“You work from home? You’re so lucky.”
I worked from home exclusively for over two years and heard every version of the phrase “you’re so lucky” imaginable. I was told how fortunate I was to be able to work in my pajamas, how wonderful it was to be able to just leave the house whenever I wanted, and how lucky I was to be able to create my own schedule. In reality, though, to call the actual situation bleak would be an understatement.
What started out as basking in the daily luxury and freedom of working whenever and however I wanted to, soon became waking up and pulling on the same dress as I had worn the day before (and the day before that, too). Showers evaded me, new friendships evaded me, and ultimately, leaving the apartment became a thing of the past. I had even moved to a new city during that time, so the loneliness was real.
I became so inextricably tied to my work that I began to let it define my worth as a person—I started to see myself as the amount of dollars I pulled in each day instead of a fully dimensional, albeit struggling, human being. Because of this crippling self-worth issue, it took more time and energy than usual for me to finally get out and join a yoga studio—but that was the first step in realizing that my human self needed more than just podcasts and work all day. Once I began to rejoin the world through a regular out-of-the-house habit, I found more energy to start applying for jobs and, eventually, landed a job that had me out of the house regularly (hello, The Good Trade!)
While I never fully changed it all around to become a completely healthy work-from-home woman, those two years gave me a lot of empathy, kindness, and patience for other women who may be struggling with depression, loneliness, and self worth issues. It can be a real problem for telecommuters—from feeling left out to all of the serious mental health issues that can come with social isolation.
Now that I’m further removed from the mire, I can see more clearly what did (and what could have!) helped me feel more vibrant, energized and productive. If you’re struggling with balance while working from home, here are my best been-there, done-that tips!
Make Your Workday Work For You
One of the most important aspects of working from home is establishing boundaries and creating work rules for yourself. An at-home workday can spiral into an all-day workday if you aren’t setting proper goals for yourself.
Start by getting clear on what a productive day looks like—so that you can tell when it’s time to clock out for the day, and so that you aren’t staring at your laptop at 9PM wondering if you should just get one more hour of work in before calling it a day. If you’re working closely with a boss and colleagues, loop them in and share your expectations with one another.
Once you have a clear understanding of what you expect from your day, begin each day by taking ten or fifteen minutes to schedule out everything you need to do that day and evaluate where you’re at on your goals for the week. Again, this helps to set the bar for the day and gives you things to cross off a list so that you can end the day with a positive feeling of productivity.
Since communication is so essential if you’re a part of a team working remotely, it’s a good idea to set up a Slack channel for instant communication as needed. Otherwise, be careful not to waste your day away in responding to emails by closing out your email application and only checking it once you’ve completed more important tasks throughout the day.
Every month, take time to re-evaluate your daily schedule and see if you’re spending your most energetic times wisely. Consistency is key! Even though some of us may buck at the idea of a routine, it really does help to get into a productive rhythm, especially when you’re working in a creative field.
Check Your Personal Habits
Healthy work-from-home habits are almost exactly the same as any healthy habits. Take care of yourself like you would a small child, a puppy, or a plant. If you’re struggling with depression, here are a few tips to help you nurture yourself on difficult days.
Get dressed. Unless you genuinely feel your best in your pajamas, get dressed in a new, clean outfit each morning. Do your hair and makeup if you want. Just show up for yourself like you would for anyone else.
Go on a walk. I tend to put a little more effort into getting ready if I know that the rest of the world will see me—so, after you get ready, go for a walk around the block. It’ll wake you up, give you a few minutes of sunshine, and generally improve your mood before you sign on for the day.
Take regular breaks. Set an alarm every hour for a stretch break, a coffee or water break, or for another one of those around-the-block strolls. Even if it means you stay at work an extra 30 minutes, your body will thank you at the end of the day.
Reach out. Try to say hello to a friend or family member once a day. Even if it’s just a quick text, try to connect with another human outside of work.
Get social. Plan regular social events with friends in your city. If you don’t have any to start with, plan biweekly or monthly evenings where you disconnect from work and go to a workshop, book club, or networking event for something you’re interested in. It sounds simple but it can be a challenge for work-from-homers: make friends. You can do it!
And yes, exercise. I’ve seen it in every self-help article ever written, but it’s such a valuable addition to a productive daily routine. It can be a walk with your neighbors, a yoga class with friends, or an intense sprint workout with your running buddies—just get out and move. For those of us who work from home, it can be helpful to exercise with friends, so that you can get a one-two punch of activity and socializing.
Create A Healthy Workspace
One of the easiest ways to create a healthier work-life balance while you’re working where you live is to segment physical space for each activity. If you don’t have an extra bedroom for an office, get a small desk or set aside a corner where you only do work. Still don’t have enough space? Working from the kitchen table can work, just be sure to shut down and put away your work computer so that you can relax fully and transition easily into the non-working hours.
Surround yourself with things you love—plants, candles, prints, fresh flowers, etc. Build a positive space for yourself and take time to pull together a cheerful playlist or an inspiring podcast queue to get you through the day. Have a cozy mug filled with your favorite aromatic tea or coffee and a giant water bottle to remind you to stay hydrated. This part is all about indulging your senses with happy things, without causing too many distractions.
And finally, don’t be afraid to work from home outside of the house. Coworking spaces are popping up everywhere, but those can be expensive. So, if you can swing it, pop over to a local coffee shop each morning (or even once a week) to tackle certain projects. If you can’t afford a latte every day, head to the library and plug in to work for a few hours. You may even have to—gulp—get in the car to do this, but seriously getting out of your house or apartment is worth the occasional commute.
Whatever you do, don’t let others’ opinions about working from home sway your decision to stay in—or out of—the office! Some people thrive at home, while others do their best work surrounded by coworkers.
Emily Torres is an Editor at The Good Trade and the writer behind Ennaree, a blog dedicated to intentional, colorful living. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her two rabbits, or practicing at the hot yoga studio.