10 Tips For Staying Healthy While Working From Home
If you’re one of the millions of office workers who have had to adjust to working from home, then you’ve probably already started to see that it presents some unique health challenges. Whether it’s the proximity of the fridge, or simply the removal of social barriers that say you can’t work in egg-stained pyjama bottoms (honestly, it is egg) working from home can easily become eating from home. Our resident homeworking expert Craig Morris has some tips to help you keep it healthy.
- Create a barrier between work and home
This one is absolutely crucial to the psychology of work/life balance. The space where you sit at your desk should be as distant from the spaces where you live and relax in the evening as possible. Ideally, this should be somewhere you can walk to and from, but can be as simple as making it feel like a separate space.
Make it a rule not to interact with your living space during working hours. If your partner or kids can’t walk into your office in town every five minutes, they can’t do it at home, either. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy being at home with them, but we’ll get to that.
- Create a “journey” from home to work and vice versa
It’s not just contestants on cut-rate reality TV shows who benefit from a “journey”, you will too. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent annex like a posh shed, garage, or an extension with a door, set up there. The ritual of walking between the two spaces can feel like a proper change of scenery and atmosphere, even if it’s just five metres. If your living space is all connected, your next best bet is a spare room or loft space, where you’ll keep the door shut and create a work vibe. You can even go as far as fitting a lock on the office door to help you demarcate it as a separate place.
A lot of the above won’t be possible for everyone – in my current house, the fridge is in the office because it’s the only place it would fit, and in our old flat we just didn’t have a spare room at all, so we used to keep the desk as far away from the couch as we could, do our best to make it feel like a separate space, go out for a walk and then come back to the sofa or kitchen to get a mental sense we’d come home from work. Just do what you can to create a journey.
- Create a work space you want to work in
Your desk area at home shouldn’t be too comfy. Avoid the temptation to work with your feet up on the sofa, or in bed – it’s the same mentality as not wearing your coat while you’re indoors, you won’t feel the benefit when you need it. You need to associate your rest spaces with rest, or you’ll just start to feel lethargic all the time. On the other hand, you don’t necessarily want to be in some posturific, iron throne nightmare chair. Or maybe you do, we’ll cover that more later.
Your first priority should be making your workspace feel like a work space. Stick up some posters or photos that help you associate this corner with work. If you can, think about decorating the space in a way that’s distinct from your living areas. Get yourself some office goodies, like a shark pen pot, or a spider-man desk lamp, or perhaps you are a grown-up in which case do whatever it says in the Ikea catalogue. You get the idea.
- Take proper lunch breaks
When your kitchen and desk occupy the same space, it can be tempting to work through lunch, or just eat at your desk. After all, a desk is basically a dining table, but with pens and paper all over it. However, if you don’t typically dine with a biro lid sticking into your elbow and the eerie glow of excel in your eyeline, consider stepping away from your workspace fully for at least an hour. Do the ritual of “going home”, cook something, sit and eat in your living space, or wherever you like that isn’t work. The point is, it’s meant to be a break and if you don’t have one, you will end up burning out and getting less done anyway. For the same reason you shouldn’t watch TV while you eat, don’t mindlessly shovel it down while staring at your laptop screen either – engage in mindful eating, enjoy your food and let yourself know when you feel full. Make sure to take “coffee” breaks too.
- Stretch your legs
Try and get up from your desk periodically. Set a timer if you’re not great at remembering stuff like this. Go for little walks, do something active, just something small. If Michael Mosley is anything to go by, then a short HIIT burst of a workout during the day can work wonders for your heart and mental health. The simple fact is that any movement beats sitting for prolonged periods, which has been shown to be as dangerous for humans as smoking. Just make sure you don’t sit AND smoke.
- Try a standing desk
Taking that last thought to the extreme, how about you just don’t sit at all? We’ve already looked into standing desks in more detail, so if you’re intrigued, check this article out next, but what you generally need to know is that it’s a desk you stand at and that’s better for you than sitting. It also means you take up less space, if that’s a factor. Standing for prolonged periods can get uncomfortable and capitalists have not been sleeping on this fact, so if you get into this, you might want to consider investing in an anti-fatigue mat. If you want to maximise your calorie burn then you can also get ankle-strengthening balance boards.
- Try a kneeling chair
If you think standing is just for steaks and MPs, consider a kneeling stool. They can help to ease lower back pain by encouraging normal posture and if you get the kind that rock and swivel, they can encourage movement to prevent you from sitting still for prolonged periods. Take advantage of being at home, where nobody from the office can take the mickey out of you rocking away there on your knees.
- Set and stick to a routine
Office work often already allows for an ad-hoc cycle of work, breaks, start times and end times, but this can become extreme when you’re working from home and don’t need to consider peak busy times at local shops or places to eat, or rush hour when choosing what time to leave the office and head home. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of staying in bed late and flopping into your office chair when you feel like it, or working after hours because you don’t need any commute time – if anything, be more strict about when you start, when you finish and when you take your big breaks, otherwise you’ll more likely end up having no proper breaks at all and having no time to make that mental transition between spaces.
- Stay out of the kitchen and fridge.
With biscuits in the cupboard and cheese in the fridge just a short walk away, your snacking habits at home can easily become much worse than they are at the office. If you normally take a lunchbox with you to work, keep this up at home and stick to what you’ve portioned yourself out for the day. If you don’t do this, start.
- “That meeting could have been an email” works both ways
Zoom and other video calling services have created monsters for people working from home and famously spawned a meme culture about meetings that rope in people who neither need, nor are able to contribute to the topic at hand. On the other hand, it can be a great tool to keep up the social interaction you’d get at an office when you’re working at home, miles from another soul. Set up a few catch ups with no pressure to be productive – just a social. Not a work enforced group social either, where some will inevitably dominate the conversation – just you and a work friend, one to one, checking in on each other.