Just weeks ago our work spaces were far away from the washer and dryer, our cats’ and dogs’ requests to go in and out, and for some of us, spared us from working side-by-side with spouses and the 24/7 entertainment demands of children. The spaces we create for ourselves elicit physical, mental, and emotional responses. We adorn work spaces to remind us of why we work, or for whom we work, to motivate or inspire us. We fill offices with plants and desk lamps to soften the harsh lighting and institutional décor. We fill homes with things that make us feel centered, balanced, restored, and loved. Now, it’s one jumbled mess — for many of us, a hot mess. How to respond? Protect your sanity and your productivity by making designated spaces for yourself. As you practice social distancing, be sure to create special designated areas that have what you need to be inspired at work, restored at home, and attentive to other members of the household. Consider the following ideas for large and small spaces:

  • Work Space: Consider your physical needs. Is your work space ergonomically sound? I bit the bullet and bought a cheap monitor and keyboard so I am not hunched over my small laptop. Does a pillow behind your back provide better support in your chair? Create a ritual to help separate your work time/space from your personal time/space. For example, turn your monitor off and cover it with a sheet. Unless you must answer critical emails on the weekends, put your work away – maybe even unplug your devices and put them in a closet. Keeping your family routine as normal as possible during these times is important.
  • Personal Space: You’re probably thinking, “Yeah right…I don’t even get to use the bathroom by myself.” For everyone’s sanity, please make personal space and time. Wake up early and enjoy a cup of something warm on your front stoop. Go for a walk by yourself. Go for a drive and listen to your favorite music. Take a soothing bath. Be creative and commit to finding personal time and space. Taking time for yourself allows you to be more present for others.
  • Pro Tip: Create and use a “do not disturb” signal for when you are working. Putting on headphones or ear buds, or wearing your hoodie up can signal “do not disturb, unless it’s an emergency.” This will help others respect your needs while you are all living in close quarters.
  • Food Space/Time: Maintain an eating routine to minimize your cravings. Plan meals, prepare snacks, and keep your water glass full. If you are working in the kitchen, consider making your space less like a kitchen while you’re working by adding a family photo or desk lamp to the table.
  • Family Space: Be sure to have a space devoted just to the family, or transform a space into something important to the family. Turn a basement corner into a game room. Make the guest room the family puzzle room. For younger kids, mark the end of the work day by creating a bodacious pillow fort. Enjoy family dinners on the deck or a picnic on a blanket in the back yard. Create or continue family routines like game nights, or dedicated times for reading, biking, nature walks or cooking together. Whatever it is, be present with your family and not distracted by work.
  • Sleep Space: Space is tight, but try not to invade your sleep space. Keep your bedroom sacred and designed for rest and recuperation. Treat yourself to nice sheets and the perfect pillow – or five. Consider a fan, a diffuser or a humidifier to make it feel more cozy. Don’t eat or work on your bed. If you must use your bedroom for work try setting up a space away from your bed. Even better, create a work space on wheels so you can easily wheel it out of the bedroom when it is time to sleep.
  • Couple Space/Time: While many couples are figuring out how to homeschool and work full time, space and time for each other is limited and likely an afterthought. Just like personal time and space, couple time and space is essential. Consider date lunches. Set the kids up with a virtual lunch with the grandparents and enjoy a picnic together in the laundry room. Drop the screen-time guilt and turn on an episode of Sesame Street while you and your partner enjoy a late afternoon respite on the deck. Have a snack with the kids when they are eating dinner and then once they are in bed have a nice adult meal with candles, placemats, and cloth napkins. Taking time as a couple will allow you to be more present for your children and contribute to your sense of balance during this off-balance time.

How have you created designated physical spaces for you and your family while you are teleworking?

About the Author: Laura E. Smallwood is the division director of training in the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) Transition Center. She is responsible for personal security and life skills courses dedicated to preparing foreign affairs personnel and family members for an internationally mobile lifestyle. Recently, she has also focused her efforts on providing resilience training to the U.S. Department of State. Before joining the Department of State, Laura served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama and earned both a BA in Political Science and an MPA from American University.

U.S. Department of State

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