“Are people just doing a bunch of things without me?” I screamed over the thudding bass in a downtown Oakland bar.
My friends arched their eyebrows, took a long sip of beer, then answered, “No?”
I felt like a doof. Of course, I wasn’t being intentionally left out.
I had just started a fully-remote job—one I loved, wholeheartedly. But all the hours spent holed up in my studio apartment were making me feel like the world was racing on without me.
Remote work comes with a ton of benefits—work from wherever you want, set your own schedule. Hell, don’t even bother with pants. And it can save money and energy if you live far away from your office.
But without the right measures, working remotely can also have an impact on your mental health.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to give up your virtual office situation immediately. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure you’re living your best remote life, and it starts with putting yourself first:
1. Go outside
Studies show that being around plant life significantly boosts our happiness and reduces stress levels during the work day.
Just because you’re not strapped to a cubicle all day doesn’t mean you can’t make time for a quick walk outside. Getting your body moving and changing your view can also help with refocusing your productivity. The best of both worlds is taking a midday walk to go work from a coffee shop, given the option.
2. Make time for in-person contact
Since you no longer have a break room to make small talk with your coworkers, you’ll have to be more creative in how you get human contact.
We’re social creatures, meaning we may not always want to hear about Debby’s oldest son’s soccer game last Monday, but that social interaction is probably a huge part of a happier mental function.
So schedule meetups with fellow remote coworkers. If you have friends or peers who also work remotely in different capacities, invite them to a coffee-shop work session. Better yet, there are plenty of co-working spaces designed specifically for solo employees to snag a desk and enjoy the company of strangers.
3. Set firm work-home boundaries
Do not work from bed.
Another time for the people in the back:
DO NOT WORK FROM BED.
Successful remote work requires setting firm boundaries between what you do in your space as a “home,” and what you do when you “work.” Make sure you’re designating the desk in the living room as your work environment and your bed as your sleeping environment—and that you aren’t mixing the two.
4. Set a routine schedule
Once you have your boundaries set, you’ll need a regular schedule.
Working from home might sound like a great excuse to sleep whenever and however you want, but a work day is still a work day. Treat your day like any other and set a schedule.
Maybe you wake up at 6, walk your dog, work out, make breakfast and shower before starting your day (at that desk we talked about, remember?). Maybe at noon you turn your computer off for an hour and go outside or make yourself lunch.
Having a routine to stick to will help retrain your brain to focus on work even though you’re at home. And it can help reduce stress around feeling like you need to constantly be available at your computer.
5. Track what you’ve done for the day in addition to what you’re supposed to do
It’s really easy to fall into a spiral of overworking yourself when you’re working alone. In addition to maintaining firm boundaries and a regular schedule, make time at the end of your day to write down everything you accomplished during working hours. Maybe you got your inbox count to 0 on top of meeting project deadlines and taking a meeting. Maybe you skyped a coworker to help them solve a problem.
Whatever it is, make sure you’re accounting for what you’ve done in a day. It’ll help you feel like the day didn’t slide by and you need to work extra to make up for it.
6. Make time for self-care
Once you’ve finished work for the day, make time to do things that you find soothing or comforting. Carve out space for reading or taking your dog to the park. Call a friend and catch up for a few minutes. Do something that is not work related in any capacity—don’t do chores, don’t run errands, and definitely don’t do work.
Sit down, take a breath, and relax.
For me, anxious outbursts in bars stopped once I started following some of the above tips. But things especially eased up for real once I realized that working remotely allows me new freedoms while still accomplishing my professional goals.
Remote work isn’t making it so that the whole world is moving on without me. It’s actually allowing me to keep pace like never before.