We’ve worked off and on from home ever since James took over the agency in 2003–even when we’ve had an actual office to go to.

Now that COVID-19 has everyone who can work from home doing it, we thought we’d share some tips to help you maintain your sanity and do meaningful work. We’re pros at getting stuff done amidst all the tempting distractions in the other rooms. Here are a few of our most important lessons learned.

James' planner. My planner and time blocks give me much-needed boundaries.
My planner and time blocks give me much-needed boundaries.

1) Be clear about boundaries for yourself and others.

Find your space. Claim it. Call it the office and work from there. If you have a room with a door, great. If not, it takes a little more mental energy to close the door at the end of the day, but you can do it.

Discipline is key. Especially for folks like me who can easily get distracted. I time block my day to schedule office hours, home hours, and me time. I block out time to focus on my big important stuff first thing in the AM when I am fresh and break up the afternoon as needed to make time for the rest of work, life, and family.

It’s not a perfect balance (see tip #2), so communicating with the other humans and pets you are sharing the space with regularly about what you need is key.

Many people worry about being able to focus on work. What I struggled with was not being able to let it go. You have to make time to be active and rest. Despite how easy it is sit down and send that one email before working out or going to bed, resist! It will be there after you take care of yourself.

Design thinking is only one way to use the whiteboard. Here Laurel plans the perfect cookie.
Design thinking is only one way to use the whiteboard. Here Laurel plans the perfect cookie.

2) Counterbalancing

Work-life balance seems a bit like a myth to us. It’s often like a counterbalance. A big effort put into completing work projects should be rewarded with more undistracted time to be with your family or work on your passion projects.

The point is to set priorities to the moment. Work when you are working. Play when you are playing. Working from home allows you to set YOUR schedule.

Practice this actively, and you’ll be surprised how much extra time you’ll have to put towards playing with your kids, a passion project, learning something new, or occasionally binge-watching period pieces on Netflix. (cough … Laurel … cough)

Toby and Josie napping on the sofa.
Unless we’re talking to clients on Zoom, Toby and Josie are expert nappers.

3) Take a nap.

Apparently, Leonardo Da Vinci took a 20-minute nap every 4 hours.

That 3’oclock lull is over! A 20-minute siesta alone—or with the pet of your choice—will have you ready to crush the afternoon activities.

Photo of James and Laurel's sons when they were younger.
They don’t stay young forever. The one on the right is off to college in the Fall. Yes, I’m fully aware of how that makes all of you feel who were interrupted by his surprise video call insights over the last 17 years.

4) Remember what you’re working so hard for.

My first business plan was to spend as much time with my kids as possible, do great work, and not starve. It worked out.

Despite all the video calls they made cameos in, times they scribbled in my sketchbooks, or just stopped production to sit on my lap because they needed a little Dad time, we haven’t starved and I’m pretty sure the quality of our work has only gotten better.

To be honest, I could be a little grumpy about the interruptions in those toddler years. One day I realized that one of the reasons I wanted to succeed so badly was to give them a great life—so I learned to meditate and chill out. However, I did throw a teenager out of the “office” twice while writing this.

Laurel video chatting with a colleague.

5) Stay connected to others

This tip is so crucial and yet, so challenging at this time. Thank goodness we live in a time that makes it so easy to stay connected. Zoom, Google hangout, Facetime, Skype, pick up the phone, and talk to other humans.

Slack and messages are great, but hearing another voice and having a conversation can’t be beaten when you’re stuck at home. No matter how much you love the other folks stuck inside the house with you.

Book covers of User Friendly: How the hidden rules of design are changing the way we live, work, and play.

6) Read this book

User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play is easily one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It is my current go-to recommendation and a must-read for anyone who wants to create things for others … so everyone. Oh, feel free to read other books too.

Calm water as James' kayaks on Sleepy Creek in West Virginia.

7) Nature is nice.

So far, the social distancing rules say it’s ok to play outside as long as we stay six feet away from each other. We’re lucky to have access to places where we can hike, run, and kayak in relative isolation. If you can take advantage of places like these, trust us, it will be a welcome change of scenery.

What if the CDC changes its mind? Go outside … even if it’s just in your backyard. I know in Tip #1 I said pick a spot to work, but on really nice days, I break the rule and take my laptop onto the porch with me.

It’s been proven time and time again that time outside is great for our mental health, so do it if you can.

That’s our list.

If you want a more detailed scientific approach, here’s a great resource from our favorite morning newsletter The Morning Brew.

Stay safe.
Call us for any reason.
We’re here for you.