I pull out my earbuds, close my laptop, open the office door and walk into my living room. It’s 4:30pm, and I have an hour until my next appointment, so I slip on some flip-flops and go out to the balcony. I roll out my shoulders, do a few neck stretches, and 10 quick leg lifts. I walk back inside our apartment, grab a few green grapes, and sit on the couch next to my husband.
He’s also working, filling out invoices. Classical piano music accompanies him on the Bluetooth speaker. He’s focused, but I grab my laptop and take a seat next to him.
We have about 30 minutes until our next appointments. I’ll head back into the office, and he’ll connect to Skype from the living room. Since I’ll finish lessons before him today, I’ll head to the kitchen to prepare some potatoes and veggies. When Adrián finishes up, he’ll make chicken, and we’ll sit down to dinner together from 7–7:30pm. Finally, we’ll be able to relax and maybe watch some TV while I study Spanish and Adrián works some more. Usually, we’ll be in bed by 9:30pm.
No late nights during the week in our house. Getting to bed and rising early have become habits since we both started working from home.
Looking back over the past three years, I’m the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy, but I wouldn’t give it up now. There are too many benefits to working from home.
When we first met, I was a school teacher and Adrián was a project engineer. We both left in the mornings and returned 9 hours later. We’d usually exercise, eat dinner, watch some TV, and then do some more work before going to bed. Typically, our weekends were free.
This splitting of work from home is what most people are used to, but it’s also what makes the transition to working and relaxing from one location difficult.
We’re conditioned to keep our work separate from home life. This is evidenced by the recent quarantines around the world resulting in desperate tweets full of first-world problems.
I admit it. The first year was full of trial and error, figuring out when and where to work and rest within our condo.
Now my typical work day begins at 6am and ends at 8pm, which sounds ominous at first. But in-between all those hours, I complete all my regular tasks. For instance, I wake up at 5:30, quickly get ready, teach until 7:30 or 8am, then I schedule in my workout, which is essential to the rest of the day going well. I make sure to spend 10–20 minutes stretching to compensate for longer hours at a computer. Finally, I shower and put on regular work clothes to begin the rest of my day.
From here on out, each day varies, but it is always scheduled in 30 to 60 minute increments. Currently, my hourly work shifts between online video meetings and working alone from my laptop. I try to space out the face-to-face meetings, so I have down time every two hours.
If I’m sitting more than two hours, I feel the back and eye strain begin, so I’ve managed to get most work scheduled in two-hour chunks. Between work, I take 15–30 minutes to get in needed movement.
I mix it up with laundry, meal prep, playing my flute, reading, texting friends or family, or sometimes just watching funny videos. I intentionally do something standing before returning to teaching. And if I find myself not getting in enough standing time, I transform our office desk to a makeshift standing desk for 30 minutes to get in my vertical time.
When figuring out your own work-from-home routine, remember that everyone is different and each schedule will vary.
I do recommend setting a designated “work space,” with the caveat that variety is also important.
Even though we have an office, with both my husband and myself working from home, we rotate work locations between the office, living room and kitchen table. In this way, we aren’t trapped in one room the entire day. Another benefit of rotating work areas is that we have our own space to concentrate and get needed alone time when sharing a 2-bedroom condo for 24 hours.
In the end, I work the same amount of weekly hours from home as I did from a physical office, but some days get 10 hours of dedicated work time while others only have 4 or 5.
The key to figuring out what works best for you is getting to know yourself. Now that you can set your schedule, maybe you want to work straight for 8 hours and have your evenings for home tasks. Maybe you’ll be like me and split the two throughout the day to mix it up. Maybe you love working from your office and keeping the living room for down time.
There’s no right way to do this. And therein lies the beauty. You get to adapt what work looks like to fit you best.
Listen to your body. What’s the most productive time for you? How often do you need physical exercise? When do you need to get up to walk, stretch, or get something to drink? What are healthy snack options?
Listen to your mind. When are you starting to feel mentally drained? How long can you go before your creativity and attention wanes? Are your eyes strained from staring at a computer too long? Do you need a creative break? Do you need to laugh?
Listen to your spirit. What do you miss most about the office? What do you miss most about having coworkers? What do you miss most about work lunches? What can you re-create from home?
With cities and countries putting out “safer at home” messages and closing non-essential business due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve been inspired by watching virtual happy hours and family game nights taking place all from the comfort of each one’s home.
And even though working from home might not be everyone’s first choice, you can make it work.
Find a rhythm that fits your lifestyle. Explore your inner motivations. Learn to be comfortable with yourself.
I know my time working from home over the past years hasn’t always been easy. There have been moments of depressive dips when I wasn’t in contact with enough humans during the week or when I was over-eating to stave off boredom.
But then I picked up my flute. I built in a home exercise routine. I returned to journaling. I scheduled video calls with family. I began studying German. I opened the windows. I put on real pants.
You’ll figure it out, too. It just takes time.