Give Yourself a Break, and Other Working-from-Home Tips to Boost Your Productivity
How Sunset editors preserve their health and sanity while working from home.
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I asked my colleagues for their hints and tips on self care while working from home, and most of these tips came in right on time, during normal working hours.
Most of them.
We’re not experts at this. We procrastinate, slouch, forget to take breaks, and fall into late-night Slack and email rabbit holes just like you. But we’re working on it, just like you, and some of us have been in the working-from-home groove since long before COVID-19. Here are some coping mechanisms we’ve discovered. How about you? Let us know via Facebook. If you’ve found something that helps the work-from-home routine hum along a little more smoothly, we’d love to know about it. —N.C.
More than ever I’ve been using a time management system called the Pomodoro Method. The basic concept is: Set a timer for 25 minutes. During that block of time work exclusively on a single task, whether it’s writing a story, catching up on email, or meditating. If you go off task (open Instagram, answer your phone, get up to have a snack) you need to reset the timer. After that 25 minutes is done, you set the time for 5 minutes and use the break to rest your mind, check your voicemail, or grab that snack. Repeat the cycle two more times. This maximizes the human brain’s natural capacity to concentrate for a total of 90 minutes before diminishing returns set in. Take a 30-minute break in between super sets to fully rest your brain. Repeat the cycle throughout the day. It’s astounding how much work it allows you to accomplish and how efficiently it sets boundaries with you and the world. Fun fact: The method was invented by a grad student in Italy, where kitchen timers are shaped like tomatoes (translation: pomodoro), hence the name. —Hugh Garvey, editor in chief
Clark Kent Likes This Trick, Too
I definitely struggle with the feeling that I live at the office because, like most of us, I do now. The room I do my writing and editing in isn’t 100% dedicated to work, so I’ve had to come up with quitting-time rituals to signal to myself that the day is done. When it’s time to knock off, the work-issued computer goes to sleep, and if later I need to check personal email or pay a bill, I use my own little laptop, no matter how tempted I am to fire up that big work screen. I also have a dedicated pair of work eyeglasses. They stay at my desk, go on in the morning, and at the end of the day, are swapped, Mister Rogers-style, for one of the other pairs I’ve got stashed around the house. (They’re inexpensive, so redundant specs are an affordable indulgence.) —Nicole Clausing, content producer
Make Time for Movement
I’m not always successful, but I try to make time every day to get my body moving. The days I don’t have back-to-back meetings I like to take my time with a Melissa Wood workout or a long hike with my very energetic dog. On busier days, I try to schedule a midday walk or HIIT workout for a little screen break. And I close my laptop every day around 5pm (albeit temporarily) to take a long hike at Griffith Park with my husband and our dog. It makes a huge difference to my mental health and breaks up the day—Jasmin Perez, director, digital strategy
Make Time for Break Time
For most of the last 15 years, I’ve been working from home—and frankly, I’m tired of it! With a comfy chair and relatively few distractions, I’m generally able to focus on my work, so much so that I fall into a kind of K-hole of productivity, and when I emerge it’s like waking from a vivid fever dream, and I question my reality. In short, I need to remind myself to take breaks, so I do two things:
• The Green Break: When work becomes overwhelming, I walk downstairs and into my garden to water the plants, a collection of tomato and chili-pepper vines plus various herbs (parsley, shiso, Thai basil, lemon balm, rau ram). I soak them, I speak to them, I touch their leaves, I inspect their fruits—in short, I enmesh myself in a non-virtual world of growth and sustenance. And I start to think about dinner.
