Anxiety Hacks: 6 Ways to be Productive While Working From Home

Some of the best lessons are the ones you learn the hard way: disappointing people who rely on you, facing complete burnout, and retreating to your parked car mid-workday because you literally don’t have the energy to do anything else.

All true stories.

And what did I learn? I learned that I’m not cut out for corporate America or stale desk jobs. That buzzwords like “low-hanging fruit” and “circle back” are my version of nails on a chalkboard. That I’m the worst version of myself when forced to work within constraints. And don’t even get me started on corporate policies...

I realize this makes me sound like a rebel without a cause, but it has everything to do with my anxiety and how my mind works. There are plenty of people—from entry-level associates to high-earning execs—who struggle with mental illness but still manage to be successful in the corporate world. I’m just not one of them.

It took me eight years and six jobs to realize this, but I’m happy to say I’m now in a good place. I get to focus on Loose Leaf while mostly working remotely as a part-time writer. It’s a dream scenario that I’m grateful for every single day.

But just because this is my ideal situation doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m learning that working from home is a true test of self-discipline, motivation and accountability—traits that can sometimes be hard to come by when dealing with anxiety.

Through trial and error I’ve discovered how be the most productive version of myself while working from home, whether it’s for my calligraphy business or my writing gig. They’re not entirely foolproof solutions, but they work for me and might help you, too.

1. DESIGNATE A WORK SPACE (THAT ISN'T YOUR COUCH)

I used to think, very naively, that I could park myself on the couch with my laptop. It’s a good strategy if your goal is to see how many YouTube videos you can watch in a day. Not a good strategy for getting work done.

That’s why I’ve conditioned myself to instantly equate my home office with work, just as if I were in an actual office. That means everything else—social media, videos, entertainment, cats—lives outside those walls.

I realize not everyone has an office or spare room. You might even be working with nothing but a kitchen table. If that’s the case, make sure the space you choose isn’t anywhere you sit regularly. For example, don’t work in the same spot you eat. The idea is that you want to separate work from home as much as possible.

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2. MAKE A (SHORT) TO-DO LIST

Here’s the thing about to-do lists: you actually have to DO THE THINGS on your list.

I used to aim way too high, filling my day planner with multiple tasks I knew I couldn’t accomplish. I’d end up with a lot of sad, empty checkboxes and to-dos that I’d carry over into the next day. And then the day after that. It was an endless cycle of little productivity.

As simple as my to-dos were, it was the number of them that was overwhelming (hello, anxiety). I focused too much on what I wasn’t getting done and knew I needed to make a change. That’s when I decided to make shorter to-do lists with 3 to 4 tasks I knew I’d be able to check off. Every checked box meant I was getting something done, which feels GOOD, which then leads to MORE productivity. Win win win.      

3. LET YOURSELF REST

This idea goes hand-in-hand with making a to-do list, but I wanted to separate the two because scheduling time for NOT working is just as important as blocking off time for all your to-dos.

I tend to keep my schedule pretty loose and allow plenty of time for mental breaks. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Maybe your thing is getting a big chunk of work done in one sitting. Or maybe you’re like me and can only work in 30-minute intervals before going stir crazy. However you work, make time for NOT working.

4. WEAR WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL YOUR BEST

There was a very short-lived period of time when I thought feeling my “absolute best” was wearing my pajamas all day. Turns out wearing my PJs actually makes me feel like I should be sitting on the couch flipping between The Price is Right and Jerry Springer.

That’s not to say you need to put on a power suit; for me it’s wearing something that would, at the very least, be appropriate in public. (Yes, that includes a bra.)

5. GO OUTSIDE

GO. OUT. SIDE. Breathe the fresh air. Walk around. Loosen up. Sometimes it’s a quick break to the great outdoors that makes all the difference in how you spend your workday. I’ll often take my laptop outside to respond to emails or write (weather permitting). Or I’ll bring my iPad and Apple Pencil outside to doodle. I’m a lover of nature and like to take full advantage of the fleeting warmer months here in Ohio. I recommend you do the same!

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6. BRIBE YOURSELF

There’s a caveat to this one: bribe yourself ONLY if you’re honest. There have been many times I’ve told myself, address these 20 envelopes and catch up on all your emails and THEN you can treat yo’self to [a glass of wine/ice cream/mac & cheese/Netflix] – only to say “screw it” and skip all the work. THIS IS NOT HOW BRIBES WORK.

I’ve gotten much better, though. How? I just remind myself that at the end of the day, enjoying my vices without having done anything to earn them is not rewarding, and it only prevents me from accomplishing anything.

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These aren’t end-all, be-all ideas; living with anxiety and depression means dealing with the occasional “nope, not happening today” moments. But these strategies have become crucial to me being the most productive version of myself.

So tell me, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and work-from-homies: how do you stay on track while maintaining your sanity? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Mental Health Matters: My Story

I talk a lot about mental health on Instagram, as evidenced here, here, and here, just to point out a few examples. With 16+ years of diagnosed anxiety and depression under my belt, I’d like to think I have enough credibility to speak to it. But sometimes I wonder if people really know my history and why I’m so vocal about it. Or if they even care. Or if I just sound like another millennial advocating for #selfcare. (That’s definitely the anxiety talking.)

In any case, I want to share my story because it’s an important part of who I am and has inevitably become part of my business. Instagram has been a great platform for talking about mental illness, but it’s only part of a bigger picture.


I guess you could say I’m lucky; I can’t point to any trauma or abuse as a catalyst to my weekly panic attacks. They just happened.

