I used to dream about working from home – I pictured zeroing out my inbox, finishing a project at my local cafe, meeting a friend for lunch, and relishing a workout without having to change back into work clothes.
But now that everyone is staying indoors due to COVID-19, it’s hard to find any motivation at all. Workplaces and communities are trying to combat the stagnancy by stressing that you should keep to a routine, remove distractions, get ready each morning, and so forth. But for those of you who, like me, live in a small space – whether it’s a studio or in close corners with a roommate – these suggestions can be difficult to follow. It still feels impossible to stay productive when it feels like the walls are closing in on you. It’s something I’ve struggled with lately, so here are some solutions I’ve come up with.
I’ve rearranged my furniture.
Even though modern decorating calls for open concept floor plans, this layout can work against you when trying to be productive in a small space. There are ways to create the illusion that you have two rooms in one.
If you have a couch situated against your wall, it’s time to move it. Place your couch in the middle of the room and it will operate as a divider. If you’re in a studio, perhaps your bed goes behind the couch (along with your TV). Now, one side of the room is for resting and another side is for getting work done.
Since we are not getting outside much, we need to optimize our window space. Move your lounge chair so it is facing your window and place a bookshelf nearby. This change creates a little reading nook for you to feel like you can “get away.” Or perhaps you situate your desk by the window. This way, the view of the inside of your apartment is where you do everything besides work.
I dedicate corners of the room for different activities.
Now that there’s physical separation within your space, create mental separation as well. We’re used to sleeping, watching TV, working, and exercising in different buildings or spaces. Maintaining that, even when you don’t have much room, can help you stay productive.
Creative types can be particularly sensitive to how a given space inspires or blocks inspiration. You can apply this concept on a larger scale. Associate a section of the room with a certain energy and then dedicate that section to activities that generate that energy. When you want to clear your mind, for instance, head to your reading nook. When you want to be productive, sit at your desk. When you want to get rest, lay in your bed. Don’t intermix these spaces.
I create transitions in my day.
Let’s face it, days feel like centuries if you don’t break them up, but this is especially true when in isolation in a small space. In a larger apartment, you have the convenience of creating a change of scenery when you move from room to room. But this is not a luxury we have in a studio, so you need to create some kind of activity or habit that will help you trigger that daily transition.
If you lived in a large home, perhaps you would take a walk downstairs to your kitchen and brew a pot of coffee while reading the newspaper to kick-start your day, then head back upstairs to your home office and get stuff done. You should simulate the same experience in your studio. Don’t squeeze in a cup of coffee as you check your email from the desk that’s two feet away. Try to be intentional: Start a pot of coffee, play a podcast, read the news – whatever activity tells you that your day is starting, then walk over to your desk and begin the workday, even if that walk feels more like two steps.
The same is true for the end of your day. Do you like happy hour or socializing with friends after work? When the day ends, engage in rewarding activities to make you feel like the fun is starting. Call a friend, play loud music, and on occasion, enjoy a glass of wine. Now your studio feels like the party room, not the office. When you have limited space, you just have to get more creative with these transitionary rituals.
I keep my most productive time sacred.
It’s very challenging to shake off the feeling of being unproductive when you are in the same room every single day. That’s why we use the term “stir crazy.” Prolonged time in the same space can prolong your feelings of negativity or frustration to the point where it is all-consuming. But here’s the catch about being productive: Getting just one thing done can feel like a huge accomplishment and create a ripple effect.
I’m most productive during the first three hours of my day. So in the morning, I keep my phone on silent to optimize that time. This way, I don’t feel guilty in the afternoon if my productivity takes a turn for the worst. Preserving the time where I am most alert helps me associate my studio as a place where I get things done and breaks the cycle of me associating it as a place solely for rest.
Remember that we all have unproductive days, even when we’re not living in isolation. Some days will be more successful than others, and that’s okay. For many of us, the reason why we choose to live small is it makes life simpler — our space is low-maintenance. Take 20 minutes to clean your space and enjoy some self-care at the end of the day, whether it was successful or not. This will make you feel like you are clicking the “restart” button for tomorrow. The reality is that productivity isn’t about how long you work but how much you get done in the time that you work. Work smarter and you will make more time for the things you really want to do during isolation.
Right now, more than ever, we should make conscious choices about how we operate in our homes. Since we don’t know what the future will hold with COVID-19, we can at least set healthy habits that will help us better navigate the unknown.
Abby is a millennial working in Washington DC. She has done communications and engagement work at a government agency and non-profit and is now in the legal field. When she’s not working, she’s storytelling, promoting gender equality, and amplifying criminal justice reform efforts. She’s also an avid napper.
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