15 tools to keep a healthy work-life balance while working from home
Stay focused and motivated with a little help
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We’re all working to find a new normal. Some people are working from home for the first time, or they’re having to work from home with other people in the same spaces. Parents are juggling work and learning how to homeschool, on top of maintaining a work-life balance.
Whatever you’re facing, you’re likely working far more from home than you’re used to, and your work-life balance has probably plummeted. Whether your work is paid or unpaid, you should be finding ways to balance your stress and separate your 9-to-5 from your home life.
Like many others, I’m feeling all the emotions, from stress to boredom to confusion to the urge to online shop late into the night. But, there are things—both tangible and intangible—that can brighten your day, simplify at least one aspect of a busy day, and help you find routine in these changing times. We rounded up the top 15 tools that can help you find work-life balance as we navigate the effects of COVID-19.
1. A great pair of noise canceling headphones for office-use only
These are my top suggestion for several reasons. I typically work from home, and they help me tune-in and be present when projects can seem daunting. However, now my roommate spends all day at home too, so my headphones are the first thing I reach for when I hear footsteps upstairs. They give me privacy during work calls, background noise that isn’t Supernatural playing from the other room, and they allow me to signal that I’m in the zone.
Better yet, make a house rule—if the headphones are on, you’re working. Once they come off, work time is over, and you can return to your life and leave work behind.
Try these noise canceling headphones from Anker, a trusted brand in sound quality. They are our choice for the best noise canceling headphones under $100. We found that they were an incredible bargain for their price, finding “the overall sound signature is full and rich.”
If you’re considering splurging on a set of headphones, we recommend the Sony WH-1000XM3, which are the best noise canceling headphones you can buy. They’ll cost more than the Anker (about three times more expensive), but for the superior performance, we recommend them.
- Get the Anker Soundcore Space NC Headphones from Amazon for $99
- Get the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones from Abt for $298
2. A good planner to help you track your work (and play) hours
Whatever your work situation may be, it seems like the lines between weekday and weekend are blurry. Boundaries are important, especially if you’re spending all your time in one place. My Moleskine planner is my #1 desk accessory, travel partner, and daily used item.
Keep track of your work hours in your planner and stick to them. Once your working hours have run their course, close the planner, close your computer, and turn to your favorite hobby keeping you entertained through quarantine.
I love this large planner because the left side is dated and blank, leaving room for me to write chores, meetings, place stickers, and highlight since it’s okay if it bleeds through the page to the previous week. The right side is a full lined page, which is where I detail certain tasks, to-do lists, places I want to get take-out from, or anything else that crosses my mind and I need to note.
3. A Zoom account to connect with your best friends and family
My company works virtually, but I use Zoom day and night for various types of calls. Zoom is a free, online, video-sharing platform. It’s perfect for company calls because it doesn’t limit how many people can join (but the free version limits meetings to just 40 minutes). Whether you have a few friends or you have plenty, you can catch up, share your screen to play games, or give everyone a tour of your house.
Zoom is simple to download and navigate. Once you sign up with your email you’ll have a private link that you can share to start a call, and you’ll be able to join other calls if you have the link. It’s a great resource to stay connected while social distancing. And it’ll still be a great way to connect with friends and family who live farther away once we’re on the other side of all of this too.
4. A good pair of sneakers to help you take walking breaks
It’s spring! Don’t let being at home stop you from enjoying longer days of sunlight and fresh air. There’s no better way to separate yourself from your work than by leaving entirely to go for a walk around the block.
Around me, the trails and parks have been busier than I’ve ever seen them. It makes sense that in times of stress we seek out nature for quiet and solitude, for vitamin D, and for some sweat-inducing movement. I’ve been trying to spend 30 to 40 minutes outside by walking, biking, and gardening.
And, for me, I always want to get outside more when I buy a new pair of sneakers. My all-time favorites are the Ultraranges from Vans. They’re super supportive and comfortable for long walks, and they have the signature Vans symbol that feels both fresh and vintage. Allbirds are another great option, especially for more intense movement: running, tennis, soccer, frisbee, or pick-up games.
