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How to work from home like a boss (without burning out)

Jessica Hess Grad school Tips & Tricks WFH

For those of you new to working remotely — we're in this together.

I just completed my 6th week at home. It has taken me most of that time to really feel adjusted to my new routine. Finding a way to be productive despite fear, stress, and unexpected distraction is a constant struggle. 

Whether you're reading this during COVID-19, or just looking for a beginner's take on working from home, read this post for some tips that have helped me adapt to #WFHlife as a virtual instructor, business owner, and scientist!

 

Here are the daily practices that have eased my transition from lab to laptop:

1. Designate more than one area to work.

Your area doesn't have to be extravagant or Instagram-worthy, it just has to get you in work mode.

I've noticed that I'm able to accomplish more when I change my environment to match what I'm working on. If I really need to focus, I'll work at my desk. If it's something creative, I'm happier in an area outdoors or with lots of natural light.

Depending on the level of focus your tasks require, you may benefit from rotating between a few areas in your home too. Get creative!

 

Here are a few suggestions to get you started...

  • Your closet

Also known as a #cloffice. (Yep, it's a thing. Check out the hashtag or IG for inspo!)

Pros: quiet, minimizes distractions

Cons: can be small, possible poor lighting

  • In front of a window

A great option for small spaces!

Pros: lots of natural light, feels less constricted

Cons: the view can be distracting, potentially noisy

  • An empty corner

For those that need mega focus.

Pros: minimal visual distractions, works in any room

Cons: dark, gives me strong in-school-suspension vibes (pro tip: add string lights!)

 

2. Keep track of your time.

Creating a schedule can give your day purpose and direction.

I like to write out my schedule each day, then make notes of how I actually spend my time — a great tip I learned from Dr. Connie (IG: @life_of_learning). My daily schedule is typically written out on a daily planner pad (coming soon!), but a sheet of paper separated into two columns works just fine.

(Click here if you like planning weekly, too!) *subscribe to e-mails to get this free!

I also love supplementing my schedule with productivity apps like Forest to help me avoid spending too much time on one task AND keep me off my phone for a while.

 

Here's how I typically set up my schedule for the day....

Hours Schedule Actual
8:00 Wake up, Breakfast done @ 8:25
9:00 Reply to e-mails/pack orders 8:30 – 9:45
10:00 Write: Dissertation stuff 10:15 – 12:30
11:00
12:00 Lunch (hangry @ 11:30, working lunch)
1:00 Read (didn't read, sleepy)
2:00 Write: Cell Kulture Co. content 2:00 – 3:30
3:00
Nap 3:45 – 4:50
4:00 Walk Calli 5:00

 

As you can see, not everything goes to plan, but keeping a daily record makes it so much easier to determine when I'm most productive and where improvements can be made.

Which leads me to my next tip…

 

3. Practice flexibility & self-compassion.

First — I really must emphasize that not performing at 100% during this time is absolutely okay! Most of us are scared, stressed, and worried about how our lives will continue to change until things get better.

Your mental and physical health is everything.

So please please please don't feel guilty for needing time to rest and adapt. Even people that have been WFH for years have their fair share of new distractions to get used to.

 

As far as work focus, I've found that some days are better than others. I think the trick to a happy and productive WFH life is to just accept whatever the day may bring. Whether I can focus for one hour or seven, even making the choice to sit down and work is a step in the direction of my goals. Showing up counts as a win in my book!

 

If you're like me, your schedule probably won't go to plan most days — but I encourage you to use this and any other setbacks you experience during your WFH transition as an opportunity to develop your grit and ability to adapt and evolve. Remember: it's normal to struggle, you got this!

 

4. Focus on progress over perfection.

Don't feel like you need to be a WFH productivity queen from Day 1. If working from home is hard for you, it's because working from home IS hard!

 

You may be familiar with the 1 Percent Rule, a concept coined from the book Atomic Habits by James ClearFor those of you that haven't read the book (which I highly recommend!), the 1 Percent Rule demonstrates the compounding impact that small, consistent good habits can have on your performance. Just by making slightly better daily choices, aiming to enhance your performance by 1% every day, you set yourself up to be significantly better in the long run.

At the time, small choices might not seem like they're making much of a difference... but let this sink in:

If you were to improve by just 1% each day for one year, you'd be 37x better than you were at the start. Without really even trying.

 

Here are some examples of how you can apply this in your everyday life:

Let's say...

  • You want to eat more nutritious foods, but you can't stop mindlessly snacking on all the processed sweets in your pantry as you work (same, girl, same.)
    • 1% better = committing to drink a glass of water before your next snack, or buying a few less sweets on your next grocery trip.
  • You want to exercise more regularly, but you can't seem to motivate yourself or make the time to work out.
    •  1% better = committing to doing just a few reps of one exercise per day, or exercising while you do something you enjoy (like watching an episode of your favorite show)
  • You want to develop a daily writing habit, but you find it difficult to sit down and actually write (*ahem* #dissertationlife)
    • 1% better = maybe buying an instructional writing book to get you in the right mindset, or finding a Q&A/forum in your area of interest to begin contributing to at regular intervals (low pressure, ya know).

 

5. Make time to unplug & unwind.

When you're WFH, it can be too easy to let your work run late into the night — especially when you've had a great productive day (or even a crap one). However, setting boundaries between work and relaxation time are important to avoid the enemy: burnout.

 

My advice is to set an alarm to signal your work cut-off time... and really hold yourself to it. Even if you're not quite done, resist the urge to work yourself to the point of exhaustion. In fact, stopping before you *feel* ready can actually have a positive effect your creativity and make the task easier to come back to the next day. Try it! The little boost, in my experience, is honestly because you'll be thinking about what's left to do and allowing yourself extra time to process your ideas.

 

After work, the rest of the day can (and should) be all about YOU! We're in the midst of an unprecedented slow moment in our generally busy lives, so I strongly encourage you to dedicate some extra time to the things that make you happy.

Now is a great time to tend to all those little areas of your life you may not have had time for before you started working from home.

 

Whatever joy means to you — taking a nap, chatting with family, catching up on YouTube subscriptions, solo dance parties, drawing, etc. — you have earned it just by showing up & working today!

________________________________________________________________

Whether you're a student or professional, getting used to working from home can be challenging. Adopting good WFH habits is just as critical to your success as setting up a work area and routine. Each new day, we're given an opportunity to become 1% better or 1% worse. Our daily improvements or deterioration might be too small to make a noticeable difference in our lives at the time, but over the long-term they determine your level of success. By aiming for small but consistent improvements in your work, you'll feel more confident working from home in no time.

 

Wishing you all the very best luck in your adjustment to remote work ~

 



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  • Leo G Pryor on

    Kudos. All of the aforementioned I guide my daughter in the same respect now schooling from home. Very easy to lose focus & structure. I’ve given her a schedule. From time to wake, stop for lunch, end time. It’s not spring/summer break! One other very important aspect in everyone’s new reality working from home? Be THANKFUL that you’re not one of the many millions out of work and trying to get unemployment! Which we all know does not cover life’s total liabilities. It all boils down to ones mindset. Structure, focus, daily goals. That’s strong, mental self care. All which will lead to fulfillment, accomplishment and happiness.

  • Dyanna Hess-Miller on

    This article gave me some good tips on working from home. I’m currently working on two projects and also have had a hard time separating work from relax time. Since each project has its own laptop I use I find that putting one in the kitchen and one in the living room helps me seperate the projects. Great post and really helpful !!


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