Thriving from home: Daily rituals to maintain positive wellbeing when working remotely from home
**Update, further measures were announced on 23 March 2020, which include only going out once per day for health reasons. I have included further ideas towards the end of this article on adapting to the new 'normal'**
Having been thrown into the deep end four and a half years ago, when I set up my business, I quickly learned what did and didn’t work when it comes to working remotely from home. For the people reading this, many of you will have experience of working from home once (or perhaps twice a week) at most. However, with the prospect of further government lockdowns on the free movement of people on the horizon people are now facing the prospect of several weeks if not months working from home. With this reality, comes a whole raft of new challenges, which you may or may not have anticipated. Maintaining your wellbeing throughout this time will be a crucial aspect of remaining mentally and physically healthy and productive.
While we can often bemoan the rigid structure of our working day, it would be a mistake to throw caution to the wind and bin any semblance of a routine. If anything, structure is possibly more important now than ever, to ensure you maintain positive mental health at a time of uncertainty and rapid change. This may also be an opportune time to reassess how you spend your mornings, lunchtimes and evenings. Why not experiment a little with a view to creating the perfect routine for you?
For those of you who are used to waking up, showering and heading out the door with a half-eaten toast in one hand and a coffee in the other, it’s a fantastic opportunity to rethink how to kick-start your day to maximise your energy and focus. To give you an example of my own routine. I don’t have kids, which simplifies matters somewhat. However, I wake up around 6am, put the kettle on and relax on the sofa with my wife over a cup of mint tea (you should ideally avoid caffeine within the first hour after waking to enable your hormones to do their thing). We might read a book or have a chat – a great way to connect. Once light, we put on some sports gear and head out for a walk (and a chat) or a run (moving is a great way to bolster your immune function). As the days are getting lighter earlier, it is highly likely we will soon skip the tea and head straight out. For those with kids, I know plenty of people who have taken the opportunity of working from home, to spend some quality time outside with their kids in the mornings. If that doesn't work for you, what might?
Once back, we make the bed together (airing sheets out the window to ensure they are fresh for when we retreat to bed in the evening) before one of us makes breakfast. Usually my wife works in the City, so I will take responsibility for making breakfast whilst she gets ready. However, as we are both working from home during the pandemic, we’re taking it in turns and sometimes make it together. Breakfast is our time to catch-up and connect with each other. We talk about what we plan to do for the day ahead as well as broader topics and future aspirations. You may also wish to take the opportunity to connect with friends and family over text or call.
Once we have tidied away the breakfast stuff and tidied the apartment, we are ready to tackle the day ahead. It's important to create the right environment for work. For those of you whose other half is still working from their workplace, when my wife isn’t working from home, I actually take the opportunity to walk her to the station. Given we’re both working from home currently, we simply ensure that we take a little longer walking or running first thing. It is really important to ensure your usual commuting time doesn’t simply get absorbed into working more or sleeping in more (unless you usually get less than seven hours of sleep, in which case you should probably sleep a little more). Otherwise, there is a risk that both of these things might undermine your wellbeing. You could also use this additional time to be creative or perhaps meditate?
Many of us get into unhelpful habits of eating lunch at our desk or on the go (according to research published in October 2018, at least a third of workers work through lunch). If you are one of those people, this a great time to reassess how effective not taking a break actually is for your productivity. I usually take the opportunity to go for a 30-minute run or for a brisk walk. Research published a few years ago, found that those who exercised at lunch were 15% more productive in the afternoon - essentially, taking time out to rest and recuperate will benefit both the quality and quantity of your work, as it increases your focus.
Taking a break is also a really great way to trigger your creative juices. I have lost track of the number of times I have arrived back home bubbling with ideas after a lunchtime run. It is also really helpful, when we find ourselves stuck in a bit of a rut, to head out and reconnect with nature. I use it as an opportunity to practise mindfulness. If I am running, I take the time to notice the way my feet hit the ground, as well as all the little details on buildings that I would usually take for granted. When I venture into the park, I spend my time absorbing all the sounds – those of the birds tweeting and the of trees.
Finally, it’s important to set clear boundaries for yourself and make a clear distinction between work and home. For the first couple of years of being in business, I would fall into the trap of working late into the evening, readily blurring the boundaries between work and the rest of my life. My wife and I may have been watching some TV and I would still be on my laptop working. When I asked my wife two years in if my working in that way was having a negative impact on us, it turned out that it was. Us being together but engaged in separate activities meant that I may as well have not been there at all - I wasn’t present. So, I stopped and gave myself a 6pm cut-off to work on my laptop. Interestingly, I didn’t notice myself getting any less work done. However, I did notice that my wife and I felt much more connected.
With both of us working from home at the moment (and very likely for at least the next couple of weeks), we have got into the routine of going for an evening walk around 6pm to break up our day and make a clean break from work. We ensure we clear up our workstations, to transition to an evening away from work. We then sit down for dinner circa 7pm, watch some Netflix for an hour or two and then read in bed until we switch off our light at 10pm. I would thoroughly recommend not checking the news or social media at least an hour before bed. Choose activities that will relax you and help you to forget about any worries or concerns you may have, to enable you to fall asleep easily.
With the rapidly evolving landscape and so much change happening all at once, maintaining some semblance of normality is hugely important, which is why adopting a routine that energises you and allows you to be at your best is crucial.
Adapting to the latest restrictions (23 March 2020)
In light of the latest restrictions to be put in place by the UK Government on 23 March 2020, all of us need to prioritise our wellbeing more than ever. The freedoms we most likely took for granted before the pandemic, such as going for a walk or to the gym, have ben curbed significantly. We are now only allowed to venture outside once per day for health reasons. Other than shopping for supplies, we are to remain indoors (unless we're a key worker).
Last week, My wife and I had got into the brilliant routine of heading out three times each day, to protect our mental and physical health. It enabled us to break up the day really well and provided some much needed certainty, in amongst all of the uncertainty. We now face the prospect of going out only once each day. This morning, we made the most of the sunshine and headed out first thing. Our aim is to replace our lunchtime walk with 10-15minutes of mindfulness. This evening we will start some gratitude journaling. It's likely we will mix these things up, some days opting for a run at lunch over a morning walk - some flexibility will be key.
I am mindful that for many, there will be increased tensions at home. While plenty of people are posting joyous videos and pictures of happy families, the reality for many will likely be quite different. People who habitually spend 10-12 hours at the office (and perhaps a total of 14-15 hours away from home each day) are finding themselves in an enclosed space with loved ones who they normally only see at weekends. It's natural that people are going to need time to adjust to the new 'normal'. The key is to remember that you are a team. Flexibility and empathy will be crucial to maintain positive relationships during these challenging times.
Finally, it may be tempting to binge on the news or on Netflix. However, think about those things which bolster your sense of contentment and meaning and try to avoid being drawn into those things which provide a temporary quick fix, but actually leave you feeling worse. One of the things which has really helped us, is to set up regular video conversations with friends, family and colleagues. We may be physically isolated but we are still surrounded by amazing people and it is important to remind ourselves of that.