Much of the working world is waking up with no commute this week. Our workplace is, for the next little while, the same place we sleep, shower, binge-watch Netflix and spend time with our family. As a former freelancer I’m not too daunted because I used to live this way for years. But I realize that a lot of my friends and colleagues are waking up this week feeling seriously tripped out about this whole new work/life situation. For what it’s worth, here’s my best advice for making the most out of home-office life.
Respect the workspace.
This is like WFH 101, but you have to designate some space that is specifically dedicated to work time. You and your laptop are indeed portable, so you may find yourself working in all corners of your home (some of the best work I’ve done started in the shower) but you have to have that official space. And it has to have whatever you need to feel comfortable, but alert, with the best possible conditions to make you feel inspired. Do you need to be facing a window? A large surface to put all your stuff? Copious amounts of foliage? Close proximity to the fridge? We’re all different and we all have our own set of optimizing parameters. Take some time to really consider yours, and then make your workspace reflect them.
There is also something to be said for the boundary between the space where you do your work and the space where you rejoice that work is done for the day. Those two spaces in my home happen to be just feet from each other, but it matters. One corner of the room is reserved for being productive and immersing myself in creating work that I’m proud of, and the other corner of the room is for untethering myself completely from any intellectual responsibility and watching The Office for (not even kidding you) the 25th time.
Let go of the 9-5.
When you work in an office every day, your work life is (or can be) distinctly separated from the rest of your life. You punch in, do your work, punch out, and there you go, that’s your workday. But one of the first things I learned as a freelancer is that the traditional 9-5 work schedule kind of fades away once you’re working from home. Sure you may have to work a full day, but as long as you’re honouring your meetings and deadlines, you can make modifications to when exactly your work hours take place. Maybe you start the day with a mega two-hour cleaning session and then plan for your work hours to run through dinner. Or maybe you do a bunch of work before dawn and then have a three hour lunch. Or maybe you do two hours of work and then an hour of yoga, over and over like that all day. When you’re not attaching your work hours to the traditional in-office timeline, suddenly the whole day opens up to you and you can start playing with the concept of work/life harmony a little more.
For years people talked about the importance of work/life balance, but the term has been given a slight tweak when people realized that ‘work/life balance’ implies a clear distinction between work and life, when in reality they’re pretty interconnected. Work/life harmony is about living in a way that allows you to give time and energy to both priorities seamlessly and harmoniously. And when we let go of the rigid idea that work must happen between 9 to 5, we’re in a much better place to experience that kind of harmony.
Go for a walk. Every day.
I freelanced for five years and halfway through those five years I got a dog. Not only did his presence increase the amount of cuteness and cuddles in my life by 1000%, but it also taught me about how powerful a walk around the block can be. A lot of people will stress the importance of getting up and stretching your legs, and yes, the physical benefits of going for a walk are definitely crucial, especially while we’re all cooped up for the next little while, but the reason I bring up the power of walking doesn’t have to do with your legs.
Something amazing happens to your mind when you go for a walk. One could argue it’s just being in nature. Trees, clouds, sunshine, breeze – nothing snaps your soul awake like getting outside. But even more than that, once you start walking, something happens to your brain. Moving your body forward, getting your blood circulating, filling your lungs with fresh air… it’s mentally nourishing too! I have to imagine a lot of writers know what I’m talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on a single sentence or name or tag line, and as soon as I’m out and about with the dog, I find the answer almost instantly.
You don’t have to have a dog to give yourself the excuse for regular walks. Your mind will thank you, your body will thank you, and I would bet good money that your work will be better for it.
Take advantage of your time.
Have you ever heard of a round tuit? In Grade 6 I had this teacher named Mr. Bark who once handed us each a round piece of paper with the words ‘Round Tuit’ on it. It was a funny/jokey way of highlighting how people put off certain tasks with the excuse that they’ll do it when they get around to it. I always thought it was just something cute that my teacher had thought of, to teach us about procrastination, but lo and behold the internet is all over it. The reason I bring it up is this: working from home gives you more time than usual. All that time you spend commuting each day and getting settled in the office and talking to your coworkers is now time you have at your disposal. Not only do you have this extra time, but you have it at home. And if you’re like me, home is also known as Land of the Unfinished Projects. That picture you’ve been meaning to hang. That book you keep trying to finish. That piece of furniture you want to design. If we’re all about to be in semi-isolation for the next few months, then guess what – this is your round tuit, baby.
Remember you’re not actually alone.
I’m not going to lie to you. Working in isolation can make you feel… well, isolated. And there were times when I was freelancing, folding laundry at 10:30am on a Wednesday, feeling like everyone else was living a different kind of life than I was. And even though I liked my life, there is something to be said for feeling left out of the pack, and those feelings aren’t easy. So there is one silver lining to this global pandemic-inspired lockdown and that’s that everyone is folding laundry at 10:30am and pondering the meaning of their life right now. It is a weird time for ALL OF US. And honestly, I think there’s something kind of comforting about the fact that all my coworkers may or may not choose to put on pants today. We are most definitely in uncertain times, but at least we’re all in them together.