How to Maintain Your Health (and Sanity) While Working From Home

There are some guidelines to all of this.

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Whether you’ve worked from home or not, we’re all doing a little bit of readjusting. Our new normal is anything but normal, and trying to stay productive and functioning at work while balancing your emotional and physical wellbeing might be a bit of a struggle right now. And that’s okay! We’re here to help with some of that balance.

We chatted with a few experts, ranging from a registered dietitian to the CEO of WorkBar to compile a list of tips to help you structure your days around working, living, eating, exercising, and relaxing from home, so you can preserve your health and your sanity. Just like that rascally pet dog who chews up every part of the couch when left in the house too long, we weren’t meant to thrive trapped within the same four walls all day. Give yourself some grace and take some notes.

Create some type of schedule and set boundaries

“Routine and structure are grounding to people,” Janna Koretz, founder and licensed psychologist at Azimuth Psychological in Boston, says. “It allows them to know what to expect during the day, and what is expected of them.” Right now, it might seem a little absurd to create a schedule, with things changing around us constantly, but the more you can re-create your normal routine, the better. Koretz says when we’re left without our routine, we enter what’s called decision fatigue, because we’ll constantly be making decisions over the smallest things, like what to eat, what to wear, and what time to take a daily walk, and that can feel exhausting.

Alicia Romano, registered dietitian at Tufts, says to keep your eating schedule the same and to schedule your day around it. “This allows you to create an environment for you to step away from your work and do something nice for yourself,” she says. These “boundaries”—like around where and when you eat and where and when you work, or play, or exercise—in your routine are more important than ever before to care for your mental health says Sarah Travers, CEO of WorkBar: “It can be easy to overwork when we don’t set boundaries.”

Create a to-do list, pairing annoying tasks with fun tasks

Sarah Crawford, owner and founder of the baking blog Broma Bakery, has been working from home for seven years. She says it definitely took some getting used to, but she enjoys that she has total control of her day and what she chooses to do—which can both be a blessing and a curse. One of her top tips for staying on task is to write everything down she needs to get done for the day and commit to doing it all. “I will also really listen to what my mind needs at the time,” she says. “If I’m not in a creative mood, I’ll rearrange my schedule.”

In order to stay successful, she’ll sandwich less pleasant tasks, which for her include accounting and answering emails, with ones that she finds more enjoyable, like photographing something she’s been really excited about. “By starting with something fun, you get your brain into work mode, so that by the time you’ve got to do that annoying task, you’re kinetically on a roll,” she says. “And once you finish that annoying task, you have something else fun to look forward to.”

Dress the part

For some of us, working from home means never leaving the comfort of our beds or the coziness of our flannel PJs. While that may work for some people, Workbar’s Travers said in order to get her mind into work mode, she starts her day by dressing the part as if she was actually going into the office. “That means comfortable work clothes—not pajamas,” she says.

But it’s really about just making sure you’re taking care of yourself at the most basic level. Working from home might mean you don’t have to wear a tie everyday or cram your toes into high heels, but it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t have to brush your teeth for five days in a row or skip out on showering. “Some people take pride in getting dressed and creating outfits,” Koretz says. “Other people do not, and instead value casual comfort and coziness. Feeling well isn’t necessarily about what you’re wearing—it’s about being in line with your personal values and sense of self.”

Create an office environment

“When you live in your office, it’s easy to overwork,” Travers says. In her house, they took a page from how WorkBar designs their office spaces and created “neighborhoods” throughout their house. “My husband has his ‘office’ and I have mine,” she says. “We’ve also set up a designated area for ‘home school’ and our children’s play area.”

In other words, it’s important not to blur the lines of work and play and where you do these things. “If the couch is where you relax, watch television, and chill out, don’t do work there!” Crawford adds. Creating an office environment might mean you’re also eliminating distractions. Same goes for eating. Romano says it might be hard for some Bostonians to not eat where they work due to the limited space in many city apartments, but if you can get away from work while you’re eating, it’s imperative to do so. “Disconnect from your work and from your phone and fully embrace in the eating experience,” she says.

Part of creating an office environment is about eliminating as many distractions as possible. “The office can be just as distracting as your house, you just don’t feel as bad about being distracted at the office because you’re still at work,” Koretz says. So the same principles for eliminating distractions in your home are the same as in your office: Keep a clean work space, wear headphones, and work on being mindful and in the present moment.

Make time for exercise, activities, and hobbies

Koretz doesn’t particularly see the need to separate physical spaces (although if you have the space to do so—do it!). Instead, she says it’s more important to stick to separating working and living time. This means it’s imperative to make time throughout the day, or when you’re finished working, for activities you enjoy like hobbies or exercise. “You may only have a couple hours a day to yourself, but you should treat those hours as inviolable as a scheduled meeting with your CEO,” she says. “When you make time for different activities, you make use of different parts of your brain, which boosts energy, focus, and sense of purpose.”

Get outside of the house

One of the biggest mistakes Crawford made when she first started working from home was not making enough plans that got her out of the house. This point might be a little easier said than done, these days, as the only real thing we can do outside our houses right now is go for a walk, but even that is key. “In the end, your mind and body will thank you,” she says.

Take your workout outside, meet up with a co-worker for a walk, use this time to re-pot plants or start a garden—just because you can’t go to your favorite coffee shop or book store right now doesn’t mean there aren’t still a plethora of things to do outside of the confines of your home. And when the weather is bad? Grab the umbrella and zip up your jacket—the fresh air will do more good for you than you think, and sometimes it’s just the perspective shift you need when you feel stuck on a task. “Our brains aren’t great at being pushed to constantly work,” Crawford says. “They need room to breathe and digest. I will often work for an hour or so and then get up for five minutes to take a break. I end up feeling way more ready to get back into work than had I powered through with dwindling energy and motivation.”

Show yourself some compassion

At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to get through this. “Expect things to be glitchy, bumpy, and feel awkward,” Koretz says. “It would be odd if it were any other way. But we’re in this together. Even your hard-ass, perfectionist manager is now dealing with barking dogs on conference calls and crushed Cheerios on her keyboard.” The best thing we can do when we wake up in the morning is to take things moment by moment, and day by day. We can’t ask for much more at this point.