5. A high-quality carafe to keep you caffeinated during work hours
I can’t emphasize this one enough: coffee. It’s getting me through abnormal work hours, tax season, Facetime after Facetime with friends, and my usual craving for caffeine. I typically make a French press in the morning, but don’t fill it all the way up. However, with my roommate home, now we both need more coffee. And if we make two french presses it gets cold, which makes us both sad because if we wanted cold coffee… we’d have cold brew.
This carafe from Ikea holds 40oz, and I can confirm it’ll keep your coffee (or tea) hot for hours. It’s modern and sleek with a frosted glass feel on the outside. I’ve been keeping it on my desk so I can easily refill my mug during—I mean between—my calls. Plus, it’s easy to clean and looks great on a shelf when not in use.
6. An app that allows you to access audio and e-books
Need motivation to shut down your computer? What better way to forget about your work than by completely immersing yourself in a different world, like those found in your favorite books.
Libby is a cult-favorite app for audio and e-books. I heard whispers of it a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I recently downloaded it that I understood. Libby has a massive library of audio and e-books that you can access with your library card. Any library card. So wherever you live, you have access to more than just what is in your local library. And you don’t have to fill out another subscription!
You can search for new releases, classics, or by a specific author or title. It broadens your home library for free and without having to leave the couch. I’d also imagine it’s a great resource for parents looking for new materials to entertain their kids while schools are closed.
7. Comfy loungewear for after-work hours
Hot take coming: if you want to make a clear separation between work hours and home hours, use your wardrobe as a visual marker. You don’t need to break out the khakis and blazers, but try dressing for a casual office during work hours, then breaking out your favorite loungewear when you’ve signed off. Many people swear this is the best way to work from home, and while I don’t personally follow it, it may be a great way to help you separate your hours.
And what better way to motivate you to switch into sweatpants than by buying yourself an incredible pair.
The Circle Cardigan from Nordstrom is a top-rated, cozy staple. Reviewers describe it as “dreamy” and “cuddly,” and they say it washes well and remains plush over time. You can order one in a variety of neutral tones, ranging from silver pearl to cocoa. The Lazy Morning Lounge Pants are another great addition to your heavy rotation of Saturday morning styles. They’re 100% cotton, making them soft to the touch. They also have an elastic-drawstring waist so you can adjust the fit.
- Get the Cozy Chic Lite Circle Cardigan from Nordstrom for $116
- Get the Lazy Morning Lounge Pants from Nordstrom for $39
8. Yoga accessories to encourage you to take a break
Yoga is an incredible way to de-stress (take it from me—I’m a yoga teacher). Setting aside even 10 to 15 minutes to do yoga every day is a great way to unplug from work and ensure you’re taking care of your mental and physical health.
Pick up a new yoga mat that will encourage you to complete your routine every day. Our favorite is the Lululemon Reversible Mat, which is a little on the heavy side, but great for nonslip gripping.
I’m also a huge fan of yoga blocks. I find that working from home means I’m hunching over my laptop for longer hours. To counteract the slumping, I use these cork yoga blocks. During work hours, I place one on the shortest facet between my shoulder blades and the back of my desk chair. To keep the block from falling I have to sit upright with good posture. After I unplug for the day, I’ll lay on the floor and place the blocks on the second height behind my shoulder blades and under my head. Believe me, it’s incredibly relaxing and puts a bit of pressure on over/underworked back muscles and knots, which helps release tension.
On top of these simple moves, you can expand your yoga practice. Or, simply elevate a plant!
9. This analog clock to help you put your phone away
One of the biggest struggles about working from home can be staying on task. I often feel pulled to do a load of laundry, try a new recipe, or join my roommate for a few episodes of Brooklyn 99. If those distractions aren’t nagging at me, Instagram is. I’ve lost hours due to unlocking my phone and browsing my feed in every app and then checking the weather and then opening the news and then…
So I bought a clock that isn’t on my phone or my computer. It helps me stay on-task when I need to budget my time and it doesn’t suck me in when all I need is to know the time. This one from Amazon doesn’t make the “tick-tick” sound that can be distracting, and it’s small enough to fit on your desk or shelf without having to redecorate. It is battery-operated and can double as a back-up alarm clock if you need it.
