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Opinion: Working at home without losing your mind 

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By Ahriana Platten

For the most part, I have been home for 14 days. Someone I had been in close proximity with two weeks ago fell ill and went to the hospital. He was admitted and tested for COVID-19, which resulted in me being placed in quarantine.

Although my friend’s test came back negative about six days later, I had already set everything up to work from home, so I have continued to do so. Here is what I’ve noticed:

1. I am having trouble remembering what day it is.
2. Time is a more “loose” reality. I have to check the clock to see where I am in the day.
3. My husband and my son are here with me. We are all working from home which means we have to juggle how we use Zoom because of our internet speed, who is talking on the phone and at what volume, and how we have private conversations. I am missing the silence and privacy afforded by my quiet office, and the stillness in which I normally think through and organize my work each day.
4.
My phone is ringing much more often. Some family members and friends who are not able to work at home think I am available at any time because, after all, I am home too…which, in the past, has meant availability.
5.
I feel obligated to answer calls because I am home – and that is throwing my regular routine off kilter.
6. My day doesn’t end because I am not ending it to ‘go home.’ I am working several hours longer than I normally would – partially because of the phone calls, partially because of the surge in Zoom meetings required to work with others to develop new systems for accomplishing tasks, and partially because there is no real marker for the end of the day.
7. My sleep schedule is very irregular, probably because I am not creating an end to my day and moving into a time of relaxation. I am working later and resting less.
8. My home is not as peaceful as I normally find it. It feels like a place of work rather than my personal sanctuary.

Some of you have received a stay-at-home order and are just beginning this work-at-home journey. Others may find themselves working from home in the near future. Here are some steps I am going to take to change things up a bit. Maybe these suggestions will be useful for you:

  • Adjust your computer to display the day, date and time.

  • When others in your home are using the internet or speaking on phone calls, take the opportunity to get up from your work space, walk outside, go into another room, or simply take a short break.

  • Each day, set up a time to chat with those who are sharing work-space with you. We are doing this at the end of the day so we can better plan for the next day. Agree to times that may be noisy with work – and agree to quiet times for work that requires concentration. Do your best to schedule around these times.

  • Change your phone message. Mine now says “Thanks for your call. Working from home is challenging and I am doing my best to communicate with everyone and also to establish a routine for completing daily tasks. I’ll call you back as soon as I am able.”

  • Set an alarm for the end of your day – on the stove, on your computer or phone – or use your home alarm clock. When the alarm goes off, finish what you need to finish - and stop. Really stop. Go wash your face, (for me that is kind of like washing off my day), go outside and re-enter your home if that helps. Exercise a bit. Stretch. Do something different from work.

  • Finally, create a work-space and work in it. When you are done working, put things away. Find a comfortable place in your house to relax and do not work there if you can avoid it. Create separation between work-space and relaxation space.

  • When you are done working, make small changes that make your home feel more like home. Change the lighting. Fill your home with the fragrance of good food. Turn on music you love. Burn incense or use essential oils. Curl up with a good book and snuggly blanket. Do anything that brings you comfort, peace – and a sense you are home.

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