Each breath wasn’t deep enough. I shook uncontrollably. Nauseated, my comforter tight against my closed mouth, I tried not to vomit. My mom and dad framed my twin bed, trying to comfort me. The world was closing in. I was only 11.

And that’s how I got to know anxiety.   

By the time I was 15 I became deeply depressed, crying a lot, completely unprovoked. I felt a sadness so overwhelming it made my bones ache. Everything hurt and I felt a heaviness that made the simplest to-dos feel like impossible feats.. Although I never attempted it, I thought about suicide and understood the physical pain and mental anguish of people who do take their lives.

My mom took notice and called my doctor. Soon after, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and prescribed Zoloft. After a few weeks the anti-depressants made a difference; I no longer felt hopeless or miserable, but there were still underlying anxiety issues to work through.

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In my early 20s I navigated life in college and grappled with self-worth. Those 4 years flew by and soon life came at me hard and fast with new challenges: adulthood, finances, careers, relationships. I wondered why I couldn’t function like my co-workers or friends who all seemed perfectly content—maybe even happy—going through the motions. I knew I wasn’t cut out for a corporate job; I needed freedom and flexibility to do my best work, and stingy office buildings and beige cubicles were suffocating, to say the least.

Enter: calligraphy. My interest in lettering and design quickly became another form of income. At first it was a manageable amount of work, little projects here and there. But soon I started networking, taking on more clients, doing bigger and better things.

It all came to a head last summer. I’d been working in advertising. I had a long commute and the work was demanding. It was difficult to balance my business with my career; I’d often stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning, addressing envelopes or designing stationery. I realized I was becoming the worst version of myself, unable to devote myself to the work I actually loved.

Then I had a full-blown meltdown. That was the day I realized I needed to make a change. I needed to slow down, breathe deep and really start to put myself first. So after a lot of thinking, I quit my job, started working part-time as a freelance writer and now have the time and flexibility to focus on Loose Leaf. And myself.

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I wish I could tell you that life has been sunshine and rainbows since then. But I still deal with a lot, including days when I can’t get out of bed. Or days when I feel hopeless. Just like in life, there are ebbs and flows to mental illness, and how I feel in any particular season of my life often parallels any big shifts and changes.

But I’ve found ways to make my anxiety and depression manageable. Thanks to therapy, meds, and other various tools in my anxiety-fighting arsenal (lookin’ at you, CBD oil), I’m in a good place.

I’m just one of the 43.8 million Americans diagnosed with mental health issues. Chances are you know someone who struggles with anxiety, depression, OCD, or PTSD. Maybe you’re one of them.

I share my history with it because maybe there’s someone out there who feels like I did—stuck in a cycle of sameness, feeling like an imposter, wishing you could feel normal. This isn’t me rallying for everyone to ditch the 9-to-5 and start a business. It’s me telling you that you deserve to feel whatever your “normal” is, whether that’s in your job, your relationship, or your interests.

If there’s anything I want you to take away from all this, it’s that mental illness is real and operates differently in each person who deals with it. Sometimes you need to accommodate it, give it its own space apart from where you live and work and sleep and eat. Because it’s always going to be there, but it doesn’t need to have power over you.

Find a therapist in your area: www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1.800.273.8255

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Hey there! I'm Kim, and this is my first blog post + Friday Introduction crossover/mashup/remix. If you don't know what a "Friday Introduction" is, no sweat. I'm about to break it down for you and tell you why it's part of a much bigger picture.

"Friday Introductions" is an Instagram trend that gives bloggers, influencers, and small biz owners (ahem, moi) the opportunity to introduce themselves to their followers. On Fridays. They post a picture (usually of themselves) followed by a caption with some "fun facts" or "about me" tidbits that provide a glimpse into their lives, their personalities or quirks.

Why Fridays? Don't know. Maybe it has something to do with Fridays being more chill and therefore the perfect day for sharing something a little different. Or maybe it's because everyone is usually checked out by Friday and more likely to scroll through Instagram, making it the optimal time to reach followers.

 
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THE BIGGER PICTURE

In any case, the trend speaks to a larger idea—that there are real, living and breathing humans behind those little squares and carefully curated hashtags. 

"Yeah, so what?" you say. Well, it all boils down to human connection. At the end of the day we're all just people. And people are social, emotional creatures. (Maybe some more than others, am I right?)

Think of some of the brands you love. Now think about why you love them. There's a good chance the brand or biz you're imagining has emotionally impacted you in some way. Think: tearjerker TV spots, comical ad series, and kickass social media accounts.

Of course not all of us are equipped with the dollars to support big budget advertising, so we have to improvise and think of cost-free (or at least affordable) ways to reach our audiences and make that emotional connection. 

One of the ways we do that is through platforms like... wait for it... Instagram! And now we circle back to Friday Introductions. This trend is just one of several ways to show your followers who you are and what you're all about, whether you're a blogger with sponsors and affiliate links, a budding lifestyle photographer, or a solopreneuer doin' her thang.

 
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See? That wasn't so bad. It's nothing fancy because it doesn't have to be. There aren't rules that say you have to do this on Fridays, on Instagram, or even at all. 

THE TAKEAWAY

It's not always about pushing your products or services. Believe it or not, people want to feel as though they can relate to YOU. It's especially important in heavily saturated markets where differentiation is key.

Use your big, bad, bold + wonderful self to your advantage by immersing who you are into your brand and content. Because no one is you, and that's what makes you stand out from the rest.