Freelancers and the Art of Self-Isolation

Working from home and keeping your distance is nothing new to a lot of us. Learn from the pros: the VBOs.

The global coronavirus outbreak has caused politicians and health officials around the world to direct citizens to shelter in place and practice social distancing. Business leaders are following suit and having their employees work from home for the time being. All of these changes mean that many workers around the country and beyond  are getting a taste of the VBO (Virtual Business Owner) lifestyle for the very first time

If you’ve been working in an office for pretty much all of your career, suddenly being asked to work from home can seem like a daunting new horizon. Let’s face it. A lot of people are afraid of change. We like our routines, and our daily work lives are among the strongest routines we have. Well, all of that has been interrupted due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, and now we all have to adapt and adjust on some level

Let’s face the music. We’re probably going to be confined to our homes well into the summer. So we might as well mentally prepare for it. If you’re wondering how to make working from home work for you, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of self-isolating. I was built for this. And I’m going to share my valuable insights with you

 I’m a VBO, or a work-from-home freelancer, and I’ve been doing it for the better part of the last five years. Specifically, I’m a freelance writer, but this post isn’t so much about the nature of my work. It’s more of a general how to work from home and comply with social distancing without getting stir-crazy. I’m going to give you some practical advice based on my own lived experience as a self-proclaimed work-from-home expert

Tip No. 1: Be Disciplined

You have to get your mind right to be successful at working from home. This is not a vacation. I repeat, this is NOT a vacation. You still have important work to do. The only difference is that you’re no longer commuting to an office to do it. This is a blessing and a curse at once. On one hand, you get to be in the comfort of your home, and that’s inherently better right? On the other hand, you’ve got so many distractions beckoning to you. 

Your bed will feel more comfortable than usual, tempting you to yield yourself to its warm embrace for another hour or two. There’s no one to stop you from binging Netflix all day or playing video games for hours on end. Working from home is a true test of your trustworthiness and accountability. Don’t shirk your responsibilities just because you’re left to your own devices. Have discipline and deliver on your work requirements. 

Tip No. 2: Have a Routine

Structure is important in the office. It’s even more important at home. It goes back to being disciplined. Getting into a routine will help you get into the right mindset to work and set your day up for success. Aim to wake up at the same time everyday, just like you would if you were commuting to the office. If it helps, try to replicate some of your normal work routine at home. 

For example, when I was working in an office — an event that didn’t last long, I’m a VBO for life — I would start every day by making my bed and then marching off to the bathroom to begin my hygiene ritual while listening to my favorite morning news podcast on NPR. I kept that going when I went back to working from home. It just helps me to start my day off on the right foot and promotes my productivity. Have breakfast when you normally do. If you exercise before your work day, keep that going too. 

Start your work day at a defined time and stick to it. Now, your employer may determine when you start your work day. Or, you may have a bit more flexibility with your work-from-home experience. If that’s the case, you’ll definitely want to learn how to define your prime time so that you can be at your best. Either way, keeping things consistent will help you avoid slacking off and lazing the days away.

Tip No. 3: Get Dressed

When I was a work-from-home novice, I wouldn’t bother getting dressed. I’d spend the whole day in my PJs, and while I can’t necessarily say that my productivity suffered, I can say that my perspective on my work did. I felt like I didn’t have a ‘real job’. I didn’t get up with a sense of purpose. I’d just roll out of bed, open up my laptop and unceremoniously start my day

Now I get dressed to work. I don’t necessarily don my best business casual. Most days it’s yoga pants and a tee. Sometimes it’s jeans and a nice blouse if I’m feeling fancy or have a video chat I need to be more presentable for. But the fact of the matter is that I’m taking off my PJs and putting something else on. Getting dressed just helps to boost my motivation for the day

Now, if you’re new to working from home, go ahead and indulge for a few days. You may find it nice to work in your PJs for a short while, but don’t get into the habit of it. I’m not saying you can’t be comfortable. Like I said, I do my best work in tees and yoga pants. Just bother to change into something besides your jammies. It’ll help you transition out of sleep mode and into focus mode

Tip No. 4: Find a Work Station

This is just my recommendation, but I advise you to avoid working from your bed at all costs. For one, it’s just lazy. For two, it’s bad for your back no matter how many pillows you prop up behind you. And for three, it could disrupt your sleep pattern. I’m of the school of thought that the bedroom should just be for rest (save for adult activities, but nevermind that). I don’t even watch TV in my room for that reason. Now, some of you may be living in a studio apartment and the bedroom may be the only place available. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. Make it work as best you can. But if you have other options available, use them.

If you have a home office, that’s a no-brainer. Or, if you’ve got a kitchen table, you could set up shop there. You may have to put a cushion on the floor and set your computer on your living room coffee table. If you’re looking for a fun DIY project to fill up your weekend, since our regular activities have been interrupted, you could convert a spare closet into a home office. Whatever you do, make sure it’s quiet, comfortable and as distraction-free as possible

Tip No. 5: Meal Prep

If you weren’t already meal-prepping to make your life easier, this period of social-distancing is the time to do it. You may have gotten into the habit of swinging by your favorite restaurant during regular work lunch breaks. Well, the fact of the matter is that most of your favorite restaurants are closed now, and while fast-food joints remain open, who wants to fill up on that unhealthy bullshit day after day. Plus, you’re supposed to be self-isolating right? Why venture out into the world to chase down a greasy burger and fries when you don’t have to. 

Stock up on some easy meal-prep items: dry pastas, rice, canned goods, veggies, meats, etc. And make one-pot meals or slow-cooker meals that’ll last you a few days to help you make it through the weeks. That way, you don’t have to leave your home at all for lunch, and you can choose to enjoy your lunch break — or work through it — with a healthy, hearty, home-cooked meal. 

Tip No. 6: Be Social at a Distance

After you’re done with your work day, make sure to connect with others — while maintaining your self-isolation, of course. Give a relative a call. Video chat with a friend. Connect with your social circle on social media. Humans are inherently social people. Well, except for introverts like me. I’ve been willingly practicing the art of self-isolation without need for the majority of my life. 

But enough about me, the point I’m trying to make is that most people need to connect with other humans on some level. And I’m no exception. I make an effort to call my family every night, and I connect with friends regularly through some form of communicative media. While we have to maintain physical distance for now, we can make use of all of the tools at our disposal to interact with one another, connect and support each other through these trying times. Aim to hear another human’s voice at least once a day. It’ll keep the madness at bay and remind you that we’re all in this together. 

So, those are my tips for working from home and self-isolating during this pandemic. I hope you find them helpful. I want to end this post by encouraging you to stay strong. This crisis won’t last forever, and we’ll get through it a lot sooner if we follow guidelines from our government leaders and health officials. In the meantime, stay safe, stay focused and stay positive.

Chantel Baul

I’m a skilled communicator with more than four years’ experience in digital and print content creation, who has a keen ability to adapt messages for diverse audiences. I have demonstrated proficiency in editorial writing conventions, social media strategy, brand reputation management, and interdisciplinary collaboration. I’m a driven and progressive researcher with an aptitude for storytelling. I'm also a proud Public Affairs Officer in the United States Army Reserve.

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