I think it’s crucial to have a couple of non-negotiable, bare minimum rules. If you start the day keeping promises to yourself it really sets up your headspace well, and if they’re nice simple ones, so much the better. My own are: get up, make the bed, get some movement in, and have a shower. Now, when I say these are simple, I know from my own experience these aren’t necessarily easy to do, depending on what is going on in your life, but they’re not complicated to get your head around. I happily recommend my own rules to you, but some other suggestions for things that might resonate with you are to get dressed, make some sort of nice drink (might I suggest a leftover Easter egg on the side?), and get outside if possible, even if it’s to your balcony.
Have I lost you yet with all this talk of rules and routine? Stick with me, I promise it’s worth it. I’m not talking anything draconian, but more that you break your day up into loose chunks and allocate each one certain tasks. Speaking of which, keep a diary. Whether it’s electronic or paper is up to you, but I do a version of both, mainly for the ease of changing tasks around as needs must on my computer, and the joy of crossing things off (and so seeing what I’ve accomplished) on paper.
Allocate in some treats to break up the day, as would happen naturally if you were in the office, like with those thrilling trips to the communal kitchen or stationery cupboard (I only say this slightly in jest – said trips were one of my greatest loves in my past office worker life). I have certain blogs and sites I check first thing, to ease into my day, and another few I look forward to reading at lunch time as a midday break. A couple of times a week, I treat myself to a midmorning coffee at a local coffee shop. At the moment, I’ve increased that to every day to make sure I get out of the house while we still can, and talk to another human who I don’t live with, albeit from an appropriate distance.
The non-work tasks
I generally try to limit these to the afternoon and evening. I have to be honest though, even in non-isolation times, I kind of live for ‘washing day’, which does take up some of my usually-work-focused morning. Seeing the clean clothes out drying on the balcony all day as I work away gives me a sick amount of pleasure, which has only increased at the moment. The illusion of control, right?
There have already been screeds written demanding that WFH equals swapping your active wear for ‘Zoom-appropriate tops’ and ‘a bright lip’, as well as equal amounts advising ‘you do you, girl’ and advocating for trackpants. Generally, I shoot for a middle ground: non-tailored clothes that I’m not embarrassed to go to the coffee shop in. Yes, these ‘outfits’ often involve leggings, which I fully agree are not pants and therefore probably don’t need to be worn out of the house, and yet, here we are.
I have spent years working next to a full length mirror, and writing about beauty all day. I can tell you with certainty that my mood is noticeably improved putting on basic (let’s be real, acne-covering) makeup, and brushing my hair. A false lash is entirely up to you…
Designate different zones for different tasks if you possibly can, and be strict about overlap between work and the rest of your life. Of course, this is harder in small places, but if you have an area that serves double duty (like a kitchen table), you just have to be more disciplined about it – when the work day is done, pack every single thing related to it away. Even if it feels like a pain, which it definitely will if you’re anything like as lazy as I am, it will be worth it to not feel like work is always just within reach.
Also, wherever you are able to work, do some basic tidying up each evening. Again, this might seem painful, but that extra minute or two is key to starting your next day on the right foot. When I don’t follow my own advice, I can’t tell you how easily my tenuously-held-together ‘I am an elegant, organised person and I’ve got this’ mindset is shattered by a sweaty sock which my thoughtless past self left casually draped over my desk chair.
My ultimate piece of advice for managing your space? Do not work from the couch. Ever. Not only did doing so ruin my back for a while there but, even worse, you’re marring the sacred nature of The Couch as a shrine to all things cosy.
I know we all shoot for work-free weekends in an ideal world, but while we are living in this present insane one, it’s more important than ever. There’s something about having the exact same space devoted to both work and the rest of your life all of the time that can truly make it feel like you never switch off. My husband and I have both found we can easily get scratchy when the weekend is either too jobs-focused or too slothful, and our remedy is to try and implement some routine, albeit a fairly different one to weekdays. Talking about a loose plan on a Friday night is key for us. Some truly groundbreaking (read: not at all, in fact incredibly simple, things people have done for decades, very satisfying) suggestions for things to do from Friday night to Sunday night, which we more or less stick to:
Bring back cocktail hour
We try and call time on work at 5pm Fridays and make a Quarantini (our recipe? Put your cocktail glasses in the freezer some time in the afternoon. When you’re ready to drink, add to a shaker three parts Bombay Sapphire gin, also kept in the freezer, to one part vermouth. We also throw in a healthy dash of olive brine and then add three olives on a cocktail stick to each glass, and pour our drinks over.) At this time of the evening I also turn on the lamps and light the cluster of plain pillar candles in the lounge room which we have grandly taken to calling ‘the fireplace’.
If you’re going to nap, which I need to do daily, make it early – midday is best. If you leave it too late, you’ll either feel like your day is wasted or even worse, wake up in that odd, confusing twilight time, feeling like maybe the world has actually ended and no one told you.
Have a proper bathroom session
Do whatever this means to you. At a minimum I tend to wash my hair and shave my legs. At a maximum I might dry body brush, tan and do a face mask as well. Songs you know every word to, ideally from the late ’70s to the late ’90s only, are essential.
Paint your nails.
That’s it. You don’t even need to bother with a manicure, just add the colour. It’s an easy job that pays dividends in the week to come, in that it gives you something pretty to look at when it feels like all you’re doing is All. The. Typing.
On a recent telehealth call with my psychologist, she told me some of her other anxious patients are feeling quite smug at the moment – they spend every day of their lives preparing for the worst, and now that in a sense it’s here, ‘normal’ people finally know how they feel. I don’t feel smug at all, but I am starting to see that I have put in years of groundwork for dealing with big, uncomfortable feelings around control (and the lack thereof), and some people are just now experiencing them for the very first time.
Beyond the important directions to have plenty of solid social contact and to get in touch with your GP if you are feeling helpless, I can recommend from my own experience two very helpful exercises. One is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which you can read more about here. And the other is to allocate five minutes every day to do nothing. Depending on your current state of mind this will sound lovely or hellish (I always fell into the latter camp before I started it) so be gentle with yourself. I like to sit on the couch with my timer on and look outside at the trees while I do it, but it doesn’t matter where you are, just that you be quiet and alone. If you are a parent, I appreciate this may mean either doing it at 4am or 9pm, before you finally catch up to the rest of the world with the next episode of Tiger King, but it may be even more worthwhile, if you can believe that.
I’m no meditator, but would say to not fight wherever it is your thoughts go, but instead try to be gently interested by them. I like to think I’m pretty comfortable with my own company, but this is something else entirely. No distractions, just your own thoughts. We’re always pushing to be oh so very busy, and the power of five minutes of truly doing absolutely nothing can bring a lot of peace. Even if I do spend some of the time invariably stressed that I might forget some essential piece of information that floats to the top (which episode of that 2002 TV show was that actor with the bald spot in?), every time I do it I realise again how helpful it is. Try to think of it like a hard drive clean up, one that will give you some much needed space for everything else we’re all trying to manage at the moment.
And then go and make yourself a Quarantini. When the whole world is experiencing a crisis together, the concept that “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” has never been more relevant.