A few weeks ago, people were still asking me questions like, “Oh, you work from home? What’s that like?” Those days—of WFH life being exotic or unusual—are now over, due to COVID-19. Now suddenly everyone who can, and who’s lucky enough to be able to do so, is working from home—including nearly everyone on the Chronicle’s staff. This is our new normal as a society, for what seems like a good while.
And let me tell you: It can be an adjustment, and yes, you do feel a little stir-crazy until you set some rules and boundaries. (Especially if you’re newly working from home with a spouse—that one takes double adjustment. And if you’re now working with kids at home, I’m sorry to say I have zero helpful tips but godspeed.) But I’ve been working remotely for the Chronicle since 2012, when I left Middleburg, Virginia, for Knoxville, Tennessee, and I have accumulated a series of tips that help me stay sane. I hope they might do the same for you.
1. Break up your working and non-working times.
I’ve read a lot of articles about how you should wake up early, shower, get dressed in office clothes, and then officially “head to work” to break up the time between when you’re working and when you’re not. Those articles are right about one thing: You don’t want to be rolling out of bed at 8:58 to start work at 9 a.m., even though it’s possible. Give yourself a little time to wake up, go to the barn, feed your pets, exercise if you want, make coffee, and mentally prepare yourself for the day.
But to the nice clothes part of that I say, “Mehhhh.” By all means if you feel better and more productive wearing jeans and a nice shirt, go for it. But honestly, most pants aren’t that comfortable! Now is your time to really lean into elastic waistbands. Plus showering before work takes a lot of time, and it feels unnecessary if you’re doing an activity right after (more on that below). So here’s my method for success: Change from your night pajamas into a nice pair of day pajamas or some athleisure items. Brush your teeth. Maybe put your hair into a ponytail for a change! Go crazy picking the perfect hoodie. Now you’re ready to work.
2. Have a place to work.
It doesn’t have to be an office—though that’s really helpful—but after one day of bed working, you’re going to be sad and in pain. Your best investment is a comfortable office chair that allows you to type sitting upright and with your computer on a solid surface, not slouching down across some couch with your laptop resting on your belly or (despite its name) on your lap. It’s also a helpful way to train your brain to know when it’s work time and when it’s fun time. Make a space where you enjoy spending time. Hang a photo of your horse somewhere you can see it. Maybe get a pretty plant!
3. Be strict with yourself.
Another question I’d get a lot before WFH became the norm? “Do you just watch Netflix and nap all day?” My answer, and I promise not just because my boss and coworkers are reading this: No way. If you don’t work hard during work time, you’ll end up (obviously) less productive and probably without a job at all one day. So set boundaries for yourself before they’re set by someone else.
One tool I’ve found helpful is to budget my time according to my to-do list—making a schedule every morning of what I’ll work on from 9-11, and then from 11-2, and so on. Then I make a second list of what needs to be finished by the end of the day. It always requires some adjustment as new things come up or others take longer than expected, but it at least gives me the framework for a day.
But mostly I think of this fact: Working from home is great, and it’s a privilege so many don’t have right now, so I make sure to respect that by … actually working.
4. Set small breaks for yourself.
If you’re working in an actual office, you’re likely to walk over to a friend’s desk for a chat or go to the kitchen to get more coffee or water at certain points during the day, or just break for lunch. If you’re working at home, you’re most likely to spend your day piling more and more food onto your desk and then eating it all at random times. This isn’t wrong exactly, but without brief periods of human interaction and an official mealtime, an eight-hour stretch can feel like a vast expanse filled with nonstop work and snacking. “It’s surely lunchtime now,” you think, at 10:15 a.m.
My solution? I set alerts on my phone for every few hours. One tells me to plank. Another reminds me to do a series of squats. If you don’t like those options, you can choose stretches, or maybe even a few minutes of fun phone time, meditation, or dog or cat playtime. Sometimes I go absolutely wild and eat my lunch in the kitchen, away from my computer. It breaks up the day a bit, and you get to return to your work feeling a little fresher mentally and physically.
5. Maintain a human connection with your coworkers.
At the Chronicle, we use Slack (and we just tried our first Zoom virtual happy hour as well). It’s perfect for scheduling assignments, talking about story ideas and sharing horse-related articles online. But it’s also great for regular chatting about our lives, sharing a million COVID-19 articles, and just in general being human beings—who are all a little scared and uncertain right now—together.
6. Get out of the house—while still practicing social distancing.
If you have a self-scheduled activity that begins when your workday is over, you’re much more likely to end that day at a reasonable hour and save yourself from burnout. Meeting friends at a bar for happy hour? Not recommended these days. But you can still “clock out,” stand up, go ride, take the dog for a walk, go for a run or a bike ride, or do an online yoga or Pilates video at 5 or 6. Turn off your Slack; heck, turn off your phone if you can. (I put my cell on silent when I need a break.) This is a marathon and not a sprint, and if you spend your first WFH week clocking 14-hour days—surprisingly easy to do when your work is at your home, and time has no meaning—you won’t maintain long-term sanity.
Every so often, we feature a blog from a member of the Chronicle staff. We’re just like you—juggling riding and competing with work and family. Untacked editor Lisa Slade lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she spends her free time hanging out with her corgi, Leo, and off-track-Thoroughbred, Skittles, and running an occasional