A couple of years ago, I left my job without much of a plan. Little did I know that those steps of obedience would result in me being my own boss for over a year. At first, I was so thrilled at the idea of working from home — I  wouldn’t have to drive in traffic every day, and conversations about “a case of the Mondays” or “hump day” would cease. By working from home, I would be able to avoid awkward break room conversations, terrible coffee and long, boring meetings. I was sure I would be living my best life. 

Then reality hit. 

Some days I was fine, but those days were not the norm, especially not in the beginning. I realized pretty early on that if I didn’t establish sustainable routines for working from home, I would oscillate back and forth between lethargic depression and unhealthy, nonstop workaholism.

About a year and a half ago, I went back to working for someone else and have seen how the rhythm of going into the office every day is immensely helpful for my mental and emotional health. So, as the news of COVID-19 has spread and social distancing has become more and more common, I’ve had to revisit those old routines that I had set up while working for myself. 

As I’m writing this, my company is preparing for employees to begin working from home, so I am setting up my home, my schedule and my mindset accordingly. And I’m sharing the steps I’m taking with you in the hopes that they will encourage you in some way and remind you that we’re all in this together. Here are the steps I’m taking:

Set up a designated working space

I am preparing two areas so that I have a couple of working options in my small, one-bedroom apartment that don’t interfere with my living room and aren’t in my bedroom. I’m doing what I can to keep my work life and my real life as separate as possible. 

This is harder to do when others live in your house or apartment, though not impossible. Just like any other boundaries, setting a designated work area takes intentionality and communication.

Application questions:

  • How can you set up physical boundaries to help keep your work life separate from your real life?
  • What conversations can you have with those living with you to help keep those boundaries? 

Maintain a morning routine

It’s amazing how simple things like getting up and taking a shower can help your body and mind understand that it’s time to transition into work mode. While you may not have to put on a full face of makeup or put on a suit every day, it might still be helpful to establish a routine.

Application Questions: 

  • What can you do in the morning that will help you feel professional?
  • What actions can you take (whether large or small) to help you prepare for the day ahead? 

Keep a schedule

If you have regular break and lunch times, try to keep those as consistent as possible. Time tends to blur together while working from home, so set alarms and get up when you need to. Don’t discount the power of taking a break —i t can go a long way in helping keep us sane and productive. 

Then, shut it down at the end of the day. Set your end-of-day alarm, and when that goes off, choose to be done. The work will always be there tomorrow, so leave that in your workspace when the time is up.

Create a plan that works for your life. 

I need a complete schedule for each day and have made one that works for me. My morning routine is rigid (with times and all), and my after-work time is structured but has no times attached to the tasks. This daily schedule allows me to have milestones throughout my day so I can be productive while protecting my mental health.

Application Questions: 

  • What does your schedule look like currently? 
  • Are there any areas that you need to bring more structure? Is there anywhere that you can be more fluid? 

Give grace

This is an unprecedented time for us, and we’re adjusting our lives to this new reality. It’s not easy, but we can figure this out. Some days will be just fine, and other days will be rough, but just keep going, knowing that you’re doing the best that you can. 

Application Question: 

  • What’s a simple way you can extend grace to yourself today? 

Get creative

At work, when I need a break from a task, I can go check on another department or walk the building, but I can’t do that while stuck in my apartment. When I was self-employed, I would schedule meetings over lunch, coffee, etc., but I can’t do that while stuck in my apartment. Because I can’t do what I’ve done in the past, I’m getting creative. I’m planning on taking breaks to walk around the block or go for a walk in the park near my apartment when I need to think about something else. I’ve also stocked up on art supplies so that I can create when I need to. 

What’s something that will bring you joy while you’re indoors? Trying a new recipe? Cleaning your closet? Reading that new book? Painting or drawing or rearranging the furniture? Our entertainment options aren’t limited to Netflix (though I am grateful for all the various streaming platforms), so let’s find things we can do indoors that will bring us joy.

Application Questions: 

  • What’s something creative you can do today that will bring you joy? 
  • If you live with others, is there a task that’s out of the norm that you can enjoy together? 

Check on others

I currently live alone, which I absolutely love 99.9% of the time, but during a situation like this, I have to be much more intentional with my time and energy and find ways to connect with others. I know the sadness and the loneliness that can sink in because I’m unable to interact face-to-face with other human beings during the day. 

For those of you who are spending quality time with families and kids and spouses, I am praying for you. I know this isn’t easy for you either, and I applaud you for how you’re navigating this situation. Though it probably isn’t as pretty as you’d like it to be, you are doing a great job — keep it up!

 Application: 

  • Check on the people in your life, whether they are stuck inside with a full house or living alone (even the introverts).  Reach out and check on them, because this is hard for all of us. 

Even though we’re physically separated during this unprecedented time, I find comfort in the fact that we will get through this… together. 

Stay safe, sane and well, my friends!

Sarah Callen
Sarah Callen

Sarah was raised in Tucson, Arizona, but now lives in Dallas, Texas. Currently working a 9 to 5 job, in her spare time she loves to be with friends and do anything creative that her hands find to do. She believes every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story is worthy of being shared.

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