This article is part of the guide Remote Working during COVID-19, How to ride out the coronavirus outbreak.
If you’ve not worked fully remotely before, then riding through this COVID-19 crisis will be particularly scary and challenging time.
In this remote working guide we’ve looked at tools, working processes and how to approach remote working post-COVID-19.
But none of that matters if you’re not looking after your mental and physical well-being.
So in this article we’re looking at the tips we’ve been sent from our global freelance community about how to look after your physical and mental health during this crisis.
If you’re not used to working remotely then it’s very easy to let your work life drift into your home life. Here’s some tips for setting up a healthy work/ life balance:
- Set your working hours as if you’re going into the office as normal.
- Set an end time at which you turn your computer off and stick to it.
- Segment work activities from non-work activities.
- Use the 20-20 formula – Take a 20 min break after 20 minutes of work, like walk around, stretch and have some green tea.
- A few simple shifts in routine & perspective can go a long way.
- At least 3x per week, dress as if you were going to the office. (or at least put your trousers on!)
- Try having lunch together (via Skype or whatever video meeting tool you use)
- At break time go for a walk, workout, play with the dog … whatever you like.
- Don’t try to work solidly through a day from 9am to 5pm. No one does this, even in an office. Walk around, grab a coffee, have lunch, catch up with someone from a different social circle. You naturally give yourself breaks when in the office – you need to do the same when working at home otherwise you will burn out quickly.
- Wake up early. 5:00 am and don’t use social media during work hours.
- If you live with a partner, roommate, or adult family members, establish boundaries around when you are “at work” and when you are “at home.” This may be time on the calendar or involve retreating to another room. This can help you maintain a balance without feeling pulled in a million directions at once. Be sure to spend quality time connecting with others in your household when work is done! If you live alone, joining online networking communities, setting up Facetime socializing time with friends/family/other remote workers, and even talking to a pet can help you feel more connected through the day. Remember: just because you’re working at home now doesn’t mean you need to be available 24/7. Make time for your own interests, friends, and relaxation like you would after leaving an office.
- Look into automating certain tasks – if it’s incredibly repetitive and mindless then see if there is a bot or even a virtual assistant (if the cost makes sense) to free up your time and energy.
- Buy some noise cancelling headphones so you can control the sound environment. If you’re not sure if you can afford it then make a business case for yourself by working out the focus time you’ve gained.
- Put up meaning quotes in your work environment so you’ve got some encouragement when you’re feeling low or need a pick me up.
- Make collages or have photos of bucket list places or things you’d like to complete, then setup clear goals in your mind so that you know what you’re working towards.
You cannot escape the fact that you only have a finite amount of attention and energy that you can give each day, no matter how much you might have on your plate, so here’s some ways to give yourself necessary rest time:
- Don’t overload with projects and have free time
- Stay hydrated and keep a large bottle of water on your desk and make sure you have regular drink breaks, especially if you’re involved in back to back client meetings.
- Take regular breaks and still get some fresh air.
- Schedule a lunch break where you step away from you computer. Just because you can’t go into public spaces doesn’t mean you can’t stretch your legs and rest your eyes.
- Consider using the pomodoro technique, to give yourself consistent breaks during the day. The pomodoro technique involves splitting your time into 15 minute increments and working for 12 minutes and having a three minute break. You can make each 12 minute segment complete a single task, to keep you focused.
- Limit how long you ‘work’ for – NO saying to yourself “I’ll just do this…” and before you realise it, 2-3 hours have gone by and you’ve given your time for free…
- Take naps during the day. It revives your thinking and creative process.
- Look up the Pomodoro technique. Have 25 minutes of intense, focused work, and follow it by a 5 minute break. Let yourself walk. Let your self get your mind off of work for 5 minutes. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this method can be really effective in preventing burn-out over a long-term period.
- Take breaks throughout the day to avoid the screen. This could mean potentially working later in the day, albeit the same amount of hours. Small breaks usually leads to better mental health, not to mention increased productivity.
