by Janelle Kihlstrom
Working from home can feel like a dream come true after many years of commuting to a shared office space, with all its constraints, distractions and lack of privacy — not to mention dealing with traffic or public transportation. However, a few months in, newly-minted work-from-homers may be finding themselves with the realization that their new situation has its hazards as well.
One challenge can be found in delineating the boundaries between work space and home space, when the place you work is in fact your own home. This may be especially challenging if there are kids in your house. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many families have had to adjust to distance learning for the first time, and in my case, I learned to juggle my writer/editor role with my teacher’s aide role for my young kids.
I found the trick was to try not to do both at precisely the same time — multitasking is overrated — but to allow myself a bit of grace in the instances when that sort of balancing act is unavoidable. There may be entire days when nothing can be done to prevent the two roles from competing. Patience with yourself and your family, taking a lot of deep breaths, and learning to triage may be the best ways to cope and keep everyone sane while you attend, one by one, to each of the things that must get done. Six months in, many of us are still learning to adjust, and that’s okay.
The allure of home’s comforts may be a challenge as well. Yes, there is a fully stocked fridge, a comfortable couch, and a widescreen TV with a limitless amount of on-demand programming just one room away, but here you are sitting at the desk in your bedroom or office typing away at a proposal or attacking yet another bug in the same lines of code.
Working from home can test your self-control. You’ll eventually learn how much of a break you can allow yourself in order to feel refreshed without getting too distracted and vulnerable to fatigue, especially if you’ve been working long hours. In other words, there’s a thin line between a power nap and the sort of nap that takes over half of your planned work hours.
There’s a reason why many people find it most productive to work in cafes, rather than in their own homes. Cafes can be too noisy for some people or too distracting for those in fields which require a very high level of concentration. For others, it’s just exactly the right amount of stimulation to keep their mind buzzing with ideas, motivation and, of course — it’s right there in the name — a steady supply of caffeine! If you’re a coffee drinker like myself, just the delicious aroma is enough to perk up your mood and give you a small burst of energy and motivation.
But if you’re someone who thrives on the sort of stimulation that cafes provide in order to keep motivated and yet, for other reasons, working from home is still a must — again, the coronavirus pandemic is an example when this became the case for many of us! — then there are ways you can tweak your own living environment to offer more in the way of motivating stimuli. Lively or mellow background music is one solution, and eye-catching surroundings are another. And why not keep a pot of coffee brewing all day?!
Take a break to chat with a friend or colleague online or by phone, to get in your dose of water-cooler socialization. For extroverts (I hear) this is a way to keep up morale and get through the day. If you want to go all out on making your home into an office-away-from-office, place some doughnuts (or healthier snacks) in the “break room” next door, a.k.a. your kitchen table, and reward yourself when you’ve checked a major item off your workday to-do list.
At the end of the day, there’s probably a good reason you made the work-from-home choice, whether it was by design or necessity, and although there are some pluses to having a commute (reading time on the train, unwinding time in your car with your favorite podcast) it’s hard to argue with having that extra 15 minutes to two-plus hours to do whatever you want, even if you end up listening to that podcast or reading that book from the comfort of your living room. It certainly has been a time to learn and explore what works for you, and what doesn’t. And that’s something to be glad for!
Written by Janelle Kihlstrom
Janelle Kihlstrom is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a published poet and founder of an online literary journal. She holds an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She has edited, contributed to and assisted in the production of books, white papers, websites, and articles for organizations such as Carousel30, Yes&, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, and American Journal Experts. Her book reviews have appeared in the Iowa Review, and she has published poems in various literary journals, along with a poetry chapbook that appeared in 2011, with a second forthcoming later this year. She lives with her partner and their two young children in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. You can connect with Janelle on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/janelle-kihlstrom-1356a1/.