It’s Not Easy
My decision to begin working from home was one born out of life circumstances and an attempt at work-life balance a few years ago. As an extrovert who’s been at this for many years, the change in schedule and the social isolation can be rough. For those of you who find yourselves suddenly working from home, you may be struggling with the same blur between home and work that I’ve wrestled with for years.
About six months ago, I started working from a coworking space (most days of the week), which has truly been life-changing (though I will save the benefits of coworking spaces for another time when it’s more appropriate and less insult to injury). Like most of us, I have recently reunited with my home office while we weather this storm, and I wanted to share some tips with you who may not be accustomed to this new challenging, but rewarding, work style.
Setting up a dedicated space to work is the component of successfully working from home. Since most of us don’t have empty rooms sitting around in case a global pandemic breaks out and we suddenly have to work from home, I encourage you to get creative. Take a look around your home or apartment – are there underutilized areas? I have lived in two houses where I have transformed closets into offices – they were some of my favorite workspaces! Seriously, just Google Image search “closet office” and you will be amazed at what you can do. Think outside the box, and you may find space where you least expect it (an unfinished basement, attic, or even your garage if you live somewhere with pleasant weather). If you’re tight on space, identify a corner of your living area where you could set up shop. I highly recommend investing in an inexpensive desk (easily shipped to your house or consider checking yard sale websites in your area). Even though this is temporary, having that designated workspace can make all of the difference in making you comfortable and productive. One note of caution: if at all possible, avoid setting up in your bedroom. As a therapist, I often discuss proper sleep hygiene with patients, those things that we should all be doing to be sure we get the most restful sleep possible. Try to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex. With all of the anxiety right now, your sleep may be suffering, and you want to avoid adding fuel to the fire. If you absolutely must work in your bedroom, then put up a desk or a card table, so you aren’t working in bed. When you’re done working for the day, pack up your work things (e.g., laptop, files) and store them somewhere outside of your bedroom until you begin to work the next day.
Noise may or may not be an issue for you, but if it is, I’ve got you covered. Parents – there is a good chance that your kids are also home, as most schools and daycares have closed by now. Kids make a lot of noise (as they should!), but it’s not the most conducive environment for concentrating (same goes for pets!). Do yourself a favor and order a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I promise it’s worth the investment.
Sketch out a rough schedule of when you will be working (don’t forget to include a lunch break for yourself!). As much as possible, stick to your normal routine as if you were leaving the house to work (e.g., showering, getting dressed, having breakfast), and then “go” to work. Please note that wearing yoga pants while telecommuting is highly encouraged. You can save pants that button for the actual office. Another recommendation for those of you with young children at home: if your partner is telecommuting, consider working out a schedule so each of you gets a few solid blocks of time throughout the day while the other is tending to the kids. A friend of mine recently suggested this, noting that trading on and off every two hours with her husband allowed them to be much more productive than when they both tried to work at the same time as managing the kids.
Create a specific list of tasks you want to accomplish each day and get them done. Although many of us are habituated to the “traditional” work week (five days a week, eight hours a day), you may find you’re more efficient when you are able to get straight to work, not spending excess time walking to and from the office kitchenette or restrooms and chatting with colleagues. This is important for two reasons: first, so you’re not just sitting at your desk needlessly for eight solid hours (if you’ve completed your work but feel guilty about bowing out early) and second so that you have boundaries around your time. It can be very tempting to keep working because you can. Maybe you have the kind of job where there is always work that can be done, and I get that, but you owe it to yourself to walk away from work. Honor the schedule you set up and get your tasks done within the time allotted. Find some stress-relieving activities when it is time to “leave” work. Consider trying out a live stream workout or a YouTube art class or get outside for some fresh air (while keeping an appropriate social distance, of course). Stress weakens the immune system; after all, the less stressed you feel, the stronger your immune system, which is vital right now. Bonus: you will also have extra time not spent commuting so be sure to make the most of it!
Finally, consider what they say about all work and no play! Find ways to insert fun into your day in ways you aren’t able to when you’re in the office. Maybe a dance party when you get all of your emails answered? In these uncertain times, make it a priority to take care of yourself and connect with others as you can. You can do this, and remember, you are not alone.