Homeoffice am Gartentisch zwischen Fernseher und Dachschräge.

Home office – when the boundary between work and leisure becomes blurred

Working in a home office demands a lot from us – especially in the context of pandemic-related restrictions. Routines can help us bring structure to our workday. Here are tips for working from home.

Let’s get it out of the way right away: I think working from home is great. Even though I miss the interaction with colleagues, hallway conversations and shared lunch breaks – my back is happy about two-minute breaks on the yoga mat, my body about freshly cooked lunches every day, and my mind about being able to work in peace and quiet and without open-plan office noise. But: not everyone does well in the home office. And I also struggled with myself and the new situation at first. The line between work and free time becomes blurred, and that can easily lead to people being overwhelmed, imbalanced and, in the worst case, even burnt out.

The reasons for this are very different. A friend recently told me that she feels like she has to work a lot more. Even before she actually starts work, she reads e-mails and writes responses during breakfast. In case she takes a lunch break, it continues in the same way. Another says she works much less. Sometimes, she spends the first hour of work in her pajamas at the desk or rather kitchen table, later she takes a shower, but takes many more breaks during the day and is much more distracted than in the office. We can all only guess at the workload and the stress of parents who are teaching their children on the side, unless we are parents ourselves.

Two of my friends were very creative in setting up their home office: guest shower on the left, standing workstation by the kitchen on the right.
Two of my friends were very creative in setting up their home office: guest shower on the left, standing workstation by the kitchen on the right.

Work gives structure to our lives. This is now missing, and we have to organize ourselves. Not so easy in a place – at home – where there is usually not even room for a permanent desk. Consciously creating routines can make home office life easier. Even if that means first having to vanquish your inner temptation.

So here are my tips for getting through home office time well.

Because the text has become quite long, here is a short table of contents to make it clearer:

1. How to establish routines
2. The start of the day
3. Setting up a workplace
4. Setting spatial boundaries
5. A break means a break
6. You are what you eat
7. Eat mindfully
8. Move your body
9. And what do parents do?
10. Conclusion

1. How to establish routines
Most of what we do and think happens completely automatic in our subconscious – drinking coffee, walking, reaching into the gummy bear bag while watching TV, or even making coffee in the morning. Habits are relieving for the brain because it doesn’t have to think too much. That’s why routines give us a pleasant feeling.

If you want to establish a new routine, you first have to become aware of it. The first step is always the most difficult, they say. This is also true in this case. Establishing a routine means reprogramming the subconscious – and to do that, we first have to vanquish your inner temptation, which usually comes with unpleasant feelings – out of the cozy bed, up onto the yoga mat? That’s where temptation gets in the way, protesting. That’s why we need our full attention in the beginning to reprogram the subconscious. Regularity makes actions pass into the subconscious. Researchers at the University College in London have found that we need an average of 66 days to establish a routine. After daily repetition, the new program has become a routine and runs almost automatically. So, it pays to overcome initial challenges.

2. The start of the day
The first hour of your day decides how your day will turn out, they say – regardless of working from home, of course. From my own experience, I know that my mood is different when I check Facebook and Instagram right after I get up, or when I take time for meditation and yoga. Maybe going for a run or enjoying your morning coffee while listening to your favorite music and looking out at your backyard is the way to start your day in a good mood. Personally, I just think it’s important that the cell phone doesn’t play an overriding role in the first hour of the morning and distract us from ourselves.
Important in the home office: keep a routine of showering and getting dressed 😉 Some may need the official office outfit to get in the mood for work, for others it’s enough if they are at least presentable on the upper body for video conferences. Get a feeling for yourself and see what feels good to you and what you need to have a good work day from home. If it’s sweatpants and a sweater: wonderful. If it’s jeans and a blouse: fine as well.

3. Set up a workspace

 

Home office in myliving room. Flap open means working time. Flap closed means leisure time.
Home office in myliving room. Flap open means working time. Flap closed means leisure time.

Whoever lives in a small one- or two-bedroom apartment will now laugh out loud and shout “Where exactly?”. Clearly, this is a real challenge. I always recommend not locating your workspace in your bedroom, if that’s feasible. The bedroom should be a space of relaxation where you can come to rest and documents and laptop don’t remind you of work. Many of my friends work at the dining table. This is usually not only unfavorable from an ergonomic point of view, but also makes it difficult to differentiate between working hours and breaks or after-work hours. But: it’s definitely possible.
Regardless of room and table: the most important thing is to set up a fixed workstation that is used exclusively for working. This can also mean that one side of the dining table is for work, the other for eating. If you always work from the same place, your subconscious learns that work time starts as soon as you sit down at that spot and boot up your laptop.

I put a small secretary in my living room. I can close it in the evening. Then I can no longer see the laptop, screen, and notes, and my subconscious knows that when the flap is closed, it’s the end of the day. The only disadvantage: I had to part with my dining table. There was no room for both.

4. Setting spatial boundaries

Using sage helps me to energetically cleanse my living room of work vibes.
Using sage helps me to energetically cleanse my living room of work vibes.

In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges in the home office is that the boundary between work and free time becomes blurred – not only spatially, but also on an emotional level. To help our subconscious separate better here, we can support it with rituals.

