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Working from home – managing your mental health and productivity

It looks like the majority of workers will be heading towards some kind of remote working in the next few weeks. 

And, with no end date on this whole thing, an upcoming period of “indefinite isolation” can seem pretty daunting.

From worrying that your productivity will drop off a cliff to wondering how you’ll cope with having so much facetime with your housemates, there’s a fair bit on everyone’s minds right now.

That ‘lil bit of mass between your two ears has to be your priority while you’re remote. Not only does your health come first, but there ain’t no chance of staying productive if you don’t keep your mental health in check.

That being said, a lot of things that you’ll do for your mental health will help with productivity, and vice versa. So, rather than separate them all out, I’ve just put them into one long list.

Here’s how to manage your mental health and productivity while you’re remote working.

P.S – This will be specifically how to manage your mental health in relation to working remotely. For more tips on how to manage your mental health more generally during this time, I put together this article

It’s going to be a shock to the system

The first thing to know is that it’s probably going to be a shock to the system, and that’s okay. 

Even if you’ve worked from home before, or worked totally remote before, this is a brand new set of circumstances. Before, it was a choice. Now, our hands have been forced and there’s even questions about whether we can go outside or go to a coffee shop.

That loss of freedom can feel restricting, and that’s going to feel weird at first.

Don’t be hard on yourself or feel like you’re doing this remote thing “all wrong”. 

Simply pay attention to the bits you’re enjoying and the bits you’re finding hard, and make adjustments based on that. 

Everyone works in their own way and you want to find the way that best suits you. 

Don’t forget the basics

Time can sorta lose itself as a concept when you’re working remotely, and minutes, hours and days can quite easily merge into one. 

Don’t forget to keep up your daily/weekly basics – getting enough sleep each night, exercising, getting a balanced diet, spending a bit of time outside (although be sure to follow the current government guidelines on getting outside). 

Seems obvious, but it can often be the simplest things we forget to do when our routine drastically changes. 

Keep up the rest of your routine as much as possible

Following from that, make sure you try and keep some sense of normality in your day as much as possible. 

Keep those tea breaks scheduled into your day

If you no longer have a commute, try going for a few laps around the block so you’ve got some sort of start time to your day.

Normally have lunch at a certain time? Try and stick to a similar time while at home.

Stay connected

Connection is so, so important right now, and I ain’t only talking about the internet. 

Make sure that you stay connected to those around you – not only those you live with, but also friends, relatives and colleagues. 

A lot of people are joking that working remotely will finally kill off pointless meetings, and while that may be true to a degree, sometimes maybe it’s just nicer to have a quick 10-minute phone call about something rather than emailing it. 

As silly as it sounds, hearing real human voices and seeing real human faces over group calls will do wonders for your sense of connection. 

Stay connected with your team 🙂

At Sanctus we’ve scheduled a daily tea-time break over video call with each other at 11am, so have a think if there’s a way you can do something similar.

Be honest with how you’re feeling

If everything that’s happening in the world or working remotely is weighing down on you, then be honest about it to someone. Preferably your manager or whoever supports you in a work capacity, but if not to friends or family.

When we’re in a period of isolation, how we’re feeling gets amplified and can be overwhelming.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved, so don’t be afraid to be honest with where you’re at.

For most online meetings we have, we’re doing one-sentence check-ins where we honestly say how we’re finding things. “I’m bored”, “I’m feeling lonely” and “I’m quite enjoying myself” have all come out so far.

It helps with that good ol’ connection I talked about above, and it also means team members know where each other is at. 

Don’t work from where you sleep

It can be tempting to wake up in the morning, grab the laptop and stay snug in bed while working through your emails. Or, to simply stay in your room all day working from your desk.

However, there’s plenty of science floating around that shows if you don’t separate the rooms out to match the different parts of your life, they can all merge into one. 

It’ll make it harder for you to sleep at night, and you’ll also find it less relaxing in your bedroom.

Find somewhere else to work from the house if possible, and only work from your bedroom when absolutely necessary.

Have a stop time

Without the commute to and from work, it can sometimes feel like there’s no beginning or end to our working days.

Have a stop time each day. Whether that’s one set hard stop each day or it’s a different time every day, just be clear that once you’ve stopped, you’ve stopped. 

No more reaching for the laptop or refreshing of your emails – 99% of work can wait until the next day. 

Don’t forget to have fun! 

It sort of feels like one really long rainy day at the moment, so think about ways you can build fun into your day. Whether that’s reading a book, colouring by numbers or dusting off the Lego boxes in the attic, now’s a great time to pick up old hobbies or try something new.

Keep up with any activities or hobbies you might have

And if you can’t be bothered to find a new hobby then, well, there’s plenty to watch on Netflix.

Set boundaries

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for those around you. Nagging parents, loud housemates, pesky partners…anything or anyone that might distract you and your day, it can help to set boundaries around.

Something as simple as “please don’t talk to me during XYZ period of the day” can help.

It also means things won’t go unsaid and resentment won’t build – being confined to a house with the same people for a few weeks is definitely not a time to let that passive-aggressiveness spill out!

Structure your day

This feels like a cliche productivity hack, but having a bit of structure to your day can really help, especially when you don’t have colleagues or managers around to bounce ideas off.

At the end of each day or the beginning of the next one, write a short to-do list of what you need to get done on the following day/that day.

It’ll help you stay a lot more productive if you can hit the ground running once the work day starts.

Go outside

Don’t forget about the great outdoors! Taking a 15-30-minute walk at least once a day will help break up the day and get some fresh O2 into your lungs, plus some of that good ol’ Vitamin D.

Be sure to follow the current government guidelines on getting outside.

Don’t forget to get yourself outside!

Don’t forget the small wins

Filling our day with a few small wins will help give a sense of accomplishment and feeling that the day has been productive to a degree. 

This’ll sound silly but remembering to shower and make your bed in the morning are a couple of quick wins that can help you get your day started on the right foot. 

Try to do the walk without your phone so you can avoid any temptation of checking those emails.

Apps, techniques and hacks

If you’re looking for some hacks you can implement into your life, these are some good ones:

  • Breaking your day up into time chunks using the Pomodoro Technique
  • Look at installing a website blocker for a short period 
  • A 10-minute guided meditation can be great to build into any day. There’s plenty of free ones on YouTube, and also some paid apps out there like Calm and Headspace
  • As with the above, yoga can be a great routine for any day. Yoga With Adriene is a fan favourite (and free!)
  • A project management tool for keeping your workload and brain organised – Trello or Asana are two of the most commonly used
  • Monitor your time to see where you’re spending it. Something like RescueTime will help track your hours so you can see if a certain thing is pulling on your productivity
  • If you’re going to be at home more, it’s likely things like commute time or going to the gym may be cut down, meaning less movement for your body. So having good posture while sitting down becomes more important. This is a helpful article for good tips
  • You can even go one step further than the above and think about getting yourself a standing desk so you aren’t sitting so much. Standing desks themselves are quite expensive, so I once fashioned one out of a cardboard box. Not the most elegant looking thing, but it worked a trick 
  • If you’re staring at a screen all day, then a good tip is for every 20-minutes you stare at a screen, you should spend at least 20 seconds looking away. Also, try to position your screen so that any windows are to the side, rather than directly in front or behind it

A laptop stand and keyboard can help with posture

So, there you have it. 

It’s obviously a crazy time right now for all of us, so the biggest piece of advice I can give is to put yourself and your health first. 

Pay attention to your body, your mental health and your needs, and make adjustments where needed 🙂