by Tiffany Robinson

I’ve been in a medium-pressure, corporate, work from home job since 2012. I can honestly say I would have to be offered some pretty extreme benefits to consider going back into an office environment on a daily basis.

However just because I’m over-the-top happy in my work situation doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with its struggles, and I’ve found that “isolation” and going “stir crazy” are probably the two biggest struggles that I’ve had to overcome.

And for the most part, I have!

So here are my top 3 survival tips to working from home!

Survival Tip #1: Schedule Brain Breaks

Contrary to popular belief, breaks don’t happen as naturally when you work from home. There’s no one saying, “lunch can’t get here fast enough!” or stopping by my desk to chat about “decoration ideas for little Bobby Sue’s birthday party”.

That means I can get deep into my work, hyper focused, and eerily productive. Many times I get so deep that I don’t come up for air. Hmm… what happens when you’re underwater for too long and you don’t come up for air? You see where I’m going right?

I’ve electively drowned myself more times than I can count. So, since I can’t seem to remind myself to take breaks, I’ve chosen to create a virtual office mate that will do it for me!

Here’s how:

  1. Using your calendar of choice, think about all the things you NEED to do this week and how long they will take to do. These are the boulders that you know are there and you just can’t move no matter what.
  2. Now set a meeting with yourself putting the task’s name as the subject, make sure to set a reminder!
  3. At the end of each task meeting, leave 10 minutes for a “brain break”. Then schedule the next task.
  4. Repeat the 10 minute breaks at the end of each task block throughout the week. If a task will take longer than 2 hours to complete, either break the task into smaller sections or schedule a break after 2 hours anyway.
  5. Let your calendar be your virtual office mate! It will remind you when it’s time to take a break!

What does this do?

  1. Let’s you plan out all the things you need to do in a week and keeps you on track.
  2. Calendar reminders ding and interrupt you when it’s time to take a break, just like when Mary Sue wants to talk about Bobby Sue’s birthday party.
  3. If you get one of your tasks done early, you’ve earned yourself a longer break. Go You! More productivity, and more YOU time!

So, what do you do on a brain break? Anything you want, really! Sit in a hammock, do some laundry, browse Pinterest, cook, garden, it’s your time, you do you!

The trick is to remain hyper focused during your task times, and to respect your break times. You’ll find yourself uber productive with no hint of drowning!

Survival Tip # 2: Find an evening commute

When the day ends, you would normally hop into the car, make the long drive home, and think about your day. About half way home you start to think about your evening and your thoughts transition from work to home-life. It’s the beauty of the commute – it gives you time to decompress, de-stress, and leave work at work.

Only, work IS at home and it NEVER leaves!

The time it takes for me to travel from my office to my living room is about 12.2 seconds and I assure you that at the 6.1 second mark I’m still thinking about my office. (I’m probably still standing in it!) This means that, even if I close my office door, I’m not giving myself time to focus on my home life before actually being in my home life! And since there’s no clear division, I wind up being in work mode trying to solve a workforce strategy while “listening” to my kids adventures in bubble painting at school. Not cool man, not cool.

So I decided to find a way to make an evening commute in between leaving my office and entering my living room!

Here’s how:

  1. Leave your office space and close the door behind you.
  2. Cut through your living room and head outside.
  3. Find an activity that you can do outside for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  4. Do that activity every day. Period. No excuses.
  5. Enter the house and head to the living room.
  6. Ask your kids what colors they painted with today!

What does this do?

  1. 10 minutes gives you the time to shift your focus.
  2. Being in an environment that is outside of what you’ve been staring at for 8 hours forces you to observe and assess it (human response to change). That means you are thinking about your new environment, not your work.
  3. Since outside your home office is probably your yard or neighborhood, your thoughts will immediately shift to feelings of home, kids, neighbors, etc. Your thinking will quickly transition to your home life.

What’s my activity? A simple walk to the community mailbox. Every day I take my keys and trot down the street to open my little box. See what’s inside, enjoy the sun for a moment, and then trot back. It’s something I look forward to every day because it gives me the sense of leaving my office by walking away from it, and on my return trip I can see my house ahead as if I were driving home!

Survival Tip #3: Pulse Checks

This tip shows up in just about every work from home article I write… because IT IS THAT IMPORTANT!

No one stops by to say “hello” anymore, when I fill my water bottle up at the fridge… I’m the only one standing there, and gosh darn it my desk isn’t decorated on my birthday (although this year my husband took note of me saying that for the past 7 years and totally did me a solid, thanks hon!)

Socialization is another office element that doesn’t happen naturally when you are at home.  Furthermore, when I’m feeling less-than-productive (we’ve all been there), I automatically envision my team to be working super hard creating awesome stuff all the time which is demoralizing and makes me LESS productive (and also not true, they are not, in fact, super productive robots). I believe this seclusion is the number one pathway to becoming the crazy cat lady.

“Pulse checks” can save your life and the life of a teammate.

These are random, and somewhat forced, check-ins that occur at least once a day with someone or a group of someones that have nothing to do with work and remind you that you are human, your teammates are human, and we all need relationships in order to survive.

Here’s how:

  1. At least once a day, start or participate in a random IM (Skype, messenger, group me… your team’s choice) conversation that is not about work.
  2. Start the conversation with the words “Pulse Check!” so that everyone knows what the convo is about.
  3. Goof off with your team until you feel human again. Chat about personal wins, stresses, house moves, gardening tips, latest blockbusters and your theories… NOT WORK.

What does this do?

  1. Your team relationship will strengthen because you know more about each other.
  2. You can see how your teammates handle personal stresses through writing or phone conversations, which helps you navigate communication styles and shorthand when it comes to work issues.
  3. You will relieve yourself and your teammates of the demoralizing super robot shame.

So, there you have it: Your keys to beating the work-from-home blues! Now that I’ve completed my article, it’s time for a “brain break!” Ooh look, I did it 4 minutes early… Woo Hoo!