Let’s face it, when making their career plans no one could have foreseen our current world situation. For most, those plans have been put on hold for a while. The need to safeguard our health, the health of our loved ones, and that of the most vulnerable in our society has superseded virtually all other concerns. But as we concentrate our efforts on social distancing by working from home, often in a reduced capacity, we can still maintain a healthy career path.
Finding a Healthy Career Path
Many of us are now working from home, outside the restrictions of the office and away from the supervision of hovering bosses. So it’s easy to let our work habits and lifestyle fall prey their own kind of illness. This Working from Home Syndrome can sneak up on us before we realize it. Before we’re even aware we’re suffering symptoms, WFHS can do irreparable damage to our career plans by compromising our productivity, work ethic, and professional reputation.
As with anything, maintaining a healthy career path in these troubled times requires vigilance.
Recognizing the following early warning signs and symptoms of this syndrome goes a long way toward protecting our future goals from the current crisis.
So, you have a project, report, or other task that’s due by the end of the day Friday. But all week long, you just haven’t been able to work on it consistently. If you have older kids, they need help with their homeschooling. Younger children? They appreciate your constant attention. The dog, anxious to go outside, won’t stop staring at you. Bored friends call just to chat. And then there’s social media… beckoning… whispering, “come to me… just for a few minutes.”
30 Facebook comments, 40 Twitter responses, and about a hundred YouTube videos of puppies and kittens later, the clock reads 2:00 PM on Friday afternoon and the project remains half finished. That’s when you hear the voice… that quiet, seductive voice in the back of your mind saying, “Hey, that’s three hours away! We can catch another episode of Tiger King and still have two whole hours!”
Don’t listen to the voice. The voice is bad.
A lot of people like to believe they do their best work under pressure. At least, that’s how we fool ourselves. In truth, when we put things off until the last minute, we lose valuable time necessary to review and revise our work. Without that time, our work can lack the polish and professionalism others expect. So, turn off the phone, disconnect from social media, set a time to work with the kids and walk the dog. Then set boundaries and stick to your schedule to promote a healthy career.
We’ve all experienced the rush job. Your supervisor drops a project on your desk and says, “I need this by tomorrow.” Well, “by tomorrow” is a pretty well-defined time frame when we’re working in the office from 9 to 5. When we’re working from home, however, it can be a bit vague. Exactly what time tomorrow?
Unless you work in a structured field that requires contact with others during business hours, the flexibility of working from home can be dangerously seductive. With no commute and no set start time, you may feel inclined to sleep late and work in the evening. Especially now that there’s nowhere else to go. Before you know it, you find yourself sitting in front of your computer at 4:00 AM and the neighbors are wondering why your lights are on all night.
Sure, you may think of yourself as a night owl. But in truth you’ve become a vampire.
When all this ends… and it will end eventually… you might find yourself burned by the sunlight. In other words, making the transition back to working 9 to 5 could be more difficult than you think. When your office reopens, you might find yourself sluggish and unproductive in the morning. Even worse, your supervisors and colleagues might notice. After all, research has shown that a lack of sunlight results in low levels of vitamin D that can lead to fatigue and depression that can ruin a healthy career.
So, set that alarm clock. Rise and shine. Start your day with a healthy breakfast. After a relaxing evening, go to bed at a reasonable hour and get a good night’s rest. That way, you won’t have to worry about your neighbor showing up at your door with a crucifix and a wooden stake.
ADOLASD (Attention Deficit “Oh Look, A Squirrel” Disorder)
In most cases, an office is a controlled environment specifically designed to be conducive to work. That’s just not the case when you’re working from home. Faced with the monotony of repetitive tasks, the mind can be easily distracted by everything from neighborhood sounds to that overly busy upholstery pattern on the sofa your roommate insisted on buying. Like the drapes my wife bought. I was like, wow… that’s really ugly, why would anyone… wait… where were we?
Anyway, we all have days where we can’t seem to focus. When we work from home, those days come more often than we’d like. Whether it’s fatigue, distractions, lack of motivation, or something else entirely, the lack of structure, along with comfortable, familiar surroundings, can make it even easier for our minds to wander. Eventually, our inability to focus erodes our productivity.
It’s important to take a break now and then, especially when you feel your mind beginning to wander. Take a moment to splash some water on your face, enjoy a strong cup of coffee, meditate, or exercise to get that adrenaline pumping. It can also be useful to create a workspace that reduces distractions, away from windows with a direct view to the busy world outside, televisions, and – yes – the ugly upholstery and drapes you would have never chosen.
Do you ever feel like the walls are closing in? The room is getting smaller, and smaller. And smaller. The longer you work from home, the more you feel like all you have to do is reach out and you could touch both walls, the ceiling, the floor… all at the same time!
Don’t worry. You haven’t eaten some strange mushroom and your cat really isn’t smiling at you. The truth is, we’re used to living our lives in at least two places (work and home). So when we’re confined to just one room in one place with no one to talk to, the lack of stimulation can make our senses cave in on us. Eventually, we can feel trapped… like a mime in a box. This is not conducive to healthy career.
But the thing is, the mime isn’t trapped. And neither are you. Ask the mime: There is no box. It’s just an illusion.
Try setting up alternate workstations… in the living room, on the back porch, or in the kitchen. Then alternate between these stations throughout the day. And even though safety is essential right now, you can still step outside for breath of fresh air. Lie on the grass in the backyard and watch the clouds. Or take a short walk around the block. (Of course, be sure to wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others).
And if you see a white rabbit with a pocket watch while you’re out, well… you’re in trouble.
We live in unprecedented times. Our lives have changed in ways we can’t even comprehend yet. Thankfully, the option to work from home allows many of us to maintain a healthy career path. With a little vigilance, we can easily avoid the pitfalls and traps that working from home can create and keep our career plans on track.
To all those who don’t have the option to stay home, essential workers in health care, public safety, sanitation, food distribution, etc… we, at YouTern, salute you and thank you for the risks you take every day to keep us all safe, healthy, and protected.
About the Author: Ron Damon is a writer, editor, actor, poet, and social media enthusiast. A former teacher of English and Theater, Ron now concentrates on writing and editing full time. He has been a contributor to The Savvy Intern and other career advice blogs for over 4 years.