There's a lot to love about the pivot to working from home — more flexibility, the ability to work at your most productive hours, and the fact that pantyhose are now obsolete for many professions. But there are challenges, too, especially for women, who are 1.5 times more likely than men to be spending an extra three or more hours a day on housework and child care, according to McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org's 2020 Women in the Workplace report. That's equivalent to 20 hours a week, which is literally a part-time job.
The survey found women reported feeling their work is judged more critically by employers thanks to the extra responsibilities they have at home due to the pandemic.
Finally, the report found that, due to COVID-19, many women feel that they cannot bring their whole selves to work how they could pre-pandemic when many were going to an office.
These results underscore just how essential it is to have a solid, sustainable work-from-home routine. Here we have gathered six tips to help you think through the possibilities and get set up to work remotely successfully.
1. Know yourself
Are you a morning person? Then tackle your day's toughest tasks when you're fresh and have abundant energy. If you're a night owl, use the early hours to take care of easy assignments, and then dig in deep later in the day when you're hitting your stride.
2. Find an accountability partner
If you're missing the experience of collaborating with co-workers or just feel the need to check in with someone to offset the isolation, try setting up a co-working session with an accountability partner.
Brandy Bell, 35, a freelance travel writer who splits her time between Europe and Los Angeles, does this daily with a group from 9 am to noon. The protocol: Participants come to the Zoom session, where they work without chatting for 25 minutes before taking a scheduled break, also known as the Pomodoro Technique. When the timer chimes, everyone unmutes for a bit of water-cooler chat before the whole process repeats itself. "It's a great way to stay more focused," Bell says. "It's about a short burst of productivity and accountability."
Don't have a willing colleague? You can get paired with a stranger who's also looking to buckle down for a 50-minute co-working session at Focusmate.
3. Create time blocks
When we work outside the home, our schedules organically develop a framework that separates leisure time from work and even commuting intervals. But when we live and work (and oversee remote schooling) in the same place, things bleed together.
Working from home, however, can make the day feel endless, thanks to blurred boundaries. In fact, over the past year, home-based workdays have become 48.5-minutes longer than they were pre-pandemic. They also include more virtual meetings than ever before, which have been proven to impact women significantly. The fix? Creating a routine that gives your day structure.
"It can be overwhelming to work from home because, in addition to your paying job, you're surrounded by all the things you have to take care of on a daily basis where you live, like cleaning, cooking, or laundry," says Marisa Volpe Lonic, founder of Mama Work It, and a time management coach dedicated to helping women balance a full life. "Without a routine in place, it can be easy to feel lost or directionless, which can really negatively affect your productivity and motivation."
Start by envisioning your day in blocks of time, like when you wake up until breakfast, from after breakfast until lunch, from lunch until a mid-afternoon coffee break. Then block out any meetings or commitments already on your calendar. After that, set goals for each chunk of time so that you know what you should be focusing on at any given point in your day.
This is another instance in which the Pomodoro Technique can come in handy. For example, if you find yourself neglecting housework because of your other responsibilities, simply set a timer at a convenient time — say right before or right after your workday — and tackle a task. When the timer dings, you can walk away. Do that once or twice a day, and you've carved out time to straighten up, do a load of laundry, or get your kids started on their homework.
4. Make space for relaxation
If you've got enough space, designate one room, such as your bedroom or the den, as a no-work zone. The rules are simple: Work emails and phone calls can't happen there — neither can Zoom meetings or creating tomorrow's to-do lists. This space should be your sanctuary from stress.
If you're short on space, establish limits by actively shifting gears when your workday is over. Stephanie Cain, a journalist in New York City, does this by performing the same kind of "turn down" service offered at nice hotels. She commands her voice-controlled lights to switch to their softer setting and stashes away both her computer and the kids' toys, making the living room a more comfortable environment for a relaxing evening watching movies. "It's the best way to break up the monotony of the day," Cain says.
5. Carve out some office space … or don't
For many, establishing a space where you focus on your work helps reduce the distraction of changing up locations. Day in and out, you know where your office supplies are and how you've performed in the space before.
But if you thrive on the unpredictability of a buzzy office or a public environment, then you might be better off introducing variety into your workstations. "Novelty is good for the brain," says Los Angeles-based David Hochman, a journalist, TedX speaker, and the founder of Upod Academy, a community for freelance writers. That's why he doesn't own a desk and works in a different location every day. In addition to fostering resiliency and flexibility, "It keeps my mind fresh," Hochman says.
6. Plan ahead and start small
When you're facing a mountain of tasks and aren't sure where to start, experts recommend creating an Action List — but not one that's so daunting it'll make you cop out. "Plot out your day the night before," counsels Lonic, "but only commit to accomplishing three of the things on your list." Then repeat as necessary.
The idea, says Lonic, is to create "small habits" that help set you up for success rather than biting off more than you can chew at once.
7. Find that "me time"
When working outside the home, there's often downtime while commuting, which offers a chance to listen to a podcast or catch up with a friend by phone. With home-based work, that often goes out the window.
"It's harder to compartmentalize when you're working from home," says Lonic, "which is why it's so important for women to figure out a way to work back into your day whatever it is that you enjoy." Whatever helped smooth out your workday before, it's essential to find time for now. "You're probably missing it subconsciously more than you know," says Lonic.
Consider taking a short walk before and after work, just like you may have done when commuting. Maybe it means getting up a bit earlier to catch up on a few pages of reading or finding the time to pop out for a cup of coffee mid-day.
Ultimately, creating a dependable, sustainable work-from-home routine depends enormously on your mindset. "There are always going to be moments that feel out of control or frazzled," says Lonic. "So, take a few deep breaths set to work on the tasks you've planned out. Respond in a calm and collected way — and you'll get there."