When Work Becomes Life: Working from Home - Verily

We talk a lot these days about navigating the “new normal”: supporting local restaurants through take-out windows, befriending neighbors we’ve never met across our socially-distanced porches, heading to the store rigged up like some old West banditos. We’re also finding ourselves in the work-from-home life—a far cry from traditional expectations of what work days look like.

However, this isn’t new for all of us. Many people whose work is gig-based have learned how to navigate this mode of life. And I count myself in this group, as a graduate student, freelance writer, and teacher of literature, SAT prep, and anything else someone is willing to trust me with. My job essentially involves working from home, day in, day out. For about ten hours a week I have to be in a classroom to teach or be taught (or, had to be, in the days BC—Before Covid!), but most of the time, nothing regulates my days but me. I work where I live, and I live where I work.

While there are some definite pros to this, there are plenty of cons—as the rest of the world is now discovering! It’s distracting, for one thing. It can be hard to maintain motivation. It can be deflating to finish the work day and move five feet onto the couch. But it can also be a wonderful and humane way of life! So here are a few things to think through as you evaluate this current work-from-home world.

01. Start—and end—with yourself.

When working from home, it’s hard to set up boundaries. When the alarm goes off and you roll over in bed, you’ll want to check your emails, review your calendar, start putting out fires. You were probably already doing this half the time even in the pre-Covid world! Smartphones make it too easy! But when work and life are happening inside the same four walls, it’s even more important to protect yourself from work creep. Start your day with yourself: make your bed and tidy your room; read, pray, or meditate; drink your coffee in peace and quiet; go for a walk, stretch, or do a little yoga. And at the end of the work day, actually end your work. Don’t keep checking your email all night, if you can possibly avoid it. Do things you find restorative rather than simply vegetative, whether that be reading, crafting, a Zoom happy hour, or a long stroll around the neighborhood.

02. Figure out whether you’re a dress-er or a non-dress-er.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who dress, and those who don’t dress. My roommate is a dress-er. Even in this strange work-from-home world, she gets dressed each day as if she were going to work: she puts together a nice outfit, puts on real shoes, and does her makeup. This helps her get into a productive head space; it’s a way of committing to what she’s doing, even if no one sees her. I admire her (and her great style is inspiring!)—but her method doesn’t work for me. At all. If I get “really” dressed, I find myself distracted, dying to get out of the house and see people, do things, definitively not work. If I want to be productive at home, to commit to focusing on work in my space, lounge-wear is my best bet. I’m talking leggings + cozy sweater + slippers. If I feel cute but house-bound, I’m able to focus on the work in front of me. So, if you’re not sure which kind of person you are, try a few days of one and trade for a few days of the other. Assess your productivity and plan your forward path!

03. Find your work space.

Are you someone who works best in one place, each day, all day? If so, it’s worth investing time (and perhaps money) in creating a space in your home where you can recreate a more traditional work environment. If you’re more accustomed to a gig work-style, you may do better changing where you work throughout the day. If you get stir-crazy sitting in one place, try shifting to a new spot in the house when you switch tasks (as long as this doesn’t require moving too much stuff!) If your work involves reading, try taking it outside for half an hour. If you’re responding to a bunch of emails, try doing so from a make-shift standing desk (a dresser can work for this, or a box stacked on the table!).

04. Intersperse work and life.

One of the biggest challenges to working from home is that your real life is surrounding you. That laundry pile upstairs in your room, those dishes in the sink, the dog hair collecting in the corners of the room—all these things can sap your attention from productive working. While you’re trying to check off your work to-do list, your life to-do list is shouting at you—and, if you’re a parent, your children may be as well. I’ve found it useful to alternate between the two sets of responsibilities. It might sound silly but giving yourself a “life treat” can help you stay focused on the work. Finish task x for work, and you get to take 10 minutes to do the dishes. Eat your lunch while you read your emails, and then take a 30 minute walk when you’re off the clock. Get off that stressful conference call, and take 5 minutes to sweep the floor. This may not work for everyone (some work-from-home regimens are stricter than others), but I find it’s a useful way to refresh myself while staying productive in both areas of my life.

Hopefully we’ll all be back to work soon (well, some of us anyway!). But whether you’re heading back to the office or changing career paths, developing a healthy and productive way of working-where-you-live and living-where-you-work is a life skill that will serve you well!