The pandemic COVID-19 is taking the world into uncharted territory. We have not had the experience in our lifetimes of a mass strategy of quarantine to the extent we are seeing in our nation and around the world. There has been a complete change in our routines and schedules requiring us to adapt quickly. My family was kind enough to set up a desk in my bedroom for me, creating a quiet and serene work environment. If you do have the room to set up a in a space where you can work quietly – it is a blessing.
Routines are our brain’s way of conserving energy. A change in routine creates the need for planning and execution requiring energy. It may seem odd that it can be more difficult to get started when it requires less time to walk to a workstation in your home, than to prep and get to the office. The change in routine is where the energy goes. I often offer my patients a metaphor for behavior change in which a goblin shows up at your house while you are sleeping. The mischievous goblin moves all of your stuff around; the toothpaste is in the kitchen, your socks are in the hallway, your bath towel is under the bed, your keys are hidden in the junk drawer. At each step you have to recalibrate and find your stuff before the next task can be completed. How much energy would you have by the time you left the house? Not much. And there would be frustration. The idea is that a break in the routine requires searching functions, planning, and execution of tasks not usually encountered which leaves us tired. This is the reason for routines. It is the program running in the background. Think of a time where a break in routine left you a step or two out of sync and the impact that it had on your day.
Beyond the morning rituals, the ride into work, setting up at the workstation, and the people that are there to greet us each day become part of the programming in your brain that it is time to work. Breaks in the routine create a barrier to productivity in many instances as we have to create new patterns to get “in the zone.” These cues become part of the programming that lets your brain know that there is work to be done. The familiarity of the environment creates a space for efficiency. When working from home distractions are more evident and it will require some mindfulness to get yourself started and also to remain focused.
Here are some things that have worked for me:
- Make a space that signals your brain that this is a working environment. Separate that space in some small way if there is not a separate space in your home to work. One thing you can do is to set up a desk ornament from the office or something familiar at a countertop. Set up your computer or workstation and whatever else you might need such as a pen, scrap paper, phone, water, coffee. Make sure the lighting is sufficient or get a desk lamp to add some light. This area can be set up and broken down at the start and end of work sessions.
- Talk to you family or roommates about the importance of your work so that they know when and where you will be working. Set up some parameters to help eliminate distractions. That being said, it is also important to take breaks. One benefit of being home is that you can set aside some time to take a walk with your loved ones, or eat a meal together in the middle of the day. Schedule this time before the day begins
- Create a routine. This will help to signal your brain that it is time to work and will help you to avoid the rut of not knowing where your energy for work has gone.
- Have a list. I like to write out my goals for the day in pencil and paper. This helps me to avoid getting sucked into email or other desktop traps that give the feeling of production, but often act as distractions from the real work. Having some goals for the day listed can keep you on task.
- Ease into it. Not much happens perfectly the first time. Be mindful of what is and what is not working.