Upon starting my job, I received some things that I had never had for a job before. A cell phone and a laptop were among the bigger items. My employer expected me to be able to help my participants wherever they are because well, many of them don’t have homes. My job was the first one I’ve had wherein remote working was the expectation and where spending most of the day in your car was the norm. I was relieved! For the first time, I got to really set my own schedule, which was a dream come true since I had little ones who not only were in school but also had extra-curriculars and therapy appointments after school let out. So not only was I working for a non-profit in the city serving a vulnerable population so close to home for me, I also could wear cool clothes to work, be paid for the miles I drove for work, and had the option of working anywhere I needed to. I had done it! I had found my dream job! God truly does provide!
But now, we’ve all been ordered to stay at home for the unforeseeable future (right now DC is until May 15 but let’s be real, no one is going anywhere by or on the 15th). And since March, I have been adjusting to working from home with everyone else in my house doing their school work from home as well. I’m telling you… it has been anything but ideal. Somehow, I am still trying to figure out how to make this whole thing work. I realize that school will be out soon and with summer beginning, I’m going to have to learn how to be productive with work while entertaining three kids during what looks to be a long summer vacation at home.
The one thing that we lack as a military family is space. We live in housing offered on base which is assigned according to the service member’s marital status, number of dependents, and his or her rank. Norman’s rank puts us in a four bedroom row house with a very open concept downstairs. There is not one room downstairs with a lock on it, except the front door and our tiny powder room. Besides, that is where my children have taken over while doing their school work. I have been pushed to my bedroom because it is the only room in the house with a lock that has the most appropriate space for doing work. But my bedroom is not an office. I have no desk in this room nor appropriate surface for my computer. Most days, I sit in the bed with the computer in my lap, or put my computer down on a rolling plastic storage bin that houses my lotions and perfumes. Not ideal. And it reeks havoc on my poor back.
So what to do? I have read endless articles about how we who are lucky enough to work from home can make it work successfully. How can we stay productive and motivated in a space designed for comfort and relaxing. At home is where we take our shoes off, both figuratively or if you’re like me, literally. And work? Well, sometimes that can be a place that causes the most stress, where calendars and schedules are at the forefront. Where meeting deadlines is a must must. How can we be expected to blend the two for very long without going crazy? How will it be possible to continue working from home with the kids finishing homeschooling soon? How can we find a private area in which to do work that promotes work and comfort?
Here are some ideas I’ve tried, and that has worked, for making working from home work for the long haul (because we are going to be doing this for a while, friends.)
- Set a schedule: This is my favorite thing to do even in our pre-pandemic days. I love a good routine, and I have at least five or six different planners and calendars that prove it. Since routines have seemingly blended into one big blob of days these days, it is still important, if not more so, to have some clear expectations of what the day should look like. This helps to keep my family on task and organized and also helps give me an good idea of when I can be most productive for my work and when I can take it a little easier.
- But don’t overdo it: Our brains are taking on a lot right now. Our minds are constantly going with respect to everything going on. We are all under more stress than normal. It is so important that you respect yourself during this time and if you can help it, not to schedule a huge amount of work for your day. While respecting deadlines, it is still possible to be mindful of the amount of work you put into everyday. Allow yourself the grace and space to get the important things done while holding off on the things that can wait. This is great advice for home responsibilities as well. I am the type of person that if I see something that needs to be done, my brain will tell me to do it. Don’t put off til tomorrow what can be done today, right? But I have tried to be mindful of the fact that we are not going anywhere anytime soon, soooo if there are dishes in the sink in the morning, is it really necessary to get them done right then? Or can it wait until the evening? The same thinking should apply to work. When work is done, turn the phone off, close the lap top and put them both out of view. It can wait until tomorrow. Trust me.
- Put your priorities in order and advocate for them. Helping my children with their schoolwork is very important to me. But because the older ones are going on 9 and 10, it is also important they learn independence. I have prioritized my work most days because I am demonstrating my own responsibilities to my job to my children. It would not be appropriate to stop what I am doing constantly to help them or ensure that work is being completed. In letting them be on their own, I am teaching them to be accountable for their own work. I am also teaching myself to trust that I’ve done a good enough job in teaching them that accountability. Furthermore, I can avoid disruptions to my own responsibilities that I have to my job but continuing my work without answering tot he every whim of my kids. Don’t know how to spell a word or what a word means? Look it up in the dictionary. Don’t understand what the assignment entails? Send a message to your teacher on Teams. Need to get into the bedroom where I’m working because you don’t know the password to the Chromebook so the baby can join her morning meeting? Ask what it is the night before and write it down! During the day, my work comes first, and I had to have “Come to Jesus” meetings with my family to remind them of that. Unless you are bleeding out or can’t breathe or there is a 11 foot gator that has somehow escaped the Florida sun and has backpacked his way to DC to break into our kitchen, don’t bother me!!!
