We don’t know how long these work from home routines will last, but we do know that this is how most of us former office dwellers are spending our days for the foreseeable future. With a new year to turn the page and some fresh goals, it’s time to switch up the work-from-home routine.
I realized that what I am missing most now is some sense of control over my work days. Boundaries have blurred, we’ve all been going top speed for months, and my work-from-home routine makeover includes lots of small ways I’m continuing to refine and reset the “rules.”
1. Fake a commute
When my colleague told me her 2021 goal was to quadruple her commute, I laughed. When she explained that meant turning her 10-minute dash around the block into a full blown podcast-accompanied stroll, I cheered.
Our once demonized commutes now feel like a small slice of peace and privacy we’re all missing. Whether it’s in the morning or to close out your day, make a small ritual out of moving from space to space to signal a break between your work and off-work hours. It’s a great way to unwind and remind yourself to transition to a personal focus at the end of the day.
2. Build the essentials of your dream office
My vision board includes shots of one of those peppy downtown dream offices for tech start ups. For me, this means free snacks abound, that there are places to tuck away with a laptop, and that it somehow smells like success and creativity. My home office has gotten an upgrade, but now I’m taking it further.
I spent a Sunday translating this vision into my WFH space. I have a new fancy snack basket for us “office” tenants. It’s stocked with fun chocolates, trail mixes, individual popcorns, and other things that feel like an upgrade from my every day pantry. A few new coffee creamers and bigger, luxe mugs have made their way into our kitchen. A collection of seasonal soaps and hand lotions now sit on a tray in my bathroom. All of these tiny touches have cost next to nothing, but feels like I’m being more intentional in treating myself to a comfortable space throughout the day.
3. Shorten your meeting times
My new commitment is that meetings are 20 minutes or 50 minutes. I’m sure that you too, cannot live through another year of 10 hours straight of zoom calls. If you are in control of calendar invites, just start sending them with this timing. Trust me. Not only will no one question you, but people will secretly cheer your name when they see that you also cherish the ability to conduct basic human functions like getting coffee or taking a stretch break.
And, feel free to call in this boundary even if you’re not the meeting arranger. Let the host know you are back to back the entire day, and you’ll need to depart a bit early to open the line and prepare materials for another meeting.
4. Block out your schedule for projects
Along those same scheduling timelines, your day is your own. Toward the end of last year, I got in a bad habit that days were for meetings, and nights and weekends were for “work”. This disaster recipe needed a rethink for 2021.
Now, when I’ve hit my own personal “bandwidth” for meetings in different categories (X number of clients, internal colleagues, etc.) I block out the rest of the week for my projects, follow up, and the “work”—guilt free. Is that always possible? No. Certainly things come up, senior meetings and clients take precedent. But there are a shocking number of times I was defaulting to packing my schedule dawn to dusk just because I could.
5. Take spontaneous breaks
I love the idea of scheduled breaks, I just can’t do it. The meeting timer comes up and I can think of 20 other things on my to-do list I should be doing and I just power through. Instead, I’m applying a bit more of an “intuitive eating” approach to my breaks and work day.
It’s exactly what I would do in the office. Feeling foggy? Did you have to read that email a few times? Guess what? Time for a break! I’ll drop my status to “busy” and do a quick lap around the block, spend 20 minutes on a podcast while I tidy my room, or just make a quick tea. Again, this tiny bit of spontaneous freedom from our virtual world’s is a helpful reset during the day.
6. Ask: what was the 2019 version?
Our always-connected lives mean we default to always connecting. I’ve been challenging myself to think back to what my 2019 self would do. Would this have just been an email? A quick drive by someone’s desk? A one-on-one or small group call instead of a meeting?
So much of our instinct now to gather via video is because we are all (even us introverts!) desperately missing normal human connection. But it’s worth remembering that connection can happen a million ways. Slimming down to those most important interactions ensures you have the energy to make the most out of them.
7. Swap happy hours for breakfast breaks
The last thing anyone wants to do right now is tack on an hour of screen time the end of a long virtual day. I’m finding more success in keeping connectivity to my team and colleagues with “breakfast breaks.” A little more structured than a virtual coffee, I’m actually encouraging my co-workers to bring along their avocado toast to an early morning catch up.
If we already had a morning meeting planned, I’ll tack on 15 minutes for a proper bit of water cooler talk over breakfast. It’s been a much more relaxing way to ease into the day. It also feels a more inclusive to anyone who has some dry January goals, or to those whose after work and family commitments are piling up during this challenging stretch.
8. Investing in this new WFH routine
All of these ideas share the important thread of caring for yourself first. Putting our well-being as a top priority over these next few months is critical to coping with the unavoidable moments of burnout. And, investing in a new way of working from home for now doesn’t mean that you’ll always approach a work from home opportunity this way.
For those who were work from home pros in the “Before Times,” some of these tips may not stick at all. But the office will almost always be willing to take more than you have to give. Finding ways to prioritize yourself and your holistic goals as we kick off this year is important.
How are you revamping your 2021 work from home routine?