How to Work from Home and Maintain Your Sanity
Set a hard bedtime and wake-up time
Julia Perilla Garcia
In these uncertain times, many of us are finding ourselves working remotely. And with the recent resurge of COVID-19 cases across the United States, it’s looking like we will be in this for the long haul.
As a Software Engineer, I have been lucky to do most of my job remotely for almost ten years now. So, this transition has been easier for me than for others.
My personality is suited to work from home. I consider myself an extroverted introvert, which means I gain energy from spending time by myself or a select few people — thinking, reading, researching, and moving around in nature.
However, I do enjoy going to parties and socializing with coworkers and thrive in collaboration with other people within my organization. It helps that I am organized and self-motivated. These traits lend themselves to working from home while maintaining productivity.
Others may find themselves ripping their hair out from isolation or endlessly binging on TV or video games, struggling to find motivation. There may be several members of your family working from home at the same time, which adds to the distraction.
At my company in New York City, we were just informed that we would likely not be able to return to the office until September or later. For some, it is going to be a long summer.
Here are some concrete strategies to get you through this tough period, keeping you productive while maintaining sanity.
Set a hard bedtime and wake-up time
It might be easy to think, well I don’t have to go to work physically, so I can stay up late watching TV or reading or drinking beers. But, this will backfire pretty quickly.
I set a hard bedtime of 10 pm and set my alarm for 6:30 am every morning. Generally, my first meeting is at 7 am since I am two hours behind New York. Working in a different time zone can be challenging, but I suspect if you are new to remote working during COVID times, you are likely still in the same time zone as most of your coworkers.
If not, depending on what you do, it’s a good idea to be online during the same hours as most of your coworkers. Not being online during critical hours can signal to your boss your inability to work independently.
It’s also essential to get enough sleep during this time as it’s the most critical factor in keeping your immune system healthy.
Create a Schedule for the Day
The first thing I do each morning after I brew a cup of coffee is sit down with a small whiteboard and map out my schedule for the day. Doing this ensures that I hit all of the most critical tasks that I need to complete, while still maintaining balance in my life.
My schedule usually looks something like this:
6:30 am — Wake up, Brew Coffee, Meditate
7:00 am — Read emails, groom task list, plan the day
7:30 am — Coding (Start with my most important task)
10:00 am — Take a break, eat breakfast, go for a walk
10:15 am — Meeting with Development Team
11:30 am — Meeting with Stakeholder
12:30 am — Lunch at Desk, review emails
1:00 pm — Resume Coding (next important task)
3:00 pm — Work Shutdown, respond to outstanding emails, reorganize task list for tomorrow, and close all work-related programs, close my laptop!
3:30 pm — Workout
5:00 pm — Chores
6:30 pm — Dinner
7:30 pm — Relax
10:00 pm — Bed
I try to stick with my schedule with a ton of discipline during the day. Don’t turn on the TV in the morning or start playing video games. That is a great way to procrastinate and lose half of your day. Get right to your most important task.
Starting the day with a specific task sets the tone for the day and creates momentum. If I start the day being lazy and watching TV, it’s hard for me to get the day back. However, if I complete an important coding task early, I get motivated to do more work like it.
This one is obvious, and might be tricky during this time, especially if you have kids that can’t go to school right now.
If you have a spouse and kids, consider taking turns schooling the kids while the other partner works in a quiet room with a lock on the door. Make a rule that mommy or daddy is currently working, and all inquiries need to go to the other partner during this time. You will gain at least half the day to get into a flow with your work.
If you don’t have kids, there are still distractions. You may feel like you should be doing chores, or feel the pull of the television or some other hobby. Trust me, resist this urge, because it will make you feel horrible at the end of the day after you waste it.
What I do is set a reward for myself for the end of the day. If I get through my schedule, I can watch my favorite show on Netflix that night, go for a bike ride or have a glass of wine. That way, I have something to look forward to.
When you wake up, after going through your morning routine, make sure all distractions are eliminated and get straight to work.
Set a Strict “Work Shutdown” Time
You may not be a procrastinator; maybe instead, you’re a workaholic. I work with New Yorkers, so I understand that some people have a hard time setting clear work / non-work time boundaries.
If this sounds familiar to you, it might be hard for you to stop working at an appropriate time. To maintain your sanity and balance in your life, I suggest choosing a time to cut yourself off from work.
Since I am in Colorado, but the rest of my team is in New York City, I generally work hours in Eastern Time. That means starting at 7 am and finishing at 3 pm.
I have an alarm set for “Work Shutdown” at 3 pm at which time I go through my shutdown ritual. That includes roughly planning out the next day.
Here’s what my work shutdown looks like:
- Commit any code I’ve been working on.
- Check Github for any Pull Requests that I need to code review.
- Check email and respond to anything urgent.
- Groom my task list and prioritize it for the next day.
- Save my work and close ALL open programs.
- Close my laptop and leave my office!
Get Some Exercise Outside
When I asked the developers on my team how they were doing, one of them said, “I am getting fat! I keep eating all of this food that is here, and I am not getting the exercise I normally do.”
Now that the country is starting to open up, hopefully, you can get outside. It’s essential to get some sun every day and keep yourself moving. Often I am so fried after work that I just feel like laying down and watching TV or having a drink. But, I try to force myself out the door and at least go for a walk.
Of course, if you live in a highly-populated area, don’t forget your mask.
Take a Deep Breath
Know that we are all going through this together.
It has been a stressful and uncertain time for everyone. I started meditating or doing yoga first thing in the morning for 10 minutes, and it has done wonders for my sanity and productivity. Think of it as a reset for your brain.
I would love to hear your strategies for coping with isolation during this time. Are you going insane? Are you thriving at home? How do you deal?
Julia Perilla Garcia