Wow, it’s a bit armageddonny out there isn’t it?
I’m sure like me your work has been thrown into disarray. I’m now working from home (WFH) with only Baron Pepperoni OBE for company. I’ve had to cancel a lot of international work gigs which has been heartbreaking as I’ve spent months working on them but hey, I’d much rather my colleagues live to see the other side of this. Right now I feel like I’m firefighting the fall out from all those cancellations which on the one hand is an opportunity to do some creative thinking and planning, but on the other hand feels like the blind leading the blind.
Many moons ago when I lived by myself the first time around, while writing my thesis, I spent a lot of time perfecting the art of WFH. With no structure or anchor point to my days, just the endless and thankless task of writing the 80,000 words (and I guess my part-time job), I learnt that having a daily and weekly routine helped a lot with remembering which day of the week it was. I went to the gym most days (not anymore!) either at the beginning or end of the day so that I had a clear run of work either side, I tried to keep my working day between 10 and 6 because I was most productive then. I made time to see my friends for dinner, or on days out at the weekends. Some of these things feel less familiar now than they should.
Right now I also have to deal with trying to process a set of worries – worries that hang on uncertainty and the unknown. They are not tangible things, nor are they things I can manage or foresee. However, I can tell you that the following things are on my mind a lot:
- Do I have enough tins of tomatoes in my larder?
- Is ordering stuff from Amazon keeping the economy afloat or am I putting people’s lives in danger?
- Have my family killed each other yet?
- When will I get to buy a bunch of bananas again?
- Do I have enough inhalers?
- How are my neighbours doing, especially the elderly ones?
- I really wish that Microsoft Teams was never invented
- Do I have enough tins of tomatoes in my larder?
I hope that some of you can relate, especially to my anxiety about tinned tomatoes. Yes?
Because of this global pandemic, I am having to do my full-time day job in a whole other work environment (my home of all places), I’m not allowed to leave my flat, and I only have 3 tins of tomatoes left. It’s all a bit scary and daunting, n’est pas? WFH feels less of a comfort than it used to because I feel like I am forced to replicate my ‘normal’ work schedule at home, which isn’t how I usually roll. Working from home is great when I have breathing space to focus and concentrate. Not so great when I’m a little bit concerned about everyone around me (and also me) dying.
I have always found that building boundaries around work/life while WFH helps separate when you are working, and when you are resting/having fun. I will admit that right now, this is a little harder for me to do. In these uncertain times, it has become increasingly more important for me to have structure to my days and week, mainly so that I can remember what day it is and function like a human being. So I’ve tried to take back control (does that phrase give anyone else shudders?) of my working day by creating a structured environment and a routine for enhancing my productivity and focus; taking into account time for dealing with distractions (laundry) and fussing Baron Pepperoni OBE. The past week, I’ve been trying hard to be disciplined around the following things:
Remember self care?
Even though I only see my colleagues via video calls, I still make a point of actually showering, blow-drying my hair and wearing make up in the mornings. I may not be wearing work attire, but I am definitely not wearing loungewear. My getting-ready-for-work routine remains the same; I make sure that I look and feel presentable (no, I’m not wearing joggy bums under the desk). This distinguishes a work day from say, a rest day where I would quite happily slob around in a uni hoody covered in ketchup stains.
Setting working hours – and sticking to them!
My WFH hours are 8am – 4pm. Any time before or after is me time! I find this almost gives me ‘permission’ to go and have some fun! I’m also making a point of having luncheon too. I’ve found for the first time in literally years, I am not feeling guilty about taking an hour out of my day to have lunch, NOT al desko. My sleep pattern during the week and weekends are the same as normal, though I get an extra 30 minutes lie in during the week because I don’t have to commute!
Having weekend-specific tasks
When I am at home at weekends, my Saturdays always start with waking up late, doing the washing up, putting on the laundry, cleaning the flat, then having a shower. This is my Saturday ritual, and it continues to stay that way even in lockdown. The temptation to do laundry during the week is OVERWHELMING but I hold off, and save it for when I have time at the weekends to distinguish a work day from a weekend.
Creating a designated workspace
I tend to be quite disciplined anyway about where I allow myself to work in my flat – strictly something I only do in the study, and occasionally in the living room. NO WORK ENTERS MY BEDROOM (or bathroom for that matter). This way I train my brain to associate types of activity to particular spaces e.g. the study = work mode. At the moment I am only working from my desk in my study which means when I step out of the room to have lunch or power down, I can switch off my work brain.
I don’t know about you but I get a really bad old-lady back from sitting at my desk all day and I also get quite restless. In normal day-to-day life finding time to squeeze in another exercise class was always a bit of a ballache so I’ve taken this opportunity to do a bit of YouTube yoga during or after my work day (Adriene – isn’t she a dream?). It’s still early days for me yet but I find some gentle stretching really helpful for my aches and pains and a good way to decompress.
Checking in on my colleagues and mates
You read correctly. I just used the word ‘mates’. As a sociable person, I totally crave human contact at certain points of the day. There has always been a part of my work routine that has meant that I would have to work remotely on occasions but this will be the longest period of time I will be out of the office away from my in-house colleagues. Not all people will show obvious signs of stress and nor will everyone want to talk about it so I’m making a conscious decision to check in on colleagues (and friends) who may not be coping so well with the change in circumstances. Oddly, the lockdown has had an interesting affect on the way that I socialise. I have made it my mission to find novel ways of engaging with my friends virtually. So far I’ve done a cookalong via Whatsapp, played virtual scrabble and tested out the Houseparty app which I totally recommend for shits and giggles.
Owning my distractions
It is totally normal to be distracted during the first few days/weeks of working from home. I think you expect the opposite because… you’re at home. I have found that if I am distracted, I am not doing my best work anyway, so having a few minutes or an hour doing something completely different really helps. I always seem to have an impulse to go and prep my next meal (probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me) but it’s not because I’m hungry or greedy (?!), it’s because the process of chopping vegetables or weighing out ingredients requires a thought process very different to the one that I apply to my work-work. I can see the progress that I am making right in front of me, unlike work-work where progress is often this intangible thing that I can’t see or gauge. Here is my distraction montage for some inspiration:
My approach to WFH may or may not be everybody’s bag, but I think the most important thing is to reach out to someone else if you’re struggling. We are living in strange times right now and I think the impact of recent events affects us in ways we don’t always notice.
Sending everything but thoughts and prayers to everyone out there who is self-isolating. I would love to hear your thoughts on WFH too. Comments welcome!