How To Stay Sane Working From Home — An Extrovert’s Guide

Recently news is buzzing about COVID-19 spreading globally, causing campuses to shut down and employers to encourage their workforce to work from home. Lucky for me, I’ve been working remotely now for almost a year.

Last year, my partner received his placement for medical residency, which included a cross-country move and meant I would start working remotely full-time. I wanted to do it right, so I researched techniques to start healthy patterns early on. With so many people joining the ranks of working remotely, I thought I’d share the things that have helped keep me sane.

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1. Start the day right

Establish a steady morning routine. Whether this means you shower, shave and prep as if you were going into an office or go on a walk to “commute” to work, it’s critical to get into the rhythm of your workday. Personally, I go on a morning walk and tune into a podcast, then get home and prepare breakfast. Timing is a crucial element in this routine. It’s important to set a regular time to get up every day and when to start work (more on this later).

If I had my perfect routine, I would add in some stretching or yoga. I plan on firing up Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga this month to walk my own talk. Whatever lets you wake up and start the day right— do that.

2. Set up a separate area for work

Not everyone lives in a big space where they can afford an entire separate room to work in, but it’s critical to carve out a specific space just for work. If it can be an in-home office, that’s fantastic, but it can be something like a place at the kitchen table you don’t normally sit, or another desk you set up specifically for working.

This is the space where work happens. It helps compartmentalize your time mentally, both to help you get in-the-zone while at work and unplug when you’re off the clock. It can also help signal to other folks in your home that you are currently working, which leads us to our next tip:

3. Set expectations with others in your household

Working from home should be treated just like working from an office, but sometimes it can be hard for everyone in the house to adjust to this idea. Set clear expectations with those you live with about boundaries around your work hours.

Create some type of signal to let your partner or family know when you are on a call or ‘in the zone’ and should not be interrupted. Visual signals like a closed door, something hanging on the doorknob, or even a curtain can be helpful to enforce this. Our friends have a three-year-old who knows that when Daddy is behind the makeshift curtains he is working and needs some quiet time.

4. Make ergonomics a priority

Ergonomics is critical in any place where you will be spending 8+ hours a day, so don’t neglect it in your home workspace. I notice a big difference when I work from a coffeeshop without my usual set up of an extra screen, wrist rest, ergonomic mouse, and standup desk. Ask your boss if it’s possible to expense some of the basics.

Here are things I’ve purchased to set up my home office:

A 4k Monitor

Not necessary for most professions, but I’ve made good use of a high-resolution 4k monitor while writing code. For this model, I got a deal at Costco.

A mechanical keyboard (blue switches)

For somebody who types all day, tactile feedback is important and improves my efficiency. There’s a number of different key styles (and noise levels!) so try a few to find what works for you.

A standup table-topper

Cheaper than a fully motorized standing desk, this gives some range of motion and lets me spend some time on my feet throughout the day.

An ergonomic mouse

You may not notice how tired your hand gets clicking your mouse. Try doing it sideways!

A laptop stand

This puts your screen at optimal eye-level and makes room for a dedicated keyboard. Plus, no need to buy a second monitor for home and you can easily take your work on the go.

5. Take Scheduled Breaks

Whether you find it difficult to focus or you focus too much– it’s important to schedule break times. This helps avoid a number of problems, whether that’s stray chores derailing your productivity or burnout because you haven’t stood up from your desk in hours.

Personally, I have more steam in the mornings, so I work all morning until lunch. In the afternoons I take a couple of 10-15 minute breaks to shake things up. I take a half hour off midday to whip up a meal. Next, I take a walk at 2:30 p.m. and schedule another shorter break at 4. Whenever it works for you, breaks let you reset, as well as relegate small, non-work-related tasks to a specified chunk of the day.

'A growing body of science makes it clear: Breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength'Click To Tweet

      – When by Daniel H. Pink

One risk of working from home is having easy access to food from the kitchen. Several of my fellow work-from-homers have mentioned gaining a few pounds when they first started. This can be helped by specifically associating food with meal-times. When I first started working from home, my boss advised me to eat an entire meal for lunch rather than snacking all day, which I have found useful. This is just as true in office jobs that offer lots of snacks.

