While this idea of “creating space” can take on a more abstract meaning, especially for women in places typically dominated by men, today I want to talk about creating physical space.
In this new world we live in, stuck in our homes alone, with a partner or with our entire family, it has never been more important to intentionally create space for ourselves. Personally, I am staying with my whole family - my self-employed parents whose office has always been our house, my 21 year old college-student brother and my 13 year old nephew. At any given moment in my living room you could see me in front of my three screens, my mom on the phone with an unruly client, my dad grinding coffee beans in the adjoining kitchen, my nephew groaning over fractions at the table and my brother procrastinating on the couch watching some obscure anime (not to mention the dogs that bark at any unfamiliar noise).
We’re all trying to adjust to an unfamiliar environment - your home life may not be as loud as mine but the difficulties still remain - how do you motivate yourself to be productive when your bed and your friend’s Netflix account are only two steps away?
This is where space comes in. I won’t inundate you with the details of spatial theory and how the built environment can have a demonstrated effect on your mind and body - just know that productivity can be greatly hindered or improved depending on where you try to work. Below I’ve outlined a few quick tips to ensure you’re at your most productive while working or studying from home.
Do not work from bed. I can’t tell you how important it is to, at the very least, differentiate where you work from where you sleep. By working from bed you’re blurring the lines between sleeping and waking hours making it either difficult to sleep when it’s time because your mind will still be on work, or difficult to focus when you need to because all your body wants to do is sleep in your comfy bed.
Make it your own. This can mean many things - it can be as simple as telling your family, “This is my space” or as creative as covering a wall with inspiring quotes or creating a make-shift door out of blankets and pillows (yes, I know it sounds like I’m encouraging you to build a pillow fort to work in but honestly if you need a way to reduce distractions, finding some way, any way, to put a wall between you and those distractions is worth it). By “owning” your space, you’ll automatically feel like you can do more. Without the worry that somebody else is going to come in and take over you’ll find it a lot easier to maintain focus.
Limit the time you spend in your workspace. Once you get into a groove with your new workspace, it can be easy to fall into the habit of spending long hours sitting at your desk, at the designated kitchen table space, in your pillow fort, especially when you don’t have obligations outside of your home. Create “working hours” and stick to them. This can be easy for folks who have externally dictated working hours, but if you’re studying and attending online classes, it can be more difficult. Take a look at your class schedule and your workload at the beginning of every week and set a schedule for yourself. Try your hardest not to gravitate back to your workspace outside of those working hours - this space is meant to maintain your productivity, not to force you to burn yourself out.
If you’re struggling to stay productive in your new environment, if you’re dealing with new distractions like a 7th grader practicing his Chinese or half your family barely making it through old P90X workout videos, if you’re adjusting to online learning or if you’re trying to find ways to stay connected while quarantined alone in your apartment - I promise there are plenty of people out there in similar situations.
We’re with you in spirit - stay home and be the productive bad ass we know you can be.
Not pictured: The typical mess that comes with juggling homeschooling, volunteering and a full-time job on two computers and three screens.
Sam Collins is EWAAB's Program Coordinator & Strategic Planner based in the Greater Boston Area. She earned her Master of Arts degree in Higher & Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and currently works full time as a Program Manager in the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University.