
Whether she was fighting battle droids, presiding over a throne room, or making a speech in the Senate, Padme Amidala knew the impact of style. Possibly the greatest temptation of working from home is the idea of wearing your pajamas all day – but don’t give in to the dark side! You don’t have to put on a velvet gown, or a suit, or even jeans (who wants to sit around all day in denim?), but the act of putting on different clothes tricks your brain into getting ready for the day in the same way as settling down in your workspace. It restores structure into this otherwise nebulous blob of work-from-home time.
3. Prioritize your tasks.
I don’t have any real canonical evidence for this, but Obi-Wan strikes me as a very organized dude. His planner is probably color-coded and I bet he even schedules time for meals and meditation. How else would you stay sane doing basically nothing on a desert planet for nineteen years? Hopefully we won’t be stuck working at home for nineteen years, but you can still maximize your productivity right now by developing, and sticking with, a planner system that works for you.
First, get a planner or a spiral notebook for bullet journaling. (I love the Passion Planner, and right now is a great time to jump in with an academic or undated planner.) Next, write out everything in your work week, and I really mean everything: not just work, but meals, physical activity, spiritual practices, errands, even your free time. Block out your day according to how much time you want to spend on a given task. Use colors and stickers to distinguish items and reward yourself for accomplishments. As you get better at your planner system and become more in tune with your focus throughout the day, you can reschedule your task times so you tackle more challenging projects when you have the most energy.
I’m not gonna lie: this is not easy. Scheduling my day in advance and sticking to that schedule is something I’m still working on, and there will always be things that come up to interrupt your beautifully organized day, like an emergency load of laundry, a last-minute assignment, or technical difficulties. The trick, at the end of the day, is to acknowledge that you got something done, even if you didn’t get everything done, and that’s what counts. (That’s what my therapist keeps telling me, anyway.)
4. Set boundaries with the other nearby beings.
Jabba the Hutt might be an abhorrent crime lord, but he’s always very clear on when visitors are allowed. Even if you have your own home office, and even if you, like Jabba, are constantly surrounded by sycophants and hangers-on (or just your children or pets) to the point where you’re just kind of used to it, it’s crucial to set ground rules about when interruptions are okay. Got an office with a door? Put up a “do not disturb” sign. Got a kitchen table? Put on headphones and have them serve as a visual cue that you can’t be interrupted. I’m not a parent, so I’ll let others share their tips for how to work at home with kids. (They might involve the Jedi mind trick – I honestly don’t know how parents do it all.)
Consider setting up a schedule or checklist for daily household tasks as well. Who’s responsible for getting the mail and when? Who’s feeding the pets and/or the humans in the house? Communicate these boundaries clearly and establish those emotional labor expectations so no one is left feeling like they’re taking on more than their fair share.
5. Keep moving.
As I’m writing this, most of the West Coast is engulfed in the worst air quality the region has probably ever seen thanks to record-shattering wildfires. Coronavirus already made it stressful (and in crowded urban areas, physically risky) to go out and get some fresh air. Now the nearest fresh air is in another state. But Yoda didn’t give Luke a rest day when he crash-landed in a swamp for Jedi training, and we can take care of our bodies, too. I use an absolute antique of a computer program called Workrave that stops me throughout my workday and tells me to take breaks ranging from 30-second microbreaks to full 30-minute rest breaks. I use that time to stand up, do stretches, shake out my hands, and get the blood flowing again.
It’s also a good idea to schedule exercise into your week, especially since days are all kind of indistinguishable blurs right now. Rope in a friend, partner, or housemate for accountability. And your exercise doesn’t have to be hour-long cardio sessions or lifting boulders, either: take a dance break to your favorite song, start your day with a few minutes of morning yoga, or play with your pet.
6. Make your work area as ergonomic as possible.
Lumbar support, laptop risers, different mouse or keyboard – just like a Jedi’s lightsaber is custom-built to their hands, you need to ensure your workspace is set up to keep you safe and healthy. Take it from someone who has suffered from tendinitis and RSI for years thanks to poor mouse and keyboard usage – this is one part of your workspace you don’t want to overlook. Ask your company if they can make accommodations for any new electronics that might help you alleviate pain and improve your productivity.
7. Yes, the dishes can wait.
Say you’re a mouse droid. It’s your job to scurry around big important places and clean them – but if you’re not careful with your schedule, you could end up getting roared at by a Wookie or trampled by a Dark Lord of the Sith with a bad temper. When you work from home, it’s easy to see “home” as work of its own, but if you let household chores take over time that’s meant to be spent working, it’ll be you roaring at yourself at the end of the day when you haven’t been able to cross everything off your list. Set a chore schedule so you aren’t tempted to procrastinate during work hours by going off to clean something that doesn’t need to be cleaned right now.
8. Accept – and come back from – failure.
The stress of this traumatic period in history compounded with the pressures of adjusting to work-from-home life means it’s more important than ever to accept that some days just might not go great, and to commit to showing up again tomorrow. After the events of the original trilogy, Luke faced some tough challenges and made some mistakes that made him feel like he’d failed in irreconcilable ways. His actions haunted him so much that he took off to a remote island on a distant planet and cut himself off from everything and everyone – but when he was reminded that he was still needed and had a part to play, he threw himself back into the fight. We may not have liked seeing our hero at rock bottom, but sometimes each of us needs the reminder that not only do we all make mistakes, we can always recover from them. There’s always another day to try again.