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Take scheduled breaks

6. Start and Stop Work At Specified Times

Speaking of scheduling and daily rhythms, start and stop your work day at the same time. When you’re home, you don’t have the slowly emptying office to prompt you to log off. Many people report that they struggle to unplug when working from home.

It can be difficult to sign off when there’s just one little thing you want to knock off at the end of the day, or in my case, timezones are different and you want to be flexible to meet with a colleague. While this type of productivity is important, it should just be something that happens once in a while.

If you find that these late-in-the-day disruptions continue pushing out your hours, either block out dedicated time on the calendar or consider starting work later in the morning to get some personal time in before the work day starts. Do your best to unplug at the same time every day so you can properly recharge.

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7. Set Up 1-on-1 Meetings To Catch Up With Teammates

My work lends itself well to working with others. I’m constantly hopping on calls to help someone debug an issue or clarify how to use another team’s code. Even if this type of teamwork isn’t built into the way you work, it is worth it to set aside some 1-on-1 time with different members of your team.

When you work from home, you miss out incidental interactions, the smalltalk and water-cooler chat that help make up the culture of your company. The best way to get back in the loop is to be intentional. Something as simple as “I wanted to set aside time for a quick coffee chat to learn more about you and what you are working on,” can go a long way to catch you up and build relationships.

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8. You’ve likely heard it before– drink water, avoid screens, exercise.

Advice that applies to office-workers applies to remote workers too! Drink lots of water, remember to stand up and stretch, and take breaks from screens. I have noticed that headaches creep in when I spend more time after working watching shows or writing on my computer. It has helped to cut back on Netflix to read and write my first drafts on paper before typing them up.

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MechaniCat investigates my water bottle.

Bringin’ it home

The key to working from home is nailing your daily rhythm. Consistency is important, as well as setting healthy boundaries between your work and personal life. I’m honing my routines every day, and so far after working from home I’ve seen the most benefit from the seven tricks above: a morning routine, setting up a separate office, mindfully choosing ergonomic gear, taking scheduled breaks, beginning and ending my workday at regular times, and meeting with my coworkers over video calls every day.

I used to be worried about adjusting to working from home, but I’ve found it’s just like any other skill— you have to be willing to learn. I am excited to welcome new folks to the mobile workforce and hope these tips help you stay sane!

What about you?

What keeps you productive when you work from home?

How do you separate work and personal life?

Is your job flexible enough to allow working from home?

Let me know in the comments below!

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8 Comments

  1. This is a.very timely post and contains great advice! It obviously tales a lot of self discipline to work from home. I find it very hard to remain focused when working from home and should probably try some of your suggestions Thanks for sharing your methods on staying sane!

  2. Thank you for this! As someone who is new to this, it’s extremely helpful! I’m also realizing how much I actually move at work. Our wee little apartment is seeming quite small! I’ll build in some walks around the block just to move!

    1. Building in walks is a proven way to increase productivity throughout the day! I’m glad you’re figuring out what works best to keep you moving even in a small apartment 🙂

  3. I’ve been doing a Yoga With Adriene series in the morning too! (home 30 days) also I’ve started walking a few laps around the house between meetings to simulate going to a conference room (and to move around). Video conferences are terrible for keeping you bound to your desk.

    1. Oh I like the idea of simulate going to a conference room! I’ve also found that for larger meetings where I might not be required to speak that I can call in via phone and walk around wirelessly. I actually stay more focused than if I were sat at my desk.

  4. I only work a few hours, maybe 8, a week so efficiency isn’t a big deal for me. Although I make a nice income from it I don’t need the money, I just like having some work. I have an office in a room only used for work and it’s in an upstairs loft. I find having the stairs between me and the kitchen is a good barrier to snacking, just enough friction to stop me. And having a large monitor as well as a second screen is handy also. Plus a nice color laser printer/copier.

  5. This is one great article, thank you for that! I love working from home and I’m much more efficient in my tasks, but that does mean that I miss the occasional coffee talk – luckily I’m contacting my coworkers a lot usually.

    It takes some time getting used to working from home, but I have to say that I love the extra time that you have during the day and the amazing feeling of not having to commute!

  6. Well you peps are lucky to be working from home already! I would certainly like to work from home (the introvert in me is screaming – YES!) but not quite sure how to make that happen yet. Thanks for the tips!

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