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克服居家办公的孤独,读这本书就够了

克服居家办公的孤独,读这本书就够了

Rachel King 2021年07月05日
这本书从心理学、经济学和社会科学的最新研究中精选了很多经验,可以帮助人们保持适应力、独处时的专注力,并且高效工作。

令许多人沮丧(也有一些人高兴)的是,居家办公变成了新常态。虽然新冠疫情加速了这个进程,不过多年来这种情况一直呈上升趋势。

在由Gallery Books出版的《独处:如何独自工作(且避免发疯)》(Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind))一书中,资深记者丽贝卡•席尔提供了新指导,帮助读者在居家办公环境里保持高效工作,并且避免发疯。

席尔已经独自工作10多年,所以她比大多数人都更了解其中的优缺点。这本新书从心理学、经济学和社会科学的最新研究中精选了很多经验,可以帮助人们保持适应力、独处时的专注力,并且高效工作。在全球疫情颠覆办公环境之后,这本书的作用更是非同寻常。在“孤独与独处”、“计划的力量”和“比较的诅咒(为何社交媒体如此糟糕)”等章节里,《独处》一书弥补了其他自由职业者指南的不足,从伊索寓言到医学期刊等各种来源中精选了实用、鼓舞人心,也令人信任的建议。

最近,席尔跟《财富》杂志聊到疫情期间对居家办公的观察,也向连续数月独自居家办公的人们提供了保持效率和战胜孤独的建议和技巧。

《独处:如何独自工作(且避免发疯)》。图片来源:Courtesy of Gallery Books

为表述清晰和简洁,以下对话略经编辑。

《财富》:你在家工作多年,也写了相关的书,所以能够想象疫情爆发时家人和朋友首先就会找你咨询经验。刚开始你向适应居家办公的人提供了什么建议或指导?过去一年中是否发生了变化?

席尔:是的,在当今陌生的时代发现自己很有用,感觉还挺不错。我给的建议是有些变化,主要因为根据生活中受限制程度的不同,某些建议有时很难遵循。对独自工作的人来说,最重要的原则之一就是确保每周有充足的社交活动以保持理智和快乐。独自工作时很容易错过浅层社交联系,而研究表明正是此类社交可以让我们感觉自己是社会的一分子。现在,技术手段能够解决很多以前必须去邮局、文具店或找供应商才可以完成的小任务,人们发现见到的人比以往都少。各种应用程序似乎节省了很多时间,却也剥夺了跟他人见面的机会。相关数据清晰地显示,经常与其他人相处,哪怕只是买杯咖啡或出去散步,幸福感也会受到正面影响。此外,事实证明,工作日中加入社会关系实际上有助于完成更多的工作,并且效率更高,这可能是因为总体幸福感更高。

虽然可能不太愿意离开办公桌,但如果真的起身,回来时就会精神焕发。即使不能经常出去,还是可以加强现有的社会关系,我鼓励人们通过电话而不是在Zoom上开视频会议。我们的视频会议开得够多了,让人筋疲力尽。另外,如果不用盯着部分脑袋,还有有点模糊的2D人脸,大脑理解和倾听起来就更容易。跟朋友、家人或同事接触,真诚地询问大家最近过得怎么样,还能够帮助他们跟你一样减少孤独感。

我给出的另一个建议则是关于边界,这一点没有什么改变。要尽可能地为工作创造空间和时间,这样就不会渗透和侵蚀正常生活,可以说生活比工作重要得多,这一点至关重要。对有些人来说,不工作的时候要把工作藏起来,象征性地告诉大脑和身体工作已经完成。可以把工作塞进盒子里或者柜子里,如果在卧室的话可以在桌子上盖张床单,只要能够模仿正常上下班状态的行动就可以。虽然地方没有变,但要坚持从居家调整到工作模式,下班再调整回来。我上班会穿好衣服,化上妆,就像过渡仪式,让自己脱离当前状态,只要工作起来我就不是在家教孩子的妈妈,花很多时间洗衣服做饭,擦干净小孩子黏黏的手。有些人在工作时点燃蜡烛,工作结束时把蜡烛吹灭。其实可以非常简单,平时吃饭时坐在餐桌一边,工作时换一边坐也可以。

你的家庭办公室是什么样的?桌上有什么必需品?调整家庭办公室的美感对你的工作有多重要?

