Like many of you who will read this, at the time of drafting this post I am sheltering at home due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Shortly before the proverbial shit hit the fan, I did manage a weekend away, only to return home to what I can best describe as fluid chaos. On my first day back to work, I was sent home with a box of folders and a laptop. It would be two more days before our Governor passed an executive order to shut down non-essential businesses. As I’m sure many of you did, I spent the first few days filling in the holes of my cupboards and taking inventory of what we had. Suffice it to say, we hadn’t done a thorough shopping in months, so it took us two days to stock up. That was an adventure of another sort. For any of you who were forced out to shop, you will know exactly what I mean. #ToiletPaper!
Anyway, last week was my first “full” week working from home, and by the time you read this I will have another under my “quarantine” belt. Others in my family have now been sent home and are now what I lovingly refer to as my new “coworkers.” For those who are used to working from home, I am sure not much has changed for you (although I am sure your coworkers are home way more than is typical and perhaps desired). That said, for those of us that it has been thrust upon, it takes a bit of getting used to (especially considering the aforementioned coworkers). It didn’t take me long to figure out what was going to work best for me moving forward. Since it looks as though we will have another few weeks of this (at least), I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned and tricks I’ve used to get through some times when my creative stores have been run pretty dry.
Add In Some Routine
It took me a full three days of unfocused waffling to realize that what I was missing was my routine. Yes, it is amazing to be able to work in your jammies, but sometimes it’s better for your mental health and well-being to take a shower and put on some clothes. If you have ever been sick in bed for three days you will know what I mean. That first time getting up and getting your grooming on can really make all the difference. I know it made me feel infinitely better.
I also realized that I needed to make my bed in the morning. Now I know there are many on one side or the other of the bed making fence, but I find that I personally feel less stressed if I make it before my day starts. It took me a couple of days to realize that was exactly why things felt “off” for me. The first morning I got up and did that before getting a shower, was the first day I ended up feeling as if I had a handle on things.
Now you don’t have to commit to making your bed, especially those who don’t currently do it or that have new “coworkers” who are on a perpetual coffee break. Those folks tend to mess up the newly made bed around siesta time anyway, just sayin’. But it is more important than ever to find the way to continue your routine and not allow forced seclusion to disrupt your day. Routine can bring you a level of comfort and sense of peace that is surprising. So, if exercise is your thing, get outside for a walk. Like yoga? Do it in your living room. There is video for writers you can find here. Like to paint or sculpt? Be sure to continue to make the time for it! Keeping your routine, as best you can, is definitely going to benefit your state of mind.
Stay Consistent With Work Hours
I spent the first few days at home setting up my office and getting adjusted to the remote access I was expected to work with. There was a learning curve for me, and with everything else that was going on my anxiety was through the roof. My first rule of “Write Club” is to “know thyself” and if I know nothing else about DA it is that any kind of change (or break in my routine) freaks me out. What was helpful during the first few days of adjustment was the thought (and mental reassurance) that I would eventually get it. Because what I also know about myself is that I can figure stuff out. Even if I end up taking the long road home, I will eventually get there.
“I’ve written and self-published 5 books for crying out loud, I can learn how to make this work!”Quote from verbal conversation I had with myself – DA Henneman
The same morning I had the “aha” moment about keeping a routine, I realized that in order to keep my sanity I needed to mirror a normal workday as closely as possible. What that meant is setting an alarm, getting ready and clocking in for my shift by 8 a.m. The harder part was clocking out at 5 p.m. when folks were just getting back to my inquiries, but had I been at work, I would have left for the day like my feet were on fire. I put myself in the same mental state for work at home. Not the feet on fire thing, but the leave at 5 p.m. thing. 🙂 As we all know, the list of things to do will still be there the next day, and the day after that, and so on, and so on…
My office is a work in progress and while it was the best place for me to hide away for my “workday,” the folding chair I had in there wasn’t cutting it for a 8-hour shift. We got creative with the chairs in the house and I am using something that doesn’t really fit in the room. That said, it is way more comfortable to sit in for any length of time. Make sure that you keep that in mind when setting your space up, your back will thank you. I also made use of the bed which you can’t see in that picture. I have the files I am working on spread out, and a tote with things that I need access to right beside it. When I write creatively during the week, I sometimes do it on my laptop in another room so I don’t feel like I am still at “work.”
