Working at Home over 40 – Fast Track to Middle-Aged Wasteland?

gray haird woman computerWorking from home, on your home, or partial telecommuting?  With each passing year I meet more and more people who work from home for a variety of reasons, and despite what at first might seem like oceans of free time or an infinite flexibility in managing one’s own time, the reality is often the exact opposite.  And, what often suffers in all the time constraints is one’s own physical and emotional health.  Even if your home-based reality is for the most part a pleasant one, there are going to be days when all you want to do is pull on the sweatpants, slash open the potato chips, and giggle through a marathon of Modern Family reruns!

Not only is the middle-aged mind a terrible thing to waste, but your mind is a muscle that needs rebooting all the time! So, let’s accentuate the positive in looking at  how to make the WFH environment more conducive to physical and psychological health.    There are many productive and positive reasons to work at home, and many ways to offset the challenges that come with feeling “marooned” in a home office.  Here are just a few:

Some people are working in their own businesses, or working with employers whose business models enable or require working from home, whether it’s full-time at home or flex-time.   If you don’t have to report to an office even part of the time, that’s all the more reason to get out to breakfast, lunch or drinks with colleagues or other people in your industry – even if it’s in an online gathering.   

Many people are working on their homes, or inside their homes, in some way while also earning a living.  Working on a home could mean prepping for a sale, or downsizing and the clearing out that comes with both those transitions.  Or, it could involve taking care of children and elderly parents – many boomers are doing both while also working full time.   

During really hectic times in your life, push yourself to carve out time just for you.  I force myself to exercise several mornings a week, while it’s still really early, just so that I don’t spend my entire morning binge-watching cable or locked to news reports on screens.  If I do that, then the rest of my day is spent doing something for someone else.

Others are working at home only until …  Here, just fill in the blanks to suit your own situation.  It’s all the more important to be in “work-style mindset.”   Job-hunters are the people I empathize with the most, because their identities are about work (work clothes, work habits, work skills), and they can’t predict how long the job search might be.  Prepping or waiting for calls or emails about leads, decisions and other search issues is happening at home these days for more and more people.  It takes Herculean effort to bound out of bed, get to the gym or outdoors, or do an online workout.  For sure, those are the days when you have to get out of the sweatpants and plan on healthful foods that will make you actually feel good, and schedule meetings – online or outside your home.

In the winter months when the weather is bleaker, it’s worse – but you have to get over it and get out!  I get invited to lots of networking events – I could be out every night of the week!  Some are well worth the outing, but others are not as productive.  Regardless, I still push myself to go out on most nights.  Engaging with other people – especially people who are different than you, is the best way to enhance your social skills, broaden your horizons and make you more productive in your work at home.

 

Hello, your insurance company called. They want your baggy pants back.

The realities of working from home for many people have hit home whether we want them to or not, and whether we like working from home or not.  

Here’s a wake-up call you can’t ignore: Statistics from almost every insurance company show people telecommuting for work gain weight faster and have a harder time losing it than those who go out to work every day! We tend to underestimate the expenditure of energy it takes to get up, get showered, get ready, get dressed and get out the door – all the mundane tasks we don’t really think of as physical exercise but which burn calories. Hey, just blasting a hair dryer for 14 minutes during weeks when I’m sorely overdue at my hairdresser’s (like today) causes me to fume to the point where I just know I’m burning up some extra calories!

File:RIAN archive 555848 Testing on treadmill.jpgWe all know that 24/7 screen time not only takes away from our physical activity, but interferes with sleep, which then negatively impacts our ability to do productive work.  On top of that, not being mindful of how much comfort food we’re eating also packs on the pounds.

However, food manufacturers always get blamed for making people fat, but they could be a boon to consumers who want to think inside the box when planning healthful meals. Frozen processed foods, eaten in moderation, are a secret weapon of people who really want to lose weight but hate the whole planning, measuring, chopping, cooking and clean-up work. When I lost 60 pounds several years ago, and managed to keep all but 7 pounds off, I relied a lot on frozen meals. I would much rather spend my creativity on real work rather than cooking and cleaning. Besides, all that prepping tends to make me munch between chopping, since it takes so much time before I actually sit down to eat my meal!

The key benefit of frozen meals is portion control. If Lean Cuisine and similar lines are too “mini-meal” for you, add a big salad, cut your dressing with lemon juice and make sure you have satisfying vegetables with your meal. Bottom-line is that the food industry doesn’t lift that high calorie snack bar or bag of chips to your mouth again and again. And, if you’re not commuting regularly and your office is in or near the kitchen, it’s just too easy to grab the snacks and lose perspective.

Get dressed in clean clothes every day. Yes, seriously. I know it’s been said before – in some good ways, actually: “Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up.” You may be fighting some depression, some rejection, some anxiety, or even the stubborn remnants of winter’s SAD disorder (Seasonal Affective Disorder- try some full spectrum light bulbs for that). But this can help: put on real clothes, something that makes you look put together. It will prepare you for the day in a way that working in your secret pajama bottoms just can’t.

File:Skinny20080428.jpgHang up your “5-pounds-to-go” jeans (or slinky dress, etc.) where you can see them all the time. I don’t mean your skinny-skinny-skinny jeans that would require liposuction for you to get back into, but something attainable that will help keep you out of the refrigerator or the cookie jar. A colleague of mine hung hers OVER the refrigerator, so that she would have to actually move the jeans in order to open the door to the fridge. May be a bit extreme, but she swears it mortified her into shape.

Consider getting a Soda Stream water carbonator. No, I’m not paid by them, nor do I have shares in the company. It’s just a really good idea. Coffee with sugar and cream in it, fruit juice, lattes and sodas, all have calories that we forget to count, and come with other negative health effects. Instead, Soda Stream will help you drink more calorie-less plain seltzer water with ice, or lightly flavored with a touch of lemon, lime, grape juice, etc.

Set a timer to go off once an hour to take a break. So many of us are as focused as we are sedentary, even eating our lunch at our home office desk or table. The New York Times routinely publishes research about the importance of getting up and moving – for our brains as well as the rest of our bodies.  Every hour, when your timer dings, get up, run up and down the stairs, or do a few minutes of jump-rope. Even do ten push ups and ten sit ups, if this doesn’t leave you in a sweaty heap. It is the movement, the increase to your circulation and metabolism that we are after here. Some blood to the brain. Refresh and recharge and feel better.

These are just a few ways to accentuate the positive, focusing on the things to actually do rather than not do, to charge yourself up.  Whether you’re working from home temporarily, or for the foreseeable future, make sure you get yourself in a productive work mindset, get dressed, put on some music, keep moving and refresh your brain at least once an hour.

As for those baggy pants, tell your insurance company they’re just for sleeping – which you try to do for at least 7 hours – or the temporary bottoms of your Zoom, Webex or GoToMeeting uniform.   

 


[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/12/telecommuting_may_be_terrible_for_your_work_life_balance.html