The 20-Minute Habit That Helps Keep Me Sharp and Focused While Working From Home

I've never been much of a morning person. Even as a kid, my mom had to set our rambunctious dog loose in my bedroom to get me up for school. By the time I reached my mid 20s, my morning sluggishness had turned to exhaustion. At first, I thought it was simply a consequence of working long hours and not getting adequate rest when I was off the clock — but then I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, and it became clear that fatigue would just be a part of my life.

Years later, I've learned how to more effectively manage my symptoms, including showing myself some grace on mornings when I just don't feel like myself. On those days, I check off the simplest tasks on my to-do list first, knowing that if I can just make it through the first hour or two, I'll feel much stronger as the workday goes on. In fact, I've never experienced the so-called "afternoon slump." If anything, I feel the most energized and focused after lunch.

But something changed when I started working from home. Suddenly, 3 p.m. would roll around, and I'd find myself staring blankly at my computer screen, barely able to form a sentence. I started thinking about what had changed from the office to my living room: was it the lighting? Was I not drinking enough water? Did I need to find a more practical place to sit? I tried opening the window shades wider, setting alarms to remind myself to refill my water, and sitting at the dining room table (the closest thing I have to a desk), but nothing seemed to help. Then it occurred to me: I was also no longer taking a lunch break.

I realized I needed to give myself that mental break during the day in order to feel refreshed.

Like many workers, I tend to eat lunch at my desk — but because I've never been good about packing leftovers, being in the office always meant walking to a nearby cafe or fast, casual chain to grab a bite to eat. Depending on what I was craving, this could take 10 or 20 minutes — and if I needed to walk far enough, sometimes even longer. When I'm at home, I can pull together something to eat and be back at my computer in just a few minutes. And while that might seem like it would make me more productive, I found that it was doing just the opposite.

I realized I needed to give myself that mental break during the day in order to feel refreshed. It didn't matter if I couldn't go outside — even just shutting my laptop, muting my Slack notifications, and taking 20 minutes or so to unwind seemed to help me refuel and get in the right headspace to finish the day. Sometimes I hang out with my husband or call my mom. Other times it's just me, and I sit and eat with nothing more than some music in the background.

It's such a small change, but it has made all the difference in helping me feel just a bit more energized and sane when I miss the structure of commuting to an office every day. Try it for yourself — it just might work for you, too.