Two years ago I went from full-time employment in an office surrounded by people to self-employment, working from home. It took some adjustment, even though I’m an introvert and quite happy to work alone.
The biggest adjustment was to stay productive and not be tempted to see working from home as a holiday. At first it seems so exciting (Yay! No commute! No boss looking over my shoulder! I can sleep in!) but all too soon you realize that days and weeks are passing without much productivity and your bank balance is dwindling faster that you’re earning! Fortunately, I have children of school-going age and their daily routine of school opening and closing times, homework, etc kept me from falling too far down that rabbit hole.
On the other end of the spectrum, when you work from home work can spill into every corner of your life so that you never really leave the office and never switch off. I’m still trying to get this balance right!
For those experiencing working from home for the first time, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my own experience:
Establish a daily routine. Set an alarm, get up at a reasonable time, have breakfast, get dressed. Slouching around in your PJs might feel great but it’s not conducive to productivity! You might choose to dress more casually than you would for the office, but still get dressed, and be at your desk by a certain time.
Have a dedicated work space. Space might be limited if the whole family is quarantined together at home, but if you don’t have your own desk, perhaps a corner of a dining table can be converted into a work space. Even though I have a desk, I often work on my bed, but I have a lap desk to raise up my laptop, and when that lap desk comes out I can feel myself make the mental shift from “play” to “work”.
You first, then work. You’ve gained extra time in your day by not commuting to an office, and you have every intention of using that time to write your novel, the way you’ve always dreamed of doing. But first you’re just going to quickly read your emails while you drink your coffee. NO! You know what happens when you check social media or work emails or phone messages first? You think “this question I’ve been asked will only take a minute to answer. I’ll do that first, then I’ll write.” But one minute turns into five, and that one quick task turns into the next quick task, and before you know it, several hours have passed and your manuscript is forgotten. Write first. Set an alarm for when your work day would usually have started, and only then transition from creative work to day job work. Because once you start on day job work it is incredibly difficulty to shift your brain back to the more creative tasks. Carve out time for yourself before you start your everyday work, and I guarantee you’ll feel better for it and you’ll start the day feeling much more productive.
Exercise. Even if you spent hours at a desk at your office job, you probably moved around more than you realized. When we work from home, we need to make a conscious effort to get up and move around. Plan regular coffee breaks, or get up to do some stretches. Depending on quarantine restrictions, take a walk around the block or around your own yard / garden if you have one. Find a cardio workout or yoga class on YouTube that you can do in front of your TV. Many fitness trainers are going online with their classes in places where gyms have been closed by the quarantine. Try to get some sunshine or fresh air every day.
Rest. This is the perfect opportunity to catch up on some much-needed sleep. If you’re no longer doing a long commute to get to your office, allow yourself to sleep in a little. When your regular work day is done, step away from the laptop. You are not obliged to work all hours just because you can. Make sure you still go to sleep at a decent hour at night. And don’t feel guilty about taking power naps. I’ve discovered that a quick afternoon nap can work wonders to re-energize me - but set an alarm so you don’t over-sleep!
Do something good for your soul. Take this opportunity to do all those things you always wanted to do: create art, finish all those craft projects stuck away in your bottom drawer, write that book you always wanted to write, do a guided meditation on YouTube or read some of those books piled up next to your bed. You may not be able to go out with your friends or go to the theatre or cinema, but you can use that time to expand your cultural horizons – watch a Bollywood movie, or a cinema classic, listen to a concerto, read a book from a writer (and a culture) you’ve never tried before, or do a museum tour – many museums offer virtual tours. Learn something new.
Stay connected. I’m an introvert so I can happily spend weeks alone without human contact (last winter I kind of did!) but it’s not good to become too isolated from other people. Phone a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while, use Skype or Zoom to talk to friends and family. If you’re young and healthy and can still go to the shops, check on your neighbours and see if anyone with compromised immunity needs shopping done for them.
Be kind to yourself. This enforced isolation is going to be mentally tough, especially if it lasts longer than a couple of weeks. You don’t need to feel obliged to work harder than ever. You don’t need to prove that you’re a super hero. You’re most likely already working harder than usual, trying to figure out how to move your daily work online. My heart goes out to teachers, especially of little kids or those with special needs. Digital teaching is never going to be as good as in-person teaching. Do your best, but cut yourself some slack. When this pandemic is over, you’re not going to help anyone if you’re stressed, guilt-ridden or burned out.
Do you have any tips both for staying sane and making the most of working from home? Share your tips and self-isolation stories in the comments below.