Although working from home during a pandemic is a privilege and those of us with that ability can be grateful for its perks, it also brings challenges. We may feel guilty at times for not fully appreciating the safety and security a remote job offers, but we miss opportunities to learn and grow if we ignore our struggles. Brené Brown, known for her wildly popular TedTalk about vulnerability, explains that belittling our own experience does not help anyone, even the people who we believe face greater adversity. In my personal journey adapting to a new job completely remotely, I have picked up some career-saving, sanity-keeping habits.
Curate Your Workspace
A good workspace requires consistency and ambiance. Designating an unchanging destination for productivity helps with setting boundaries between our professional and personal lives. And since you’re going to spend multiple hours a day in the same spot, it is worth the time and effort to design it.
Simply moving from one area to another within the same environment can trigger a mental transition into “work mode.” For example, I can revisit my setup on the dining room table any time I need to focus but reserve my room for relaxation. Additionally, we can more easily leave potentially stressful, work-related thoughts behind when we’re off the clock if we have separate locations for work and for play.
Lastly, dedicate five minutes at the end of each day to tidy up, whether that means your desktop files and/or the collection of water cups and tea/coffee mugs cluttering your desk. The less mess, the less stress, and the easier it is to pick up where you left off in the future. For the cherry on top, try seeking out natural light, candles, houseplants, coffee table books, and soft background music to enhance your atmosphere. Find more ideas for creating hygge, a sense of coziness and well-being, here.
Establish and Commit to Morning + Bedtime Routines
I have always struggled to maintain routines. However, defining the bare-minimum tasks I can realistically complete every morning and every night has created motivation for me to start my days and has improved my sleep! I’m a converted believer.
My morning non-negotiables include making my bed, drinking a big glass of water, one or two quick-hit chores, COFFEE, breakfast when I’m hungry, and changing my appearance. Back in the days of leaving the house, changing my appearance meant getting dressed and applying mascara. These days I don’t always care for makeup or stiff denim (comfort is one of my specialties), but I at least change out of what I was sleeping in and brush my teeth and hair. Just something that says, “Hey, now I’m ready.”
To wind down at the end of whatever kind of day I had, I do all the usual getting-ready-for-bed things, but I also make a point to read. Every night. Not only does this habit help me persistently progress through books, but it forces me to stop thinking about anything else. It quiets the thoughts of the day, more and more, until I can no longer keep my eyes open …
Beware the Buzz
Caffeine and booze tempt us with their temporary promises to keep us awake and to feel less bored, but they also interfere with our sleep, our moods, and sometimes our desire or ability to accomplish goals. I try to limit my coffee intake to one, sometimes two, cups, all before noon, and any alcohol consumption to social or celebratory occasions (i.e. wine and Zoom dates with friends). Substance sensitivity varies among people, however, so find what works for you!
Humans will do just about anything to avoid feeling their feelings – eat when we’re not hungry, consume intoxicating substances, absorb ourselves in others, seek distractions. Combine that with the fact that we’re collectively experiencing abnormal levels of stress, anxiety, and fatigue and this can result in destructive numbing behaviors and/or explosive outbursts. Staying in-tune with ourselves and others around us can prevent our emotions from escalating to these points.
One way to check-in is by journaling. Challenge yourself to fill three pages a day with text, and see what comes out. You can write anything. I’ve found the exercise very helpful in bringing any buried discomfort to the surface where I can then address it and simply clear my head.
At the end of the day, the most helpful tactic in difficult times is compassion, both towards yourself and towards those around you. Applaud yourself for the small victories, speak to yourself how you would speak to a friend, and be understanding of imperfections. If you notice negative thoughts, try to turn them around. Remind yourself what you’re grateful for. Try to replace judgment with curiosity and open-mindedness.
We’re all just people.
Photo by Vlada Karpovich.