It is day 37 of this work-from-home experiment—day 51 if we count the weekends. Has it been easy? No. Is it manageable? Definitely.
Before I continue writing, I would like to recognize that I am coming from a rather privileged perspective—I work for a company that’s been doing proactive measures to keep their employees safe, we have good healthcare coverage including mental health support, I have a home that I am happy with and access to nature, and I don’t need to leave my house so I can work. I think disclosure is important because not everyone has the same privilege, and the least I can do in a trying time like this is to check my privilege. I hope before you post anything, you would do the same.
I would like to write more about this work-from-home / social distancing / social isolation experience, but for starters, let me share with you my WFH survival tips. These might not work for you, but maybe it can help you start somewhere.
- Tidy up
When I worked in the office on a daily basis, I was not extra tidy because I would be rushing out of the house in the morning and coming home late at night already tired. But while I’m home, what’s really helped with my mental health is keeping a tidy home and an organized workspace.
- Create an office space
My home is tiny but I have a little home office that I set up even before the novel coronavirus outbreak. When we got the email that we were supposed to start working from home after the Lunar New Year, I decided to spruce up my home office. More on that later!
Others would like to move from one spot to another through the day, and that’s totally fine. A home office might help get you into work mode though — so start at your desk in the morning to tell your brain and body that it’s work time, then eventually move to other spots when you can’t focus or get antsy.
- Get a good chair and an extra screen
Sitting for long periods hurt my back so I had to buy a chair that would be comfortable to sit on. Do not underestimate the wonders of a good chair! They also don’t have to be expensive. You just need to try it out and make sure it works for you. Working on a laptop is manageable if your main task is writing, but for me, having a bigger second screen helps.
- Noise-canceling earphones or earplugs are your best friends
This will be extremely helpful especially if you don’t live alone. This has been a lifesaver for me even if I have the house to myself. It drowns out my cat’s loud meowing or the neighbor’s barking dogs, or the tourists screaming outside when my windows are open.
- Surround yourself with things that inspire you
My house looks like a jungle…okay, maybe that’s too much; let’s say it looks like a garden. Having plants all over my home makes me feel like I’m enjoying the great outdoors. I also love flowers, so when I go on a supply run once a week, I would buy myself flowers. They do wonders for my mood, thus helping with my mental health.
I’ve also brought out maps from my collection and put them up on the wall of my home office. They give me inspiration when I’m working on my graphics and maps.
- Keep track of the days
This is a great struggle for me. I’ve found it hard to keep track of what day it was, so I had a very simple solution! I got myself a tiny desk calendar and I mark the days manually. Marking the days helps my brain take note of the days better. But you don’t need to buy a calendar, you can always make yourself one on a piece of paper or on a notebook.
- Take short but frequent breaks
I was very good at this in the first couple of weeks. I would take 5-10 minute breaks every couple of hours. I am quite lucky to have access to nature outside my home, so I took advantage of this. I know not all of us have the luxury of green spaces, but your balcony will do or maybe check out a nearby park.
There was a week that I was paranoid (we had a confirmed Covid-19 infection at a restaurant near my home) I did not take breaks outside—it was horrible! Boatloads of tourists were coming into the island to go on hikes so I was scared to do my walks because, in my mind, everyone might be a carrier. My anxiety worsened because I felt trapped and eventually my migraines started. Please do not do this to yourself. I have learned my lesson!
- Limit your social media time
Things can get too much too quickly. I know this is easier said than done especially if you work as a journalist or in social media, but I think this is crucial for our headspace. On most days, I have an 11pm deadline for Twitter and Facebook. Though I am not very strict on this. It depends on my current state of mind, or if there are things I need to do; for example, my friends and I gathered COVID-19 information for Filipinos so I stayed late on social media for that.
- Talk to your “happy people“
Well, this really depends whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. If you’re an extrovert and feeling antsy about being away from people, then maybe it will benefit you to do virtual hangouts or virtual happy hours with friends and colleagues. If you are an introvert like me, sometimes these chat groups and virtual video hangouts can get too much. So I suggest starting with your “happy people.” These are the people you are most comfortable with. When you’re in a better frame of mind, then you can start expanding the circle of people you communicate with.
- If in doubt, ask
We’re all experiencing this for the first time, even our managers and HR personnel. A lot of them have crisis management training, but the situation changes quickly. If you have questions, do not assume or try to come up with all the possible interpretations. Ask someone who can explain things to you. This will save you from worrying too much.
- Do not overwork yourself
Log off at the right time you’re supposed to stop working. I was not very good at this when I was working in the office because sometimes you get so engrossed in your stories you forget about the time, but I made it a point to do this while working from home. It helps make sure you don’t get burnt out. I personally would like to follow this even when I’m back in the office — whenever that might be.
- If you need help, reach out
It does not matter what kind of help it is—do you need podcasts and book suggestions, virtual yoga class links, cat photos. I have friends who reach out to ask for cat photos to help them get through the day. I am very happy to share Hank’s “what-do-you-mean-it’s-Monday” face. So please reach out if cat photos and videos cheer you up, or follow Hank on Instagram and follow me on Twitter.
- Please be kind
The times are stressful which can make us anxious and emotional. We all have different challenges—though they may vary in type and scale—so please consciously remember to be kind. Part of being kind is not hoarding food or other medical necessities. At a time when we’re unsure when this pandemic will be over (or all the time, really), let’s be a blessing to others by being kind.
This is quite a long list now—so maybe let’s start with these tips. Hopefully, this can help you. Please reach out to me if I can be of help in this crazy time. I would reply to you the soonest that I can (and when my headspace can handle). I’ll see you on the other side when this storm is over.
Please take care,