It happens to even the most experienced remote workers. Actually, it happens especially to those who have worked from home for a while. You land an amazing remote job, set up your home office with a customized desk setup, and get settled with ease. Over time, however, you become a little too settled. It’s been three days since you left your house and the fridge is empty—not that you’ve noticed, because you haven’t taken a proper lunch break in months. And when was the last time that you wore anything other than that same hoodie?
Last year, sociologists from the University of Iowa and the University of Texas at Austin found that employees working (even part-time) outside a traditional office clocked an average of 3 more hours of work per week. And while working at home can help people be more productive, there is also an increased threat of loneliness and impostor syndrome, which can lead to risks of depression and burnout.
Indeed, reaching peak “hermit” lifestyle as a remote worker goes beyond the pyjama jokes. These serious risks can be exacerbated simply because you’re not held accountable by physical means like the janitor turning out the lights.
I’ve been working remotely now for nearly five years. For me, part of adapting to this incredibly rewarding lifestyle was about learning to take more accountability for major life habits, like keeping active, having a balanced diet, and nurturing rewarding relationships with a distributed team. These are the pillars of a long and rewarding remote work career.
Beyond the fundamentals, however, a truly great day at the home office is about the little things.
After all, you have so much opportunity to craft a great environment, work according to your ideal schedule, and live a life without wasted commute time! Keeping your day interesting, without putting too much pressure on perfection, is what’s really important.
To stave off that “stuck” feeling when working remotely, here are a few quirky, small-yet-mighty, perhaps even weird, ways to inject a little fun, happiness, and socialization into your day.
7 Weird Ways To Stay Balanced When Working From Home
1. Plan your outfit for the day the night before.
The “work” part of working from home is important. It may seem silly to plan an outfit to wear at home, but you’ll avoid the rut of wearing uninspiring hoodies and stretchy pants on repeat. Also set the coffee on a timer and set aside your lunch, or make a plan for nourishing snacks and meals.
Treating your work day like you would if you were going to an office ensures you're up, dressed, and well fed all day long. You’ll be ready for anything, including accepting a last-minute coffee date with a friend or dropping into a video chat with your boss. As Henry Ford wisely said: “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret to success.” Of course, what constitutes feeling “ready” is up to you, but you should always make your bed. It also means you can use your morning routine for other things!
2. Use your morning routine for demanding pleasures.
The next step is to get your brain moving in the morning—and moving in the right (read: positive and productive) direction at that.
Author Ayn Rand has been famously quoted as defining a demanding pleasure as something enjoyable that “uses one’s mind.” She goes on to point out that it should be something that requires “discrimination, judgement, awareness” rather than something that requires problem-solving. Avoid early onset decision fatigue by keeping routine choices and chores to a minimum, and choose personally productive pastimes instead.
Whatever you choose, the activities should be interesting and rewarding so that you’re motivated to get up and do them every day, with a dash of new learnings or the use of creativity. Personally, I like to switch things up between reading and writing on personal projects, accompanied by a short morning meditation, a walk with my dog, and a rotating set of new smoothie recipes.
3. Set a rule for going out in public.
This is not a joke. Especially when the weather takes a turn for the worst, it is surprisingly easy to hunker down and only venture out for the occasional supply run. Even if it’s an easy goal to hit for you, setting a rule that you’ll go out to a public place (that’s not the grocery store) at least "once every 24 hours" will help you remember to actually do it.
Here’s an easy win: The best thing you can do is use your non-commute time in the morning to go walk outside and get some fresh air. Regular, moderate, exercise is directly correlated to an increase in productivity, and according to Harvard Business Review, is a key factor in helping you achieve a better work-life balance.
4. Always be building playlists.
Listening to new music is good for the brain, because it activates the center that makes us feel rewarded and excited. However, research has shown that most of us slow or stop discovering new music altogether by age 30!
In fact, data from US Spotify and Echo Nest users revealed that, by age 33, it is likely that a listener will never listen to new music again. Stop the slowdown and listen to Youtube or Spotify with one ear for new tracks. New music keeps you receptive to learning new things, and having a "side project" of mixing playlists gives you constructive energy in a low-key way all day. Plus you can share them with your friends!
5. Place things that need attention out of reach.
Taking breaks is a key part of productivity, but it’s too easy to skip them when you’re alone. To avoid permanently bonding to your home office chair, try building regular “required” breaks into your environment:
If you are an audiophile like me, play vinyl throughout your workday at a distance from your desk so that you need to get up and flip the record every half hour.
Leave your phone in the kitchen so you have to get up and check it when it pings (providing that you’ve managed your notifications so it doesn’t ring every five minutes!)
Don’t keep snacks or drinks within easy reach.
Overall, if you’re bad at getting up from your desk regularly, build simple movements into your day in 20-30 minute intervals with things that break your concentration and say, “Hey, you should get up and do this thing for a few minutes.” Once you get there, give that thing a few minutes of concentration to make it a true mini-break.
6. Watch Netflix. Seriously.
Four different studies have found results that that “parasocial” relationships in your favorite shows, or one-sided relationships that you watch on screen rather than participate in, can create real feelings of social surrogacy. What that means is: Watching an episode of The Office when you’re feeling a little down can help you feel less lonely and gives you an experience of feeling like you belong.
7. Keep going to the same coffee shop, dog park, or fitness class.
You can do all of the above and still be missing one key ingredient to a more balanced remote work life: other people.
We fundamentally need other people to survive for our emotional wellbeing and even to live a longer, healthier life. It’s truly becoming harder to have meaningful interactions with other people: A report from Cigna found that only half of respondents had a meaningful in-person social interaction each day. On the bright side, science has figured out exactly how to make new friends, and it turns out that all it takes is time.
Research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships calculated that it takes an average of 50 hours with someone before they feel like a casual friend, another 40 hours to become real friends, and a total 200 hours before you’ll ask them to be in your wedding party. So start frequenting places or events that attract the same people on a routine basis, make an effort to chat with those folks, and you’ll have a new crew in no time!
Work Like No One’s Watching
If you do find yourself in a remote work rut, the best thing to do is have a little compassion for yourself and then try something new. Or, if you’re like me, just dance in your office—it’s not like anyone can see you!
Remote work can give you the freedom of flexibility, time, and a creative space you can call your own. Take advantage of it, and develop your own weird habits to create a daily experience that’s rewarding and, well, worth working for.