I assume many of you reading this are like me. You're working from home in the shadow of an international pandemic. 43 million Americans, coast to coast, are in the same boat as us. They're having just as hard a time dealing with the crisis as you or I.
Working from home, even when you're not under federal or state order, is difficult. There are distractions. Dishes that need doing, beds that need making, the trash that needs to be taken out, neighbors that can't quite keep quiet.
I, for instance, have a toddler that lives in the apartment below me. She bounces around all day long like a jack-rabbit, fueled by loads of sugary substances. That kid bounces into and off things so hard that the shelves in my apartment rattle violently and their contents spill off on to the floor regularly.
My only solace in that situation is, for as miserable as she makes me, her parents are probably 10x more so. But dear reader, if I can learn to tolerate and ignore the three-foot-tall human tornado downstairs and still get my work done, you too can learn how to handle whatever life throws your way.
Here are a few quick tips you can leverage to work at home more effectively*:
- Establish Your Home Office/Workspace
- Set Yourself a Schedule
- Nail Down Your Routines
- Learn the Difference Between What's Work and What's Not
- Be Social (Sometimes From a Distance)
- Expect Disturbances - But Don't go Looking for Them
- Learn to Live with What's Going on in the World
*Ones that don't involve duct tape and possibly a nationally broadcasted hostage situation.
Establish Your Home Office/Workspace
Okay, so this should be pretty easy. You know you're going to be stuck working from home for a while, possibly until May or June (if not longer). Find a place in your home that's an acceptable work environment.
Many of you probably already have a home office or a place you've previously designated where you can do work from home. Now's the time to establish that space as yours. Lay claim to it like an angry Viking. Plant your flag and let it fly. From here on out, when you're in that space you are there to do work.
If you don't have a designated space like that, find a way to create it. However, if you read this and decide to build a fort out of the 400 rolls of toilet paper you bought when this mess started, and work from inside there, you're free to do so, but you should be completely ashamed of yourself.
That said, make sure it's stocked with all the necessities like pens, paper, the necessary equipment like a laptop, phone, printer. Whatever you might need to get yourself through the day.
Set Yourself a Schedule
When you're stuck at home time loses meaning. Minutes become hours, hours become days, and so on. Do not let yourself be consumed by work, or find yourself working bizarre hours because you can no longer differentiate a workday from a weekend and you haven't changed your clothes since God only knows.
If you're used to working at the office 9-to-5, five days a week, start your day a 9 a.m. and go to 5 p.m. Make sure that when 5 p.m. rolls around you have a hard stop and put what you're doing aside until tomorrow. This also helps set guidelines in case you live with others that you're not to be bothered (if possible) while you're working from home.
Nail Down Your Routines
This goes hand in hand with the last one but there's enough of a difference that it warrants a separate section. After you've decided the hours you'll be working during the day, establish your routines.
Time's more fluid when you're stuck in the house so make sure to take note of that. If you've already said you'll be working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, now's the time to establish not only what you'll be doing during those dedicated work hours, but before and after them too.
Make sure you get up at a reasonable hour, make sure your morning routine is organized and regular. Know when you're going to take a shower, know when you're going to eat breakfast, know when you're going to start your day, know when you're going to take a break (for lunch or other things).
This will help you keep focused during a time in your life where it might be easy to lose track of what you're doing. Routine and repetition lead to retention and good habit building.
Learn the Difference Between what's Work and What's Not
It's easy to get distracted at home. Even when you're within the confines of your fortified toilet paper palace (seriously, you know who you are and you should be ashamed of yourself).
The bed DOES need to be made. The dog DOES need to go out, the kids DO NEED to be drugged into submission...no wait, that's not right. Anyways, you get my point. There's a lot to do at home, even when you're not being forced to work from there.
You just need to learn how to tell the difference between what's a work activity and what's not. Mopping the floor or doing the dishes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday? Not typically a work activity.
Replying to a work email or checking to see if a coworker uploaded the files you'll need the next day at 1:30 a.m. on a Thursday because you can't sleep? Not good for your health, mental or physical.
If you can clearly define a difference between these kinds of activities you'll be better for it.
Be Social (Sometimes From a Distance)
If you live with others, this should be relatively easy for you to accomplish on the personal side of things. If you don't, it's going to be more difficult.
You need to maintain some level of human contact when you're working from home. Otherwise, you will legitimately go insane. You might think I'm kidding but I'm not. This article from the New York Times does a much better job than I ever could to paint an adequate picture with words (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html), but I can at least give you some pointers on what you should be doing to keep your sanity.
Talk to people. And I don't mean just by email or text. Give them a call. Voice or video, it doesn't matter. Just find ways to interact with people so that you don't feel like you're alone 100% of the time.
Isolation is proven to lead to both depression and anxiety, as well as a variety of other problems. Make the effort to talk to people. Make the effort to inject your self into someone else's life, even for a little while.
You're working from home. At any minute something could happen that will cause you to leave the workspace you've established and the routines and schedule you've built behind.
There's no way to guarantee a day without interruption or disturbances. Not only from home but if you were at the office as well. By doing the things I mentioned above, you'll be able to mitigate these disturbances better than you would have otherwise. Life's not perfect, and working from home won't improve the chance it becomes perfect.
Learn to Live with what's Going On in the World
This is the toughest point I'm going to have to make. What's going on today is bonkers. If you said you've got REM's song "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" or Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" stuck in your head, you're probably not alone.
You've got every freaking reason to be anxious and scared. And while you're working from home, you've got a lot more time to burden yourself with Network News and the rest of the media menagerie we're connected to 24/7.
It's easier said than done but cut that stuff out. Check the news in the morning and before you go to bed. Don't turn the TV on while you're working. If you need some background noise, listen to music or your kids' squabble over who's turn it is to play Nintendo (cause we all know home schooling's working out so well).
Don't ignore the bad stuff going around, but at least try and disconnect from it while you're working. Believe it or not, that TP fortress could easily become a safe-haven of schedule and routine, allowing you to do your part to keep our economy going from the comforts of your own home. I mean, what's the alternative? Sitting on your couch like a vegetable consuming every word and doomsday message while the world seems to fall down around your ears?
Go for a walk (but stay six feet away from anyone you encounter), listen to soothing music, practice breathing exercises. There are better alternatives right at your fingertips.
Look, ultimately, in the end, we're each going to have our own way to deal with the crap going on around the world. And we're each going to develop our own way of working from home or getting by day by day until some level of normalcy returns.
If this article helps you in any way, that's great, but remember, it's really just my opinion. If you've got your own means of working from home or dealing with the stress life's throwing us, please feel free to share it in the comment section below. I'd really appreciate it, and so would the other people reading.
Remember, we're all in this together.
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