Work from home without losing your mind during the COVID-19 crisis

Work from home without losing your mind during the COVID-19 crisis

As I predicted, the USA’s turn for COVID-19 has finally rounded the corner and we are on track to join our Italian brothers on a viral free-for-all. We have Trump to thanks for that; but hey, that’s an entirely different post.

In an effort to keep the economy afloat while enacting quarantine, many companies are asking their employees to work from home. In the glorious age of the internet, all of us are making the ‘virtual’ our new norm.

Well, for me, it was always the norm. I see many of my friends (and in-office colleagues) stressing out about being cooped up at home with a laptop, and are even googling tips about how to cope with the isolation. Not only that, I noticed a slew of articles online being released about the art of remote work and various opinions on its pros and cons. Some workers even paid a premium to sit with a community of buddies in silence over webcam (no thanks), while others complained about how working from home honestly aint all it’s cracked up to be (totally on board with that one).

I’m an extrovert working from home. Anyone who knows me is well informed that, because of my weird tendency to want to be around people, I am not a fan of remote work. Despite that, this extrovert was able to last not one, but two years through a completely remote job and still not lose sanity. I feel like I have some wisdom to share with other extroverts who are bracing for the long and hard quarantine.

1 . For God’s Sake, Dress Yourself

Getting dressed: it isn’t that hard

When I tell people I work remote, there is a very high chance they will laugh and say: “oh it must be great to work in your pajamas!”

I have yet to meet any remote worker who actually works from home in their pajamas (prove me wrong!). It’s hard enough for me to separate my private and business life when I work from home, but blurring the line between sleep and work by working in pajamas from bed? I think I would lose my mind!

Washing my face, getting dressed (even in jeans), combing my hair, and getting myself to a level that is half-presentable is essential for me to construct a “work routine” that I can adhere to. Getting out of bed and preparing myself to go to the office–without actually going to the office–puts me in the work mindset and allows me to further distance the personal from the professional.

2 . Designate a work space in your home

Work life in Dallas

This is a common tip, but it has been immensely helpful for me to help further the gap between work and home by designating a working space. Luckily our house has an extra room I made into an “office” and it is solely dedicated to my job, Monday through Friday. In fact, this self-made office has become so associated with my job that if I step into it on the weekends, I get instant PTSD. When I step into the office I want my mind to be aligned with work, and when I step out I want to have the same sensation as leaving an actual building.

Not everyone has an extra room to transform into an office, but even a corner of a kitchen table or a small desk in your room can become your “mental work space.”

3. Jam out to some epic tunes to get shit done

One Ok Rock, one of my fav Japanese bands, will sometimes do the trick!

When working from home, it’s very easy for your attention to wander to other things: your phone, the dishes sitting in the sink, your laundry basket, checking the mail, reading the news. The list is endless.

My hands are often guilty of wandering from the work keyboard to my cell phone, where I usually end up chatting here and there with friends on instant messenger, scrolling through instagram or other random websites, and reading news.

It’s in these moments of weakness I slap myself, put on Bose headphones, and play kick-your-ass music to get myself pumped. I’m talking about music that, at the gym, would get your ass in gear to run five miles, do 100 push ups and bench press your body weight. With hardcore and epic music blasting, I’m able to put my cell phone aside and dedicate at least 1-2 hours of uninterrupted work. This works wonders for me.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to eye of the tiger or intense fantasy metal, just turn up that volume and crank that shit out.

4 . Make lunch sacred

Don’t mess with my pizza

When you work from home, there are few joys to look forward to in the day (besides clocking out). For me, there is one moment I cherish and hold sacred.


For those in the office, lunchtime is a necessary time for employees to take a step back from their desk, take a walk with colleagues to the break room, and have a moment of reprieve from their work duties.

I ate lunch at my desk often when I first started the remote life. If I was overwhelmed with work, I felt that I didn’t have the time or privilege to dedicate even thirty minutes to a meal in silence (much less with others). During slower periods, I leveraged the ‘working lunch’ as a way to end my work day earlier.

I noticed that working through lunchtime started to burn me out. It was downright awful taking bites of salad and noodles in between calls and writing reports; and if I ended up working overtime on top of a working lunch, I just really hated myself at the end of the day.

My mood improved significantly when I stepped away from my desk to not only cook my meal, but eat it without work interruption at the kitchen table. Hell, I even started to leave my work phone in my office during lunch. It’s a breath of fresh air.

