After 10 years of working from home together as a couple – wherever that may be: tent, cramped travel trailer, picnic table, hotel room, bedroom floor, or now our living room office – this was the moment I nearly threw him out.
“Where’s my coffee cup?”
“Craig? Do you have my morning coffee cup?”
I walked over to his desk and spied the Oregon typeface peeking out between his fingers.
“That’s the coffee cup I have every morning. Why do you have it?”
The unraveling began before Craig, after years of working together in our online blogging business, was quick to crack a joke and release the pressure about to burst in my brain.
Yep. It was only a coffee cup. But to me it was a threat to my constant in an unknown world.
The little things I grasp onto every day to anchor myself in a world that is constantly changing by the hour. Now, more than ever, I need my anchors.
It was in that moment of potential unraveling that I realized how many people may be about to launch into full meltdown mode in households around the world.
Families and couples suddenly being forced to work from home together and co-exist with those they love 24/7 due to this virus, but in a “normal” existence may not spend longer than a few hours with each other, a lot of that being outside in wide, open spaces and typically with other people.
Not only that, but also suddenly being thrown into a very uncertain world that’s changing by the minute.
That’s when I realized I better write this post to help YOU.
We’re experts on this. We’ve been living an uncertain life that is always changing for 20+ years of travel and we’ve doing it as a unit.
We’re used to coexisting with each other in very confined spaces. I’m grateful we’ve had years of practice as it’s one less thing we have to worry about now and our attention can go elsewhere.
We’ve forgotten how challenging it can be because it is so normal for us.
We can quickly defuse the pressure of a stolen morning coffee cup.
You may not be so lucky.
Today, we’ll share our best tips on working from home, whether you do that alongside another person or not.
General Working From Home Tips
1. Have Your Anchor Points
In a world that’s constantly changing, it’s important to have some anchor points to help you feel secure.
It’s an anchor point that allows you to drift but keeps you in steady connection to reality. For me, it’s my morning coffee cup, and my evening tea cup. Yep. He’s been in trouble for stealing that before too!
What are the essential constant things you need each day to feel normal, at peace or joyful?
These are generally going to be your routines and habits. They are ESSENTIAL for survival in an unknown word. These are the only things that you can control (mostly).
For me, it’s my morning routine: meditation, journaling, reading an empowering book, and affirmations and goals while having my morning tonic tea in my morning cup (it’s red for grounding and abundance). I forgot I also have a special cup for that.
My morning smoothie is the same every morning as is my bullet proof coffee in my Oregon cup. (Drinks taste different in different cups right? It’s why we get so attached to certain ones.)
Then in the evening its:
- cook dinner
- listen to music and maybe dance
- eat together
- do jigsaw puzzle and watch TV with the girls
Then Craig and I watch Outlander together – getting lost in the romance and adventure of it. Of course with my evening hibiscus tea in my red Raleigh cup – again, grounding myself before bed.
2. Flexibility and Adaptability is Key
The beauty of working from home is being in control of your schedules and routines. We all crave that freedom. But freedom must walk hand-in-hand with flexibility.
There is a lot happening in your home now you can’t control: from kids screaming at each other, to your partner annoyingly singing in your ear, to unexpected phone calls and dirty dishes leering at you.
It’s important you be the palm tree – learn to dance in the winds of change.
Be ready to change things at a moment’s notice. Be okay with nothing going to plan. And just do the best you can, with what you have, from where you are.
3. Divide Your Tasks Into Focus Levels
List out all your tasks into focus levels. That is, what requires complete attention and what can be done with lots of distraction. e.g. writing requires more focus than say, editing photos.
Now you’ll know what to do when you finally get some focused time. Only do that. You’ll be surprised with what you can achieve.
If you get up early, make that extra time you have given yourself doing your most important work. Punch it out in the still quietness of the morning.
Leave the other tasks – the ones you can maybe manage as a Yo-Yo for when the kids are awake.
4. Schedule Everything In
It’s okay if it doesn’t work to plan, but if you don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen at all.
Plan it out the night before. List your top three priorities for the coming day and work on those first. Perhaps, you set a rule that you don’t go to bed until they are done.
- work time
- special appointments
- due dates
- phone conversations
- online meetings
- learning time
- play time
- cleaning time
- rest/hobby time.
The more structure you invite in, the more your day will flow.
Your work life and personal life is no longer definitively separate. They are going to intertwine through the entire day.
A schedule is the best way to separate them as much as you can and keep things as normal as possible.
5. Create Plans and Goals
Create a clear outline for your current projects, work goals and deadlines. Know what the focus is for each month, week, day.
Create a goal around these for each month, week and day. Keep this in mind when you create your schedule and three priority tasks.
Check in each afternoon to see how on track you are and adjust as necessary.
I get so much more done when I focus my work in this way. You won’t have anyone else helping you to manage yourself nor stay accountable. Use a planner to be that person.
6. Ignore the Mess (for most of the day)
Leave the housework, until later. I know it is always staring you in the face and so darn annoying. But, if you focused on cleaning ALL that mess everyday that is all you will achieve all day.