- When you hit a wall and are no longer productive, take a break away from your screen. Sometimes a 10 minute nap does wonders and you can get a lot done for the rest of the day. Also, if you get to choose your schedule you don’t have to abide by the 9-5 structure. Take a break in the day to read a book, call a friend, etc. Sometimes you can be more productive working at night anyways and get a lot done.
- Make an effort to leave the screens off. Turn off your phone when you’re done working, or at least mute Slack. Don’t use the laptop outside work while you’re in quarantine, unless you don’t have a TV/other way to entertain yourself. Get outside as much as you (realistically) can, even if it’s just hanging out on the back porch or balcony for some air. Treat yourself with tasty, healthy foods. Don’t overindulge in salty/fatty snacks just because you’re bored. Channel that energy into spring cleaning or start an art project. Overall, try to be productive in your own way. No matter where we are, time moves at the same pace, so wasted time is wasted life.
- The single most important thing to keep you sane is ensuring you feel accomplished at the end of the day. Distractions in the home are hugely challenging. Being disciplined is tough for everyone. So set goals – no matter how small – manage them, and make sure you set an expectation to complete them. Importantly, set a deadline time (e.g. 5pm) and don’t exceed it. Segmenting work from non-work is vital because that distinction can fade very fast, and that I’d say is a root cause of stress.
- Give your eyes a rest and use blue screen lenses or turn your screen brightness down
- Maintain healthy diet habits, avoid stocking up on junk food at all costs.
- Don’t over do it with caffeine.
- Take a proper lunch break away form your desk, and try to eat something healthy that will keep you going through the afternoon.
- Make sure you drink a lot of water.
- Take your vitamins and eat your veggies.
- Plan out your meals and avoid snacks.
- Take time to prepare a nutritious breakfast because it can power you through even the most gruelling days.
- If you are going to snack then stock healthy snacks.
- Hydrate using water instead of coffee throughout the day. If the water tastes boring, you can spice it up using lemon, cucumber or mint.
- Take notes for a week to identify times you feel most hungry. Once you have the best times, take your meals or snacks at those times and then stick to the routine.
- Think about foods that keep you energised for longer periods rather than peaks and troughs. Low GI carbs are great for this.
- Don’t eat the same thing everyday. It’s boring, and life should never be boring.
- Don’t take extreme decisions like removing entire food groups from your diet, unless you have been advised to by a medical professional.
- Listen to your body. You’re the best judge of how you feel.
- Keep all the elements of your diet in moderation. If you want a chocolate bar, have some chocolate, don’t feel guilty or overcompensate.
Keeping your physical fitness is really challenging when you’re confined to your home. Here’s some ways our freelancers have suggested you can keep yourself fit during this crisis:
- Exercise, either before, during a lunch break or after work to keep you mind healthy.
- Go outside…take a walk, run, or bike.
- Try a new form of work out, Youtube videos are really helpful for this.
- Think about body weight workouts that you can do in your home. Pretty much every workout you can do at the gym can be done at home if you’re creative.
- Exercise at home using bodyweight exercises.
- Invest in a running machine.
- Stand and walk every 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
- Take breaks, socialize with people that you know are not infected and are not showing symptoms, do things that stimulate the brain (read, write, puzzles, games) exercise (like yoga, tai chi, or some other form of indoor fitness) journal a lot, and make sure to not allow yourself to get too lonely (call a friend, colleague, or therapist if you need)
- Set a definite “clock out” time whenever possible, repurposing the commute time for reading, sketching or passion projects.
- Go on cycling chats with friends and enjoy the amazing countryside during this wonderful spring/summery weather!
- Social media is a blessing. Use it. But only at set times in the day. Don’t let it be a distraction.
- Go for a walk, or if that is not safe, go out into your garden for about half an hour. Look for something pretty, something unusual, something pleasing or satisfying (an interaction between birds, a cat chasing a leaf – something that is soothing to the soul. It may sound trite, but appreciating the little things can lift your spirits tremendously, as can a few moments in the fresh air and sunshine – or even if it’s overcast!
- Take up yoga. There’s masses of amazing content on YouTube.
- Workout, workout, workout. Doesn’t matter how (even just body weight is fine) but it makes you feel as if you’ve accomplished a personal goal. Great for one’s mental health.
