I never felt the need to escape more than when I was teleworking. Every small outing to grocery stores, car appointments, or walks around the same neighborhood, felt strangely liberating. Telework, although easy on car maintenance bills, created a felling of isolation especially in my one-bedroom apartment. Our current concepts of “home” are created with different uses in mind. Homes become places we sleep, places we eat, places we entertain, places we watch premier movies, and now places we work. These spaces became overburdened as we attach more functions and blur the lines between work and relaxation. As a result, I needed to learn how to function in a multifaceted space. In doing so, I have learned three valuable lessons to not only keep my sanity, but to thrive productively.
Lesson One: Create a Defined Office Space
Perhaps the hardest lesson I learned and even harder to implement. My daily schedule looked like this: wake up, grab a cup of coffee, jump back into bed, and start my workday. After a couple of hours, I moved to the floor and used my trunk as a desk and pillows as a chair. Think how uncomfortable this becomes after a couple of hours. Not only did this schedule effect my sleeping patterns but I was less productive. I did this for the better part of three months until enough was enough and I needed a better solution. Eventually, I acquired a quasi-desk and set up a tiny work square in my living area. This simple step helped improve my sleep habits. Whereas before I woke up with night sweats and stress dreams, now I slept all night. It took another month for me to transition into this new flow, but I am glad that I made the change. Moving from the bedroom made telework less dreadful and more productive.
Lesson Two: Think of Yourself
If you know me, I think of myself a lot. Not in an unbearable way, but I have a flaw of putting me above everything else. Therefore, this was nothing I needed to learn but I needed to reevaluate. When I had a typical 4 AM – 2 PM or 9 AM – 5 PM schedule, I could navigate time away from work productively. When telework began, I tried to keep my old schedule but to no avail. It was hard to separate “work” time from “personal growth” time because everything occurred in the same space and by “quitting time” I was mentally drained – this did not occur pre-telework. The change I made came from a recorded talk about productivity in college students and laid out the 35/5 rule. Clearly stated, the 35/5 rule is study for 35 minutes and then step away for 5 minutes. If you follow this rule, one will productively work just under seven hours in an eight-hour workday. According to this talk, those who followed the 35/5 rule were more actively engaged than those who did not take a five-minute break to recharge.
Following the 35/5 rule helped me avoid mental fatigue, avoid headaches from staring at multiple screens all day, and reposition my body to improve my posture and flexibility. I never realized the impact telework could take on someone accustom to working in an office setting, and conversely, the small actions that positively affected productivity levels until I worked from home.
As a final thought, create safe workplace and personal boundaries. In our world of digital mediums, it is easy to always be “on call.” Remember, it is ok to not answer a phone call, an email, or text message when you are off the clock. Your mental health is more important than working non-stop.
Lesson Three: Nutrition and Hydration
How many of you have gotten so focused that you find yourselves entranced in the work you are doing? How many of you when you emerge from this tunnel vision see the time and think, “I forgot to eat, but I am not that hungry so I will move on”? Same. This may seem like an obvious lesson, but I cannot tell you how many times I forgot to eat a meal or fill up my water bottle because I was in “the zone.” My advice: remember to eat and drink your water. What we put into our bodies helps us function. If there is no sustenance, frustration levels rise (hangry), and work suffers. Remember to eat balanced. I like kale, broccoli, and carrots as staple vegetables and berries, apples, and bananas as my go-to morning fruits. These foods are energizing and provide necessary nutrients to happy functioning bodies.
Don’t skip the water. How many have heard the idiom to drink 64 ounces of water a day? How many get that amount? On some days I have failed to reach 64 ounces and it caused minor levels of dehydration to take effect. I suffered headaches, fatigue, and dizziness because I forgot to satisfy my thirst. As a result, you guessed it, work suffered. I noticed that my hydration levels started to become more routine especially after following the 35/5 rule, but another hack is to always keep a water bottle beside you and the moment you take your last sip, fill it up. If all else fails, listen to your body, it will tell you when you need water.
For most, teleworking provided a steep learning curve – I am looking at you Nathan – and that learning curve became hard to manage. However, as you can tell, I tracked things that worked for me and noticed improvements throughout my workday! I encourage each of you, especially if you are struggling with adapting to new work cycles, take a moment and have a conversation with yourself and find techniques that will help you make changes you wish to see in yourself. Listen to your mind, your body, and your energy levels, all will point you in the right direction for success!
Written by: Nathan Varnold, Community Volunteer Ambassador- Fort Monroe National Monument