You’d think that the current crisis would be a bit cometh the hour, cometh the (wo)man for us freelancing sorts, who if nothing else know how to self-isolate. And that’s partly true – I’ll share some tips below for not going crazy when you’re home-working – but I also want to preface it by saying, we’re all freaking out, we’re all struggling, so even if your usual gig is mostly working from the sofa, don’t feel bad that that suddenly feels like an alien concept. My own concentration is shot completely to hell, and I know I’m not the only one. We all need to be kind to one another in these crazy days – but be kind to yourself as well.
Tips for homeworking (especially when you live alone)
(For tips on sharing your homeworking space, see here.)
Get dressed early: Even if you are just changing from the leggings and t-shirt you sleep in to a different pair of leggings and clean(er) t-shirt. If you’re normally used to a shower-dress-leave morning routine, it can be tempting to think, oh I’ll just answer that email then get changed. Then it’s 2pm and you’re still in your PJs and haven’t brushed your teeth. I’m not saying get dolled up for the postie – unless you feel better that way – but you’ll feel much more professional and work-ready if you’re not in last nights’ clothes.
Take breaks: Freed from the distractions of an office, you may find your efficiency soars – but don’t let that be to the long-term detriment of your health. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break to call a friend, walk round the block, put on a load of laundry – this is all time you’d likely be spending chatting in the office kitchen or queuing at the printer anyway.
Avoid productivity pressure: Most of us will have seen that ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear under quarantine tweet’ but god, life is hard enough right now (and King Lear is a fecking awful play). Don’t feel you have to use this time to finish your book, learn a new language, or use the time you would normally be commuting to do a whole ton of extra work. If those things are helpful to your mental health, go for it, but don’t add unnecessary pressure to an already stressful situation.
Have proper mealtimes: Look, I’m not gonna lie – your first day at home it’s very likely that lunch will be at 10.30am and you’ll be on your second breakfast at 2 in the afternoon. And let yourself get that out of your system, but if it looks like this is going to be for the long haul, you’ll feel better if you plan your meals and have set meal times when you step away from the laptop. (I say this as someone who recently stepped away from my desk after a long day and realised all I’d eaten was a bag of Doritos and half an Easter Egg, so this is maybe a case of do what I say, not what I do).
Look after your back! OK, old lady real talk time, but I have had severe RSI and it was a long, grim period in my life that has repercussions I am still dealing with. While some people will have been lucky enough to work for companies that have done home office set ups or assessments, many people will be switching from their ergonomic chair and health-and-safety-approved desk set up to a laptop at the kitchen table. You MUST take regular breaks – move positions, do stretches, find an online yoga or pilates class, get up and stop working for a while the minute you feel a twinge. You might feel guilty, but a little prevention now will save you a lot of trouble later on.
Leave the house: Normal homeworking at least offers the promise of nipping out to the local shops or cafes for most people, but the current circumstances mean that all of us feel more on lockdown than normal. But if you possibly can, even walking around the block at lunchtime will get you some fresh air, exercise and a literal breather, so try to structure at least one excursion into your day.
Respect other people’s schedules: One of the things that always drives me mad about homeworking is people tend to assume that means you are always free for a chat, or to meet up during a workday for a ‘quick coffee’ (even if that’s a coffee I have to travel 20 minutes to get to). While the current crisis means there’s not going to be a lot of lunchdates, it’s also going to likely throw into stark relief how different people’s roles, needs and expectations will be. Some employers are likely to be very flexible, some – let’s face it – won’t be. Some people’s jobs can easily be transferred to homeworking, some people may have to take leave. Don’t assume that just because someone’s home they’ll be available for 20-minute WhatsApp chats just because you need a distraction – they may be on a tighter deadline than ever.
Seek and offer support: That said, there are scary times and many people are feeling properly anxious. Working from home if you also live alone can remove a valuable social lifeline and a lot of people are going to feel lonely and isolated. Don’t inundate yourself with negative social media – that way craziness lies – but reach out to people you think might be struggling (or even those who seem to be coping best, as they are often the ones hiding the most stress) and don’t be afraid to tell people you need help, conversation or support. Even a few texts or messages can make people feel less alone, so let’s all be as thoughtful as we can.
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