Right now, many people are in the unexpected situation of having to figure out how to effectively work from home. Those who don’t work (or can’t work from home in self-quarantine ) are also facing the prospect of figuring out how to live, pursue hobbies, and relax in the same space with minimal or no changes in scenery.
I’ve worked from home for almost two years and, while not always without challenges, I’d found a rhythm that worked well for me. Naively, I thought this self-quarantine was unlikely to impact me too greatly. Ha!
What Hasn’t Changed
I will say, some things have definitely NOT changed. If you’re trying to adapt to working from home for the next few weeks or months, here are some things that are always true:
Keeping a schedule is important. It’s perfectly fine (and probably preferable!) if it’s not exactly the schedule you kept before self-quarantine, but you don’t want to be the person who ends up sleeping from 5AM to 2PM. Go to bed and get up at approximately normal times.
Your pet is never going to understand what working from home means.
Don’t get mad! Your pet is currently living their best life. Get creative!
Put your pet’s bed next to you. Let your cat sit on a notebook-that-you-are-most-certainly-absolutely-using (Fluffy doesn’t need to know it’s a relic). Take a lunch break and tire Fido out with playtime so he sleeps through your afternoon meetings.
Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Shower daily. Change out of your pajamas. Make sure you feel human.
Also, eat regular meals/snacks. Don’t skip meals or snack constantly. Take normal meal breaks and don’t work through them.
Create a “workspace” in your home that is exclusively for working. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room or home office, that’s wonderful. But even if you just designate one kitchen chair as the “work chair,” it will help your brain tell the difference between work/productivity time and relaxation time.
Also, open your windows. Don’t lose track of the passage of time! Plus, sunlight helps your mood.
What Has Changed
Self-quarantine has impacted my daily working from home life more than I thought it would because it has thrown off all my social routines.
Monotony is the enemy of creative productivity. When every day feels the same, it’s really hard to feel motivated to produce… anything. Whether it’s fresh pages or dinner.
Before self-quarantine, I spent A LOT of time outside of my house. I’d break up my day with a lunch break, interact with other humans. If I got antsy or ran out of inspiration, I could always spend part of my afternoon in a coffee shop. I made plans to see family and friends regularly since my days were pretty solitary.
I’m usually an introvert, so I work better without a lot of distractions. I can have music on, but lots of people used to interfere with my concentration. Now, I have too much silence!
If you find silence distracting, I highly recommend Coffitivity, a website that plays 8 hours of coffee shop or restaurant sounds. For any of you coffee shop writers, this is almost as good: https://coffitivity.com/research
Personally, I find the sounds distracting by themselves (which is why I don’t regularly write at coffee shops), but if I put on music in my headphones with the coffee shop sounds playing quietly in the background it’s a magic combination for me.
Multitask or Compartmentalize?
Depending on the requirements of your job and your personality you may fare better multi-tasking or compartmentalizing.
If you thrive on a schedule and need firm boundaries, I recommend compartmentalizing your day. Only work during work hours. Set aside scheduled time for hobbies/exercise/relaxation.
If you’re struggling to concentrate at the same level you do normally, consider multi-tasking. Throw in a load of laundry while your bread dough rises and you answer emails. Of course, if you’re not working 8 hours straight, the trade-off is extending your days or letting work spill over to your weekend.
Personally, I am naturally a multi-tasker. Answering work emails on a Saturday doesn’t bother me if I cleaned the kitchen after lunch on Thursday.
Be Kind to Yourself
This is my most important piece of advice: do not be too hard on yourself as you adjust.
Most of us are used to VERY different daily routines that involve commuting, shopping, running errands, chatting with random acquaintances, getting together with friends…
If you find yourself spacing out while in your “workspace,” don’t sit and scroll through Facebook or daydream. Just acknowledge you’re not working, get up, and take a 5-minute stretch break somewhere else in your home. Go back to the “work chair” when you’re ready to work.
If your pets/children/family need more attention, spread your work over a longer period of time so you can take more breaks throughout the day.
This process is a learning curve for everyone. Have compassion for yourself, your co-workers, your kids, and your pets. And remember, if you tried something yesterday that didn’t work, try something different tomorrow!