It’s hard to separate yourself from work when you’re at home, but carving out time for “you” during lunch helps draw the line.

5 . Just walk away from the computer (and phone)

Shut off that laptop and go for a walk! (with no one around, preferably)

A few studies have proven that employees who work remote are not only more efficient, but they also work harder and longer.

My to-do laundry list of work tasks always stretches into infinity. It never ends. When I first started working remote, I would find myself working dozens of hours of extra overtime when I didn’t need to. “I want to finish this report before tomorrow,” I would tell myself as the clock struck 7pm. “If I organize this data before tonight I’ll be caught up,” I told myself repeatedly, working late into the night.

This perfectionist tendency became a trend that was starting to burn me out. I soon realized: I could create work for myself until the end of time. My to do list is endless.

With the exception of tight deadlines, I taught myself to stop at 5-6pm, shut off my laptop, and walk away. I realized that whether non-urgent task X or Y was finished today or tomorrow really didn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. And with this realization, my life has been so much better.

Oh yes. Ignore your work phone after you shut down the laptop. You’re probably not being paid enough to justify calls and emails late into the night. Just put the phone down and watch some Netflix.

6 . Do whatever helps the loneliness

Adopt this cat perhaps?

The New York Times article I linked to earlier cited the example of a stay-at-home writer who paid for a service to sit in silence on a webcam for the sake of having a “human connection.”

This may work for some, but it doesn’t work for me.

My bosses have tried to better connect us remote workers through “virtual lunches” and other activities. While I appreciate the gesture, I more often than not feel awkward having people watch me eat via webcam.

To know that I am not alone in this big world, I instead will work at a coffee shop for a few hours. In the age of coronavirus, sadly, this is not possible; so if you’re feeling the longing for connectivity, perhaps the paid virtual service might the answer you’re looking for. While I don’t have close colleagues at my job, you may have a few office buddies you can virtually chat or have webcam lunch with to commiserate and help ease the pain of loneliness.

I also hear a pet works wonders to help with the overall isolation of working from home. Here’s to hoping I can get one in 2020.

Andra Tutto Bene

Italians (and Spanish) are quarantined to their homes, but that doesn’t stop them from connecting through song and dance from their balconies. The Italians know they are a country suffering together, and no matter how distant or far apart, they are in it for the long haul and need to support one another. Whether near, or far; remote, or at home; whether it’s a neighbor, a virtual colleague, or a relative in another state… we are all connected to this crisis, and through that connection we are not alone. Andra Tutto Bene. Everything will be ok. We have to believe, fight, and trust in each other to ensure that everything will be ok.

And Finally, a Political Rant

This morning Z texted me and said “it seems like the USA is doing ok, I was worried about you. I’m glad to hear you’re not like Italy.”

I don’t know if our pathetic response to the pandemic has yet to hit the Chinese news cycle, but shit is getting real in the USA. When the virus first hit Wuhan, countries like South Korea and Taiwan geared up to prepare for the oncoming onslaught. Thanks to their swift actions, they are very well on the road to containment.

Meanwhile, the president was twiddling his thumbs and hoping for it to somehow blow over the United States. This article details all of Trump’s fumbles as he reacted to the spread of the virus, some of which involve blaming Obama for the lack of testing kits and claiming himself to be a scientific expert. Trump and the federal government’s inaction will, without a doubt, result in tens of thousands of deaths.

The reality is this: USA is the next Italy, or worse. We are horrifically short on test kits, medical supplies, and ventilators. We are in the dark running blind, unsure of who has the virus. The federal government is so lax in its response to this pandemic, individual state governments are forced to step up to the plate to fill in a role they are ill-equipped to face without the support of the white house.

I think the tweet battle between New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo and Trump put it best:

“Mr. Trump singled out Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democrat of New York, in a Twitter post, urging him to “do more.” 

…..Mr. Cuomo quickly shot back: “No — YOU have to do something! You’re supposed to be the President.”

This Atlantic article summarizes the failings of America’s current government (aka the Republican Party) and the dangers of a mini-dictatorship running the United States. Let’s hope, to reference the article, that the US will hear the cannons of Trump’s dangerous inability to govern our nation and change course for a different future in 2020.

Stay safe everyone. And As Autumn wrote, for god’s sake, just stay home.

