The beginning of a new year represents a lot of things to a lot of people, but the one thing we all have in common is that we’re trying to start it off by “being better”, whatever that means to each individual. With the amount of home office work happening these days, 2023 might be the year you kick your bad WFH habits.
I’ve tried a million and one New Year’s resolutions: the gym membership, the sober January, the list of books to be read, and everything in between. So this year I thought I’d take a different approach. One that feels easier to achieve, because it revolves around the one thing I do for eight hours a day, five days a week: work. I am guilty, at one point or another, of every single bad habit on this list. And I would like to make 2023 the year I do better, not just for my physical and mental wellbeing, but because feeling good increases productivity.
Top of the list, for all the obvious reasons. When we work from home, there are nowhere near as many reasons to get up and walk around. The bathroom is close, the takeout can be delivered, and nobody needs you to pop on over to take a look at something on their screen. According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to an increased risk for obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and other less-than-awesome health issues.
There are a few easy ways to address the bad habit of sitting all day. The easiest of them all is to just force yourself to get up and walk a lap around the house every hour or so. Got a meeting you don’t need to be on camera for? Throw in headphones and wander around the house. Set a timer so you remember to do this. The other popular option is a standing desk. With options that range from $170 to $1,700, there’s something for every budget and space. Throw an under-desk treadmill on the floor, and you’ll be getting alllll the steps in.
Distractions and waning motivation
We all have reasons for getting distracted: kids, partners, roommates, animals, laundry, dirty dishes, phone notifications, and on and on and on. And when your attention is being pulled in multiple directions, it can be difficult to stay motivated to get work done. There are a few ways to tackle this dual set of problems.
One easy way is to block your time. Apps like Clockwise allow you to assign chunks of time in your day to various projects, activities, and needs. Starting your day by seeing what you will be doing and when can help to get you in the right mindset to stick with the schedule. As an added bonus, Clockwise also schedules you for a lunch break every day, and you know you need that.
Another popular way to cut down on distractions is with Pomodoro timers. There is no shortage of these on the market, but my personal favorite is the Focus To-Do app. Generally speaking, a Pomodoro lasts 25 minutes, with a five minute break at the end of each one. When you’ve completed four rounds, it’s time to take a longer break: either 15-20 minutes, or to step away for lunch, errands, or whatever else needs accomplished. You can focus for 25 minutes, right? Now just do it a few times, and your day will breeze by while your to-do list shrinks.
Going “heads down”…and not coming up
On the opposite end of the distraction spectrum, we have the other bad habit of diving in and not coming up for air. You say to yourself “I feel good! I feel productive! I AM GETTING THINGS DONE.” And all the while, what you’re actually doing is getting so into the task at hand that other things fall by the wayside. Or you’ve just worked your third 10-hour day in a row. Or you didn’t eat lunch again
Regularly scheduled breaks are one way to break up the monotony of the day. Commit to playing with your animals once every two hours, or going for a 15 minute walk once a day. Do NOT skip these breaks for any reason, even if you’re “in the zone” and don’t want to stop. Peeling yourself away can be more beneficial than you know.
Another way to fight the urge to bury your head in your screen is to set limits on how long you will work on a task or project. Tagging that Focus To-Do app back into play, one of the features I love is the ability to set an amount of time you want to work on something, and then give yourself permission to step away from it after the time period is up. The other benefit of assigning amounts of time to work that needs to be done is the ability to see exactly how much work you’re trying to complete in a day. If you’ve already scheduled yourself for seven hours of working time, you know there isn’t much room to add in another project that day.
Is the office in your home the de facto dumping grounds for all things you’d prefer to hide? Same same, my friend. As I type this, there is a pile of papers below my standing desk that is both peeking out at me through the space between the keyboard tray and the monitor stand, and also preventing me from lowering the desk.
Having a separate, clean, uncluttered space to work from is key to staying organized and focused throughout your work day. If you don’t have a dedicated office space, make sure that the place you set up to work for the day is free of distractions like bills, kids’ schoolwork, or the morning paper you swear you’ll be reading this year. And when you are done for the day, pack up your work and put it away so that those same bills and paperwork get the attention they need, and your work doesn’t serve as a distraction from life.
If you do have a separate office space, make sure it’s only being used for office activities. It helps your brain to frame the space as the place where work gets done, and allows you to shut it down at the end of the day. And even if it’s the place where things get dumped, you can take a few minutes at the beginning or end of the day to clean things up, put them where they belong, and ensure you can focus.
Forgoing your “commute”
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest benefits of working from home is not having to sit in rush hour traffic, pay for parking in the city, and putting wear and tear on your vehicle. But that also means that the time you used to spend in the car or on the train or riding a bus is now dedicated to…what, exactly? Clean the bathroom before work? Start a quick load of laundry? Oversleep?
Whether you realize it or not, the morning commute often served as a way to prepare for the day, running through your tasks, mentally preparing for a day in the office, maybe calling a friend for a quick hello. And at the end of the day, it’s a bit of quiet time to decompress, listen to a podcast, or grab a quick drink with a colleague to debrief the day’s activities. Now that we basically never leave the house, those moments have gone by the wayside.
So maybe it’s time to fake your commute? Spend 15 minutes at the beginning of your day reading a feel-good news story or writing down the top three things you want to accomplish with your day. Wrap it up by scrolling Reddit for 15 minutes or hopping on a quick Zoom call with your coworker to crack a beer and shoot the shit. Use the time to transition into and out of your work mindset, like you used to do on your commute, and you’ll see how it also helps to separate your work life from your home life, despite how intertwined they’ve both become.
The beginning of a new year is always a good time to make changes. Don’t be too hard on yourself if they don’t stick, just pick the practice back up again. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole new set of healthy habits!