Nov. 27, 2020

7 tips on how to flourish from home

Breaks, self-care, sleep and work routines key to building and maintaining well-being during the pandemic
Setting up your workspace is a small step towards a productive day Ian Dooley

As part of UFlourish, UCalgary’s annual wellness fair, we asked our community how they’re managing studying and working from home. From creating routines and to-do lists to exercising self-compassion, we found common threads to share from students, staff, faculty and postdoctoral scholars for making it through an already busy year in such a different environment. 

1. Take breaks throughout your day

Scheduling breaks throughout the day can prevent stress and burnout and lead to better productivity and a chance to get away from a screen. Breaks can look different for everyone, and community members had suggestions that ranged from getting active with a stretch and move break, practising an easy self-care activity, taking a nap, preparing a snack, brewing a coffee or tea, calling a friend, getting outside for fresh air, picking a favourite song and either dancing it out or getting a household chore done. 

For those with busier days, breaks can take just a few seconds. A few deep breaths to rest the mind to serve as a transition to your next task can be enough.

2. Find and practise self-care

Self-care is defined as any activity that helps us recharge and feel good and supports our mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s easy to let this slip with competing work or assignment deadlines, but by supporting and caring for ourselves, we’re better able to meet deadlines with the kind of head-clearing and mood-elevating good self-care is known to help with. 

Self-care isn’t one-size-fits-all, but UCalgary community members had some tips of their own for how to keep it top of mind:

  • Little by little, self-care can make a big difference, from contact with friends, a therapy session, physical activity, journalling, and engaging in hobbies.
  • Brainstorm favourite activities on a post-it note and display it in a highly visible area — that way they stay top of mind .
  • Schedule it in like you would a school or work task — it’s just as important.
  • Make it happen every day, which can sometimes simply mean a self check-in or a break during your day mentioned above.

3. Commit to a routine or a schedule, even if changes occur

When work hours start to stretch into early mornings, or late evenings, when asynchronous class lectures and assignments start to pile up, a schedule can help progress happen and carve out time for work, home, free/break/self-care, sleep and even regular eating time. 

Schedules or routines don’t need to stay rigid or inflexible, but students, staff, and faculty alike agree chunking tasks can help get things accomplished without scraping or delaying time for personal care.

4. Create goals and to-do lists 

Sticky notes and to-do lists on notepads not only help to keep us organized, but can give a sense of accomplishment when a task is done — rip up the post-it or cross off a task, keep on going, or take a break. 

  • Daily or weekly, you decide  — depending on volume and task, lists and tasks can be separated daily or weekly, but find the solution that fits your life and workload. 
  • Keep the list manageable — be mindful of keeping the list realistic enough for you to complete; this will help protect against feeling overwhelmed or unproductive when you can’t get to everything.
  • Reach out — talk to an academic adviser or supervisor about workload to learn management techniques or workload options.

5. Check in on your sleep

Sleep was one of several areas cited as being an important thing to be mindful of — most notably, how much sleep you're getting.

  • Get enough sleep. Most experts suggest between seven and nine hours. Setting a timer to signal when to start winding down was one suggestion.
  • Write out tasks that need to be accomplished the next day so you aren’t ruminating about them as you try to go to bed.
  • Separate work from sleep. If possible, try to work from other areas of your home environment. Separating work from sleep as much as possible is important, even if it’s just a few hours before sleep.
  • Take a nap. A nap can improve your functioning and make up for a bad sleep. For the best outcomes, have your nap during the day, and keep it short (30 minutes or less is recommended).

For more tips on getting quality sleep, check out this article with a UCalgary sleep scientist and this podcast with a registered psychologist, on why sleep is so important, especially during times of stress.

6. Take stock of your physical space 

We all have different spaces, whether living with roommates, alone, in residence, or with big families. Many don’t have options or resources and need to manage with what they have. Tips and tricks suggested for managing our various environments included:

  • Assess your home ergonomics, which you can think about as your body within your workspace. Find resources online to self-assess your workspace and adjust as many areas that you’re in control of. For staff and faculty, webinars for home ergonomic set-ups are available here
  • Try to get natural light when possible Whether that's setting up near a window or taking a break outside, natural light can help regulate sleep, mood and improve overall health.
  • Invest in noise cancelling earbuds. When there isn’t enough quiet or you need to share your space, headphones are one tip suggested when sound is the distractor.
  • Pay attention to the places where you’re most productive. If possible, prioritize spending more time in the spaces you feel most productive in. Maybe you can stay later in the office to finish unrelated tasks that need attention, maybe there’s a coffee shop you feel safe and motivated to do work in.

7. Check in with yourself

It’s easy to slip into negative self-talk when feeling a lack of motivation and productivity, but UCalgary community members advocate for forgiveness and self-compassion. We simply can’t hold ourselves up to the same standards that we had before the pandemic. With the prolonged experience coupled with winter — when other stressors like fewer daylight hours, the cold, and likely less in-person physical gathering can happen. A few more from our community:

  • Encourage yourself instead of punishing yourself.
  • Stay patient and understanding of yourself and others.
  • Take a few minutes each day to list things or people you’re grateful for.
  • Find different ways of connecting with others, e.g., joining a virtual group of like-minded people.
  • Learn to say no and establish healthy boundaries; if your week is looking busy, maybe cancelling or moving a meeting or appointment is within your power.
  • Ask for support — tell a friend you are having a difficult time, reach out to resources to talk about your emotions.

More resources to help you flourish from home

Faculty and staff 


Support for those at risk of domestic or dating violence

Women’s Resource Centre: Peer support

  • Support can be accessible by email and through Zoom/Skype appointments

Faith and Spirituality Centre

  • Learn more about their growing online engagement options

Additional contacts

  • For 24/7 crisis counselling, speak with a crisis counsellor from the Wood’s Homes’ Community Resource Team (403-299-9699), or a trained volunteer at the Distress Centre (403-266-4357)
  • If you are in danger and/or have safety concerns about a situation involving imminent risk of harm, call 9-1-1
  • If you need immediate health-care advice, call 8-1-1
  • For community, social and government-based services, call 2-1-1

UFlourish is hosted by Student Wellness Services and Staff Wellness with the support of the Campus Mental Health Strategy. The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each otherlearn and talk about mental health and well-beingreceive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. Find support and connect to the strategy here.