Whether your employer has adopted telework or you’ve decided to go into business for yourself, life is very different when it all happens in one place. For many, a struggle sets in once the newness wears off, and they find themselves wondering how to stay sane working at home.
Why Working at Home Is Harder Than You Thought
There’s a dark side to working from home that many don’t understand.
Yes, you can nap whenever you want, but then it’s tough falling asleep at a reasonable hour. Suddenly, you’re working all night and sleeping all day.
Sure, you do your job in your pajamas, but it’s too easy to skip things like showering or brushing your teeth because, why bother?
If you’ve followed the usual tips about working from home but still feel miserable and out of sorts, there’s a reason.
You’ve Lost Familiar Routines
When you have a workplace and scheduled hours of employment, your day has a fairly set path from start to finish. Along the way, some things happen every day that you may not even recognize.
Clear start and endpoints. When you leave your workplace, you are essentially done with your job for the day.
Boundaries between work and home. Before now, you’ve probably never felt like you should interrupt a TV show to go back to work or should stop doing your job and load the dishwasher.
New experiences. Whether it’s an unfamiliar task or a coworker describing a show you’ve never seen, all sorts of new things happen in the workplace. Sometimes, it’s as simple as surprise donuts in the breakroom.
None of that is guaranteed when you’re working at home. (In fact, there are never surprise donuts.)
You Need New Routines
The switch to working at home doesn’t come with built-in routines. There are no casual watercooler conversations, scheduled breaks, or even a designated quitting time.
A friend who just began telecommuting said, “Every day feels like the same day. They’re all Mondays.”
But Not Just Any Old Routine
The key to staying sane while working at home is making substitutes for the things your daily work routines provided.
Think of it as replacing ingredients in a peach cobbler recipe: you want cobbler, but you can’t run to the store to get some of the things you need. So, you make substitutions and, voila, the result is the same.
That’s how this approach works, too. You’re replacing things that happened at the workplace with home-based substitutes, so you can feel just as fulfilled.
You’re feeling dissatisfied, one day is running into the next, and you cannot imagine continuing to work like this without losing your mind? Here is help. Give it a try.
Have a PEACHY Day Working at Home
Sounds corny, right? Bear with me.
Now, this isn’t about adding more tasks to your day. It’s about including moments of newness and joy, so your workday is not one long slog followed by collapsing in bed before you do it all again the next morning.
Adding these missing things into your day will make working at home more rewarding. You may even wind up with new confidence, insight, and skills.
If you’re reading this, it’s because those typical tips about working at home haven’t helped. What you need is a new routine that makes you feel peachy.
There’s a work-at-home planner page at the end of this post! But first, read on to understand how to plan your day so you can stay sane working from home.
The productive part is built into your workday. The problem is that when you work at home, your job can take over every waking minute.
You don’t owe anyone every waking moment of the day.
So, spend whatever amount of time your employer requires or, if you’re self-employed, decide the specific number of hours you’ll work. Then stop.
You can go back to work later if you want, but only after you’ve finished the rest of the peach. The rest of the peach is what fills — not drains — you.
Encountering new things causes your brain to release dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. In the workplace, whether you recognized it or not, you had new experiences all the time, from getting a new boss to getting a new stapler. (Yep, that’s why you love buying office supplies.)
The shift to working from home was a new thing. But within a couple of days, your brain stopped counting it as a unique experience and stopped thanking you with that surge of dopamine.
To fix it, make a point of learning something new every day. Spending as few as fifteen minutes a day learning something new keeps that dopamine flowing. It can also broaden your skills while boosting your self-confidence and happiness.
That doesn’t mean you have to crack open textbooks, though that’s one way. Here are some more:
- Listen to a TED Talk.
- Check out a non-fiction book from the library and read it daily.
- Read a random Wikipedia article.
- Study a foreign language. (There are plenty of apps like Babbel or DuoLingo that can help.)
- Sign up for a free online course from Harvard or MIT.
There are many ways to be artistic, and they don’t all involve picking up a paintbrush or writing the next bestselling novel. Any time you picture something in your mind, then put your effort into making it real, you’re artistic.
