Er-green-omics: Working (Well) from Home

I want to start this post out by acknowledging the privileges that let me work from home. Of course not everyone has such an opportunity, an opportunity that could be life-saving during a global pandemic like the one we’re in now. People who have dedicated their lives to healthcare work, or who have jobs that do not allow them to work from home, or who have companies that are not as understanding as the one I work for, deserve all the respect and help in the world. If I had even a modicum of advice to give our frontline workers, I would offer it – but all I have is a lot of love and respect for you and the ability to acknowledge that I’m lucky.

We all have a responsibility to protect our frontline workers. So before we get into how to comfortably and sustainably work from home, lets start with how to safely work from home during COVID:

  1. Keep up with case numbers and guidance in your area. The New York Times has a customizable dashboard that gives information on case and death numbers in areas near you, and the CDC has all kinds of guidelines about how to stay safe. Some places also have tracking apps that you can download for free.
  2. Stay up to date, but you do not need to listen to a 24-hour news cycle.
  3. Wear a mask when you have to leave the house.
  4. Wear the face mask over both your mouth and your nose. Do not be a nosebreather.
  5. Choose your mask wisely: the CDC recommends a mask “with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric that fits snugly against the sides of your face.”
  6. Stay at least six feet away from others, and keep your mask on.
  7. Avoid crowds.
  8. Wash your hands often.
  9. Take care of yourself, whether you’re sick or not sick. This means eating well, staying hydrated, and being gentle with yourself.
  10. If ordering food, choose curbside pickup or contact-free drop off options.

Okay, okay – we’ve all heard enough about COVID at this point. So for those of us working at home (possibly using our childhood bedrooms as an office, or a corner of the living room), what are some ways to care for ourselves and our planet?

Make your Office your Oyster

My home really isn’t designed for working. I mean, whose is? So when work-from-home became a months-long thing, I had to make some changes to my setup. I definitely didn’t fix it all at once! It’s also still not “perfect.” For me, I was sitting at my desk one day and looked around and thought, “This is just not gonna work. This isn’t me.” So, basically, what I did was this:

  1. I asked myself, What are my priorities? Personally, I wanted my home office to be bright, cat-friendly, and eco-friendly. I also wanted it to be separate from the rest of the house and room as much as possible.
  2. I cleaned. I got a room divider, set it up behind my desk so I can’t see the rest of the room (which is still messy, but I hate cleaning so this was a cheap fix), and reorganized my desk drawers.
  3. I made it cozy. I got candles (more on those and their futures in future posts!), added coasters, and made sure the decorations were how I liked them. I added a window hammock for my kitty right next to the desk so she hangs out by me during the workday, and reorganized an old bookshelf top to be set up for some of my plants and grow lights. I also got a mouse pad with a little wrist wrest thing, which is sort of ridiculous but honestly nice to have.
  4. I got glasses. I sit in front of a computer. All day. When I said I wanted my office to be “bright,” I meant happy and sunlit, not a blue-lit headache hell. So I (safely!) went to the eye doctor, and she said I needed a prescription anyway – so I got a nice pair of prescription blue-light blockers.
  5. I made some eco-friendly changes. This is the part I’m proudest of, and the part that was honestly the simplest. Instead of leaving my desk light on, I light candles now; instead of leaving my laptop plugged in all day, I’m sure to unplug it once it’s fully charged; when I go to the kitchen for food or leave any room, I make sure to shut off any unnecessary lights. I bought bees wrap to wrap leftovers I’ll eat for lunch the next day, too, and I eat a lot more plant-based foods than I used to now that I’m home and have more time to cook. (Wondering why I eat plant-based? Here are some reasons.)

Eat Wisely, and Enjoy

I’m an intuitive eater. I definitely think the body knows what it needs, and will tell you. (Of course, there are nuances, but for the most part your body has evolved to know itself.) That being said, when I’m bored my body thinks I need an entire bag of potato chips, which it definitely does not and will later let me know when I’m nauseous. And sitting at home 24/7 makes me bored.

What I’ve started doing is tracking the food I want to eat for the next few days. Not counting calories, but laying out the meals I plan to eat to check that I’m eating a healthy balance of protein, fats, and carbs. Planning meals like this is similar to what I did when I was powerlifting competitively at school. If I didn’t keep track, I ended up under-fueling and eating too little for the amount of energy I was exerting. Then I would feel drained and eat an entire package of cookies, then feel even more drained – a vicious cycle indeed!

From my college experience and my current experience, I’ve learned to purposely never forget a meal, pick a healthy mix of foods, and use mealtimes as breaks. Try using this whole new world to try a whole new way of eating – intuitively and with purpose. Personally I hate the word “diet,” but I like the MIND diet a lot because it’s about brain health not weight loss and it promotes a healthy lifestyle instead of restricting calories or foods.

Take Breaks, Make Moves

Even though no one’s watching me work now, I have to force myself to take breaks. Breaks are important – the mind is not a machine, and even if it was, machines need to be charged. My favorite way to force myself into breaks is making 25-minute lo-fi playlists on Spotify. Once the playlist ends or I hear a song repeat, I have to get up for a few minutes. You could also try Tomato Timer, which does the same thing except without the music.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Normally, I’m all about calendars and routines. But this year that just hasn’t worked for me. This year, success doesn’t look like sticking to a schedule. Today, thriving doesn’t look the same as it did a year ago. (My idea of thriving would NEVER have been working from home in a messy room, binging 10+ TV shows, and sleeping less than 7 hours a night, but that’s where we’re at because of the pandemic.)

Now, success is setting up my schedule so that it works for me. I’m lucky enough that my working hours are flexible; if you work from home, you might be afforded the same luxury. Definitely take advantage of a workday that works for you.

You can also take advantage of working from home to take better care of yourself than you would in a normal year; make healthy foods for lunch and eat with family, take a few walks around the neighborhood, make frequent trips to the kitchen for glasses of water…little things like that get forgotten about in the usual rush of the workday. These are things I did a lot a few months ago, but sort of gave up on recently – and would love to get back into for the new year! Getting away from my little computer corner made me feel actually alive.

The more alive I feel, the more I want to get out into nature and follow my passions like plant care and environmentalism. If it helps, remind yourself that little changes to your everyday can energize you to make bigger changes.

In short: the world is different now, including the world of the workday. We might as well take advantage of the wild west that we were forced into and build better ways of working, both for ourselves and our planet. ✿

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