People thought working from home would be so much fun! Here we are! After more than one year of working from home during the pandemic, and a lot more to come, I can assure you that “it’s not fun anymore!!!“. Yes, it was super relaxed during the first few months, and everyone had suddenly realized that it’s not!
If you remember my previous article “2 years at trivago: Remote Working“, I specifically mentioned how to stay sane during home-office, especially for people living alone. There is no better time than now to revise it and layout my experience, as it’s been an entire year since I published that article. Yes, you calculated it right: it’s my three-year anniversary at trivago.
Here are some challenges I faced throughout the pandemic and how I (tried to) handle them. I hope it will help you as well.
Get more hours for your day!
The first thing many people (including me) were happy about was not needing to wake up early. Most people had to wake up a couple of hours early when they had to go to their workplace. But when the working-from-home started, everyone was so happy that they can just wake up 15 minutes before starting their work.
We have our daily stand-up meeting at 10am almost every working day, and I used to wake up around 9.30am or sometimes even 9.45am! Then I would rush into the bathroom, do all my routine, drink coffee and then sit down just on time for the stand-up meeting. I know many of you still do this. But after a few weeks I realized it’s not really good. I mostly went to the stand-up sleepy and couldn’t properly remember what I was working. And my focus levels were super low and it took me around an hour to get back to the proper rhythm. Because we only had/have two engineers, I couldn’t afford to be sleepy for half of my day. So I strongly felt that I need to change.
I decided to wake up 2 hours early, but of course, I couldn’t do it the very next day. First, I started keeping an alarm at 8.30 am. Even though I woke up at 8.30 am the next day, I couldn’t or didn’t want to stay awake, and I ended up sleeping again. But I didn’t stop setting my alarm at 8.30 am! After a few days, my body was so used to waking up at 8.30 am and I was already awake even before the alarm went off. That’s the first step, but still, I slept again. But then I stopped sleeping after my alarm and started doing random things until 9.30 am, such as thinking about life, scrolling through Facebook (which is not really good and I will explain it soon), read the news, listen to some music, etc. Then my urge to sleep after my alarm gradually went away.
Then later, I started getting off my bed around 8.45 am instead of doing random things. Then I had enough time to have a warm shower, make myself some nice coffee and start working by 9.15 am. This gave me enough time to prepare for my day. I no longer had to struggle remembering what I did yesterday because I already had started working on it by the time of the stand-up.
Then I started putting my alarm at 7.30 am and continued the same process again to get myself used to wake up early. It wasn’t easy, but now I feel that I have more time during the day. Now I have two hours extra compared to what I used to have before. So, I’m at my desk by 8 am and now I spend around one hour on my personal work, then start office work by 9 am. This gave me the opportunity to spend time on things that I usually wouldn’t. One important thing to note here is to have enough sleep! You should at least get 8 hours of sleep, so you might have to go to sleep a little bit earlier.
But of course, you don’t have to follow the same routine. Or, you can even try different things than me as well. For instance, you can go for a morning walk/run and come back home fresh, and you’re all set for the day. If you have a partner or a friend who can join, this will more fun. This also deceives your body to make it believe that you’re actually getting out of the house, just like the old times.
One another tip I got from my team is not to wear pajamas or clothes you usually wear at home. Instead, try to dress up. You don’t need to fully dress up the same you used to, but at least something casual, but not your pajamas! This will also trick your brain to believe that you’re in fact in the working environment.
Apart from these, there are obvious things you should do.
- Take breaks
Take frequent 5-min breaks every hour or so. Try to step away from your screen for a few minutes if possible.
- Drink enough water
You think you’ll drink enough water because you’re home? I guess you’re not. Make sure you keep a bottle of water next to your desk and drink as much water as you can to hit the 3-4 liter mark.
- Get your vitamins
Have some fruits at your reach, and have them as a snack. I eat grapes, apples, and bananas. And go out to get enough sunlight.
- Do some exercise
Since we’re stuck at home, our movement is very limited. So we must put extra effort into doing some physical exercises. Maybe you’re not a person who’d like to work out (like me), so it’s better to take a long walk outside or even a bike ride.
