When I left my corporate job in 2017 and took the leap into full-time entrepreneurship, I totally glorified working from home and thought I’d have no problem making the transition.
I quickly realized, however, that there were a lot more challenges than I anticipated. There was so much I hadn’t thought about, from finding a schedule that really worked for me to something as simple as not sitting for eight hours on end.
And it took a lot of effort on my part to incorporate healthy habits into my daily routine. But once I did, it helped me to be far more productive and create a far more healthy work environment.
If you’re toying with the idea of working from home on a full-time basis, here are some important items that were helpful for me.
1. Create accountability
When I worked in corporate, I always had someone to report to and, by proxy, someone to hold me accountable. But when I left that world and began running my own company, I found it difficult to duplicate this. If I didn’t get work completed on time, ultimately it would be me — and my bank account — that would suffer.
But that was it. There weren’t any other colleagues or managers who I’d also be letting down. And so it was easy to let this fall by the wayside.
So, to combat this, I decided to use the old-fashioned task of writing it down to create some form of accountability, like adding specific items to my calendar and their due dates or creating lists I could check off.
This also helped because I tend to get overwhelmed and stressed very easily when I have a bunch of tasks floating around in my head. But when I can see it written out entirely, I often find that my list becomes much more manageable and less scary.
Not to mention, I love the feeling of literally checking things off of my list throughout the day.
Be gentle with yourself When it’s just you holding yourself accountable, it’s equally easy to be hard on yourself, especially when you don’t get everything finished on your checklist or your schedule doesn’t go according to plan. When this happens, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. Much like in an office environment, sometimes these things simply happen. Just remember, there’s always tomorrow to tackle those extra tasks.
2. Keep moving
It’s no secret that it’s really important to keep moving throughout the day, regardless of whether you’re working in an office or at home. But sometimes it can be tough to keep track of how many steps you’ve taken or how long you’ve been sitting when it’s just you.
When I know I have projects that will require me to be inside most of the day, I utilize a few reminders that get me out of my chair and walking around:
- Schedule alarms to go off at certain points of the day. This reminds me to go out for a walk, even if it’s only a quick 10 minutes around the block.
- Take advantage of your living space. For example, I live in a high-rise apartment building. When I’m due for a break, I’ll walk up and down the stairs. This is also great when the weather isn’t conducive for taking a stroll outside.
- Stand while working. I like to switch up my workspace, and I often take my laptop to the kitchen counter because it’s the perfect height for standing.
3. Have a routine
When I first started working from home, I was really tempted to just “wing it” and see where the day would take me. But what I thought would be a great way to inspire creativity turned into me sitting in my pj’s, scrolling mindlessly through Instagram.
I finally took charge and found that all I needed to do was replicate what I did when I physically had to leave home for work each morning.
Let’s start at the beginning of the day. In the morning, I enjoy my coffee — in my pajamas (this is OK). It allows me to start off slow and gain focus and strength for the day ahead.
After my morning “me time,” I then change into real clothes — no loungewear! — and get ready the exact same way I would if I was leaving the house. This gives me urgency and allows me to feel as though I’m about to embark on the same sort of workday as I did when I worked in an office.
Later on in the day I take a break from my work — it’s helpful if your phone and computer are out of reach at this point — and grab a bite for lunch.
It’s also really important to remember to be mindful of eating throughout the day. This includes either mindless snacking or forgetting meals. More on this below.
Finally, the end of the workday. This is perhaps the most difficult part of working from home. It’s so easy to find yourself sitting in front of your favorite Netflix show while still answering emails at 10 p.m.
In short, it’s super important to shut off at a specific time each day. For me, I’ll shut my laptop and organize my space in an effort to “close out” until tomorrow. Remember, you need to give yourself time to recharge.
Mindful eating It’s so easy to let your eating habits fall by the wayside when you work from home. For some, it means forgetting to eat altogether, while for others it can mean mindlessly snacking in front of the computer (we've all been there). Here are a few tips for making sure you’re eating, and eating well:
- Set (another) alarm that reminds you it’s lunchtime. Set it for the time you typically eat lunch. Regardless of how deep into a project you are, you need to make time to eat during the day.
- When you’re eating lunch, make sure it’s not in front of your computer screen or phone. And if you can, move to a different part of your home.
- If you find yourself reaching for yet another snack, stop and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If the answer is no, grab a glass of water instead.
- For the times when you really are hungry, make sure snacks are satiating, avoid processed foods, and reach for healthier options such as vegetables and hummus or a piece of fruit.
4. Be aware of distractions
It can be really easy to “productively” procrastinate when you work from home. I notice this pattern when I say to myself that I’m just going to do laundry, dishes, or clean X, Y, or Z, and then I’ll start that work project, answer that email, or send that invoice.
This usually turns into me spending hours cleaning and doing all of the things I could possibly do to be productive while avoiding the one actual work task I really needed to accomplish. And given the nature of recipe testing and food preparation, there are always things to clean and ways to procrastinate.
How I handle this is writing down all of the chores or household items that need to be addressed and prioritizing a few things that will fit into a reasonable window on that day. The rest can wait until tomorrow. Bigger projects can wait until the weekend.
Ultimately, I need to be honest with myself and hold myself accountable when I’m avoiding the actual work that needs to be completed.
5. Schedule time outside of home
Spending so much time in the same place can definitely cause creative blocks and take a toll on your overall health. I’m more of an introvert, so for me, this was hard to come to terms with, since I love spending time in my apartment.
In reality, though, I can’t just shut myself away from the rest of the world for five days on end. I need to actually spend time outside of my workspace.
As simple as it sounds, I like to schedule walks, yoga classes, grocery shopping, and working from the local coffee shop in my calendar so I’m committed to switching up my scenery. I also find that I often have the best creative ideas when I’m in a new environment, eating new food, or having new conversations.
I also prioritize time with family and friends on the weekends. Whether I want to admit it or not, it can get lonely working by yourself, so it’s important to reconnect to those closest to you.
Working from home can be a hugely exciting prospect and open the door to an entirely new kind of lifestyle. But it’s just as important to remember that it takes a lot of self-discipline and focus to make sure this experience is both productive and healthy.
Start off slow and incorporate the tips above, one by one, to create the best work environment possible for you.
Based in New York City, Alexandra Ashback is the content creator behind the popular Instagram account @veggininthecity. She loves creating delicious and healthy meals and sharing them with her community. Alex is passionate about practicing yoga and mindfulness.