Months into working from home, it’s time to check in with yourself. How is your work-life balance? Have you figured out when and how you work best? And when did you last shower?
As work and home life meld, it’s difficult to maintain boundaries, stay productive and take care of your mental health amid the pandemic.
Since work from home orders are likely to stick around for those lucky enough to do their jobs away from their workplace, now is a good opportunity to professionalize your work habits and find a sustainable setup for the coming months.
Know yourself and work accordingly
You may instinctively know when you’re at your peak performance and what conditions you need to achieve it. Some people are at their best right after they’ve had their morning coffee and settled in at a desk. Others might sleep in and then start work while still in bed.
Clearly defining when and how you work best helps you set clear expectations for yourself and your colleagues.
To understand when you’re most productive, career coach and entrepreneur Felecia Hatcher recommends conducting a time audit. Track your workday in 15-minute increments for one week. “A time audit is going to radically change your life personally, and then you get to showcase to your boss when your most productive times of day are,” Hatcher says.
Keep track of your audit in a spreadsheet or a notebook, detailing meetings, lunch breaks, blocks of time dedicated to heads-down work, and stretches when you don’t get much done. This will reveal when you’re productive and when you might be better served taking a break, going for a walk or taking a power nap.
Next, think about conditions that help you focus.
Some need to sit in a specific spot to accomplish anything. Others might just need an internet connection, wherever that may be. Bari Tessler, a financial therapist who has worked from home for two decades, says that only you know how you work best.
“Every day is different and you have to go with the flow,” says Tessler. “You just have to know who you are.” Ignore prescriptive guidance about not working from bed or getting dressed like you’re going into the office. Create the conditions you feel most comfortable with.
Structure—and communicate—your balance
Use your insights about how and when you work best to flesh out your idea of work-life balance or something close to it. Then bring that plan to your colleagues for a candid conversation.
“I always look at the equation of time, money, energy, family and health, and I make all my decisions from that,” Tessler says.
Finding your personal balance might mean being more deliberate about what you’ve already been doing, or making changes.
For example, if you found you’re not particularly productive during regular working hours, think of ways to mix it up. You might want to block out time midday to run errands or meditate. Or maybe you can work alternative hours, outside of the typical 9-to-5. This might be a necessity for parents as some school districts plan to start the school year with virtual learning.
If you haven’t already, establish an ongoing dialogue with your manager and colleagues. Hatcher advises using what you learned during your evaluation to guide the conversation.
“Structuring your time is about setting healthy boundaries personally and setting work boundaries,” Hatcher says. “And using what you learned from your time audit can help you have a data-driven conversation with your boss rather than anecdotal conversation.”
You might have to make compromises, depending on job requirements, but you’ll be working from a good starting point.
Give yourself a break
You may have seen social media posts saying, “You’re not just working from home, you’re working from home in the middle of a global pandemic.” While that might come across as a little melodramatic, it’s true.
Between managing personal and financial fears around the coronavirus pandemic and grappling with the national conversation around racial inequity, having to face your job as if everything is normal can be exhausting.
Hatcher says: “Things are so weighty right now. … We’re so quick to say, ‘My life is falling apart but I gotta show up tomorrow,’ but no, don’t do that. Take a break.”
If you’re feeling burned out by work or overwhelmed by the news, look into taking time off if your work situation allows. An internet-free staycation can help you unplug, center yourself and return to work refreshed.
Sean Pyles is a writer at NerdWallet. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.