  • Take walks – The way to and from work is currently omitted. I go for a short walk in the morning and in the evening through the park or around the block to signal to myself the workday’s start and end.
  • Air rooms – Fresh air and oxygen are not only good for the brain, but also provide an air exchange and mood change in the room. Good for the start of work, lunch break and end of work – and anytime in between.
  • Energetic cleansing: I energetically cleanse my work space after work with lavender and/or sage. This way I neutralize workday vibes and get my living room back.

5. Break means break

Brief airing can indicate a break to the subconscious - and provides fresh oxygen.
Brief airing can indicate a break to the subconscious – and provides fresh oxygen.

What do you usually do during your lunch break when you’re in the office? Go to the canteen? Or go to the bakery with your colleagues? How long does that take? Do you allow yourself a break at home, too? If we want to work efficiently and effectively, our brain needs rest periods in between, where it can recover and store information. If we work continuously, we release stress hormones, we become slower, less attentive, and thus take longer to complete tasks. A vicious circle that we can easily break.
An old Zen wisdom reads as follows: Meditate 20 minutes a day. Unless you don’t have time. Then meditate for an hour. Even the old masters knew that we can’t work well without periods of rest. A break means a break – without checking whether another important e-mail has come in and without taking a phone call between two bites of pasta.

Consciously taking breaks means setting limits. It means saying no to colleagues, because you are temporarily unavailable for them. That can lead to a guilty conscience. But taking breaks also means saying yes to yourself and your needs when your body and mind signal that they need a regeneration phase. We should realize that we increase our concentration and make fewer mistakes when we take care of ourselves and allow ourselves breaks. There’s no question about it: sometimes there’s no way around having an ear for the cell phone ringtone, even during a break. No problem, as long as it stays an exceptions.

For me, cooking is also part of the break. Even that takes an hour at most – and maybe only half an hour the next day, if you reheat the leftovers from the day before. What we feed our bodies is important because….

6. You are what you eat

Kale with potatoes - healthy cooking does not have to be elaborate.
Kale with potatoes – healthy cooking does not have to be elaborate.

Healthy body, healthy mind. I don’t know enough about Ayurveda and nutrition (yet) to be able to give you well-founded tips. But basically, we all know: sweets make you sluggish, so does fast food. Vegetables and fruits provide important vitamins and nutrients and are healthy. Again, listen to your body – and let your mind take the lead when your body asks for another bar of chocolate after you already had half of it 😉.

7. Eat mindfully
It’s not just about what we eat, but how we eat. When eating is something that happens on the side, we quickly lose track of what we’ve eaten. While we are busy checking the Instagram feed, we miss the body’s signal of being full – and eat much more than necessary. So, it’s better to eat in peace and check the feed afterwards. This is then also a real break for the brain, without multitasking.

8. Move your body

Going for a walk - whether before or after work or during the lunch break provides a clear head and exercise.
Going for a walk – whether before or after work or during the lunch break provides a clear head and exercise.

Moving our body is important right now, because we spend more time at home than ever before. Not only is the trip to work eliminated, but also the one to the coffee kitchen, the copying machine, and the mailroom – and, of course, the one to the restaurant, the movies…. A study by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) found that Germans have gained an average of one kilo since the pandemic began. Scientists in the U.S. have found that people are eating healthier because they are cooking more themselves and eating out less. However, every fourth person still gained weight, according to the American study. The reason: closed gyms and generally less exercise. Getting up while talking on the phone, a quick look out the window, a back exercise on the yoga mat or whatever is good for you are recommended for mini breaks in between and replace going to the copy machine and co.

9. And what do parents do?
When I talk about scheduling breaks and spending them in peace, parents can only laugh. How is that supposed to work when child one is bored, child two needs help with homework, and the dog urgently needs to go out? Parents generally have my utmost respect – but especially at the moment. Even if it’s difficult: try to create breaks somehow. Or even get the kids involved. Depending on their age, maybe they can help with the cooking or set the table. Maybe your partner can fill in briefly or – taking into account the contact restrictions – the neighbor.

For parents and everyone else alike, it’s important right now to be grounded. Those who are grounded stand securely on the ground and are not easily shaken or put under stress. A bodyscan, a mindfulness exercise, is a good way to do this. While lying on your back your eyes closed you slowly lead your mind through your body – with full attention – starting from your feet, ending at the top of your head. There are various guided bodyscans on the internet that can support you practicing this. This is also a great exercise that parents can do together with their children. My experience from courses shows that the little ones love it – and it’s not uncommon for them to blissfully fall asleep while doing it. Parents, too, by the way.

10. Conclusion

Cell phone in bed - generally not a good idea, but sometimes just cozy.
Cell phone in bed – generally not a good idea, but sometimes just cozy.

Meditation, yoga, walking, cooking… whether I actually do this every day, a friend recently wanted to know. No, of course, I don’t. Some days I enjoy just stumbling from bed into the shower – without a stop on the mat. Some days I skip breakfast, and other days I skip walks. I try to see what works for me on any given day – and to ignore the inner temptation when I realize it’s her who’s up for playing, not my body, which likes to rest longer.

If you want to establish routines, you shouldn’t want to do everything at once, but start slowly. Setting small goals increases the likelihood of achieving them. This motivates you to tackle the next goal.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas that resonate with you  and help you survive home office. In case you have any questions or need tips about meditation or how to ground yourself better, please send me an email.

Do you have any other tips for working from home? Write them in the comments or send an email.

 

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