The One Work-From-Home Rule I Always Follow, And 5 I’ve Tried & Ditched
Since March, when my office closed because of COVID, I’ve been trying to figure out what working from home is supposed to look like. My bosses need me to be readily available during office hours, but other than that, I haven’t been given a whole lot of instructions on what I should or shouldn’t be doing to stay productive and to get the job done from my kitchen table. So I’ve turned to the internet, and as I’ve expected, there is plenty of advice and “rules” out there, so I’ve given some of them a try.
Here are the ones that I’ve tried — and ditched:
Rule #1: Don’t leave the house during office hours, because if you’re outside, you’re not working.
I like being able to leave my house for a quick errand and I have read and sent work emails and answered client calls from my car, which is, technically, working. Also, in those cases, I’m never more than 10 minutes away from my computer. Also, do these people want me to develop a vitamin D deficiency since I’ll never get any sunlight after 5 pm? Pre-pandemic, I would go outside for a walk on most of my lunch breaks, and especially on sunny, crisp Fall days, like we’ve had this week. A lot of times, I’ll get an idea or solve a work problem while I’m outside, or take a long work call on a bench near my apartment building.
Rule #2: It’s never, ever okay to nap during office hours.
In the past 6+ months of working from home, I’ve taken a few naps, never on purpose, but I don’t feel guilty. Here is the thing: I don’t do siesta, but if I’m really stressed by e-mails and calls, and my mind is racing, it helps to lie down, close my eyes, breathe and try to pause my thoughts. A few of those times I’ve actually fallen asleep (for twenty minutes or so) and woke up feeling refreshed and much calmer. What’s the alternative though, how do I fight stress and burnt out? My employer hasn’t provided us with any sort of stress relief training, and honestly, if I can use a free, healthy way to recharge, I’ll take it.
Rule #3: Avoid making actual meals during office hours. Just do the Sunday meal prep, as you would for the office.
Hi, hello, I’d like my lunch breaks back. I’ll get hungry around 1 pm, and I’ll make myself some soup or a quick bowl of pasta, which takes maybe 20 minutes and 10 more minutes to eat – I’ll spend the rest of my lunch break either taking a walk or cleaning up and then continue with my afternoon work block. I meal plan so I always know what I’ll have for lunch and if it’s a meal that requires a lot of chopping or grating, I will do that part early in the morning, to get a quick start on the actual cooking. However, I don’t see the point in ignoring the fact that I have access to an actual stove and force myself to eat something I prepped two days ago.
Rule #4: Ignore all home-specific interruptions because you wouldn’t have them at the office.
Last Thursday a repairman came over during office hours and quickly fixed a heating issue, the building manager needed me to sign something, and a family member came and dropped off some cake. Was I unable to work through all of this? Well, no. Actually, none of these people really bothered me and I would never ask them to come back after hours (when I’m usually outside playing with my kid), or on the weekend, when it’s the repair guy’s day off. I am not saying that I like being interrupted, but I also had interruptions at the office, even on super busy days – a colleague would come over to vent, phones were ringing off the hook, and clients were coming and going.
Rule #5: Wear “real” clothes and put on makeup (if – or as – you normally would)
Yes, some women swear that they do better work in nice work clothes and with makeup on, but I haven’t noticed a difference after trying it. OK, I wore a nice new pair of jeans, which are not exactly pantyhose and a pencil skirt, but still – I can’t. I like being comfortable, and that’s why I live in my sweatpants and tops that don’t require drycleaning if I spill my coffee. As for makeup, I’ll put it on for Zoom, but most days, it feels like a waste of time and product, by that I mean brow pencil and makeup remover. And I don’t reap the benefits – I don’t feel more in control, put together, or productive in my home setup.
My one, true rule: to get as much done as I would in the office.
This is my mantra, especially on those days when I wake up tired or anxious, when I miss being around people and the small office rituals. My workload has pretty much stayed the same, but due to working remotely I also have those pesky administrative tasks that I didn’t have before. Still, my job pays the bills, and to stay on top of projects and deadlines I keep a dedicated notebook where I write everything down – a to-do list for the day, the projects that I’ve wrapped up, and everything that’s coming in and needs my attention tomorrow or the following week. I love crossing stuff off the list, and that is, in fact, the only thing that makes me feel like I have my sh*t together.
At the end of the day, my work-from-home “rules” shouldn’t feel like punishment.
I gave these a shot in the first place because I wanted to increase my productivity and regain a sense of normalcy, and 3 days was enough time to see if these actually help, or if they just feel like self-imposed punishment. Why would anyone tolerate that, isn’t the pandemic enough? I want my work-from-home „rules“ to be my friend – to acknowledge my needs, help me find structure, balance, and a daily silver lining.
Annika Fordell is a freelancer based in Europe. She writes about money, mental health, relationships, and motherhood.
Image via Unsplash