Life and Writing Advice is a blog series intended to help writers, editors, and freelancers learn from each other. Sometimes the most helpful information is knowing that we’re not alone in our experiences, that others can empathize with us, and that we can learn from others. We hope this series connects people and provides inspiration. Let us know your thoughts about our series or provide question prompt ideas in the comments.
Back in July, a few members of our blog team described some tips and advice that have helped them as we’ve moved to the work-from-home life. As the year comes to a close and we look forward to 2021, we’ve reflected again on the journey from mid-March to November.
We’re answering the following prompt: how do you stay productive and creative during challenging times? Read on to read some raw and real strategies from our team.
Take Breaks from Screens
Most of my work is done at a computer, even when it’s creative work. But if I’m stuck at a computer for too long, the bright blue light from the screen can feel draining and isolating, especially in times when I’m already working under stress. It’s easy to think that the screen in front of me is all that exists.
To push forward, I often need to take breaks and explore the world outside of my computer screen. Sometimes that means turning on my favorite song, turning off the computer monitor, and dancing around for three minutes. Sometimes it’s taking a longer break to go outside, read a book, or talk with someone I love.
I know I can’t work all the time. Giving myself space and time to recharge — and giving myself a little patience and grace if I need that space at times that aren’t ideal — is my best tool for staying productive when things are hard.
Honor the Work Space
The last several months have been my first time working from home ever, which means I’ve had to learn to regulate my workspace and my productivity like never before. With a quarantine on top of that, I, like many people, work and live and recreate in the same space. I’ve found some success in maintaining a sense of fulfillment in each aspect by separating spaces for each.
My apartment is big enough that I can put my work computer in one room and keep it away from my bedroom, which means I can more easily regulate myself so that work things happen in the workroom and fun things happen in the fun room. I used to eat in my bedroom at my desk, but now I only eat in the dining area. It has taken some practice, but it has helped me find more fulfillment in the things I have to do in this little space.
I was already pretty type A and self-motivated, so I thought that setting new goals and habits would help me sail through this time. I basically thought I could fix my anxiety with productivity. Yes, I got a lot of things done (I self-published a book in late October), but the burnout caused me to take quite a few steps back. I was self-aware enough to realize that I was trying to reach goals that the old me wanted to reach during a near-impossible time. The only person I disappointed was myself.
I’ve been learning a lot about allowing myself to feel all the feelings—even the uncomfortable ones. I already thought I was self-aware, but there was a deeper level to reach. I’ve let myself be angry, “waste” time, mourn lost opportunities, and take one day at a time. It is not easy to be a goal-oriented or extroverted person at this time because we have to adjust our definitions of “success” and “productivity.” And we’ll have to continually adjust those definitions if we ever hope to win or succeed with our mental health intact.
Reevaluate and Keep Trying
Like many of my fellow WritersDomain/Boostability editors, I have never worked long-term from home before. All summer, I struggled to implement a solid morning routine. What I’ve realized is that that’s okay! I still have a list of things to get done each day (make my bed, take a shower, get some exercise), but I have learned to be more forgiving with myself about when I get things done. Every week, I reevaluate my daily tasks and rearrange them slightly to suit new priorities. And if I don’t check off everything on the list, that’s okay! I can try again tomorrow, or tomorrow, or tomorrow…
And I make sure to take time for things I enjoy. I am a firm believer in the restorative power of a long drive with a good playlist. I enjoy cleaning my house while talking on the phone with my sister across the country. And I can always be found with an audiobook in my ears. Marco Polo has been a lifesaver — I check in with friends every week or so just to make sure we’re all doing okay.
Still Look for Joy and Grace
This year has found me in several different places. I moved, changed roles in my career, and have had to regularly fend off a general uncertainty about the state of the world since the pandemic hit. Typically I am an easygoing, “fill my time up with things to do” kind of person, so I had expected my creativity to just flourish now that I am home for most of the day. However, like for many folks, this has been a less-than-ideal time to go about and do the things that I want to do.
I have found, though, that recentering myself each day and giving myself grace and margins for error helps me recognize that I don’t have to take on life as I normally would. Any goal that I would have set previously now must be met with incremental steps and affirmations or adapted to these new circumstances.
Going on regular weekend excursions and hikes has turned into taking daily walks in my neighborhood; meeting up with friends for brunch or a last-minute trip to the movies has instead become time to write letters of appreciation and general news to them; book club meetings have transitioned to just reading on my own.
Just as much as we have had to adapt our work lives and environments to the world around us, so too can we adapt what traditionally gave us joy into something more attainable and manageable. Doing so allows for the grace and recentering that we may need more frequently.
So, here are our thoughts at this moment in time. How would you answer this prompt? What has helped you keep going through your challenging times?