We are working in times never known before in modern history. Even for those who are used to working remotely, Covid-19 has changed the way we think and go about our daily work routines. From makeshift home offices to virtual meetings interrupted by children and pets, to heightened anxieties from pandemic restrictions, working from home can feel overwhelming. For those with busy households, young kids, tight spaces and heavy workloads, the out-of-home office might seem like quaint day-spa at this point. The good news? Working from home can be awesome!

Maintaining a daily work schedule that is both effective and productive is possible when a few good habits are formed. Here is a list of six effective habits for working from home during Covid-19 that helps keep us all safe and sane!

1. Keep a consistent daily work schedule

According to the American Psychological Association, daily goal setting is paramount for keeping work objectives manageable.[1] Because regular work routines have shifted so greatly, work/life balance has more than likely felt muddled at the best of times. First off, the struggle to find our own groove while working remotely is completely normal. It’s not just you undergoing this struggle—it’s everyone.

At times, working at home places a lot more mental pressure to get tasks done, and this can cause the workday to become much longer than usual. Studies show that remote workers tend to log more hours than their office-based counterparts and experience a blurring of boundaries between their home and work lives.[2] Additionally, “remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year.”[3]

To avoid sinking into unhealthy habits of working overtime (or undertime), create a work-day schedule for yourself and engage as though you are headed to the office each morning (yes, like getting dressed). Organize your work hours at home as you would if working at the office. For example, if your work schedule is 9-5, break down larger objectives into small tasks. Put aside hours in the day for appointments and meetings that make sense. Avoid overloading your plate by multi-tasking to the point of disarray.

As you navigate your workload, keep a daily work schedule to help track your activities using calendars and other professional apps. Become familiar with technology that saves you time. A survey compiled by Airtasker found that “30% of remote employees reported that keeping a to-do list helped their productivity.”[4] Tracking our work progress in a daily work schedule helps us be accountable to our employer and create reasonable expectations for what we can accomplish each week.

2. Maintaining healthy boundaries

Creating daily and weekly work schedules keeps us accountable to our work, but also in maintaining boundaries for a healthy work/life balance. By setting a work schedule, we help to create boundaries for ourselves. We know what is possible and what is unreasonable. Especially for remote workers, boundaries set the foundation for autonomy, flexibility, and stress relief.[5] Boundaries also allow us to compartmentalize work from our much-needed personal time. Even if we love our job, maintaining physical and mental distance from work is crucial for our well-being and to avoid burn-out.

The first step in creating boundaries brings us back to point one: establishing a consistent work schedule. Make sure to communicate your work hours with your colleagues/employers, especially if you work in a team or collaborative position. Boundaries give us permission to turn off the computer and to focus on our personal life and home responsibilities. With boundaries, we can avoid creating bad habits such as working late into the night or forsaking time with family—habits which typically lead to unhealthy consequences.

Keep in mind that weekly work schedules may need to change depending on the projects or objectives at hand. When deadlines beyond our control are upcoming, we may be required to work longer hours and have less free time. Boundaries do not mean tuning out colleagues or foregoing important work deadlines when the clock strikes 5 p.m. Boundaries simply connote respect. When properly communicated and practiced, boundaries signify regard for the time and energy our jobs demand, as well as the time and energy of our co-workers.

3. Take meaningful work-day breaks

Breaks are a normal practice in the workplace because breaks improve workplace outcomes and employee functionality.[6] Employees need breaks to refresh, regroup, and be reminded that the workday is finite.

According to a recent study, lunch breaks are essential to preventing employee burnout and fatigue.[7] When thoughtfully planned, breaks help relieve some of the pressure we may experience in our jobs or the mental loads we tend to carry about life more broadly. Taking 30 minutes or more out to walk the dog, fold laundry, or workout are productive habits that help to give us space throughout our day to address underlying distractions or give our brains some rest time. The better we are at taking breaks at work, the more mental space we allow for ourselves when the workday is done. Breaks remind us that we have some control and help us practice distancing ourselves from work so we can focus on the other important aspects of our lives, such as sleep or family.

