It’s 2 p.m., and that typical afternoon slump is knocking on your door. It’s still so long until the work day ends at 5, but you’re in a slog.
It would be hard enough to stay focused and get something done under normal circumstances, but here’s the thing: your bed is right there. Maybe you’ll just bring your laptop over and get a little comfy…
….and it’s 6 p.m. and you just woke up from an accidental four-hour nap.
Sound familiar? Maybe for you, it looks more like staring at your computer screen willing the words to come, or not being able to sit still and focus on work when there’s housework to be done and kids to be taken care of. Either way, we’re all working — and living — in our homes, which can make productivity difficult.
I’ve found a couple little tips and tricks that are keeping me comfortable, productive, and forward-looking during this time. They might not work for everyone — I don’t have kids, for one — but I hope these ideas give you the inspiration to keep yourself moving when you’re feeling bogged down in your WFH arrangement.
Step one: Give yourself permission to do less. Or more.
I’ve seen a lot of posts going around with advice on exactly what you should be doing during this pandemic. And it goes a little bit like this:
Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic, so why can’t you!
You’ve been wishing for more time for that dream project, so here you go!
Embrace this time. Do something great and productive and new.
No, no, no — it’s OKAY if you can’t do something great. In fact, DON’T use this time for your own self-actualization. You need to focus on self-care. Take care of you. Really. If you can’t make bread, it’s FINE.
Why are you thinking about yourself at all right now?! This isn’t about you. There’s a pandemic going on. You should be doing something to help.
Guess what? There’s a pandemic raging, but there’s also a recession coming. You’d better work way more than you normally would. Prove your worth.
The messaging is coming from all angles and it goes on and on and on. Everyone has the perfect idea for how you should be spending your time. I’m going to go out on a limb (and possibly create a little irony based on the fact that I’m writing this piece) and say: just stop reading the advice. Sure, learning new tips and growing yourself is great, but do you know who knows what’s best for you right now? You.
It doesn’t matter whether you use this time to learn a new skill, find joy in the little things, or self-actualize. Maybe you’re just barely making it through the day. Maybe you’re burying yourself in work or hobbies so you don’t have to think about what’s going on around you. Either way: you need to take this experience one day at a time and listen to your body and your spirit.
Give yourself permission to do what you need to do — and say no to what you can’t. Don’t base your definition of productivity on what would be happening in the office with your team. Accept that your best might look different right now — one way or the other.
Make a work space — no matter how small.
With that out of the way, there are some steps you can take to maintain productivity and find some balance between your work time and your life time. I know first-hand that this is challenging. I live in a one-bedroom apartment in the city with my husband. We have our moments.
But we’ve found ways to make our small space work. I’ve discovered that it’s important to have a place in my apartment that’s just for work so that I can distance myself from that work, whether mentally or physically, at the end of the day. I know that small spaces make this task tough. For us, I’m using the desk we set up in our living room. Every day at the end of the day, I close my laptop and turn off the power strip — and I try not to sit at the desk the rest of the evening.
My husband, who’s a grad student, uses a DIY setup: it combines an accent chair, an ottoman, and a series of boxes that raise his laptop to the right level for his back. It’s not glamorous, and we’re not going to end up in any home décor magazines, but it works.
The other thing we’ve done to make our space more productive is to set mental and relational boundaries around our work spaces. It might sound goofy, but when I’m at my desk, we try our best not to start non-work conversations with one another. We might even text each other from the same room to avoid opening those doors. Holding that boundary makes us feel like we’re at work while we’re working, and back in “our” space when we’re done.
And a final idea: if you’re able to get a little picky when you’re choosing a space, aim for natural light, keep your workspace clean, and add a little color. For me, that’s a WashU flag and the fake plants I keep at my desk at work.
Create a routine
I’ve seen some suggestions that you should maintain your traditional routine when you’re working from home, but that doesn’t work for a lot of us. For one, living in a city often means a long commute. And I’m just not going to be the kind of person who gets up, does my hair and makeup, and puts on my nicest dress to sit at my desk most of the day.
But I do think it’s important to create a new routine — one that works for you and tells your mind and body when you’re working and when you’re not. This can help you put in the work when you need to and step away from it at the end of the day.
For me, the most important part of creating a routine was finding a way to signal to myself when the day begins and ends. Some co-workers recommended closing the door to their home office at the end of the day — a great idea, but if I did that in our apartment, I’d have nowhere else to go. So instead, at the beginning and end of each day, I take a short walk around the block. I call it my commute — it’s a time where I’m just by myself, letting go of whatever happened before and what will come, giving myself the space and time to transition.
I also knew I needed to value some of the parts of my workday that were so important to me before. I love going to the gym over my lunch break, so I’ve made it a point to still work out at home around lunch time whenever I can. I always bring my lunch to work, so I’ve still been meal-prepping over the weekend to take the stress out of cooking lunch every day.
A group of my co-workers likes to have lunch together in our copy room at the office, so one of them created a Zoom event where anyone who wants can still gather virtually — some even created virtual backgrounds that show parts of the copy room!
For you, that might look like taking those few moments to really enjoy your coffee, or calling a co-worker whose office you typically stop by. Whatever it is, find small ways to save yourself decisions and settle into this experience.
You do you
It’s easy to get pulled into the myth that our worth is determined by what we do or how much we can do or how fast we can do it. Now more than ever, it’s important to remember that you are valuable because you are you — and your mind and body are worth taking care of. So make a plan for success — whatever that means to you — and give yourself permission to do what’s right for you. When your head and heart are in a good place, your performance and productivity will follow.