Like many others, I’ve spent more time at home this year than ever before, and it’s taken some adjusting. Home used to be a place I slept and drank my morning coffee. Most days I would even opt for a midday shower at the boxing studio I frequented, and almost always ate out. For a creative type living in New York, this is pretty standard.
With layoffs and the plague ravaging the land, I was given all the time for creativity that I’ve desired all these years. It was the silver lining in an otherwise horrifying mess. All too often, I found myself at my desk with the pressure of, “NOW CREATE! SOAR! DO ARTIST THINGS!” and suddenly, I just didn’t know how. I was distracted…Hungry, then thirsty, then hungry again, then on my phone, then is it time to read or watch a movie? I know I’m not alone. It’s taken me a while to find my groove and figure out what helps me focus. Never fear, non-creatives, these tips can help you stay focused while working from home as well.
Start your day with gratitude.
This has been an important part of my day for a while now. It started with reading “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a mind-shifting read. Every morning, by writing down three things you’re grateful for, you start your day by thinking about what you have, and not what you don’t have or what you want, which is naturally our first thoughts out of bed in the morning.
“I NEED coffee,” “I’m running LATE,” “I DON’T WANT to go to the dentist later,” “I have NOTHING to wear.” All negative, negative, negative. Remember: Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it. By starting your day with gratitude, you’re training your mind to think differently for the rest of your day, and you’ll be more aware of reasons to be grateful.
Put the phone away, seriously.
This is a tough one because we’re all in a relationship with our phones and it is for better or for worse, ’til death do us part. It took me a while to figure out how to manage my time with my phone during all these hours spent at home. My simple trick is to put it away, not within reach, and leave it. I toss my phone in a dresser drawer and don’t touch it until I’ve accomplished what I’m working on.
This especially works if you have an Apple Watch, as I do. We all know how easy it is to lose precious time scrolling. One dog video leads to two leads to 10 and poof! Gone goes an hour and you’ve accomplished nothing except for fueling the fire of desire to adopt a french bulldog. A golden retriever perhaps? I’ll take one of each.
The Apple Watch helps because it takes the curiosity out of what you think you could be missing. It also makes you “reachable” without having your phone in reach, so you can keep up with work or emergencies without the temptation to mindlessly wander. You’re seeing the texts that come in, emails, DMs, etc., and you know that it’s nothing urgent. If there’s an email and you’re working on your computer, it’s easier to just open up your browser and respond than it is to get to your phone, which leads to more distractions.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up my phone to send an email, got distracted by my horoscope, watched Hilary Duff’s Instagram story, and checked to see if I’ve won the Powerball, only to forget why I picked up my phone in the first place (I still haven’t won the Powerball). If I do get a text that I want to answer right away, I simply don’t sit down while I’m texting back. This ensures I don’t get too comfortable. Alas, I have found myself scrolling while standing, but it didn’t take long before I said, “What the hell are you doing!?” and put it away.
If you don’t have an Apple Watch, there’s also the function on a Mac to get your texts on your computer, which could provide a similar benefit. No, I don’t have a deal with Apple to endorse their products, but they are welcome to contact me at any time.
When I work on my computer I always have to be drinking something. I don’t know why, I just don’t feel like I’m working unless I have a coffee next to me. Like, am I even an adult? While coffee is a given, it’s important to remember to also have water with you. A hydrated mind works far more efficiently than a dehydrated one. The brain is about 80% water, after all. It also keeps whatever coffee you may be consuming balanced so you don’t go straight into a panic attack, or the “What am I doing with my life?” jitters.
Remember, caffeine dehydrates the body just like alcohol, and if you’re not drinking water while you work, chances are you won’t get enough a day. The daily recommended water intake is half of your body weight in fluid ounces. For example, I weigh about 130 pounds. Half of 130 is 65, so my daily recommended H20 intake is 65 fl oz. Most people don’t drink enough water, which can affect you in ways you don’t even realize. Do the math and be diligent about staying hydrated!
Make time to move.
I’m an avid fitness junkie and I stand strongly with the belief that making time for movement every day can drastically alter your being physically, mentally, and emotionally. While I love the idea of “working out,” I know it can make others bubble up with dread. I challenge you to let go of the “I have to workout” mindset and step into the “making time for movement” frame of mind. It sounds more approachable, and while working out can seem like a chore, movement sounds more like an opportunity. After all, isn’t the ability to move something to be grateful for?
I strive to do at least 45 minutes of movement a day, but it’s important to do what you can. Getting your blood and endorphins flowing can really center your mind and make you more productive. Getting outside for a run is a wonderful way to hit reset, release anxiety, feel more focused, and stay in shape. For home workouts, I follow Melissa Wood Health. Her memberships are just $9.99 a month and are really easy to follow. With workouts ranging from five minutes to an hour, she focuses on how important it is to get some movement into your day and take time for yourself, even if just for a few minutes.
At the risk of sounding like a TOTAL actor, I can’t fully be immersed in the creative process if I’m not 100% in my body, and the way I get into my body is through physical movement. You’ll either understand this because you went to art school or you’ll think I’m totally crazy, either way, you’re probably right.
I know some people are turned off by this because they think it has to be some whole ‘to-do,” or that you simply can’t do it. The thing is you’re halfway there now. You’re probably sitting and you’re definitely breathing. Just take a moment for yourself to close your eyes and check in. Forget about everything you have to do or everything that’s happened today up to this point, and just feel your breath coming in and out of your body.
There are some fantastic books on meditation including “Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Willman and Danny Penman. Melissa Wood Health also offers guided meditations on her platform. The important thing is that you do it and let go of the judgment of it. A good way to make sure it happens is to make a habit of ending your movement sessions with meditation. Whether it’s a minute, or three, or 30, there’s always time to practice some mindfulness in your day.
Honor thy workspace.
Lastly, there’s nothing more inspiring than an aesthetically pleasing workspace. It’s just like how buying cute workout clothes makes you want to work out more; as silly as it seems, it’s true! I know science says that a clean workspace is better for productivity. However I am going to challenge them and say that a clean and cute workspace is where the magic actually happens. I don’t know if any psychologist will back me up on this. But I can assure you that I get much more work done with my walls painted mocha. And my dried roses in bourbon bottles. With a color-coordinated book collection.
I hope this helps; now go drink some water!
About the Author
Kaitlyn-Renee Urban is an actor and writer with a passion for highlighting feminism in the arts. She hosts an IGTV show (coming January 2021) called “What We Know Now” centered around supporting local, women-run businesses while picking their brains for advice they’d give their younger selves. She lives in New York City, but it’s easier to find her on Instagram.