In November 2018, work from home (or WFH among the initiated) was completely new to me. I knew it was coming. I was excited for the flexibility I would gain. And it was very, very weird.
As I look around and see friends across North America now setting up home offices, in the midst of a global panic that’s also turned our personal lives upside down, I can only imagine how disorienting it all must be.
Truth be told, I mostly spent the first several weeks and months of my own WFH experience feeling like I was doing it all wrong. Little by little I realized what I was doing was actually never wrong, and I’ve instead grown accustomed to a different rhythm in my work day. As I learned to create that routine, I discovered the key was to set expectations that place equal value on delivering value to my employer and team and understanding my basic needs for well being. Finding joy in working from home — especially when the new routine is thrust on you with little warning — is rooted in adopting a realistic mindset.
Realistic truth #1. A “full day of work” in the typical busy office environment totals maybe five hours of solid, focused work product. Maybe. When you work from home, there is no drive to work or between meetings, no lingering stop by the coffee pot to chat, no casual hallway conversations between meetings or catch-up chats from the game or show that aired the night before.
Realistic truth #2. Downtime feels weird because you’re doing things you could not possibly do in an office. Things like folding a basket of laundry, walking the dog, or putting some ingredients in the crockpot for dinner. Yes, this feels weird — maybe like you’re cheating. But it is totally normal. In fact, I schedule my daily work to include these brain breaks. I use a “do this, then do that” mentality that includes work tasks and mini mental breaks to take a walk, make myself a cup of tea, or complete a quick household chore. I have discovered that forcing myself to focus in silence for more than 45-60 minutes at one time is a recipe for frustration and negative self talk. Knowing this, I break up my to-do list and plan for regular, brief breaks. If a more clearly defined timing structure appeals to you, check out the Pomodoro Method of productivity, which uses regular 25/5-minute intervals of work and rest to improve focus, creativity, and output.
Realistic truth #3. Managing a full-time job in a home office rarely affords you the time, focus, or energy to be a stand-out parent during the day. Rather than thinking about working at home, recall the times you’ve had your child at the office when school dismissed early or daycare had to close suddenly. Did you worry about screen time and healthy snacks? No, you survived and kept the peace. If COVID-19 has forced you to work full time at home, while simultaneously parenting your kids, the realistic daily goal is simply to keep them safe. Spend your evenings and weekends engaging in activities you can enjoy together — and during the work days, offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving for the tools and resources you have today to keep them occupied (yay appropriate technology!) while you master your to-do list.
Finally, as weird as working from home can feel — especially in the age of social distancing and quarantine — pay attention if you notice feelings of being lonely or disconnected. Your short brain breaks can be a perfect moment to call a coworker to bounce a few ideas, invite a friend to FaceTime over a cup of tea, or dial up an elderly neighbor to check in.
As you navigate this strange and stressful time in history, nurture a realistic mindset. Set your multi-tasking expectations lower than usual, keep your kids safe (even if that means more screen time than usual), stay connected by voice and video chat to people you care about, and give yourself and the people around you more grace than necessary.