Make Use Of Technology
My critique group meets every other Friday at our local library but, due to the current situation, our library is closed until further notice. One of my critique partners arranged a Google Hangout for our last meeting. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it allows you to have a number of folks on one screen and you can all see and hear each other during your chat. Along the same lines as Skype. It also allows you to share your computer screen, which is really helpful if you are working on a joint project. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing my friends and family until that first meeting. What a joy it was to see their smiling faces and to continue the work that we know and love in that time we had together.
There are several meeting tools out there that those who work from home are probably familiar with, GoTo Meeting, FaceTime and Google Hangout just to mention a few. At the time of this posting, Zoom is coming up against some criticism for privacy issues, but that is also an option folks seem to be using as well. For those who haven’t used any of these tools, give one a try! You can have writing sessions, a virtual happy hour, or manage a quick call to shoot the breeze. Hearing your friend or loved one’s voice and seeing their faces can really help lift your mood in this time of social distancing. Also, using technology to continue the things that you did as a matter of routine, can really help give you a sense of control over your situation.
Write When You Can
This is the thing that I have had the hardest time with. There were (still are) a lot of real life issues tugging at the tiny bit of spare time I did have. The first full week at home was mentally and physically exhausting, and I found that at the end of the work day I couldn’t handle much more than playing video games or watching movies. You know… Zot mode. Most of what I do at work is on the technical writing end of things, so the thought of staying on the computer any longer than the 9 hours I was already putting in made me want to cry. As the week went on and I kept my routines, it did get better. I am writing this on the first day off I have had since taking my laptop home, and after getting a full night’s sleep. I slept half the day away if I’m honest and I am feeling much better about things now. If you are feeling stressed try a nap or going to bed early. Sleep can be extremely restorative.
During that first week instead of writing, I managed some research for a blog post series I have in mind. I also did some future project planning, watched YouTube videos, printed articles (so I could read them before bedtime and avoid screen time) and planned out my posts. I found that writing my feelings down in my journal when things were particularly bad helped me work through them and help curb my creative writing muse from getting too antsy. What I found is, it isn’t necessarily what I am writing, but that I am writing at all that matters. I am the type of person who has several projects going at one time, and finding the time to lay hands on each one and re-prioritize them was crucial. Now that things have settled down and I’ve taken inventory of my projects and goals, getting back into a morning writing habit will be my next step.
Much like my regular work day, I did need to remind myself to take a lunch. That is still a great time to squeeze a little writing or editing in. If you are able to, you can also dictate as your day moves along. I recently purchased Word 365 and have the app on my smart phone, so it is easy enough to pull up an empty document and dictate. The dictation on my IPhone doesn’t seem to be too bad, and I am able to get a manageable rough draft with a few simple commands like “New Paragraph” and “Comma.” This might be a good way for you to keep track of your stray thoughts throughout the day, and who knows, you could end up with a pretty decent word count of stray thoughts that would have otherwise not been gathered.
The Creative Penn is my go-to resource for all things writing, and if you aren’t already listening to her podcast you really should check it out. Here is a great place to start if you are interested in dictation, or you can link to her website below.
How have you worked writing into your routine, and what things have you found to benefit your time at home during the pandemic? Leave me a comment below and let me know, even if it is only to say hello from your part of the world. Stay safe everyone, and I hope that those who are writing manage to find solace in the act of putting words to a page in an uncertain world. The second rule of “Write Club” is, be kind to yourself. XO
Articles & Sites that you may be helpful:
The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Daily Routine by: Blurt Team
Top 10 Best Group Meeting Apps by: Pavel Kukhnavets
10 Ways to Make Working from Home More Productive by: Jeff Haden
10 Top Health Benefits of A Good Night’s Sleep by: Mark Stibich, PhD
The Creative Penn Website – by: Joanna Penn