Like many of us, I’ve recently and suddenly found myself working from home. While the work I’m doing is pretty different these days, working from home is bringing back memories of writing my dissertation on fellowship. With nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I would spend days (and nights) hunched over my laptop.
Note that I didn’t say “hunched over my laptop writing.” That’s because an obsessive, all-work-and-no-play approach to productivity doesn’t, in the end, make you very productive. In fact, it’s a trap: having fewer immediate distractions makes it seem like you should be more productive, but it can actually make it harder. You’re more prone to burning out, to finding diversions that seem productive but don’t give you a break (like reading just one more article), to feeling bad that you haven’t done as much as you thought you would even if what you thought you would do couldn’t be done under any circumstances.
And in these circumstances, new and unusual as they are, with bigger worries lurking around the edges...that’s all the more true. For the moment, try to make progress on your work if doing so will feel good. But don’t expect miracles and be okay with being okay.
Overall, just be kind to yourself, and consider embracing these practices as a way of doing so:
Take Breaks: Whether you schedule breaks at particular times of the day, or take them as needed when you’re feeling blah, walk away from your work occasionally. That could be literal (take a walk—or a run!) or figurative (meditate, water your plants, stare out a window), just get your mind and your eyes and your hands off your computer or book.
Stretch: While you’re at it, use some of that break time to stretch. Even without any added stress, periods of intense focus often mean periods of cramped muscles. Roll your shoulders and touch your toes. Or do a little yoga to loosen up.
Make and Keep Boundaries: One of the biggest downsides of working in your home is that boundaries between work and the rest of your life get harder to enforce. I recommend thinking about boundaries in two ways: space and time. Designate particular spots in your home for work (and if you can avoid it, try not to work in your bed). And each day, set a time at which you will stop working—then stick to it.
The most important thing you can do right now isn’t being super productive in your work. It’s taking care of yourself. So take a breath and be patient while you figure out how best to do that while working at home.
Derek Attig is the Director of Career Development for the Graduate College. After earning a PhD in History here at Illinois, Derek worked in nonprofit communications and instructional development before joining the Career Development team. A devotee of libraries and all things peculiar, Derek is currently writing a book about bookmobiles.