How to Work Best From Home During a Pandemic

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By Melanie Padgett Powers

As a freelance writer and editor, I’ve been working from my home office for nearly seven years. However, this is different. We’re living in surreal and scary times. Now is not just about how to work effectively from home, but about managing the related coronavirus anxiety, fear and sadness as we try to be productive.

First, be kind to yourself. Don’t feel as if you have to maintain your previous levels of productivity. There may be days when you feel more anxious or scared than usual—or you have to deal with the now stressful practicalities of getting groceries or checking on a neighbor or family member.

Give yourself a break and work as much as you need to, while also being gentle and aware of your own feelings. I remind myself of this daily. Sometimes I work all day and am uber productive, while other days I want to just cry or sleep. Check out more tips on how to cope with anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic with this interview I did with a mental health therapist for my Deliberate Freelancer podcast.

Here are some work-from-home tips:

Create your own inviting workspace. If you don’t have an at-home office, create a space somewhere where you can work quietly from your laptop. Make it inviting—that might mean clearing the clutter, bringing in candles or cozy pillows, hanging peaceful photos or putting your pet’s bed near you.

Create a schedule. Don’t start sleeping in. Start work at the same time every day and aim to work until a certain time—recognizing that your mental health that day may require you to take more frequent breaks or stop earlier.

Create a start-the-day routine. This could mean fixing coffee or tea and taking it into your office area. Perhaps use a meditation app to do a 10-minute meditation or breathing exercise. Create this routine and it will soon become a welcome habit.

Embrace the comfort. While I recommend showering and changing out of pajamas every morning, you can change into clean pajamas or sweatpants. My work-from-home uniform is sweatpants, a T-shirt with sweatshirt and slippers all day, every day. Women, you don’t have to do your hair and put on makeup! Just be sure to look presentable for those scheduled video meetings.

Wear headphones. Even when it’s quiet and I’m the only one in the house, I put on headphones and listen to Mozart, especially when I need to concentrate. Choose instrumental music of your choice—movie soundtracks are great. It will put you in a “time to work” frame of mind, plus block out noises.

Limit your news consumption and social media. Turn off all news and social media notifications on your phone. Set a timer for 10-minute social media breaks and then get back to work. 

Take breaks during the day. A good rule of thumb is that for every hour you work, take a 5- to 10-minute break. Step away from the computer and take a non-digital break. You’ll move a lot less when you’re at home, so it’s important to get up and stretch, do some yoga. Have a dance party and jump around the room to loud, fun music.

Exercise when you can. There will naturally be less activity when you’re “commuting” from your bedroom to the kitchen to your office and back. Get outdoors, even if it’s to stretch your legs in front of your house or apartment building. Take walks around the block. Start your day with a jog or walk. There are plenty of ways to move while social distancing.

Connect with others. Introverts and extroverts alike need human interaction, though the amount may vary. While we can’t meet up with people, we have all this amazing technology to support social distancing. Before you begin to feel isolated, go ahead and schedule virtual coffee breaks and online book clubs now via Zoom, Skype or FaceTime.

Drink water. Fill up a water bottle and keep it at your desk. With less movement and less time outdoors, you’ll forget to hydrate. Hydration is important for our energy, physical health and mental health.

Create an end-of-the day routine and a set stop time. When you work from home, it’s too easy to just keep working all night long. You need to stop at some point. Set a timer for 15 minutes before you should stop and then start to wind down the work day. Make sure you did everything you HAD to do that day. Then, write a short to-do list for the next day. Shut down your laptop and leave your phone in the other room. Then, go have some leisure time and don’t go back to work that night.

Working from home isn’t for everyone, but unfortunately right now everyone is doing it. Embrace it and create a comfortable, relaxing environment and routine that will help you be productive and take care of your mental health.

Melanie Padgett Powers is the owner of MelEdits, a freelance writing and editing business in the Washington, DC area. She is also the at-large Executive Committee member on the AM&P Advisory Board.