Are you stuck at home right now and going a little stir-crazy?
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people have been asked to work at home, or they have to be at home because their businesses have shut down. Either way, it may feel great at first—not having to go to work—but after a few days the shine wears off and things get more difficult.
I’ve been working at home full-time now for most of my professional life, so I know what it’s like. Other writers and editors have similar experiences, but for many of you, this could be a brand new thing. Either you’ve never worked from home before, or maybe you’ve worked there only part-time.
But now, you’re stuck.
Whatever your situation, if you’re struggling with this new at-home working thing, I have some tips for you below. Coronavirus or no coronavirus, trying to work where you live creates several challenges you have to meet head-on if you want to avoid completely wasting your time.
1. Create and keep a routine.
This is, by far, the most important thing to do when you’re working or even just staying at home. The temptation is strong to lie around all day and binge on Netflix, play video games, or sleep. There’s nothing wrong with doing this the first day or two, but after that, you have to get yourself back into a routine if you want to stay physically and mentally healthy.
If you avoid this step, you’ll soon start to notice negative consequences. Your energy will plunge. You’ll start to feel a little blue, and if you don’t fix it, those negative feelings might expand into a mild depression. You may try to get going again, but find that it takes more energy than you seem to have.
It all comes down to Newton’s law: a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it. Every day you fail to adhere to a routine, it’s going to get harder to get yourself moving again, and your mental health will deteriorate. You’ll start to feel useless. All the challenges you’re facing will seem much more difficult than they really are.
And of course, your body will grow listless, heavy, and tired.
So create a new “at-home” routine and stick to it. It should involve the following:
- Regular wake and sleep times.
- Regular work times—build in a couple 10-15-minute breaks.
- Reward activity—something fun.
- Exercise—workout time.
- Creative project time (I’m assuming you all have these to work on).
Without a boss or other mentor to keep you on task, you may be tempted to slough off, but take it from me—you’ll be happier and healthier if you keep yourself on task, whatever task you choose to do.
2. Have a definite “work” space in your home.
For years I had a hutch with a door on the front of it that I used for my daytime, freelance writing work. My desktop computer was in there, as well as my files, research materials, office supplies, etc. I loved it because when the workday was done, I could shut the door on the cabinet and forget about it.
I recently traded that hutch in for a corner desk that has more space, but I’ve maintained that mental distance—once the workday is done, I move away from that desk and don’t touch it again until it’s time to go to work the next day.
If you’re working at home, you need something like this to keep your work separate from the rest of your life. Otherwise one will bleed into the other. You’ll be checking work emails after dinner, typing up a report before bed, or sitting down to work during your days off.
Spend more than a few weeks like this and you’ll be at risk for burnout.
To keep this from happening, set up a designated workspace. Perhaps you have a spare room in your house or a corner of the basement. Block it off with other furniture or hanging drapes if you like. The important thing is that you can get away from it when the workday is through.
This helps in two ways—it will protect your leisure time, while making it easier to keep your brain focused during work hours.
3. Get out however you can.
One of the most difficult things about working at home is the lack of stimulation from the outside world. I usually make a point to be involved in other activities so I’m regularly meeting with friends, playing in music groups, or heading out to the movies.
Now with social distancing, this has become much more difficult. The good news is that for most of us, the weather is warming up, so we can take full advantage of the great outdoors. It’s important to schedule time each week to get out of the house, because if you don’t, you’re likely to go stir crazy for one, and two, you’re mental health will suffer.
What should you do? Here are some ideas:
- Go for a walk or a bike ride
- Start cleaning up the yard or get the garden going
- Perform repairs around the house
- Take the car out for a drive with the window down
- Play with the dog or go for a horseback ride
- Invite your friend for a game of tennis or badminton (you can keep a good social distance with these games!)
- Go somewhere new and take a roll of photos, then share them on social media
4. Workout every weekday.
Oh it’s so easy to avoid exercise when you’re stuck at home! This is one I have to be particularly disciplined about. But every time another year passes and I find myself in good health—especially when I hear not-so-good stories from my friends—I’m grateful for the staunch devotion to this activity.
Exercise is critical for both mental and physical health. If you start letting it go, you’ll pay for it—first, in terms of a lack of energy and mental sharpness, and later, in terms of gained weight, high blood pressure, and other issues.
A trick that works for me: make at least some part of your daily workout fun. A walk or a bike ride is usually fun on its own. Dance videos or game apps can also work well.
If you’re stuck inside on the treadmill, stationary bike, or weightlifting bench, have a good movie or TV series to watch. TV series are great because they will keep you returning to your workout to see what happens.
5. Have a personal project and a time to work on it.
I follow this rule all the time, but it can be particularly helpful during this pandemic when we’re all feeling more isolated.
It’s easy to get down and out about everything that’s going on, and that can lead to a lot of wasted time. We don’t feel like doing anything, and that feeling gets worse the more we’re stuck at home.
If you’ve started to feel this way, realize it’s dangerous and leads to no good—only more negative feelings and lack of energy.
One day we’re going to get past this pandemic. Think about how you’ll feel then. Will you look back on all this time you had and feel proud of how you used it? Will you see the projects you completed and pat yourself on the back? Or will you feel guilty because you wasted all the time you were given?
For many of us, this is a prime opportunity to get those creative projects done we haven’t had “time” to do. Some ideas:
- Update your website
- Create a new freebie for your subscribers
- Write a guest post and submit it
- Research publishers for your next book
- Write a new short story and submit it to an online journal
- Finish your novel (or start a new one)
- Update your home office and make it nicer to work there
- Try a new social media platform you haven’t tried yet
- Sign up for a workshop and learn a new skill
It can be difficult in the moment to get to work on a project rather than just put it off for tomorrow, so set a specific time once a day or every other day to do so. When that time comes, push past that first tough five minutes and before you know it, you’ll get into the work and the flow of your creativity.
Best of all, you’ll feel much better when you see your progress, and your mental health will benefit because of it.
Do your best to stay positive and this time will pass. When things get hard, ask yourself: When this is over, what will I have to show for it? Then get busy and make it happen. Good luck!
How do you stay productive when working at home?