Always stopping to clean the mess is a procrastination tactic. It’s not essential you do it. You can work despite it.
And that includes your work desk – constantly rearranging papers and pens and hard drives and whatever else is occupying your desk space is time you could be working on your tasks – keep it uncluttered of course, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
The key to surviving when you work at home is learning to block out what is around you.
You may no longer have any bosses controlling you. You must control yourself.
Choose a time of the day that is house time. I tend to do this in the afternoon just before I prepare dinner – or even while I prepare dinner.
If you focus your attention every afternoon on that, you can have it knocked out in less than an hour then your rest time will be in a clean place.
If you are at home with kids, give them special duties. Ours are responsible for cleaning their own mess, their bedrooms, the guest/play room, unpacking the dishwasher and folding the laundry etc.
You’re all in this together. They too play their part.
Learn to ignore the mess through the day and let stuff go. Attention only on the most important things.
7. Take Frequent Breaks
Self-care is essential. Be sure to take frequent breaks. If you’re working with someone else, help remind the other of this.
I can get lost in my work. Thankfully, Craig will remind me to go sit outside and disconnect for a while with my barefoot on the grass and sunshine on my face.
You can: go for a short walk, stretch, read a book, bounce on your re-bounder, kick a ball with your kids, call a friend, paint, do a puzzle, whatever brings you joy!
8. Monitor Your Distractions and Set Boundaries
Know what your distractions are. Make a list and next to it a solution. Have a plan to oust the enemy as soon as you see it arrive.
Some, like your children, may be out of your control. But, you can learn to mange that. Check our latest post on schooling from home for tips. Choosing your work hours and setting expectations are key here.
I learned quickly that by around 4pm my energy was gone. I’d try to work in the evening but just end up wasting my time scrolling through Facebook.
So I gave up evening work. I’d much rather chill out, hang out with my kids and
Jamie Fraser Outlander.
Distractions may come in the form of others wanting your attenuation, either in real life or digitally. Be firm with your boundaries.
Would you allow your friends or family to constantly call you and disrupt you at your job? Then don’t allow it working from home either!
No doesn’t mean you don’t love. It means you are loving yourself first so you have more space to love others.
Tell them the best time for them to reach out to you for help – if it’s an emergency that’s a different story!
One of our biggest challenges with working from home for the past 10 years has been other people thinking that because we work from home means we have endless time to drop everything and work to their schedule.
It is hugely annoying when they tell us they can’t do something because they have to go to work, yet will just drop in whenever they feel like it into our lives because we work from home.
That actually creates a lot of extra stress and late nights for us. Don’t let it happen to you. And hopefully people aren’t just dropping around to your house with this self-isolation period for Covid-19.
Take these breaks when you recognize you are highly distracted.
There is no point working in these moments. I typically find myself on Facebook. That’s when I know it’s time to step away, refresh and then come back when I’m ready to focus.
It’s far better for you to be stretching, gardening or playing games with your kids then hanging out on Facebook or reading constant negative news updates.
9. Make Less Decisions About Simple Shit
You have way too much to manage right now. Not just for yourself, but the environment you are in and the people you’ve been thrown together with.
So much of your time and angst each day is around decisions about simple shit. Cut that shit out. Make them a daily habit. Make them the same every day.
It’s why I have the same coffee cup. It’s why I have the same smoothie. It’s why I have the same apple snack at 3pm. I have about 3 lunch variations and 5 dinner variations. I don’t have the time or energy to create an innovative meal every night.
It’s why Mark Zuckerberg has 10 of the same shirts. He just wears a different one each day – no difficult decisions needed!
10. Create an Inspiring Work Environment
This may be a challenge given your home set up and you being suddenly thrown into working from home.
Do the best to create a home office you feel happy in.
You may have to find a corner in your bedroom, convert a spare bedroom, the living room, or create space at your dining room table – we’ve done them all.
If you have to work at the dining table, then claim your favorite corner and brighten with a photo frame or flowers from your garden.
I would avoid the couch as much as possible, unless it’s for video chats etc. Otherwise I find it’s unproductive and really bad for your posture. Every now and then is fine.
You may even want to move around during the day to break it up.
Craig likes to stand up at the island bench in our kitchen which mimics a stand-up desk as sitting down all day is not good for circulation and posture – I don’t work well that way so I stay mostly at my desk.
And surround yourself with music! Choose a few playlists to run all day. Spotify is great for organizing that for you. Remember, less decisions, just go with their choices, usually they are great.
You now have total control over the remote AND can sing like no one is listening.
11. Connect with Others
Working from home doesn’t mean we have to do this alone. We live in a magical world where we can connect with anyone all around the world in an instant.
Who do you know who is in a similar situation to you? Reach out to them.
Talk frequently to those who understand what you are going through.
These people are your lifesavers!
I join a morning meeting with my friends from The Locality here in Raleigh, a co-working space for female entrepreneurs I go to when not in this self-isolation period. We hang out on Zoom and share our highs and lows and priorities for the day. It is so comforting and helps to ground me among this chaos.
They also run weekly trainings, again live on Zoom so we an see real people.
I also chat frequently with friends online – via messenger or Facebook groups.
