Working from home comes with a lot of perks and, of course, a few minuses — including the fact that some remote workers struggle to carve out boundaries in their physical space during and after the work day. For my part, I’ve had a difficult time sticking to a schedule while working from my bedroom, as I frequently work into the night. Some weeks, I won’t leave the house for days at a time, which only heightens my anxiety and restless nature.
My lack of a schedule contrasted greatly from that of my friend, who always seemed like she was taking a walk — whether that was before or after work, or during her lunch hour — whenever I texted her during a break. And to be honest, I never thought to set aside time to go for a walk during the workday; I’d only step outside to walk my dog in the evening or run an errand. It dawned on me how unhealthy the habit had become, and I knew that I needed to make a change. That’s when I thought of challenging myself to take a midday walk every day for a month, all in the hopes of breaking up my “routine” and regularly breathing some fresh air.
In order to make sure I actually took a 30-minute walk during my lunch break, I set a daily reminder and timer on my phone. The first week or so went well, but when work picked up, I caught myself making excuses. On those days, I challenged myself to disconnect 100 percent from my computer and lean on a walking buddy to hold me accountable, whether that was a friend or my dog.
This trial pushed me to reflect on my everyday needs, mentality, and bad habits. Here are four things I learned in the process.
Sometimes, you need to unplug to restart your mind…
Nowadays, I basically live at my desk; it’s where I’ll eat breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner as I send emails and write away. I bought a monitor, a proper desk chair, and a standing desk in an effort to optimize the workspace, but all of those details also made it easier to stay in my workspace, staring at even more screens, for longer than is healthy or productive. According to research, staying stagnant throughout the day decreases your level of focus and productivity. A 2014 study from Stanford found that walking outside led to greater problem-solving and creativity than sitting down or even walking inside.
As a writer, I’ll blank out or get stuck on an idea, a story’s structure, or even a phrase. Taking a midday walk allowed me to step away from my laptop and ideate. I’d brainstorm in my head or out loud with my dog (he’s a great listener) and write the ideas down on my Notes app. When I was really stuck on something, I’d try my best not to think about it and let other thoughts come to mind. In the end, the solution usually presented itself by the time I sat back down at my desk.
… and other times, you need to quiet your mind and let your body do the talking.
On days when I was really stressed, I left my phone behind and tried to focus on the physical aspect of walking. I quickly noticed how my brain wouldn’t be quiet — this also happens whenever I meditate — and I actively prioritized not thinking. The task forced me to completely disconnect and avoid any distractions. Sometimes, I caught myself dissociating and going on autopilot. Whenever this happened, I’d ground myself by focusing on the senses such as the colors of the trees, the cool air, and whatever I could smell. Overall, this exercise helped me recenter and re-engage with my body, and I’d return from each walk feeling more energized and focused on the task at hand.
A routine keeps me motivated.
I’ve found that working from home makes it easy to lose track of time and forget to take care of myself, and I didn’t realize how unhealthy my workdays were until I started taking midday walks. (Sure, I’ll forget to take breaks, but I’ll also forget to eat meals.) Going on a midday walk each day served as a reminder to have a nourishing lunch and taught me an effective way to enforce that.
It always helps to have a buddy.
Taking a walk every afternoon for a month requires some dedication, and if I didn’t live with my pup or near a friend, I don’t know if I would have stuck to the task. Having a friend accompany me allowed me to think and talk about subjects other than work and listen to someone else and their thoughts. Telecommuting can be super isolating, and going on a walk with a friend can feel like a breath of fresh air, emotionally as well as literally.