Ok, I’m not really a hermit, but damn close. I’ve been working remotely for almost five years, and since moving across my home state about 18 months ago I’ve had no social life to speak of because I have no friends. Seriously, the only people I talk to on a regular basis are my boyfriend and the baristas at my favorite local coffee shop.
So, I feel like I’m ready for a pandemic and the ensuing quarantine. Here’s some advice for working remotely and shunning the outside world.
Get a decent coffee maker/coffee system
Assuming you like coffee, obviously.
I normally spend at least one day every week working in a coffee shop. Now that’s not an option, so the coffee happens at home.
I opted for a pretty basic drip coffee maker with some nice flavored coffee from the internet. If I’m feeling a little more fancy I’ll go with a pour-over Vietnamese option. The upside to this is that I’m too lazy to froth milk or use syrups, so my coffee ends up being black and almost completely lacking in calories.
Shop online wherever possible
The internet is a magical place where you can order all the things you need for life, removing the need to venture out in the world. It seems that people are finally realizing this, since services like Instacart, Shipt, and Target and Walmart grocery pickup have suddenly gotten extremely busy. I don’t live in a huge city so I’m still able to use these options for things I need right away. For things I don’t need immediately, there are sites like Boxed where it’s possible to purchase large quantities of things like snacks and my beloved fancy water without going to Costco or Sam’s.
They’re all sold out of paper products though.
Find a workspace that’s not in your main living area
The hardest thing for me when I started working from home was separating my home life from my work life. For a long time I worked in my bedroom and there was a noticeable increase in insomnia and other sleep problems. I generally have trouble sleeping anyway, but when I was trying to sleep in the same place I was working it got a lot worse. It was like my brain started associating my bedroom with work so I was stressed out trying to fall asleep. That’s not good.
So I moved my workspace to the living room. It helped with my sleep, but it didn’t help with my productivity. My living room is about comfort and relaxation, and I found myself slacking off. I normally listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I’m working, but when I work in my living room I end up paying more attention to whatever I’m listening to than my job. I also can’t resist the urge to turn the tv on and watch movies, but that’s a personal problem.
What works best for me is having my workspace away from the rest of my life. In our current apartment I have a tiny office right next to our bedroom. And I mean tiny; I think it’s actually supposed to be a storage area or a walk-in closet, though it doesn’t have shelves or anything. It has a window and a light fixture so it meets my needs. It also has a door I can close if I need to be in meetings or just don’t want to be disturbed. That physical barrier between work and the rest of my life has been really helpful.
I’m also lucky to work for a company that gives us money for office upgrades, and in the last couple of years they’ve gotten me a cool desk and chair, and a neat lamp.
I’m a big fan of not having to wear real pants to work. It’s become a well-known fact among the people closest to me that I want to be cozy at all times. Having said that: I know that I’m more productive when I put on real clothes. Even if I just put on a decent shirt it makes a big difference. I’m not advocating for wearing a full suit when working from home, but maybe some jeans or a sweater.
Similarly, I get up and shower every day. I brush my hair (usually) and do my whole skincare routine, and often I put on makeup. Going through the motions of being a real person helps me kind of get into work mode.
Routine, routine, routine
When I first started my job I made my own hours. It was an amazing feeling to wake up every day and not have to rush off to work or be somewhere at a specific time. The world was my oyster.
And then I realized that I was wasting a lot of time. Like, A LOT of time.
This was the first time, basically ever, that I had to decide what I was doing during the day. I’ve always had school or a job that dictated my schedule, and apparently I need that structure. So I made it for myself. I still struggle sometimes, but for the most part I have a set work schedule, a bedtime, and I actually use my alarm. I may lay in bed mindlessly surfing the internet for a half hour after it goes off, but I’m awake, so it counts. I try to outline what I’d like to accomplish during the day and have a tentative plan for my free time. It changes of course, but I spend less time staring dazedly at my laptop wondering what the hell I’m going to do with myself all day.
Take time for lunch
I’m guilty of not following this advice, but I think that it’s important to take a break in the middle of your day. Walk away. Make a sandwich. Go for a stroll. Something that helps you decompress a little bit. It’s also important to, you know, eat. I don’t usually take more than 15 or 20 minutes, but for me that’s enough to reset my brain and finish my day.
Don’t spend all of your time binge watching TV
TV is great. I love TV. I have so many shows that I would happily spend an entire day watching, and it’s something I do when I need to turn off my brain and ignore the outside world. If there was ever a time for that, it’s now.
The problem is that it may contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, not to mention insomnia and other sleep problems. This is something that’s only been studied for the last few years, but several studies have suggested at least a correlation between binge watching and depression. I for one am already feeling depressed and isolated; no need to exacerbate those feelings.
Do something you’ve been putting off
We all have things we’d like to do but we never seem to find the time. Learn a language, read War and Peace, write your memoir, unpack the remaining boxes from your last move… things that take time and energy that get shoved aside in favor of family obligations, social engagements, etc. Well, now there are no outside things, so you might as well do these.
For me, the things that fall into this category are emotional things, like cleaning out my wardrobe. I tend to hold on to clothes for far longer than I should because I form weird attachments to them. I also refuse to give up clothes that don’t fit me anymore because I convince myself that I’ll lose weight and wear them again. I use this clothing to browbeat myself about my body. None of this is healthy, and I know that once I get rid of some of this stuff I’ll feel a lot better.
Also, my office/makeup room. It’s a nightmare.
If you need help or support, you have options
If you’re feeling disconnected from the world, you’re not alone. FaceTime a friend. Organize a Zoom/Hangouts happy hour. Talk to an online therapist. If you’re having feelings about the outbreak and don’t have an outlet, there’s a hotline for that. If, like me, you feel that talking on the phone is the worst thing ever, there’s also a texting option.
It’s a weird time friends. Stay safe.