By: David Creer
We’ve all been social distancing for a few weeks now, encouraged to stay home whenever possible. Being cooped up in your house all day can be emotionally taxing. You might start feeling like some of the residents in Utqiagvik, Alaska (No, I don’t know how to pronounce it, either) where the sun doesn’t rise for over two months in winter. I started to feel the cabin fever set in. To prevent myself from turning into Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I had to do something.
The first mistake I made was when I started sleeping in. I used to always think my 30- to 40-minute commute was a burden. I used to daydream in traffic about the day they would finally invent the teleporter without having the plot of The Fly as a consequence. When I first started working from home, I thought, “Without that extra time I need to get ready and drive into work, I can get extra sleep!” But waking up five minutes before I started work had me feeling more tired and less productive during my workday.
Without my commute, I’ve lost that early morning calm-before-the-storm. I now realize how much I need that commute, the opportunity to relax before the chaos of the workday began. I used the time to eat, catch up on podcasts, check out my news feed, or to just finally wake up (I never got into coffee and no one has ever mistaken me for a “morning person”). It was my time to charge my battery for the day.
So I made a change. Although I suppose it’s more accurate to say I went back to my old ways. I set my alarm back to its normal time. I get up and get ready for the day, listen to a podcast while I eat breakfast, go through my news feed, and just generally relax before turning my computer on for the day. Now I feel as awake and productive when I start work as when I drove in.
The next mistake I noticed when starting to work from home was the immense pressure I felt to maintain my productivity. I think it’s natural to believe that work productivity will decrease as people work from home. There are just so many distractions – spouses, kids, pets, an eternity of memes on the internet. And sure, it's easy to get pulled away by these distractions of varying importance.
But remember that your workplace wasn’t completely free of distractions, either. Your coworker just had a baby? Say goodbye to about 20 minutes of your day looking at pictures. Big game last night? Probably going to spend five minutes talking about the blind referees with everyone who walks by your desk. Your favorite TV show ended with less than ideal results (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones)? Could be half your morning, depending on how atrocious the offense and number of coworkers that disagree with your opinion.
The point here is that any normal human can only work for so long without a break. We all take breaks at work: a few minutes to read a news article, grab a snack, say hello to our cubicle neighbor or remind him that it's not cool to pretend he’s the drummer from Iron Butterfly on his desk.
The pressure I felt to be productive 100% of the workday is not only unrealistic, but it's also not how I work in a normal workday in a normal work environment. I had to remember not to feel guilty about taking that break to check my email, read my news feed, or maybe even read a Wikipedia page on sasquatch (I’m a curious person, don’t judge me).
The key here is not to take too many breaks or breaks that are too long. Work until you feel like you need a short break, take it, and then go back to work. Don’t feel guilty about it. You’re allowing your brain to reset so that the next hour of work will be even more productive. Obviously, if something is time-sensitive it needs to be done. But it is helpful to treat your day like it’s a normal workday, just a different office.
The “too long; didn’t read” version is quite simple. While our lives have been drastically changed by the COVID-19 virus and the need to stay home, we don’t have to act like we are staying at home. Get up at a normal time, get ready like normal (although you could probably ditch the suit for most days), and work like normal. The end result? You may just feel a little more normal. Well, as normal as you ever were, anyway.