New to working from home full time? Ensure you stay productive by not letting yourself fall into these unhealthy habits

This story was first published on August 24, 2020, and updated on June 16, 2021. 

Additional reporting by Andrea Saadan.

Working from home has become increasingly popular as stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions have been put in place in response to Covid-19. And while at first glance most of us were over the moon at the prospect of spending our working hours at home, it can actually be a lot more difficult than it seems to strike a healthy balance between work and play when everything is centred around your apartment building. 

In order to ensure you stay productive and balanced while working from home more frequently than you may have in the past, we asked a handful of life coaches and career advisors for their insight on the most commonly occurring unhealthy habits or misplaced best practices to watch out for. From wearing loungewear all day to not laying out boundaries with your colleagues, here’s what to avoid as you settle into your at-home office.

(Related: Work Smart From Your Home Office With These Useful iPhone Productivity Tips)

1. Giving up the time used during your morning commute

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At first glance, not having to hop on the train or commute into the office seems like a wonderful time-saver, but you’d be surprised by how this mindless task can have an influence on your day-to-day life. If you usually spend your 20-minute train ride reading a novel or listening to a podcast, try working that into your morning routine before you sit down at your desk.

On the other hand, if you’re used to walking to the office, consider getting that same number of steps in before you start your day and continuing to stay active throughout the workday. “Sitting for long periods of time can lead to back and neck pain, poor posture, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling, and poor circulation,” explains Lisa Alemi, Certified Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist. “I always recommend getting out of the chair at least one time every hour. Walking around for two to five minutes is ideal, but standing for that same period of time will work too!”

(Related: Swiss Design House Vitra Shares 3 Tips to Improve Comfort As You Work From Your Home Office)

2. Working from your bed

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While it can be tempting to pull your laptop into bed with you and get to work from cosy under the sheets, avoid the temptation as much as possible! Not working at ergonomically appropriate stations can cause pain and foster poor posture––especially if you’re opting to work from your bed. "It is best for work-from-home employees to set up a desk that is ergonomically correct so that they can avoid common overuse injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back pain, hip dysfunction,” explains Alemi.

3. Skipping lunch

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“Working from home provides a unique opportunity to maintain or improve your health,” explains Lisa Richards, Nutritionist and Author of The Candida Diet. “Taking intentional breaks to eat and move is an important way to stay fit while working from home.” It can be tempting to avoid lunch when you have back-to-back Zoom meetings and phone calls, but without breaks, you run the risk of overeating at dinner or snacking mindlessly on calorie-dense foods.

“Keeping your refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy and nutrient-dense foods will help you stay on track with your health and nutrition,” adds Richards. “Instead of relying on processed snack foods keep whole fruits and vegetables handy to keep your metabolism going, keep you satisfied, and fuel your body with nutrients for focus and mental clarity.”

4. Not setting up a workout routine

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And while we're on the topic of health, don't forget to stay active. If you can't seem to motivate yourself, try different methods such as keeping a schedule that you must follow or set up a playlist of your favourite songs or even podcasts to entertain you as you exercise. There are so many types of workout routines to follow, whether you're a beginner looking to stretch those muscles or a fitness junkie looking to challenge yourself with HIIT workouts. Gyms have re-opened now that Phase 3 (Heightened Alert) has begun, so you can either sign up for a new membership or renew an old one too. Just remember to visit the gym and not put your membership to waste. 

5. Letting your entire home become office space

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When you work from home, you may begin associating your home with work––which can be tough when all you want to do is relax and forget about your workday until the next morning. “If you are trying to relax in the same room you spent the day cranking out a report under a deadline in,” says Certified Health Coach Marissa Szabo, “Just like you need a space that is conducive to work, you need a space that is conducive to unwinding.”

Szabo suggests fostering a sense of separation between your workspace and your relaxation space. Your relaxation spaces should be a haven from stress, not another source, so if you’re unable to set up a separate home office, be sure to shut down your computer and file away any paperwork or other reminders of the workday as soon as you sign off for the night.

6. Not setting boundaries with colleagues and clients

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When you are working at your physical place of employment, you have a set time by which you need to clock in, you have set breaks that you take during the day, and you have a set time by which you leave every day. When you are working from home, it's very easy to start checking your email before you even get out of bed and continue to do work-related tasks straight through into the evening simply because it's there or opting to respond to clients at all hours of the day because they know you’re already at home.

“Those meetings and break times segment our workday and give us a chance to recharge and refocus but when we are glued to our computer alone all day we don't get those recharge opportunities,” explains Szabo. “Employees working from home need to create boundaries around their workday, including set start, stop, and break times, to help manage their stress and give them a chance to decompress.”

7. Forgetting to take breaks

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This might be the most common mistake made by everyone working from home now. 

We've all been stuck in our own home offices for more than 1.5 years now—has it really been that long, you ask? It's true, we've spent a lot of time in virtual meetings and online events that some of us may have forgotten about the essence of time. And most importantly, time for ourselves. 

Even a five-minute break every two hours will suffice. Use it to rest your eyes, grab a light snack or drink or just stretch your muscles and walk around the house for a bit. In fact, use the time to check in with family members who are also working from home. Self-care and mental health have become important topics since the onslaught of Covid-19 so we should all do our best to take practise a little mindfulness whenever possible.

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