As more and more people are forced to work online due to Coronavirus, how can you make sure that you look after your mental health and create clear boundaries between home and work life, especially if everything happens in the same room? I’m particularly thinking about English teachers in shared flats who don’t have a living room or another space to escape to.
- Create a very clear area that will be dedicated to work. If you are lucky this can be a desk. If not it might just be a chair that you only sit on for work or a part of a table that is for work. Be consistent and disciplined about using the space for work and nothing else.
- When you’re not working, cover this space with something so that you can’t see it, for example a blanket or a spare bed sheet. If you have something nice to decorate it with, why not add that? This might be a plant or a teddy or a cushion, something to make it a bit less obvious that it’s a work space that you’ve covered with a sheet!
- Create signs for yourself that say what you’re doing at each part of the day. This might be teach, admin, relax, chat. Put the sign somewhere obvious so that you can see it regularly to help you remember which phase of your day you’re in. Use your down time to make the signs look pretty.
- Create a routine for ‘going to work’. For example, walk backwards and forwards in your room 10 times, ritually remove the sheet from the workspace, and then sit at your chair. If you have a slightly larger living space, for example a separate kitchen or living room, walk out of your working space and back into it a few times before you start your working day. Reverse the routine for ‘leaving work’.
- Other routines could also be useful. Include routines for breaks, exercise, and regular meals. If you have the possibility of going outside, think carefully about when to incorporate this in your routine so that you got the maximum benefit from it. If you have options about when to do this, Crowdscience says that an hour of daylight in the morning is the most beneficial. You could also get this on a balcony if you have one. Daylight is enough, sunshine is a plus!
- Include social contact that isn’t work-related in your daily life. Put a call out your social media to find out who would like to have a video chat (if your internet is up to it). I’m sure that you will find other people in the same situation as you and not everybody will be brave enough to ask for people to chat with. Get back in touch with those friends that you haven’t spoken to for years. This is a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with people.
- If you’re working online and screen time is a problem try to keep your computer for work only and look for other things to do to entertain yourself when you’re not working. Read a book, do some sewing or repairs of your clothes, do some drawing even if you think that you’re not very good at it (this is an excellent opportunity to start practising and getting better, from somebody who also isn’t very good at it!), learn to play cards, do puzzles, build funky things out of the things in your flat and share pictures of them on social media…
- If your computer or phone are your only source of entertainment when you’re not working, clearly delineate your computer time between work and home life. At a minimum close and reopen your computer in between working and using it for home, and get up and move away from it in between too. If you can, set up different desktops with different backgrounds on your computer, one for work and one for home. Do something completely different on your computer: many places are streaming operas, plays and concerts for example. Try something you wouldn’t normally consider. Or stick to comfort films: write a list of all the things you’ve been meaning to rewatch for years and work your way through them.
- If you like music, have work music and home music. You could also use music as part of your ‘going to work’ and ‘leaving work’ routines. Have a song that gets you going before you start – listen to all of it attentively and mindfully, really focusing on all of the words. Then have another one at the end of the day which can transition you into your home time.
- If you’re not doing it already, find out about meditation and mindfulness. If you are doing it, keep on doing it! Meditation is another thing that you could use at the boundaries between home and work and also if you want to take a break during your working day.
- Start a journal of your experiences during this time, which will be very interesting for future historians and for you and your family in the future. You could also write a gratefulness journal of all of the things that you are happy are still happening or that you can still do during the quarantine period.
- During your work time, arrange some kind of staff meeting with colleagues. This will help to retain some of the benefits you get if you have a good staff room. It allows you to let off steam with people who are in the same boat as you.
- If you don’t have a staff room at the moment, there are hundreds of teachers in online communities who I suspect would be interested in meeting and talking to you. This is a way to have contact with other people, including perhaps meeting some new people. This gets different voices into your space that aren’t only your students or worried family members.
- Give yourself periods of balcony time or, if you don’t have a balcony, window time, when all you do is stare off into the distance and look at what is around you. Pay close attention to all the details that you don’t normally notice in your daily life. If you’re at the window, open it as far you can. Get some deep breaths of fresh air. Appreciate the reduction in pollution because there are so many fewer vehicles on the road!
- Have stretching breaks. Look up stretches that you can do to help you reduce potential pain in your neck, back and hips due to too much time sitting down. Plan which stretches you’re going to do during each break you take during the day. This could be one of the things you do in your routines before and after work as well.
- Have some paper next to your bed so that if you’re feeling anxious in the night or you’re listing things for the next day you can easily write it down and empty your head to help you try to get back to sleep again.
- Practise good sleep hygiene.
- Find things to laugh at. Watch stupid videos on YouTube or whatever it takes to make you laugh. Stand up when you’re laughing as well – this will vary your posture and help you fill your space with laughter more effectively.
- Make a star chart or some kind of way of recording when you have been good and stuck to your routines. Give yourself a star or a 🙂 every time you complete your ‘going to work’ routine or take a proper break or sleep for 3 hours without waking up. Whatever it is that you want to be able to do, reward yourself for it. Make the targets super achievable so you get tons of stars. Reward yourself for everything that you can and search for opportunities to be positive.
- Listen to Tom Hanks (from 12:32).
Good luck. And well done: you are doing this to help your community at large.
If you have any more ideas, please share them in the comments.