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4 Ways to Be Well While Working from Home

Friday, April 17, 2020

By: Theresa Glomb


We are all struggling to figure out how to work within the context of a global pandemic. But my motto for making work better–“Work Hard. Have Fun. Choose Kind. Be Present”– still resonates. Indeed, it may resonate even more in these difficult times.

With these themes in mind, I’m sharing simple, evidence-based practices that you can deploy to promote greater productivity and well-being. We are all grappling with “the new normal,” so it is a great time to try things outside your comfort zone with an attitude of experimentation.  Many of these were developed with traditional work environments in mind, but they apply equally well to working from home. I hope that you will try a variety of these activities, modify them for your needs and share ideas with others.

1. Work Hard

Try “parking downhill” and creating conditions for flow

  • Park downhill so you can quickly get into your work flow; prepare for how you will start your day and schedule 60-90 min of uninterrupted work
  • Prepare resources before the start of the day (or week) and plan what will happen; schedule a brief meeting with yourself every morning to plan out your day and a Sunday meeting with your family to plan out your week
  • Resist email or media first thing in the morning; instead tackle a work task
  • Set up work for small wins; instead of thinking about your long to-do list, think about one thing that you can accomplish today and JDI (Just Do It!)

Reduce both task switching and multi-tasking

  • Replace multi-tasking with “uni-tasking bursts” in which you stay maniacally focused on just one task
  • Use the Pomodoro Method. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on only one task until timer goes off and then take a short break. Repeat.
  • When you are interrupted, you have “attention residue” in which some of your attention is still with the prior task. But you can get rid of this attention residue by taking a quick minute to write down next steps to allow you to quickly get back into your work

Consider how to make virtual meetings and emails more efficient

  • Schedule shorter meetings
  • Have meeting free times/days (and days designated for status/meetings); one company has LMAF—Leave Me Alone Fridays to focus on work and not meetings and calls
  • Create agendas with time allocations
  • Routinize your meetings/status/crisis management with template for each meeting
  • Try being more decisive, driving meeting discussion toward decision making (OHIO—Only Handle It Once)
  • Blocks parts of your day to be email free times
  • Start adding NO REPLY NEEDED to your emails (and train others to do so as well)

Analyze your tasks in terms of appropriate effort and time allocation  

  • Have you been putting a maximum level of effort in to everything? Why? Classify tasks as minimum, moderate, maximum in terms of energy/effort
  • Track how you spend your time over a few days. Are there any tasks you can cut back on? delegate? simplify? group together related tasks?
  • When you say yes to a request put time for it in your calendar to ensure your task blocks are easier to track and balance

2. Have Fun

Establish routines for reflecting on the good

  • Reflect on three good things individually and in meetings
  • Send a daily gratitude email
  • Share positive events with others
  • Think about your rituals/celebrations around success
  • Use apps that promote greater reflection & recovery
  • Reflect on what brings you happiness as a colleague or leader and do more of that

Routines for recovery

  • Reclaim the lunch break or coffee hour and be sure to have a meaningful break
  • Build in micro-moments for recovery with small transition routines (mindful walk outside; deep breathing before logging into your next meeting; mindful hand washing)
  • Integration of nature may be particularly effective for recovery, so get outside
  • Set the tone for recovery; if you are a manager, be sure to ask what your employees are doing to take care of themselves
  • Get more sleep—the evidence is unassailable that we all need more sleep!

Establish questions that align your activities with your values

  • Ask yourself: Is this how I want to spend my time?
  • Ask yourself: Is this activity or request a “Hell Yes!” or “No”?  Can you turn something into a “Hell Yes!” activity?

3. Choose Kind

Underscore prosocial impact by linking work more directly to beneficiaries

  • Ask yourself: To whom was I a good friend/colleague/manager today?
  • Share experiences with your team and family that underscore the prosocial elements of the work that you do; ask them to share experiences as well
  • Consider routines (events, letters, feedback) to circle back beneficiary information
  • Help someone that you normally would not; share your knowledge or expertise and let others know what your strengths are (I am very good at X; I could provide advice for Y)

Try a Loving Kindness Meditation

  • Think of a coworker, just like you. It can be anyone you work with. Start with someone who you like or are neutral about.  Silently repeat one or two of the following phrases while holding this person in your mind.

“____________ has feelings, emotions, thoughts just like I do.”
“____________ wants to be happy at work, just like I do.”
“____________ wants to be free from suffering, just like I do.”

Next, offer well-wishes to this person using phrases such as:

“May ________be well in body and mind.”
“May ________be filled with kindness.”
“May ________be safe and secure.”

Repeat this exercise with someone you do not get along with at work.

4. Be Present

Mindful Activities

  • How often are you in a state of continuous partial attention? Try to catch yourself. Stop thinking ahead. Breathe and focus on the present moment.
  • Try mindful breathing for 1, 3, 5 minutes. There are great apps to help!
  • Try 4-7-8 breathing (4 seconds in; 7 seconds hold; 8 seconds out)
  • Doing a mindful eating exercise. Select a meal, or even just a snack and eat it mindfully attending to the colors, taste, and smells of the food. Eat without reading or checking email.
  • Walking Meditation; walk to meeting, coffee break, etc. mindfully. Stop texting and checking phone and just walk.

Bodily Awareness

  • Bring increased physiological awareness through the day. Ask yourself: what’s up with my body right now? Stop and notice how you are holding your shoulders or how tightly you are holding whatever is in your hand. Are your shoulders hunched? What is the quality of your grip? Is anything tense? Are you causing unneeded tension?

Purposeful pause

  • Choose how to start your day. Can you visualize your day? Think about what you are looking forward to. Can you resist grabbing your phone and checking email immediately?
  • Try to insert a purposeful pause before reacting or responding. Pause before answering a question, picking up your phone, or shooting off a text or email. Try reading an email or text twice and pausing before composing a reply.
  • Before starting a meeting, consider how you want to viewed by the end of the meeting. Open? Courageous? Reactive? What can you do to bring your vision into reality?

University of Minnesota Professor Theresa Glomb is trying to help others create positive experiences at work through growth, happiness, and satisfaction. Experience Professor Glomb teaching in the Carlson Executive Education course on Women in Leadership  or view her TED Talk, “Let’s Make Work Better

Theresa Glomb Circle

Theresa Glomb

Professor, Carlson School of Management
The Toro Company- David M. Lilly Chair in Human Resources

University of Minnesota Professor Theresa Glomb is trying to help others create positive experiences at work through growth, happiness, and satisfaction. Experience Professor Glomb teaching in the Carlson Executive Education course on Women in Leadership or view her TED Talk, “Let’s Make Work Better”


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