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Feeling at home while stuck at home

Transitioning to WFH: A health coach’s perspective

Over the past 2½ years as a UPMC telephonic health coach, I’ve learned to manage my time and my workflow from home. I now feel comfortable and relaxed taking care of my work-related responsibilities from the comfort of house, but it didn’t start that way.

When I first started working from home, it was rough. I had to figure how to maintain structure in my days to preserve my mental health and boost my productivity. With so many people in the American workforce transitioning into at-home work, I want to share my WFH tips. Hopefully, they make your journey to at-home productivity smooth, comfortable, and productive.

If working from home, set up a specific workspace. When I first started working from home, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with an uncomfortable office chair. Naturally, I’d find myself sitting (or lying) on my bed throughout the day. Not the best idea. Thankfully, I have moved into a larger house since then, and designating a room to be my office has made a huge difference in my mood and productivity.

Staying in bed all day inevitably led me to feeling depressed. Having a separate workspace (even if it’s just one room over from my bedroom), allows me to mimic the act of actually going to work.If you don’t have much space, just setting up a desk or in a closet can help. Having a designated space for work—ideally one that’s outside of your bedroom—will boost your mood and help you to separate work from life.

Mind your hygiene. Though I hate to admit it, it is easy to let your hygiene slip when you work from home. However, keeping a routine and getting ready for the day (even if you don’t have to go anywhere) can be helpful in waking you up and boosting your productivity. Your hygiene routine can be as much or as little as you want it to be, but it should be just that: a routine.  

I try to get up every morning and brush my teeth, wash my face, and change into my work clothes (which are still generally yoga pants, but better than the boxers and T-shirt I sleep in). Some people prefer to do their hair and makeup and get dressed up. That works too. Whether you keep it casual or get office-ready, making a conscious effort to have a hygiene routine is important. And it’s shockingly easy to overlook if you don’t leave the house.

Keep a schedule or a to-do list. It can be easy to get caught up in numbing activities—like eating, playing games on your phone, or binge watching TV—when you’re working from home. Though these activities may feel good in the moment, they can be a real mood killer. It’s important to cap those activities to maintain your good mood and well-being. The best way to do that? Have a schedule.

It can be a structured schedule based on calendar timeslots, or it can be flexible with a to-do list and a time limit for any activities off the to-do list. Either way, planning out what you want to get done can keep you intentional. Don’t worry, you can still include time to play on your phone or watch TV. The goal is to set a time limit for yourself to keep your mood from plummeting.

Check in with your body. One of the things that has really helped me when working from home is trying to stay grounded. I do this by checking in with my body. For me it often means exercising. I use walking as a way to check back in with myself throughout the day (it helped that when I started working from home, I had a dog that needed walked, before work, during my lunch break, and after). But you don’t need to take walks to stay grounded. It can be as simple as setting aside time to stretch or do some neck rolls. It can also include mind-body activities, like meditation or yoga.

I find that these activities help me feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. It helps me to be more present during the day. Being more physically present and emotionally tuned in can also help you stay away from boredom or stress eating. These physical check-ins give you another way to process and release those emotions. As a bonus, if you are home with kids, doing a family exercise routine can be a great way to get the energy out.

Stay social. One of the hardest things for me about working from home was the isolation. It can be hard to not have someone to share the joys or frustrations you are experiencing in the moment. That’s why connecting with co-workers, friends, and other family—even if it’s not face to face—is still important.

We all love our families, but it’s important to maintain other relationships while social distancing and working from home. Make an effort to chat online or call your friends. Sometimes, when I am having a particularly tough issue, I make a meeting invite just to chat it out. This can also really help if you tend to process things verbally. Everyone relies on social support for different reasons, so for this one, it’s a matter of knowing what is helpful for you and being proactive about seeking it out. In this day and age, Facetime and Skype are a blessing. Seeing the person you are speaking with can make you feel even more connected.

Take uninterrupted breaks. Working from home can be tough sometimes by blurring the boundaries between work and home life. That’s why it’s important to make yourself unavailable and give yourself the space to really take a break for a few minutes throughout the day.

Five-minute stretches, having a cup of tea, or stepping away to eat lunch are all good options. No matter what you do for your break, recognizing when you are and are not available should help you maintain your mental health.

Set ground rules with those around you. Many people working from home right now have kids or spouses who are also in the home. Ensuring you have the space you need to work is important. Sometimes it helps to make a designated schedule for everyone in the home throughout the day. It doesn’t need to be perfect to start. You schedule will likely need to be adjusted as time goes on and everyone’s needs become clearer. Even if it’s not perfect, having a schedule will help everyone understand the needs of the others during the workday.

Make time to create. Taking time to write, draw, or make music can be cathartic as you go through this tough time. Being creative helps you to cope and also gives you something to do other than passively consuming TV or video games. Creating can also send us into a state of flow, which can increase mindfulness and boost mood.

Be resourceful and open-minded. Thank goodness for the internet. Social media can help you to connect family, friends, and co-workers without physically being together. You can even mimic doing things together while using these platforms, like baking a recipe, game night, or happy hour. There are many different emerging technologies and applications for social and entertainment purposes to experiment with, so be open and try new things. Keep trying until you find something you enjoy.

Give yourself time. Though these are things that have worked for me, everyone is different. Working from home was something I had to learn to do in a way that supported my productivity and my mental health. It’s normal to not know how to do it perfectly on day one. Use trial and error to see what works for you, and give yourself time to adjust. You may not be living your best quarantine life yet, but things will get better if you practice patience.

Adjusting to working at home can be difficult, but greeting the experience with an open mind and a desire to make it work can make all the difference. The key is finding what works for you. It is possible to thrive in a remote working environment—I’m the living proof. You just have to figure out how to tailor the day to your unique situation.