As the world collectively transitions to life indoors to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, remote work became a new paradigm for millions of people worldwide. It’s interesting to see how themes that have been long present just at niche freelancing sites are now occupying everyone’s minds — and feeds.

I’ve been asking myself how to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, during this challenging period. Now, more than ever, staying connected and keeping active is essential for your overall health and happiness.

Over the years of being a designer and a freelancer myself, I’ve developed a couple of hacks that helped me to deal with the lack of connection, my productivity, being creative, and my overall well-being.

Before I get to the steps I took to build a balanced remote creative life; I’d like to share a few quick thoughts:

  • What works for me might not work for you. And vice versa. So don’t just listen to a single person. Instead, take in the information and think about how you can apply it to yourself.
  • Health, to me, means; physical, mental, and social well-being. I look at my life holistically. I believe that to be healthy; one must keep its body moving, eat the right food, sleep well, create value/contribute to the world, and belong to a community.
  • I’m continually experimenting with new strategies. Our lives constantly change. That’s why I always push myself and experiment with different approaches to get things done.

3 Lifestyle hacks to implement into your remote life

There’s a lot more useless advice for working from home. In my experience, there are only a few universal tips that will make it easier for you to work from home. Get inspired by a handful of those I follow daily.

How to stay fit?

Finding motivation for doing any type of work can be daunting at a time when we’re stuck in the same environment for an extended period.

Exercise might not be magic, but when it comes to physical and mental transformation, it’s probably the closest thing we’ve got.

I found that having breaks to move helps me to get into the flow and restore my energy levels more quickly. Also, it breaks the day into smaller chunks of time — which makes the otherwise grey-ish monotone day more vibrant and exciting.

Every day schedule a 10–15 min workout session into your day. If you’re used to workout longer, you can split your workout into two blocks — one in the morning and the second in the evening, so that you’ll spread out the movement throughout your day.

To help you out, I’ve put together a couple of my favorite free resources to get started at your own pace:

  •— Easy to follow workouts that you can do at home every day
  •— Cyberobics offers a wide range of exercises that you can follow from any device — additionally, as a response to the crisis, they’re offering all of their workouts for free
  • Heather Robertson — Heather is a certified personal trainer, sharing new workout videos almost every day
  • The body coach — weekly HIIT workouts to help you burn fat and get fitter, stronger, healthier and lean

If you’d like to boost your creativity, you can also follow my Instagram, where I regularly post quick, effective, at-home workouts you can do throughout the day to keep your body moving.

How to stay connected? The dark side of remote work

Even before the coronavirus, the number of remote workers has been on the rise, with more than 70 percent of the workforce operating out of the office at least once a week.

It’s been more than three years since I left the office environment and embarked on fulltime freelance self-employment. I don’t miss most aspects of office life, yet sometimes, I find myself nostalgic for the notion of chit-chat coffee solidarity and team spirit that working in a shared space with colleagues can provide.

I’ve experienced first-hand how difficult it’s to maintain relationships with your friends or to stay connected with your colleagues while working remotely. I’ve put together a couple of hacks to help you overcome the feeling of loneliness, yet still be productive:

  1. Don’t react, instead schedule a time to respond. Slack, Teams, zoom, hangouts, emails… It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the need to respond to the demands of other people immediately. Yet, I’ve learned the hard way that the best way to stay connected and productive has a dedicated time to respond. Also, when I can, I’m scheduling all of my calls in my “down-time” — it’s the time of the day when I tend to be the least productive. That way, I’m using my time more effectively.
  2. Virtual coffee breaks. Have a 5–10 min nonwork chatter before daily standups with your colleagues.
  3. Calls with friends at night. This can be a lot of fun. After you’ve finished your work, schedule a facetime call with your friends.
  4. Fewer emails, more facetime. Communication is mostly non-verbal. So much can be lost in the emails and slack messages. If there’s a chance to schedule a face-to-face meeting, do it.

How to stay creative?

Thanks to self-quarantining and social distancing, I have even more difficulties distinguishing between a “work-day” and a “non-work-day.” The whole week kind of feels the same.

This brings a lot of unhealthy tendencies like; postponing my work to later in the day, keeping myself distracted with edutainment (or Joe Rogan’s podcast), or being generally “busy,” and not productive (creating 30 versions of one design object in a silo without feedback, is never useful).

Switching mindlessly between useless tasks drow my energy and creativity levels so low that at the end of a day, I feel tired. Yet without any real accomplishment.

We need to work smarter, not harder, and the first step is to create good habits.

This realization brought me to revisit the strategies that helped me to transition to remote work when I first started.

Here’re some proven hacks that are helping me be more creative and on the track every day:

  1. Have a morning routine. Routines are not as bad as we think they are. They are not killing our creativity; they are supporting it.My morning routine takes just about an hour. I can’t stress enough to you the importance of a great morning routine, as it will set you up for a successful day — and life. I experimented with a few different things and figured out what worked for me. You should do the same.
  2. Work-first mindset. Your work comes first. Plan your day around your work, not the other way around. Only after I’ve done my job, I move on to the next, practical things in my life.
  3. Don’t overdo it. How many hours are you truly productive on an average day? For me, it stops at 4–5 hours. After that, I start making mistakes and think foggy. The quality of my work will deteriorate if I work too much on a day. Since everyone is different, you’ll need to figure out your productive number on your own. Then call it a day.
  4. Divide your day between creative and routine work. Don’t work for a long time on a single task. Instead, divide your day into blocks.
  5. Move your body regularly. Research shows that aerobic workouts (cardio), encourages the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. This could be great for your creativity since our ability to imagine the future and to think creatively also depends on this region.
  6. Create a space that is dedicated just to work, just as an office would be.

"Don’t be so hard on yourself and try to micro-manage everything"

Living a freelance life, I found out that scheduling things precisely to a “t” actually made my life more complicated.

There’s ALWAYS something unexpected that will pop up. The same will be true for anyone switching to remote work for the first time. In essence, one day, you’re crushing everything you wanted to accomplish, the other you might find yourself with a sick cat, overwhelmed with virtual meetings or tired after a Netflix marathon you had last night.

To help me overcome similar circumstances, I’ve identified a few things that are important for me daily to feel happy and fulfilled — like creating (and my work), working out, learning, or sharing new ideas.

Each day I strive to include all of those things into my schedule. When things are more stable, I aim to routinize my day. So that I don’t have to overload my brain with plans about my next steps, on the other hand, when there’s a lot of uncertainty in my life — like right now because of the world pandemic — my approach is more agile.

We need to adapt our habits and routines to what our life looks like today.

And what about you? How are you dealing with self-quarantining and social distancing? How much has your day-to-day life changed?

Anyhow, If you know anyone who could benefit from this during this time of need, please forward, share, or post this message. Let’s take care of each other, stay home, and through sport and community, we will come out of this stronger than ever.

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