Working from home sounds simple in theory — but we’re often doing so alongside spouses, children, roommates, or pets. These distractions, along with constant emails and text messages, can make remote work more challenging than anticipated.
This leaves many of us asking the same question: how do we create a new normal that involves working and living in the same space? Here, we explore how boundaries, self-care, and thoughtful workspaces can help us create a new sense of normalcy while working from home.
When your work moves into your home, maintaining the boundary between work and your personal life boundary becomes difficult. One way to adjust is to add new healthy rituals to your daily life.
“Unlike routine, daily rituals are small, simple mindful practices that we can add to our day to day life to cultivate more intention. They help focus our mind and create grounding posts for us to come to throughout our day to keep our energy up, help our brains and bodies stay alert, and to help avoid burnout and exhaustion,” adds mindset and wellness coach Amanda Katherine Loy.
She adds that healthy daily rituals can help you show up not only for yourself, but for your family and coworkers.
Loy recommends the following three rituals for managing stress and creating moments of joy:
Another idea is to create a morning mindfulness practice, which can help you gather your mind and prepare for the workday.
Brain health expert and HomeoLux founder Terry Moore points out that even noisy home environments can be conducive to meditation.
“The beautiful thing about meditating is that nothing can distract you, because any distraction can be used to help the meditation. If your house is noisy, close your eyes and listen to the noises. Listen with your whole body.,” Moore says.
A meditation practice doesn’t have to be complex. Spend a few minutes each morning to breathe, sit still, and set an intention for your day.
It’s normal to feel like you need to work longer hours since you’re not in the office — but this likely adds to the stress and anxiety you may already be feeling. Instead, it’s important to take frequent breaks that prioritize your mental and physical well-being.
These breaks can be scheduled into a productivity method such as the Pomodoro Technique, which follows a 25-minute work sprint and a 5-minute break. Use this time to play around with different approaches that may not have been available to you at the office (you might learn something you didn’t know about your working style).
If that feels overwhelming, simply setting a timer on your phone can remind you to get up and step away from work, adds Loy.
In addition to scheduling when you take a break, think about how you’ll spend the time. Asp stresses the importance of taking space from your phone and computer to exercise or get outside.
“That separation from the [home] office, which might be staring you in the eye, provides huge mental relief, not to mention a physical outlet for any stress or negativity that’s built up because you’re not physically connected with other people,” says certified personal trainer and vegan nutrition coach Karen Asp.
Don’t underestimate the importance of using breaks for things like stretching, drinking water, or having a snack. These seemingly insignificant acts can make a huge difference for how you feel, which in turn can help you focus better at work.
Dedicating time to self-care each evening can help you unwind from any stressors of the day and create a boundary between your work and personal life.
Wellness design consultant Jamie Gold recommends finding ways to use your home for any kind of self-care practice that feels good to you. “That could be soaking in your tub with a favorite bath bomb or luxuriating in bed an extra hour at night with a good book. Self-care is always important, but especially so in periods of high stress and anxiety.”
Additionally, it can be helpful to create a designated quiet space for retreating and relaxing. Whether it’s outside on the patio or in your favorite armchair, these spaces should be quiet and comfortable.
“Include your favorite cozy throw, natural elements like plants, pine cones or seashells collected on your vacation for the biophilia benefit, perhaps a yoga mat for meditation, sketch pad, journal or musical instrument for creative expression,” says Gold.
While there aren’t any rules around how this space should look, Gold urges disconnection from television, news, and social media. Such measures will ensure that your space fosters relaxation, contemplation, and de-stressing.
Staying active is also important because exercise increases serotonin levels, which helps reduce stress, says certified personal trainer and pelvic floor expert Courtney Virden. She adds that staying disciplined in your workouts goes hand in hand with maintaining focus on work.
Asp agrees. “If you’re exercising consistently, you’re also getting all of the incredible benefits of exercise like increasing your mood and boosting your energy, which can be key with working at home, especially if this is new to you.”
Asp adds that dedicating time for exercise helps maintain work-life balance, especially when it’s hard to see where work ends and home begins. One easy way to get started with exercising at home is to designate a location for working out.
The living room, porch, backyard, and basement are all great places to work up a sweat. And while you don’t necessarily need any equipment, Asp says that a yoga mat, resistance bands, handheld weights, and a stability ball can all fit into a small space and amp up the effectiveness of your workout.
If additional exercise equipment isn’t an option, Asp suggests getting creative with things you already have around the house. “I have a flight of 16 stairs with a plateau halfway and I’ll use those to run or walk up and down, repeating for several minutes,” she adds.
Tables, chairs, and couches can all serve as effective workout equipment when used correctly.
Whether it’s a desk in an at-home office or a chair at your kitchen table, having a clearly defined workspace starts to teach your brain to associate that space with the completion of tasks, Virden explains. Working in the same space day after day helps your brain slip into productivity mode more easily.
Once you’ve designated a space in which to work, it’s important to keep it clean. Recent research shows that clutter in the home is directly correlated to procrastination. A messy workspace can interfere not only with the quality of your work, but with the overall quality of your life – especially when spending more time at home than usual.
“Clutter and mess can definitely contribute to stress and anxiety, not just for healthy people, but especially for those with dementia and spectrum disorders,” says Gold.
Clutter can also create potential choking hazards for children and trip and fall obstacles for adults — plus block access to emergency responders. If the clutter in your home or workspace feels overwhelming, commit to clearing out a few things each day.
Put on a podcast or television show and ask for help from family members to make the task easier. After the initial clearout is finished, consider creating a daily tidying schedule to make cleanliness and its benefits a part of your new normal.
Most people’s homes aren’t equipped with high-tech standing desks or ergonomic office chairs, and that’s okay. The point is to use the resources you already have to create the best workspace possible.
Gold, who recently authored Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness, suggests incorporating elements of biophilia — connections to nature — into your at-home workspace. “Materials and images that evoke nature can enhance physical and emotional health. These can be actual, like houseplants, or images that depict natural elements or scenes.”
Foster a bond with the great outdoors by working in a space that has ample natural light and a view of the sky, trees, and other natural elements.
“If someone is going to unexpectedly be working from home, it’s ideal to set up your laptop in a space with a view to nature outside your door or window, or add natural elements to your environment,” Gold explains.
As long as you’re feeling healthy, take a few minutes each day to sit on the porch, lay in the yard, or walk to a nearby park to help clear your mind. The most important way to stay productive during this time is to prioritize connections both to yourself and the world around you.
Michelle Polizzi is a freelance writer and editor with over 5 years of experience. When she isn't busy writing or researching, you can find her doing yoga, enjoying the outdoors, or exploring a new corner of the world.