Working from home is a luxury on days of icy roads or a cough and cold you do not want to share with a community. Working from home also saves you approximately $100 per month on gas for your car (depending on the distance of your commute of course – for people living on an island like myself, add on another $100 a month savings for ferry travel), and the cost of professional clothing. There are downsides, however, and after a total of 7 years of working from home, I will share some things to cope with the isolation, sedentary time, and self-direction required.
1) For every hour at the computer, take 5 minutes to jog in place or walk stairs. Over an 8-hour day, that is 40 minutes of jogging. At first, I took 5-minute breaks to stare out a window, but now I try to get my heart rate up while staring out a window. I have heard employers argue that 40 minutes away from a task is 40 minutes lost productivity, but I can show with a bar graph my change in productivity is positive, not negative on days when I do this, likely because blood flow to the brain helps energy and attitude. Seems like a no brainer. In addition, I have read studies showing even the act of simply standing up causes a cascade reaction in the body that wards against prediabetes effects that can happen with long-term sitting.
2) Create a nurturing office space. Even if you live in a small apartment/home, suspend a curtain from the ceiling, anything to designate a space. Especially if you are a stay-at-home parent, this is critical. Your child/ren need to know you have a space that is work space, and the more nurturing you set it up to be, the more content you will be there.
3) Get caregiving help. Inexpensively hire a high school/community college student to assist you in the home with young child/ren. I have met many single parents like myself who start out thinking about the utopia of working from home and being there for your child at the same time. The truth is, there is no Calgon man anywhere but a bad 1970s TV ad, and there are very few employers that would tolerate hiring someone full-time only to find them working 2 hours a day during their child’s nap. The cold hard fact is if you want to put out quality work, you need to work in a place that allows concentration and focus.
4) Create an accommodating schedule. This may not work for every situation, but my employers have all had a policy that I could set my own schedule, but once it was set I needed to adhere to it. This has allowed me to split shifts and work during the day when my child is in school, and at night when she is asleep. This is a huge benefit that I think of daily when the “witching hour” of 5-6 pm rolls around and I imagine myself in any office job using that hour to commute instead of being able to make dinner.
5) Keep hydrated. I know this is sound advice for marathon runners and athletes, and you may think, why is this important for someone who sits on their backside most of the day? Well, I have no expert opinion to share, but I have noticed the longer you stay in one place, especially with indoor heating, fluid tends to collect in your tissues and compress the tendons in your keyboarding arms and/or your ankles can puff up painfully. Hourly hot or cool liquids (cinnamon or jasmine green tea my favorites) can have a double effect of raising your spirits while hydrating you. Plain old liquid hydrogen (2) and oxygen (1) molecules suffice. The fact you have to move to prepare the drink probably helps redistribute the fluids in your body too, but all I know is you will feel more clear-headed, calm, and focused if you stay hydrated.
6) Keep a vision board, internal or external, in sight. If you keep focused on why you are working, you will be more motivated to continue working. My job is unique in that I only get paid for what I produce, not an hourly wage, so this means my motivation can have a greater impact on how much I earn. There are many factors in production out of my control (challenging speakers who complete entire sentences in a single syllable causing me to slow down their speech to a mind-numbing pace, hospital server crashes, etc.), but what is in my control is my motivation. I tend to vision in the big picture – things like walking across the entire country or hiking the Pacific Crest or Northwest Trail or taking a year to travel – but these are pretty unrealistic for my present circumstances. So one thing I am currently working on is changing self-talk around priorities. I think I absorbed too much of society’s undervaluing families and my hope is to motivate myself by thinking that earning funds for my child’s health or sport activities and taking a class that makes me happy are as heroic goals as climbing a mountain or walking across the country. People do not get much attention for raising a child and being a parent that can think for themselves and be relatively well-adjusted in a stressful society, but I have come to see that as the most award-winning thing a person can do.
7) Get outside when you can to avoid ‘cabin fever.’ The positive part about a commute longer than to your basement is that you get to see the outside world and have ‘decompression time’ between work and family. Even if I was not a complete nature freak, I think I would still appreciate the fact that a connection with the natural world is essential to human wellness. So if you are only able to get out of the house for brief segments of time, bring back to your desk space a few items you find on a walk – a stone, a leaf, a flower – so that you have constant reminders of that connection.