Work hard, play hard – even when you’re in isolation. Here’s some options to keep you entertained:
- Find online games that are enjoyable but also help you learn skills, like DuoLingo for language learning, maths games or general brain training apps.
- Get lost in open world games.
- Learn how to bake (if you can get hold of any flour!)
- Expose yourselves to new and interesting materials for reading, watching and listening. It’s always great for an inspiration boost.
- Get a list of fiction and non-fiction books for both enjoyment and to help you up-skill.
- Don’t work in silence – background noise such as the radio or music can be helpful.
- Work on personal projects that you love.
- Have happy hour over video conferencing. Play video games together. Share gamer tags.
- Look, you’re going to get weird during this isolation, as we’re all creatives. Just embrace it. Sing out loud, dance!
- Audiobooks are great for when boredom sets in. Something easy to digest or is familiar works well, so it doesn’t matter when you miss a bit, so you can be doing other things at the same time and don’t have to intensely focus for hours on end.
- Also take time to enjoy things you like whether it is painting, writing poetry, crafting or simply binge-watching your favourite TV shows. Home is now the office, but it is not JUST the office.
- Read in general…a few recommendations are:
- “Walden” by Thoreau
- “Flight of Passage” by Rinker Buck
- “Blue Sun, Yellow Sky” by Jamie Jo Hoang
- Buy a musical instrument and play along to your favourite tracks.
- If you have a hobby that you haven’t been able to find time for then plan out how you can monetise it so that you can justify doing less hours on work you don’t like.
- Work in a room with lots of natural light. Music at a low volume. If you can, have your pet in the room with you.
- Set an assigned place to work and ONLY work there. For example, a desk and workspace that is only for work. Consider a sit-stand desk also, to increase your energy level, improve mood and boost productivity.”
- Don’t work in complete silence. Offices have a background noise (or “white-noise”) that actually helps you concentrate on tasks. It is the same reason freelances like to work in cafes and not just sit in silence at home.
- Alternatively, if you don’t like noise then put on your favourite playlist or radio station.
- Open your curtains! Sunlight is so important.
- Try to have a clear separation of work station where you change your mental state to “work” VS your own space when you are out of work mode. Follow a fixed amount of work hours. If you can’t go out to play or exercise, be creative to do so at home or look up what others are doing during quarantine – lots of videos online. Keep in touch with friends via mobile or video chat if you need to socialise.
- Get some nice artwork and plants in your workspace. Blank spaces can help you focus but can also feel a bit sterile sometimes.
- Be brutal with clutter.
- Have only what you need around you. If your work environment is too messy, it can be hard to find things when needed.
- Use air fresheners to keep your work environment smelling fresh and clean.
- Avoid keeping clocks visible to you at all times to keep track of how long you are working for, as it could distract and demotivate you. Instead, simply schedule reminders to pop up on your cell phone or your computer while you are working.
- Put up photographs of the people you love on your desk or somewhere near to you when you work, so you can constantly remind yourself of what’s important in life.
- Position your laptop on a stand and put your monitor on some thick books to raise them up and avoid you slouching.
Normally in crisis situations, we come together to comfort each other but one of the unique things about the COVID-19 crisis is that we’ve got to distance ourselves. Here are some ways to avoid loneliness and give yourself the social interactions we all need:
- Join online community groups and forums. There’s online groups for pretty much any topic you can think of!
- Maintain regular communication with at least 1-2 people.
- Communicate with friends and family often.
- Regular communication with colleagues via web-chat or video calls.
- Use this time as an opportunity to build relationships with existing clients and even new ones.
- Be sure to keep in touch with friends, go on walks (avoid crowded places)
- Keep communicating digitally! Put the kettle on/pour the wine and FaceTime the friends you would normally meet up with.
- Social media can be a literal life-saver. Join Facebook groups, follow like-minded people on Twitter and Instagram, start email threads with family and friends and use WhatsApp groups.
- Host watch parties or share videos of fun things: cute images of animals and babies, funny video clips – something that takes your mind off grim reality.
