How to keep it together while working from home: a timeline

A scheduled guide to beating cabin fever with advice from the pros

With seclusion encouraged from morning till night, our homes are starting to feel like cages—and gym closures aren’t helping the self-isolation slump. We asked Lieke ten Brummelhuis, an associate professor of management at SFU’s Beedie School of Business and Scott Lear, the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research with SFU’s faculty of health sciences, to help us build the perfect timeline for working from home. Here’s how to keep your mind and body healthy and still get ‘er done.

8 a.m.: Get moving and leave your phone alone

Lear always starts his morning with some form of physical activity. “It’s like my coffee,” he says. Lear recommends going for a run, walk, or bike ride before work to get your blood pumping and wake up your brain. If hardcore cardio isn’t your thing, even walking to the local grocery store will do your body some good—and these days, you’ve got to get there at opening if you want eggs, anyway.

Mental health–wise, try staying away from Twitter. “In this time of high uncertainty, most of us check the news much more frequently than usual,” says ten Brummelhuis. For the sake of your mental health, she suggests spending a little less time scrolling—especially first thing in the morning. If you wake up and immediately search the web, you’re probably stressing yourself out more than necessary. “By checking the news, we will not gain more control over the situation,” Ten Brummelhuis says, “and accepting that we are out of control about the big decisions (like school closures, border closures and social isolation) might help us to direct attention to those things we still can control.”

10 a.m.: Walk around during calls (and don’t have too many)

“We shouldn’t be sitting around for hours on end, whether we’re working or watching TV,” says Lear, who also notes that sitting for long periods of time can lead to diabetes, cancers, heart disease and early death. He suggests taking advantage of opportunities to move around while we’re working, such as during phone calls. If you can, take calls outside to get some fresh air.

Although phone calls can be a great communication tool and help curb feelings of loneliness, ten Brummelhuis adds that employers shouldn’t schedule too many meetings. “There should be a balance; make sure that staff don’t see these meetings as an inconvenience, chipping away precious work time,” she says. Phone meetings can both reduce or exacerbate the stress of working from home, so schedule them wisely.

12 p.m.: Have lunch and bench-press your baby

Even though it’s easy to check your email while eating your salad (which, by the way, tastes so much better fresh compared to the regular sat-in-the-office-fridge-for-three-hours salad), it’s important to actually take a break during your break times. In fact, ten Brummelhuis says you should assign dedicated times to check email (if your work allows it). “From research we know that frequent interruptions by incoming email, but also compulsively checking email or the news, undermine productivity,” she says. Consider switching off your email completely during times of focused work—or, at the very least, during lunch.

Your lunch break is also a good time to get some reps (or steps, or skips) in, according to Lear. Because gyms are closed and many people don’t have access to equipment at home, he suggests looking in the kitchen for supplies to get your sweat on. Cans of beans, tins of tomatoes, and milk jugs (a four-litre jug weighs almost nine pounds) can act as makeshift weights. “It takes some creativity,” Lear says. “I’ve seen some people with small children who will lie on their back and chest-press their kids.” Going up and down stairs, skipping rope and finding weight-free workouts online are other great gym-free alternatives.

3 p.m.: Take the stairs to the laundry room

Taking physical activity breaks is good for your body and mind, and you can knock a few chores off your list at the same time. Little tasks like loading the dishwasher or putting in a load of laundry will leave you feeling refreshed, Lear says. If you don’t have ensuite laundry, even better—skip the elevator and take the stairs.

5 p.m.: Celebrate at virtual happy hour

It’s quittin’ time—but when you’ve been at home all day, it might not feel like it. Ten Brummelhuis suggests setting up “buffers” to create a boundary between the work and home phases. You can go for a walk, call a friend or (even better) set up a virtual happy hour. Get on your video chat service of choice and cheer another productive day.

One last bit of advice: Lear always goes for a walk after dinner, and he thinks you should, too. “When it gets darker out, our body produces more melatonin, which helps stop insulin from being produced,” he explains. Insulin regulates our blood sugar, Lear adds, and if we go straight to sleep after eating, we have more sugar in our blood than we really need. “Going for a walk after dinner helps to manage that blood sugar before you sleep.”