Do you have any tips for staying sane while working from home? What are your thoughts on the coronavirus in the US?

9 thoughts on “Work from home without losing your mind during the COVID-19 crisis

  1. Greetings from Berlin, Germany! Thanks Mary for probably the best ‘work from home’ guide that I’ve received among my millions of ‘COVID19′ update emails this week. I’ll be checking out One Ok Rock as well–yesterday was listening to the Radwimps’ soundtrack from ‘Your Name’ while working from home.
    I don’t have any additional WFH tips, but yeah the situation in the US is pretty humiliating and I hope it will be a wake-up call for how healthcare is handled once the pandemic subsides and (hopefully) our new president is in office.

    1. Hello Anna! I hope you’re doing well in Germany!!! Thank you for the comments!

      Oh man, I love Radwimps!! They’re amazing. One Ok Rock’s older stuff is better (and sung in Japanese), their newer stuff is very Americanized and sung in English! Other Japanese bands you can jam out to include: hitorie, sakanaction, Hello Sleepwalkers, Baseball bears. There are more, I will think of them! The Radwimps soundtrack to “Weathering with you” is also amazing.

      How are things in Germany? I loved Angela Merkel’s response. My German friend also said Germans are livid after trump tried to buy exclusive rights to a German vaccine… oh man, our president just leaves me speechless…

  2. Thanks for the shoutout and advice! I’ve found I have to leave my phone in another room and close all social media platforms on my computer to write. I can’t listen to music while writing, though, unless it’s instrumental. Otherwise the lyrics compete with the words I’m forming in my head. If I’m working on a spreadsheet or something else, though, music is fine. 🙂

    I need a modicum of quiet, though. And I have spawn trapped at home with me. And he is the opposite of quiet. And it’s raining. Did I write a single word yesterday? I did not.

    1. I’m the same, I can only write with instrumental music otherwise it is too distracting. If my full time job were writing I would definitely not jam out, but when it comes to crunching data it helps push me through the grind…

      I can’t even imagine writing with screaming child, haha. On many of my conference calls recently we hear so many babies, dogs, and husbands (never wives) yelling in the background… it’s hilarious.

      I heard it’s raining a lot in SoCal recently. It snowed here too. The world is truly ending!

  3. I concur with all five of your points of working from home, I’ve been a remote worker by choice since 2016. My family finds it amusing that I dress up, but it helps me focus on the job, so yeah it’s a good idea. My cat is always wanting attention from me, so it’s fun to play with her for a few minutes at a time. I meet up with the local team members for lunch about every month, so we do still see each other in person.

    I hope the social distancing will flatten the curve( since I like cats), and that people will stop panic buying. I’ve never seen such empty shelves in stores, multiple Smith’s, Target, Walmart, and Winco. I was told by a cashier at Smith’s that the line before opening up at 6am(!) wrapped around the store. Unfortunately, ’19’ is probably community spread by now, so it will become part of the yearly disease cycle, like the other 4 named strains of Coronavirus, and the various flu strains. So more important than ever to regularly wash your hands and don’t touch your face!

    1. Yes, I haven’t met anyone who DOESN’T dress up for remote work. Otherwise you would just live in your pajamas all day…?

      Glad you have a cat to keep you company!! We put a down payment on a cat and had to back out due to some difficulties, but man, I really regret not getting that cat. Could definitely help with the loneliness for covid-19 quarantine time.

      I hope people will stay inside. I went on a walk to the park today and saw many groups of people having picnics there…!! I was shocked. I was walking solo and avoided other walkers, so I thought I was safe… I feel like a full blown lockdown will happen soon, so I wanted to get a walk in!

      WOW!!! the line was that crazy in Utah at Smiths!?!?! Omg!!! That’s crazy!!

      Stay safe!!! Let’s hope this blows over sooner than later…

  4. Spain has also done a “great” job. The whole of Europe, actually. It’s like they were eating popcorn and waiting for the virus to spread. Or maybe they thought it was only a “Chinese virus” that wouldn’t affect white people (I actually read that rumour at the beginning of the epidemic in China),

    Your tips are spot on. i have to confess though that I always do a bit of work on my pyjamas and then shower and change clothes later… I haven’t managed to get up earlier to be able to shower before turning on the computer because my son can smell when I leave the room and he wakes up and demands boob for an hour, hahaha. I really need to get my schedule in order!

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