We’re also holding weekly live chats just so we can be real to our peeps. And this weekend we’re breaking out the virtual bar with a friend on lock-down in Durham. So close yet still so far away!
12. Meal Plan
Do your best to stick to your normal work routine of taking your meals and knowing in advance what to eat.
Odds are you will be eating more now you have unlimited access to your fridge and pantry. They are probably stocked full at the moment too.
Remember the rule about less decisions and managing distractions.
If you can meal plan you reduce your daily decisions. You’ll also reduce distractions as you’ll be prepared and have meals AND snack breaks scheduled in.
- Do your best to bulk cook extra quantities of an evening so you can heat it up for lunch.
- Choose food that fills you up so you don’t feel the need to constantly snack.
- Choose food you love so that you look forward to that break and don’t want to ruin the experience by eating other things
- Eat healthy. You’ll need the nutrition when working from home, especially since movement will be restricted more than usual.
13. Exercise Regularly
Working from home is hard on your psychical, mental and emotional selves. Exercise is the antidote to all those forms of stress.
And when I say exercise, it doesn’t have to be a one-hour boot camp session, it can be as simple as moving your body!
20-minutes a day is all you need.
You will need this work disconnect more than anything. Choose the exercise you love and schedule it in. It may change depending on mood and available time.
My favorites are:
- Neighborhood walks
- HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training (typically targets cardio + strength). Over a 4-minute period you go hard for 20 seconds with a 10 second rest. It could be sprinting, push ups, burpees, jumping jacks, skipping, kettle-bells, whatever!
Other simple ideas in cold or wet weather:
- If you live in a 2-story house, walk up and down your stairs 20 times.
- Jump rope in your garage
- Bounce on a re-bounder for 5 mins
I use Grokker for my yoga and fitness routines. I’m better at working out when I have an instructor.
We have a workout area set up in our garage. Get outside if you can or exercise in a separate room to your office. You’ll need to get out of that office space regularly.
Tips for Working From Home With Others
All of the above apply, plus a few more considerations.
14. Communicate Your Anchor Points
It would have been best if I explained to Craig the importance of my morning and evening coffee cups.
But, as we’re all inclined to do, we assume our partners just telepathically know everything about us.
Not so much. Craig just wanted to finally use that Oregon mug he purchased on our USA road trip. Strangely, I’m attached to that one given Oregon was the least favorite of the states we visited – still good – but not great and we liked all the others more!
Sit down together and share your anchor points. This helps me feel stable, secure, loved etc.
15. Set Expectations + Have Meetings
Be sure to set expectations with everyone in your household how this new work environment will look and operate.
Create boundaries and rules for each other.
Have regular meetings to check in, brainstorm, unload frustrations, problem solve etc. You can do this of a morning, evening or on your daily walks together.
16. Understand How Others Work
As I’m writing this, Craig is talking over my shoulder about his passion and inspiration for creating our new Raleigh website…
“I love this. I’m good at researching and organizing information and creating helpful resources. It’s what I really like to do. You’re the story teller, I’m the organizer.”
“That’s right, you are awesome at that.”
He continued to tell me how he likes to organize things. Then I said,
“You know what I like Craig? Writing when I’m in flow and the words just come. But, I really need to do that uninterrupted or the words dry up for me. I’m in the flow now. Can we talk about this later?”
Back to our respective desks we go.
We say these things to each other with lightheartedness and humor. It’s best to display that in your voice and smiles, and giggles.
I have said things like this before, or vice versa, in a different tone – really putting forth an irritated and pissed off vibe – which has only lead to severe communication breakdowns and arguments.
Then the words have really dried up.
He’s now put on a video, and I will politely hand him some headphones.
Know your housebound partner’s strengths and when they work best. Arrange your day as best you can around that for each other.
17. Partner Tag-Team and Share Evenly
If you can, tag team with your spouse so you both get work (or free time) while the other tends to the kids or other household needs.
As mentioned above, ensure you are both getting alone time, and both of you are also getting outside.
Also, be sure tasks around house management and parenting are equally shared.
If one partner does not have to work at the moment, it may be best if they do a little more with the kids and housework to lighten the pressure on the person who is working from home. That’s a family decision!
18. Separation – Everybody Move to Your Time Out Corner
No I don’t mean divorce. Put up as much separation within your house and schedule as you can.
If you are sharing a desk space right now, you will need to do this more than others. Decide who works best when, and they can have the desk at that time.
Perhaps one may be willing to work at the dining table while the other is at the desk. Maybe switch later or have a day each.
You will appreciate being in separate rooms or quarters. It will minimize distractions and the incessant questions and dealing with the other’s frustration expletives.
Craig and I are in the same living area, but we have enough space we can handle it. It’s actually more space than we’ve ever had!
Sometimes, you have to put up the no talking or touching rule.
In normal life, before this mess, we would also have our separation by going to separate co-working spaces twice a week in downtown Raleigh.
I hope this blog post helped with your current situation? Take what you like, incorporate it into your life, and forget the rest.
Again, keep it as simple as possible, stay safe wherever you are, and please share this post with someone who could use these tips!