- Invest in items that will stimulate productivity. In the days before this pandemic, I was a heavier writer than I have been recently (for shame) and I had thought for a moment about investing in a lap desk which would be helpful for the nights in bed that I had the urge to get out my Chromebook and write. I never took the plunge however, thinking it was a waste of money. However since working from home, I have found that having the right tools at home to increase productivity wasn’t such a bad idea and might be worth the money. I was buying up everything on amazon anyway so what’s one more thing that will go to good use. Having a lap desk and a pair of noise cancelling headphones has been a lifesaver. Sometimes, my family doesn’t seem to know that I am working (although I’m clearly on my work computer, sigh) and will try to engage in conversation with me or play music in the same vicinity while I work. Having these things at my disposal is more of a clue to leave me alone! Also, it helps with keeping my legs from burning up and gives me a more organized, quiet space to complete my work with everything I need at my disposal. I also have a space for snacks if need be! And if we are in quarantine for much longer, I think a standing desk might be a nice treat yo’self gift to myself.
- Turn your space into a productive (and calming) one. This can be tricky for those of us who live in smaller spaces, who may not have a dedicated office with a door that locks. But it’s still important to create the illusion of a dedicated work space. I do this by using the items mentioned above. I’m also a big fan of essential oils. There are some great blends that can be very helpful in maintaining focus and positive energy. I have essential oil diffusers in just about every area of my house and they have been excellent, and affordable, resources for maintaining calm in a space that can easily give way to frustration (one concept living isn’t great for working and homeschooling from home). I have found that diffusing different oils together can bring the calm and the focus to an otherwise overwhelming shared environment.
- Educate yourself and enhance your skills. Because many of us spend a good portion of our day driving from participant to participant and that has now been taking out of the equation some of my co-workers including myself have found it tricky to fill out a traditional 8 hours of work while at home. One of the things I have been doing to fill the time is to engage in online trainings and webinars to further my education and knowledge as it pertains to my specific position. I have sought out a number of organizations that engage in the same kind of advocacy that my job does and searched for any training opportunities that they might be providing at this time. It’s also possible to do a Google search or even ask co-workers or bosses if they know of any trainings that can be done right now. Not only does this show initiative but it shows employers that you are doing what you can to stay engaged and connected and are dedicated to becoming an even better employee. It’s also something positive to put on your resume because how we spent our working time during this pandemic might end up being a question in future job interviews. You never know!
- Stay mobile. And take breaks. Usually, most jobs have you sitting at a desk all day with maybe three breaks during the day. Perhaps the most unique thing about being at home right now is the freedom to move around your space, doing your work in different areas. If you have to stay put, find time in your days to take breaks. I enjoy running and never had much of a chance to do it during the weekdays when I was reporting to an office. But now that I’m home, having the freedom to do what I want when I want has really enhanced my work quality. I am more relaxed now when I start my day because I have had the time to meditate or workout before opening my laptop. I can take a longer lunch now if need be, or having lunch with a non co-working friend via Teams or Zoom to help ease the tension of work which isn’t always possible in the office. As much as the balancing of everything can be overwhelming at times, it is just as pleasant to know that my day truly can be what I make it.
This working from home thing is new for many of us and that has made it tricky. But even when the days get away from me sometimes, and I feel the stress that sharing the same working space as living space as school space for my children can bring, I try to remember how blessed I really am that I have the option to work from home. There are many people who have to go into a building to earn their keep, whether it’s walking into a busy hospital, or reporting to a grocery store to ensure the stocks stay filled with food, or starting the day in a warehouse to fulfill hundreds of orders that piled in from the night before. There are so many of us still who have lost their jobs, or who have struggled to find one from before all this happened. This is a time to pause and to reflect on what’s really important in life. For me, I have realized the difference between what needs to get done and what can wait. Grace and gratitude are, and will continue to be, the values I choose and hold on to every day. What will yours be?