- Don’t suffer in silence. If you are feeling miserable, tell someone. Pick up your phone, post on social media, email a friend.
- Find a communication tool such as Slack with channels that have social topics in addition to work topics that interest you.
- Take a look at HouseParty and get your family and friends to play some Pictionary and do some fun quizzes!
- Share recipes with friends and bake together via video chat so you can enjoy making delicious treats.
- Setup your own quiz and get your friends to create their own rounds of questions.
- Create a ‘spot the difference’ quiz in your house and take identically positioned photos of parts off your house where one photograph has an object missing and get your friends to guess.
Having the right mindset is key to riding out this crisis. Here’s some small repeatable habits which could really help you keep upbeat and
- Ensure you feel accomplished at the end of the day, having a to do list and ticking things off will add to this.
- Meditate every day to clear your mind, help you focus and calm you at times of emotional overload.
- Don’t think of this crisis as a time of isolation. Think of it as a one week thinking break like Bill Gates takes (if you’re in isolation for a short period of time).
- Get a dog – they are wonderful company and are proven to dramatically lower stress.
- Don’t interact too much with news channels. Find good, rational news sources and don’t bury your head in hysteria on social media.
- Keep your surroundings clean and tidy. A tidy work space will help you think and act effectively.
- Write down what you feeling in the morning to free of mental space for more positive outcomes. Stay positive and get a morning workout after journaling. It creates mental stimulation on the positivity you created and it then flows through you physically.
- Keep yourself busy. Even if you don’t have active work in hand, indulge in some hobby like cooking, reading or anything.
- Finding a balance between work and personal/private headspace is key. Make time for working out on your own or with your family and maybe try to get creative with a personal project or a hobby, for example music and art. This will give the brain the stimulus it needs.
- Do a digital detox regularly.
- Ssearch for an inspiration on sites like Behance and Dribbble and try to use the spare time to study something new to get rid of terrible thoughts and concentrate on developing new skills for the future.
- Have a proper morning routine and make sure you get showered and dressed – it’s very easy to just get up and sit in your pyjamas but it doesn’t get you into “work mode”.
- Don’t think of this as an isolation time. Think it as a one week thinking break like Bill Gates takes.
- Give yourself micro-tasks. Easy, quickly completed tasks can give your brain a feeling of accomplishment.
- Wake up, shower, get dressed for work, have your coffee or breakfast or whatever your morning ritual is and retreat to a home office, even a makeshift one. You still need to delineate work from leisure and when that line blurs nothing gets done. It also instills a sense of purpose and helps keep you from the mustard stained t-shirt and pyjamas pants wearing slob that we could all easily turn into if you don’t take care of yourself. Depression is a slippery slope, and if you think you are experiencing it make sure to tell someone right away. Silence has killed more people than we will ever know. Exercise, eat as well as you can in the circumstances, and try to keep a schedule for sleeping and working and everything else so the days don’t just blend together. Try and invest in the projects you’re taking on and have pride in your work since you are the product the client is essentially investing in.
- Step back and imagine that you were acting as a carer for yourself and what you would say. It’s a useful way to make sure you’re looking after yourself.
- Freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint – adjust you expectations accordingly so you don’t burn out.
- Think of isolation as if you were a house-cat. Do you have enough food? Toys to play with? Are you keeping active? Looking out the window to keep your mind inspired and curious? Of course you are a human, and a can of real duck cat-food won’t make the grade, but as people we all have the ability to make our surroundings filled with distractions and “virtual” company. Stay in touch with friends, colleagues, family. Absorb, learn new things, stay entertained, informed, or spend some time developing skills you’ve been putting off for years. And remember that you are never really alone. We’re not made to be isolated creatures, it’s just not in our nature. Even when we are in isolation.
- Read The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.
- Think in terms of opportunities, not problems. You reap what you sow. Whatever gets your attention, grows. Up to you to decide what you *want* to grow: opportunities or problems. A.K.A Law of Attraction.
We got this information out as quickly as possible and will be updating it over the coming days and weeks. If you have any other tools you want to add, please comment below or contribute to the cause and give your advice on remote working.