• The Hard Break: Working from home can make the line between working and living rather fuzzy, so I give myself a hard break around 5:30 or 6 by making a cocktail—usually a Manhattan variant, though occasionally something lighter, like an Americano or a Suze-and-soda. The goal is to assert control over my life and my schedule, to put down the laptop and say, with each delicious sip, “This is my time now.” —Matt Gross, senior director, digital initiatives
My advice: Find a trail or campground or cabin devoid of Wi-Fi where cellphones are useless and the sunset’s enough to keep you occupied. Bring a paperback—preferably something retro, from a time when quaint problems like familial discord or dastardly villains were about as bad as it got—and let the trip block you off from whatever impulse you might have to check in, catch up, circle back, follow up, Zoom, FaceTime, or break outside of the box in any way whatsoever. Sometimes you need a forced detox to remind yourself why little breaks are worth it.
It took three months for me to cave into the rabbit hole: Could I find a reasonable standing desk for my now home office? The ones at work were thousands of dollars, and we lost them in a move (long story). But couldn’t there be a cheap and cheerful solution that would beat my cobbling together of random items in a corner? A cursory search proved one thing: I’d been scooped. Until a friend recommended FlexiSpot. This isn’t forever furniture; its provenance is hardly blue-chip. Charles and Ray Eames, this is not. But finding an in-stock, reasonably simple standing desk these days? That’s priceless. Check out the FlexiSpot website for configuration options. —Matt Bean, editor in chief
Small Changes Add Up
Confession: I’ve never been good at setting boundaries. And WFH means work and life intertwine in a way we couldn’t have predicted pre-COVID. But adjustments to my day have actually de-stressed me. Here are three discoveries that shifted my mindset from caged to yay.
#1: Dishwashing (or any small chore) midday is optimal for me. Can’t do that from the office. I’m in a cleaner, happier life space as a result because housework isn’t landsliding into the weekend.
#2: Caffeine was working against my mind and body. It’s hard to quit the joe when espressos are free and endless at the office. But quit cold turkey I did at home after finally connecting the caffeine sensitivity dots. Anyone want an unopened bag of Intelligentsia?
#3: I was an eat-lunch-at-my-desk lifer—a terrible habit formed during my NYC days. Now, I take a quick lunch break photo-op walk and say hi to my neighbors and their dogs to stay energized. If I can top my day off with a bike ride to Venice Beach all the better. What does this mean for my “work” day? It means I may jump online after that bike ride, later in the evening, to edit photos and answer e-mails. Staying fluid is working for me so far. Now I just need to incorporate the Pomodoro Method. (Thanks for the recommendation, Hugh!) —Christine Bobbish, photo editor
The Perfect Desk
The right gear helps, too. There has been a run on office furniture for months now. But recently I needed a desk fast after leaving a furnished Airbnb I’d been living in—no waitlists or shipping in 2-3 weeks, please. I purchased this folding bamboo camp table with adjustable aluminum legs. Desk by day, patio entertaining surface by night, camp or beach table on the weekend. It suits my minimalist goals perfectly, aesthetically, and functionally. —CB
Work Hard, Play Hard, Veg out Hard
I was fortunate to have already been working remotely by the time COVID-19 shut down the country. In many ways, it made the workflow feel like business as usual. But that’s not to say there weren’t significant adjustments or challenges.
One of the perks of working remotely was having the option of working from anywhere, including bookstores, coffee shops, and other stereotypical locales where writers balance people watching-induced procrastination with productivity.
The shuttering of those destinations, however, yielded uncharted territory that has tested the sanity of many.
I’ve repeatedly heard recommendations to block off set times for work, but what works for some seldom works for all. Over the last six months, I’ve taken to the simple act of making a conscious effort to break the day up with physical activity and cap it with something that requires as little strenuous thought as possible.
Eight or nine hours of in-home work becomes a lot easier to tackle by inserting a run, hike, or lifting session to get the blood flow going back to what feels, by that time, like a brain full of mush.
A change of scenery is also critical, even if it’s just moving from one room to another. Get up, move around, cook something, knock out a chore. Whatever you have to do to not stare into the endless void that has become your computer screen.
By the time evening rolls around, it’s time for me to shut the laptop and tap into sports or a show like Rick and Morty—whatever provides the best form of mental disengagement from the rigors of the day.—J.D. Simkins, staff writer