Creativity is a muscle that needs daily workouts. Fifteen to thirty minutes spent in daily creative activity is a proven way to flourish in all areas of your life. It leads to insightful connections and perspectives, helps you appreciate others’ creativity, and leads to more of that lovely dopamine.
If family members make you feel self-conscious, choose a creative pursuit you can do without attracting notice. No one else around? Go wild and throw yourself into it.
- Doodle, paint, or draw. (There’s a reason why coloring books for adults are so in demand!)
- Make something with clay or even play-dough.
- Knit, crochet, or needlepoint.
- Take up singing or a musical instrument. There are thousands of free videos on YouTube that can get you started.
- Do a DIY project around the house like painting a room or refinishing an old piece of furniture.
- Bake or try a new recipe.
- Start a journal.
Now that you’re working from home, don’t fall into the trap of thinking your place should be spotless since you’ve got more time on your hands. You don’t. You’ve still got a regular job; you’re just doing it from home.
But do get some housework done every day to give yourself a break from work and a chance to move your body. Five minutes here, ten minutes there — little chores add up.
Instead of cleaning entire rooms, knock out one or two small tasks during a break. (Try one of my cleaning checklists and mark off your accomplishments for an added sense of accomplishment.)
- Sweep or vacuum a room or two.
- Dust furniture.
- Scrub a tub or shower.
- Wash a couple of windows.
- Sweep the patio or deck.
- Wipe cabinet fronts.
When you work from home, you have fewer opportunities to be useful to others. You may not have noticed, but you probably performed small acts of kindness every day, like holding open a door for someone or leaving surprise donuts in the breakroom.
There are still many ways to help others, even if you’re working from home. And here’s the thing: adding them to your daily routine will make you feel happier and reduce anxiety.
So, make a point every day to spend 10-15 minutes doing something that benefits other people. You’ll feel more connected to the world beyond your walls, and you’ll help someone else feel better, too.
- Become a volunteer proofreader for online books in the public domain.
- Go for a walk and leave positive, kind notes on neighbors’ doors. Or make encouraging signs to post in your front windows for other walkers to see. (That can even count as your artistic pursuit for the day.)
- Sign up to help the Smithsonian transcribe historical documents to they’re digitally accessible and preserved for future generations.
- Check-in with elderly relatives and spend some time chatting to help them feel less alone.
- Volunteer as a reader for LibriVox to make public domain books accessible for the visually-impaired.
- Donate to a local charity or animal shelter, or look for a GoFundme to support.
Even if it didn’t feel like it at the time, your workday involved built-in time for yourself. On your commute, you got to think your own thoughts. You used the bathroom without an audience. Maybe you’d get your hair or nails done on your lunch break.
When you work from home, it’s hard to find time for yourself — especially when other family members are there. But it is essential that you do. Time alone gives your brain a chance to reset, so you can be more positive and involved in your interactions with others.
Here are some ways to get time to yourself working at home:
Build-in commute time. Now that your commute takes only a few steps, you don’t have the same chance to unwind. Create it by stashing a favorite book, exercise mat, or pillow in your workspace. After you’re done for the day, spend 10-15 minutes reading, doing yoga, or even taking a quick nap.
Stay up later or get up earlier. A regular sleep schedule is important, but if you can’t get time to yourself when your family’s awake, make adjustments. Going to bed a half-hour later or getting up a half-hour earlier can do the trick, assuming your kids don’t try doing it, too.
Combine it with cleaning time. Pick a room to clean, grab a book or your phone, and shut the door behind you. Do some actual cleaning, then spend some time reading or checking social media.
Start a “Happy Hour.” Schedule a specific hour (or another amount of time) when everyone will do things on their own. Set this to coincide with your kids’ naps if you need to. If they’re too young to understand the concept of time, put on some music they’re familiar with and tell them how many songs they need to wait while Mom or Dad takes a break.
Ready to Plan Your PEACHY Day?
Start your day working from home by thinking of ways you can make it PEACHY. Jot your ideas on your calendar, or use the daily planner page below.
To make the sheet reusable, slip it into a plastic page protector or tape a sheet of cling wrap over the front. Use a dry erase marker to cross things off as you go and wipe it clean at the end of the day.
Now that you’ve read this, grab one of my books!