“Unprecedented times” mean unprecedented challenges. Working from home is no exception.
Since March, many of us have had to give up our desks at the office and stay home.
While the idea of working from home sounds great (who doesn’t like the idea of working in PJs all day?), in reality it’s actually really tough — especially during a pandemic when working from home wasn’t something most of us chose to do willingly.
“Initially, it felt good to be home and have more time,” says Cristina Castagnini, a California licensed psychologist. “It gave us a false sense that we were in control of how we spent our time and our days. Over time, we are now realizing that we are absolutely not in control.”
“[We] may still be home, but now it is not a choice. It is told to us. We have no control over it,” she continues. “The more out of control we feel in our lives, the more likely we are to experience depression, [and] one of the symptoms of depression is lack of concentration.”
There are also distractions galore at home.
Some of us are stuck with spouses that chew too loudly while they work, or children that need to do remote learning, or toddlers that can’t go to daycare anymore because their daycare shut down.
Some of us are quarantining alone, and all that isolation is stressful. (Work Zoom calls don’t really make us feel less alone).
Plus, the TV is right there, beckoning to us — and doesn’t bingeing TV just feel easier than work?
Oh, and on top of all of this, we’re all trying to cope with pandemic stress and anxiety.
“When we do not have stability and cannot anticipate what is coming next, we feel anxious,” Castagnini says. “When we feel anxious, our minds are consumed with thoughts about how to best prepare for what ‘might’ happen. We worry. Nobody knows when, how, or if this is all going to end. So, the anxiety is taking over many peoples’ thoughts and consuming them.”
Needless to say, it can be tough to be productive with all of this going on.
Of course, there’s no magic pill to make you productive, but a comfortable and practical workspace can help.
(It helped me!)
Just make sure your workspace isn’t near the TV, says Castagnini, or any other avoidable distractions.
If you can, make your workspace a separate room. If you have a door on that room, she says, that’s even better.
Avoid setting up your workspace in your bedroom so that you can psychologically and physically differentiate between where you work and where you rest or sleep.
And while you’re setting up that workspace, there are some things you might want to consider getting.
Quick note about price: Everyone has a different budget, especially during the pandemic. If finances are a little tight for you right now, don’t be discouraged by some of the pricier items on this list. We’ve included some affordable alternatives, and you can always search for others that are just as good.
1. An ergonomic chair
Let’s face it, working from the couch gets old — and distracting — very quickly. It’s also not great for your posture.
If there’s one thing that’s worth getting — if you can afford it — it’s a good, comfy desk chair. If you don’t mind the expense, Steelcase’s Gesture office chair provides excellent support, adjustability, and comfort.
If that one’s out of your price range, you can definitely find more affordable ones that are comfortable and supportive, like this Homall one. It was originally designed for gamers and comes with a super comfy headrest.
These can be small little desk plants — such as succulents — or large floor plants near your desk.
“Plants have been shown to increase our sense of well-being and enhance on-the-job productivity and creativity,” says says Kate Sullivan, a consulting psychologist and doctoral researcher specializing in burnout and life-work satisfaction.
In fact, one 2014 study found that an uncluttered office with plants could increase productivity by 15 percent.
You can have a variety of indoor plants shipped right to your door — planters included — if you order from The Sill. They even have beginner or pet-friendly plants if you’re not quite sure what to get.
If you’re more of a succulent person, you could also subscribe at Succulent Studios and get two succulents sent to your door every month for just $10 plus shipping.
3. A practical desk lamp
Even if your desk or workspace is right next to a big window, you’re going to want a good desk lamp. Aim for something angled so you can adjust where you shine your light.
It’s also helpful to get something practical, like a lamp with a USB charging spot.
If you can afford to splurge, West Elm has some very stylish lamps that come with this feature, but Amazon has some more affordable options, like this one by O’Bright.
4. A water bottle
It’s important to stay hydrated as you work, but it can be easy to forget to do that, especially when you’re staring at a computer all day. But if you’re anything like me, you hate cleaning water bottles.
The good news is, if you get a LARQ bottle, it’s self-cleaning — capable of eradicating 99.99 percent of all bacteria and viruses.
5. Or a temperature controlled mug
Caffeine can boost mental focus and alertness. But it’s also easy to forget about your mug when you get in the zone, letting your drink go cold.
That’s why a temperature controlled mug like the Ember Smart Mug might be a worthy investment for you. It will keep your drink warm and might cut down on the distracting trips to the kitchen for refills or reheating.
6. A planner or notepad
Remember how important it is to set realistic goals and make a plan for the day? A good notepad, such as this Daily Overview Notepad from Anthropology, can help you plan your day and make a realistic to-do list.
If you want to have a little fun, you can also opt for a more colorful notepad to plan your day, like this one from Knock Knock.
7. A calendar
It’s true that a digital calendar is the most practical way to keep track of meetings and calls, but having a physical calendar to look at can help your brain track the passage of time. Changing the month on the calendar also provides a little reward.
I particularly like Artifact Uprising’s Desktop Calendar for two reasons: First, you can customize the calendar with family photos. This means it serves two purposes, calendar and photo frame. And second, when you order their calendar, it will start on the month you order it — no need to wait until January to get it.
If you want something with a little more whimsy, Papersource always sells a variety of fun calendars, such as this Cattitude one.
8. A desk clock
Most offices have a clock for a reason — it’s an easy way to track your time during the day.
Opt for something simple and easy to read, like this Tait Desk Clock or this Driini Wooden Clock.
The goal is to use the clock as a reminder for when it’s time to work and when it’s time to put that work away for the day. This will help you set boundaries and find work-life balance, even at home.
9. A foot rest (or massager!)
So one advantage of working at home is that you don’t have to work with your shoes on — and that means you can also get a foot rest.
You can get a memory foam one like this one or an adjustable one that’s designed to improve your posture while you sit in your desk chair.
If you really want to treat yourself, you could even invest in a foot massager, like this Nekteck one or — if price isn’t an issue — this Simple Being massager that doubles as an ottoman when you aren’t using it.
Simone M. Scully is a writer who loves writing about all things health and science. Find Simone on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.