There is no one way to make breaks at work ‘meaningful’—it’s individual. It typically involves an awareness of what your anxieties and personal needs are. If you are stressed about the lack of physical activity you are getting, try walking or jogging. Snuggle your pet. Prepare dinner. Catch up on laundry. Call a friend. Breaks are your time to disassociate with work however you feel is best.

4. Diet and Exercise

No matter how much or how little the pandemic has impacted your work/life balance, proper nutrition and adequate exercise are essential for optimal health. When working in the home, overeating due to stress or convenience can be problematic. To avoid unhealthy eating habits, plan meals in advance and stock the fridge/shelves with healthy options.[8]

Losing the daily bustle of commuting and walking about the office building might mean we aren’t as physically active while working at home. Schedule times for working out, whether that means hitting the gym during a lunch break or taking the dog for a walk before the workday begins.

If planned in advance, working from home can provide opportunities for constructing a healthier lifestyle. Instead of being limited by long commutes and tight work-day schedules, remote working can free up our time to incorporate healthy goals and lifestyle routines.

5. Effective and Comfortable Workspace

For many of us, the workplace office has recently moved into the household which means we have done our best to turn our bedrooms, kitchen tables, hallways or unused closets into improvised offices. No matter where your new workspace is, creating a healthy and organized area helps to maintain a healthy and organized headspace.

Creating a new home workspace does not mean rushing out to Ikea to buy the latest home organizational gadgets. Do what you can with what you have. If possible, work beside a window or in an area with lots of natural light. Make sure you have all the necessary office essentials at your disposal (i.e., pens, paper trays, whiteboard, etc.) and that you have the option of privacy when needed. Decorate your new space with items that feel special and motivating, as you would in your regular workspace.

Tidying up before and after work helps to set the tone for the day. It might not be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be cluttered and unattractive. It may not be the most awe-inspiring workspace, but it doesn’t have to become a part of the house we begin to avoid.

6. Track Your Mental Health

Ten months into the pandemic, we may be missing the familiar faces of our colleagues, consistent in-person meetings, and the unwavering social busyness of the office. Without the hustle and bustle and constant comradery of workmates, at times energy levels may wilt.

Despite putting your best foot forward, you may find yourself sinking into a melancholy state of mind. You might find that working from home causes isolation, irritability, anxiety, and even depression. The research on remote workers’ mental health status is still not clear. But what is certain is Covid-19 has negatively impacted mental and emotional wellbeing across the country.[9]

If you are one of the millions of Canadians who struggle to find footing in this pandemic, please note: It is okay to not be okay!

Honour where you are at. Recognize the unprecedented times we live in currently. The most important step to making needed changes is acknowledging that your mental health state is not where you want it to be.

The social distancing restrictions in place remind us all that, by nature, we humans are social animals. Whether it be in our personal or professional lives, connection with others is often the driving force for creativity and intellectual growth.

Reaching out to others, whether they be family members, close friends, or co-workers, can help to feel connected and less isolated. More than likely, others are struggling the same as you and can relate to the experience of isolation and unease. Make time for the people and hobbies you care about as much as possible. We are not made just to work, so do not neglect those other pieces of who you are.

When safe and possible, you might find working in public spaces such as libraries, communal work offices, and cafés (where social distancing and safety can be practiced) helps to boost energy levels. Once upon a time, it was common for coffee shops to act as the office away from the office; in fact, one study shows the pangs of keyboard tapping, casual background conversations, and other ambient noise can actually improve creative thinking.[10]

Being out and about in our communities can also instill a broader sense of societal connection. A simple walk around the block or drive to a public space is a good reminder that we are part of a larger whole, and not actually as alone as we may feel.

Most importantly, know when to ask for help. With second-wave infections continually on the rise, remote work might not change anytime soon. Your mental and emotional wellbeing should always come first. Make an appointment with your doctor. Reach out to local support services. If in serious distress, call 9-1-1 or the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7) or text 45645 (4 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET).

[1] https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/newly-remote-workers

[2] https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/newly-remote-workers

[3] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html

[4] https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html

[5] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/10/cover-remote-work

[6] http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_544138.pdf

[7] https://journals.aom.org/doi/10.5465/amj.2011.1072

[8] https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/eating_habits.html

[9] https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2020-05/nanos_covid_may_2020.pdf

[10] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ambient-noise-spurs-creativity-144332595/