Alternatively, if you need to remind yourself to take breaks throughout the day, you can set alarms for every hour or every few hours to get you up and walking around, giving your eyes a much-needed rest from the screen.
10. These watercolor markers to help you tap into your creative side
I actually bought the Arteza Watercolor pens as a gift for someone in a Secret Santa exchange last year, but after seeing them I ordered a set for myself too. I am not a good painter or drawer, but I’ve always loved mixing the paints to create different colors. These markers are essentially a playground for bleeding into and layering colors over one another.
Setting aside time before or after work to craft can be a great way to separate yourself from your job, whether you’re using these markers or finally finishing that scarf you started knitting last year.
Though I’m not skilled, it’s easy to use the pens. First, make sure you have watercolor paper, because you need it to absorb the paint and water, but at a pace that is slow enough to let you blend the color out. You simply use the water pen to wet the space, add the color, and then use the water pen again to spread the color. You can play with how much color, or where you place it as well. There are tons of Pinterest and Instagram tutorials to discover!
11. Streaming services to reward yourself for a day well-spent
Now is a great time to catch up on all the tv shows and movies you’ve been collecting in the Notes app every time a podcast or close friends recommends them. Plus, treating yourself to a fun new show or movie is a great reward after a long day at work.
Hulu has an expansive library. My current favorites are Seinfeld, Lego Masters, Brooklyn 99, and Death Note. Hulu is also great because you can set it up using your Spotify Premium account too! I find bundling streaming services saves some money and lessens the number of bills I need to track.
You should also sign up for Disney+ because it’s DISNEY PLUS. You can relive childhood favorites like Even Stevens and Boy Meets World, as well as stay current on PIXAR movies like Inside Out and Onward. I’ll be watching Moana, Ratatouille, Frozen 2, and Coco over and over again this month.
12. A bike to help you stretch your legs at home
My bike is my sidekick during the warmer months. Usually, I ride to the library or a local café. Since I can’t go to many businesses due to the shelter-in-place in Ohio, I’ve been using my bike to add movement to my day and to put physical distance between me and my desk. It’s been lovely to enjoy a ride on the river trail and to go pick up carry-out from local eateries (safely, of course!).
On top of being fun, biking helps reduce the amount of vehicle emissions. If you live near your workplace, consider this a great time to invest in a bike that you can continue to use once you resume your daily commute.
13. This stretch reminder to get you away from screens
This one goes out to anyone who is living a more sedentary lifestyle than they are typically used to. Whether you used to walk as part of your commute, for your lunch break, around the office to meetings or to see coworkers, it’s likely that you’re moving less now that you’re confined to your own home.
A simple way to remind yourself to stand up and move is to add the Stretch Reminder extension to your Google Chrome browser. It’ll automatically send you alerts and stretches you can do to avoid melting into your chair.
14. A brand new puzzle to give you a project outside of work
A lot of my friends have become puzzle fiends during the shelter-in-place. They post puzzle progress to their social media accounts each day, and show off which confusing patterns they have been able to complete. So far I’ve seen color spectrum puzzles, hundreds of pencils, and plenty of famous art pieces.
One friend of mine has become so engaged with puzzling, she’s already preordered a few new puzzle designs coming up this summer. If you have some table or floor space and a few hours, order a puzzle and give it a try yourself. It’s a great way to start a new project away from your current work situation.
15. A crossword subscription to keep your mind active
If you’re looking for a new hobby or skill, try crosswords. I started trying The New York Times daily mini and full crosswords when I got a subscription for Christmas. Now, it’s one of the first apps I check when I wake up. (I know that’s nerdy.) I’ve learned trivia facts, geography, world leaders, new foods, and countless facts over the past few months of puzzles.
I think doing the crosswords regularly makes you more attune to patterns within the clues. And not only do you get better at the crosswords, you get better at writing in general. I use more sophisticated words in my writing, and I can articulate differences in arguments more easily since I’ve spent months debating correct answers in my head. If you haven’t tried it out, I recommend setting up the subscription and exploring all that you may learn from them! If it’s not your thing, The New York Times also has other brain games, like Spelling Bee, which is somewhat similar to Boggle.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.