The new reality of working from home has a lot of benefits, not the least of which is no commuting. For many of us that means one to three, or more, hours a day that are now ours to do with as we please. But wait, maybe that commute had some benefits we should consider adding back into our routine.
When I was last working in an office and commuting three-hours round trip every day, I took the train to work most days. That train ride provided a valuable buffer between work and home. A time to re-adjust from work to personal time. While I didn’t love that long and sometimes very crowded commute it did provide time to read, catch-up on email or even nap. My commuting time was before the advent of podcasts but I’m sure that they would also be on that list of things I did while commuting.
The importance of a buffer
I wrote a post a while back about the importance of a morning routine. I talked about how I start each day and how that routine sets my day up. Now, I’m going to recommend some ways to use the time saved from not commuting to build some new habits into your daily routine.
I admit, it can be tempting to just set the alarm an hour or more later and enjoy some additional sleep. I would suggest that you take at least some of the time saved from not commuting and use it to your benefit.
It’s important that we prepare ourselves to switch from home to work mode and then back to home mode at the end of the day. Many people say that one major difficulty they have with working from home is shutting things down at the end of the day. Your old commute did a fine job of closing that door and making the transition.
Take a walk
A big part of my morning routine is a long walk with my dog. My wife and I start each morning with our two dogs at a nearby lake for a 30-45 minute walk. This time allows my body and mind to wake up and prepare for the day ahead.
My morning walks provide several other benefits. I find I have more energy after my walk. Fresh air and sunshine improve my mental outlook. I sleep better at night when I’ve started my day with a brisk walk. And my walk improves my balance, my heart health and my brain health. What’s not to love?
Another part of my morning routine is a few minutes of meditation. I meditate first thing in the morning. A wise teacher once told me he starts his day with RPM. Rise. Pee. Meditate. A few minutes of mindfulness when you first rise in the morning provides a multitude of benefits. You start your day calm and at peace, you can carry this calm with you for the rest of the day. Meditation builds focus. Those few minutes of quiet allow your subconscious mind to focus on what you want to accomplish today and prepare you to get those things done.
Ending your workday
Just as important as getting your day started on the right foot is winding things down at the end of the workday. Working from home makes it harder to end your workday. You don’t have that boring commute to separate work from home. And in many cases, you are working at the dining room table, so you can’t just walk away and close the door after you. I recommend that, if you can, you establish a work area that you can walk away from at the end of the day.
If that’s not possible where you live/work, establish an end of day routine that helps signal your brain that you are ending the work day and going back to home mode. It could be as simple as shutting your laptop, silencing your phone and mentally checking out from work. If you are fortunate to have a dedicated work space, walk away and close the door at the end of the day. Greet your spouse and kids like you are just getting home from your commute. Establish an end-of-day routine that tells your brain to shift gears to home mode and avoid the urge to check back later in the evening. If you were working from the office, you probably wouldn’t be checking email at 9PM.
Working from home eliminates your commute and allows you time and flexibility to work at your own pace with fewer distractions. Sure you can take a few minutes to toss in a load of laundry between Zoom meetings. I have an app on my watch that reminds me to get up and move every hour. I also try to take a walk in the middle of the day as a break to clear my head and reinvigorate myself.
It’s important that you establish boundaries around your working from home and don’t let your work take over all aspects of your life. A good balance between work and leisure time is essential. Resist checking email in the evening and on weekends. It’s important to maintain separation between work and family. When you are at work be there fully, and when you are home with family and friends, be there fully as well.
So the bottom line is: Yes you have more time now that you aren’t commuting to an office each day. And yes, it’s OK to sleep a bit later and enjoy that glorious benefit. But take some of that time you spent commuting to establish starting and ending routines for your work from home day. You’ll have a much better work/life balance and enjoy both work and leisure time more.