- Have a clear end for work
It’s super easy to get stuck at work when you’re at home. So, try to finish work on a fixed time, and make it a clear break. You can take a shower, go outside for a walk, etc. before you come back to the desk for your personal work.
I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping, but now they’re almost gone. If you’re interested in knowing how I overcame that, let me know and I will write another article on that.
Invest in proper equipment
One of the biggest reasons many people miss work environment is the equipment. At my office desk, I had everything I need to make my work smoother, including a big screen, external keyboard and mouse, a docking station, height-adjustable desk, and a super duper comfortable chair. And there is no wonder if you don’t have all of them at home, but it’s time to spend some money you saved from the trips you couldn’t make.
I wrote an entirely separate article on the equipment you can get for your home office, so please take a look at it. But here is the list.
- Desk and a chair
- Monitor and how to chose one
- Keyboard + Mouse
- Other accessories
- A desk lamp and a digital watch (read the article to see why)
Make a plan
It’s super easy to get carried away with all your work and also the distractions when you’re staying home. Sometimes, at the end the day, you might feel that you haven’t achieved anything at all even if you have did so many things. That’s because we don’t consider the value those things bring to you and to your work, so we might end up doing less-important things throughout the day, and won’t feel “achieved” in the end. So, how can we change that?
Glad you asked! Here is another article I wrote explaining different methods we can try to keep ourselves on track for our goals.
Start a project/hobby
You will definitely will feel that you have all the time in the world since now you don’t have to go to the office. But, that feeling won’t last even a couple of months. At least I ended up watching random YouTube videos or movies/shows on all the streaming platforms possible. I watched and re-watched a lot of movies and TV shows. I’m not saying it’s bad, but anything excessive is bad!
The best way to utilize your time is (re)starting a hobby. I briefly talked about this in my last year’s article, but here is the recap.
You can think of something you really want to do if you have all the money in the world, so earning for living is not an issue. Different people will have different ways of spending time. I myself love a lot of things. I play games, I read, I make YouTube videos, I work on my personal projects, I write articles, I make courses online, I try to learn Guitar, and a lot more. But recently, since I have a little bit more time, I started reading (physical) books again. I missed it so much, and now I’ve made a habit of reading a couple of pages right before bed, which also helps me to wind down properly.
But, at the end, I really would like to work on something which adds value to me and especially to the rest of the world. For instance, watching movies is fun, but it doesn’t really give anything back to the world. In that sense, writing articles to share my knowledge is more valuable than re-watching Breaking Bad. (But I’ll do it anyway, because it’s a great, rather the best!).
So, try to pick a hobby that will give some value to the world. You have a lot more to give than you think! Could be a blog, could be a YouTube channel, could be social work, and much more, and the possibilities are limitless.
Learn a new skill
It’s super easy to get comfortable in our zone, especially we have enough time to kill. So, try to learn a new skill every now-and-then. It could be something you’ve always wanted but never tried, or something you used to do and didn’t have time to continue, or anything that will open-up more possibilities to you as person.
Imagine you always wanted to learn how to play Guitar and you never actually put some active effort into it. Now, there are a lot of resources you can use to learn and excel in playing Guitar. And, it helps to meet and collaborate and with new people. And who knows, you might even meet your soul-mate (if you haven’t already) or even become a star!
I recently started taking driving lessons, which I never could do, but I’m glad I did at least now. I also started learning a bit of mobile development with Flutter, which will help me at least in creating mocks for my ideas.
So, try to think of something you always wanted to do, yet couldn’t, then make a plan to complete it. There are several online platforms if you want to learn new skills. For instance, if you need to learn “Programming with Python”, you can enroll in my course in Udemy. And there are other websites such as Skillshare, Lynda.com, Pluralsight, and many more.
You can also use the methods I explained in my other article to prioritize your tasks as well.
Have some human interactions
Humans are made/evolved to live as a group and it’s not really possible during the lock down (or other health regulations). But, try to have some contact with some humans! Since different countries have different restrictions on gatherings, you can at least try to have a walk outside with a friend. Even if you have a partner, it’s better to talk with other people once in a while. So, try to have some human interaction, but of course without breaking the health regulations!
