Working happily(ish) from home: Opinion

Right now many of us are working from home, and it isn’t something we have chosen for ourselves. 

There can be a big learning curve to doing a job from home when it's normally done at an office

Kailea Switzer knows the challenges of working from home first-hand. (Greg Alsop)

We've been thrust into a new, unwanted normal, meaning many of us are working from home — but it isn't something we've chosen for ourselves.

Some of us may be thriving in these circumstances. Others may be feeling overwhelmed by the lack of clarity, struggling with ongoing feelings of guilt, and constantly engaged in an internal war fuelled by self-criticism. 

The latter is how people who choose self-employment often feel.

Add in the emotional impact of the global pandemic, the learning curve of trying to effectively do a job usually done in an office from home — not to mention potentially caring for children or other family members at the same time — and we can see why this is not easy.

I am a time management coach and a counselling therapist. I work with people who have significant autonomy over how their time is spent and yet don't feel like their time is truly theirs. 

The best way to foster motivation? Set reasonable expectations.— Kailea Switzer

I'm also self-employed, and know first-hand how easily we can drown in unstructured time, how hard it is to know what to do each day, and how impossible it can feel to give yourself permission to truly relax when you are the only judge of what is "enough."

So how can we create more mental and emotional freedom? 

Know your expectations

First, ask yourself, "Do I know what my expectations are?"

Most people are caught off guard by this question. We simply don't realize how much we are unconsciously expecting of ourselves. 

  • Ask yourself: "What do I think I should be able to accomplish today?"

  • Write your answers down. 

  • Consider: "Is this list truly realistic?" Or more likely, "If I'm being really honest with myself, would I need 15 hours of uninterrupted focused work time to achieve these things?"

A chronic sense of falling short

My clients often come to me because they believe they work too slowly or they think they have terrible focus.

But often their lists were never achievable (for anyone) and their negative self-talk is impacting their motivation, follow-through, stress levels and overall sense of contentment. 

Most people expect so much of themselves on a daily basis and live with a chronic sense of falling short. This benefits nothing and no one.

Identifying manageable goals for your day can help you set clear expectations for what you can accomplish in a day, says Switzer. (Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock)

The more we can uncover our unconscious expectations and challenge them, the better. If we can predetermine what enough is, then we will know when we get there. If we don't, we will always feel like we should have done more. 

Many of us hold the following mental template: "An eight-hour work day means that I am a productive, non-lazy member of society."

As a result, anything less than this can bring feelings of self-loathing and guilt.

Self-employed people know this struggle intimately — even when it's possible to accomplish what needs to be done in a few hours, that template is surprisingly powerful and tends to run as a quiet, judgmental whisper in the background of our mind. (Of course some days, self-employed people work much more than eight hours — but those tend not to be the guilt-ridden days).

The trick is figuring out what actually needs to happen in the course of a day so we can enjoy the freedom our lifestyle provides — especially because, with self-employment, there is always more we "could" be doing, and we are never truly "off the clock."

Setting clear goals

When you're creating your own schedule, trying to figure out how much time is an OK amount of time to spend working, and how to spend that time, is no easy feat. 

The thing is, when we are clear in our expectations, we not only get rid of the guilt, but we give ourselves the permission we need to fully relax because we trust we have done enough. 

So how do we get there? I have found, for many clients (and myself!) it helps to make our time visible and write out our plan for the day, in order, with times associated.

I use the following steps to build my daily plans:

  1. What is already booked for today? (for example, meetings, calls or family considerations).
  2. What non-negotiables are important to my self-care? (for example, exercise, a call with a friend, a walk outside, etc.).
  3. What are the daily tasks of life I need to account for? (this includes wake-up time, meals, showering, bedtime, groceries, etc.).
  4. How much time is left? These are your work blocks. Don't be alarmed if you are left with only a few hours, this is normal.
  5. Go back to your daily expectations list. Based on your available work blocks, what needs to happen today? Assign these tasks to your work blocks. 

It takes time to trust this process as the list may end up being shorter than you are used to.

Your brain may panic, and thoughts like "Are you kidding me? You are useless! A baby could do that much work!" may fill your head. 

But you can overwrite these messages.

Remind yourself that consistent, sustainable effort over time is more effective than bursts of productivity followed by dips of inaction.

And the best way to foster motivation? Set reasonable expectations that make it possible for you to show up consistently — in doing so, you will learn to trust yourself, and learn to fully feel your successes at work, and to relax when you are "off the clock."

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Kailea has a B.A. in Psychology from Mount Allison University, a B.Ed. from St. Thomas University, and a M.Ed. from Harvard University. After living in Toronto, Boston and Los Angeles for several years, she moved back to Charlottetown with her husband and daughter in 2018. She offers private counselling services as well as organization coaching and time management consulting.


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