Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.
Q: Like a lot of office workers around the world, when the pandemic hit my workplace went totally remote and my coworkers and I have been working from home for over six months. In the beginning it all felt strange and new, though we were certainly reeling from the novelty and terrifying nature of the pandemic. Now it’s beginning to hit me that this “new normal”—or at least some modified version of it—may be with us for a lot longer.
Though I’ve tried to be mindful, I’m finding my work/life balance is totally off and may be affecting my mental health. I live with two family members (one student and one other full-time worker) and it’s increasingly difficult to carve out my own space. I’m coming to realize that the health of my home and my mind may depend on both time away from its members and time away from my work.
How do I stay productive while also maintaining my home as my sanctuary—if all of these areas of my life are under the same roof?
It’s really hard to know how strictly one must adapt to a new environment when the state of the world is in such uncertain flux. You’re smart to surmise that some version of a partial office closure will be with us for a long time to come, and so you should do everything you can to improve your work environment at home.
The cosmic timing of the coronavirus pandemic was not lost on me, as I had been perfecting my work-from-home-routine for nearly three years when this all began. Here’s what I’ve found is essential to maintaining a healthy work/life balance:
- Have one dedicated work area in your house: To the extent that you can claim a space and make it your own, claim it and hold on tight. Even if it’s a corner of a room and not the entire room itself—that is your slice of office at home, and everywhere else is personal space. While you may be tempted to bring your laptop from your kitchen table to the couch to your bed to your deck throughout the day, that will only spread the feeling of work everywhere. Contain it!
- Develop an end-of-work ritual: When it’s time to clock out for the day, do some sort of light activity that your mind can use to transition from work mode to home mode. You’re basically substituting your commute. You can go for a walk, exercise, even just put on different clothes to delineate your day.
- Don’t be afraid to take time off: Hopefully your employer has a generous leave policy—if so, it’s there to be used! Even though none of us are taking grand trips these days, taking a day for yourself is healthy and much needed for our mental health.
—Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager and Managing Editor
I am certainly no role model for work/life balance, especially since I’m a night owl who often checks phone notifications. I struggled with transitioning to remote work because we didn’t know how long it would be, making it difficult to determine how much to adapt, postpone, or cancel. My schedule and time glued to my screen increased as more Zoom calls needed to be scheduled for everything from chats to conferences. Feeling stuck inside for long stretches of time, solo or with others, is frustrating, but every trip outside now requires extra thought.
What keeps me sane(ish) are breaks. I break up my day by varying my work tasks, getting up to stretch, messaging people, and staying hydrated. I break down work assignments and events into manageable steps and order them by priority for each day, making adjustments as needed. I try to arrange items taking into account my energy flow throughout the day, like mornings are best for checking messages and afternoons are best for writing. Sometimes changing seats or covering my eyes for a moment helps me refocus. Some days I take a nap during my lunch hour to recharge. My best breaks, which I should do more often, are taking walks. I prefer to be with someone in person or on the phone so I don’t get stuck in my head the whole time. And remember to take your allotted time off from work, whether it’s a few hours or a full week.
When I was with family, I found it easier to take coffee and meal breaks away from work because I was focused on their stories and thoughts. But sometimes it didn’t feel like a break because I was absorbing their stress (about work, politics, life, etc.) and I needed to take a break from them. I found it very important to have separate space, quiet time, and our own devices. It was also useful to make one-on-one time to help with communication and relationship struggles. I recommend being clear with your job and your family about your needs and how you can support each other. That may include reworking schedules and rethinking spaces. The pandemic will last for a while but your relationships will last much longer.
—Emily Newman, Education Coordinator
Under my roof are two teleworking adults two students (middle school and high school) and two cats, who keep us humans from turning on each other. Kidding aside, it’s a challenge and not one I think is easily overcome. My workspace is right off the kitchen and there’s no door, so I often find myself shushing the others making lunch or generally making noise. Sometimes I realize it’s best to break when they break to reduce stress. I’ve also found that coming together for dinner and discussing our respective days is a good way to transition from the workday. But the question of finding your own space is a tough one. I’ve seen Zoom calls where people are beaming in while sitting in their parked car, which isn’t my cup of tea but it might actually be a decent escape for short periods of time. Another idea is to work out a schedule with your housemates so that everyone gets an hour of time alone in the house a few times a week. I really have no illusions I’ll come up with a magic formula for working at home with a full house, but if you find one, please let me know!
—Jennifer Bardi, Senior Editor
For humanist advice from multiple perspectives on all manner of situations, please send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.