Even if you don’t have any friends living near you, you can either make new friends using various online platforms. If you’re not into those, you can always have some video calls with your friends and family, and that will boost your mood quite a lot!
Some people tend to get a pet because they’re stuck at home and highly discourage that! You MUST NOT get a pet just because you’re at home and feeling alone. What will happen when/if everything gets back to normal and you suddenly want to start traveling? Get a pet if you truly need one!
Even though many people don’t really talk about this, people, including I myself, are struggling a lot to keep the head straight during the pandemic. Mostly because people are stuck at their houses and they can’t go to their fun activities. I used to play badminton quite a lot, and I couldn’t do so in quite some time because of the restrictions in Germany. And I couldn’t even go to Sri Lanka: my home country, to visit my family and friends. I’m an introvert, so I like staying home! But even I started hating it after some months. So, I can totally feel others who used go out for traveling, parties, concerts, etc.
Because of this, almost everyone become mentally blocked, at least for a certain level, which reduces their happiness levels. This can easily lead to depression!
So, how can we keep our heads straight?
Well, it’s not that straightforwards, and I’m not an expert to provide multiple solutions. But I can share what I did and keep on doing.
As I mentioned above, it’s essential to stay connected with your family and friends. Even if you can’t meet them physically, technology has been developed enough for us to have a decent conversation as if we’re close. So, we must make use of that to its fullest potential. You can chat, have video calls, or even play some games with them. There are hundreds of games you can play online now, a lot compared to when the pandemic had started. So, it’s just a single Google search away. Jackbox.tv and Netgames.io are really famous platforms to host thousands of such games, and Sketchful.io is a really fun drawing game. Just give them a try.
Meditate and/or Yoga
I’m not a Yoga expert, so I will stick to the first one. You don’t need to religious to meditate, because meditation simply is about focusing your mind on a positive thing. The most common meditation technique is to focus on breathing. The original version says to think “inhale” and “exhale” respectively, but some people don’t recommend it since it can lead us to more complications as breathing is an involuntary action and we’re going to make it more voluntary.
So, the updated version says to focus on the temperature on our upper lip when we inhale and exhale. Usually, inhaling make it cool and exhaling makes it a little bit warm. This helps quite a lot for anyone who has trouble sleeping or even to improve your focus, which will improve your memory as well.
There is another simple meditation method of counting. After a few long breaths, we can start counting backward from 1000 to 0. This sounds super simple, but trust me, it’s not! We can count from 1000 to 0 with a slow phase (around 1-second in-between numbers) and it will help you a lot to keep yourself focused.
Without any arguments, music helps a lot to balance out our emotions. Different people like different types of music, but not all of them make us calm. For instance, I listen a lot to Slipknot, and they do NOT help me to calm myself. So, we have to go towards something more soothing.
I usually go with nature sounds (like rain, sea waves, jungle, etc.) or orchestra music. Here is an awesome orchestra performance of the soundtracks from the best game ever: Witcher 3!
I also listen to soundtracks from Lord of the Rings, or any from Hans Zimmer. But, you have to find what you like. However, if I need more energy, for instance for workout (which I don’t usually do), cleaning, and cooking, I usually go with my hundred-years-old playlist.
If nothing works, or you feel that you’re stuck in the same mental state for a while, I highly encourage you to reach out to your family/friends, or even to a counselor. You don’t have to be ashamed of asking for help! There are a lot of online services which can help you as well. You can try InstaHelp, and they have a lot of experienced and qualified counselors and had a really good experience with that.
What about it? We have to do it anyway, right? But, if you can maintain a good physical and mental health, you will be much more productive than you ever were! So, I’m not really going to focus on work here, because you know about your work better than me.
This pandemic had turned the world upside down. People lost their loved ones, but many people lost contact with theirs. It’s not easy and it will only get harder! So, we have to be extra conscious about our habits and behavior patterns.
One of the good things happened with the pandemic is people started realizing what’s truly important to them. Companies realized that the employees don’t need to be in the office and supervised for them to work. We realized that we indeed had a lot of time, that we didn’t utilized before. But, it’s still the beginning. So, let’s try our best to make the best out of this time. Who knows when this will end anyway!