经常检查工作安排是否适合自己真的很重要,我指的不仅仅包括办公桌。要考虑单独办公时哪些方法奏效以及哪些没有用,这一点很有必要,也要记住几乎所有事情都包括一定程度的选择:坐在哪、时间如何分配,以及周围环境如何。我的办公桌紧挨着一扇窗户,创造机会接触阳光有助于晚上睡眠,白天也容易提起精神。黄昏来临时,我把办公室的灯光调暗,变得温暖柔和而不是太明亮,也让大脑明白很快就会过渡到晚上,这在大办公室里其实做不到。我有很多植物,因为大脑在植物的陪伴下能够表现得很好,我们观察树叶纹样得到的体验似乎跟听音乐类似。当我面临最后期限的惊慌失措,或者陷入自我否定情绪时,有东西可以关心则能够帮助我理清楚什么重要什么不重要。

我还有一张木制书桌,由书中采访的一位室内设计师设计,风格偏向亲近自然,书中还顺便解释了大脑如何渴望自然的纹理和颜色,然而大多数办公室里的设计恰恰相反。于是,我坐在办公椅里,背后搭着可爱、柔软、舒适的羊毛皮,桌子上方是天空和大海的照片。类似我这种“充实的”工作环境已经被证明可以提高效率和创造力。即便没有专门的工作空间,我就曾经在厨房餐桌上工作过两年,所以很了解那种感觉,还是能够找一两棵植物放在旁边,安排得舒适放松。(写这本书的最后阶段,我在家和几条街外的一处地点频繁转场,每次都背着笔记本电脑包,胳膊下夹着一盆植物。我可以想象邻居每天看到我会怎么想。)

作者丽贝卡•席尔。图片来源:Courtesy of Gallery Books

你发现居家办公最好的地方是什么?如何保持高效率?更重要的是,如何保持情绪稳定?

我刚开始居家办公时,很吃惊的是工作效率非常高,不会像在办公室一样浪费时间。不幸的是,我吸取了一些错误的教训;我并没有抓住机会减少工作,多投入生活,而是工作得越来越多,最后累到筋疲力尽。(这不完全是我的错;我只是采取了社会惯用模式,按照工作时间越长越好的思路对待工作。)现在,我对生产力、大脑,以及身体需要什么理解得更加深刻,关键在于不要过量工作!对我来说,最美好的事情就是能够真正过自己的生活,如果每次上班都要花一个小时,要做到就很困难。正常情况下的工作意味着中午去健身房,自己接孩子,或者有时在咖啡馆工作。现在的状态下我可以跟孩子相处更多时间。有趣的是,这也意味着我和丈夫花很多时间、精力和心思把家变成美好的地方,因为大部分时间都是在家里度过的。

帮助我保持清醒的是尽量把工作时间和家庭时间隔开。我丈夫也是自由职业者,我有一条规定,早餐前、晚上8:30后或周末,除非情况真正紧急否则不准谈论工作。为一些跟工作完全不相关的事情腾出时间也很重要。对目前的我来说,主要包括跑步、做饭、看书、每周在线普拉提课、出去散步时和朋友通电话、做点针线活,天气还没有太冷之前做点园艺,这些事情能够让大脑离开屏幕放松一下,身体也可以摆脱桌椅得到休息。

另一方面,你居家办公有哪些挣扎?你如何克服障碍?

我写这本书就是因为每件事情都让我挣扎。我跟边界斗争,很孤独,工作日吃不好,也没有休息,我没有优先考虑照顾自己,不见朋友,喝太多咖啡,睡眠不足。由于使用智能手机,工作渗透到生活每个领域,例如床上、早餐时间、健身房锻炼的时间,还有周末,都是工作不应该侵占的地方。我相信只要再努力点,一切都会好起来。我也相信长时间工作意味着进展顺利,总有一天会达到神奇的“成功”。赚钱是我判断工作和生活中是否获得成就的唯一标准。我从事的工作从某些方面来看地位很高,但我不喜欢也不觉得有意义。我简直大错特错!我没有停下来思考,也没有考虑这是不是我想要的生活。我只是埋头工作。

我用了两个办法来克服这种状况,一是写这本书,发现了工作方面人们的各种困惑,而且如果独自工作没有在正规的办公室里的话,情况只会更糟。传统办公室虽然有时让人憋闷,但偶尔也有用。第二是转向提问的心态。这项工作适合我吗?与我的能力相符吗?当前的安排对我好吗?我的身体对独自办公感觉还好吗?工作时间太长了吗?我花在朋友或家人身上的时间够多吗?工作让我精疲力竭还是精力充沛?是不是朝着我喜欢的方向发展?我到底希望哪个方向?不过我要指出,这项工作方面我也在进展中,我也不是时时都能够理清所有头绪!

考虑到当前的疫情,看起来很多美国人至少在夏天之前都得居家办公,这意味着很多人已经困在家里(通常是独自一人)一年多了。对居家办公的人,要完成冲刺阶段你有什么提议,或是建议做哪些调整?

我知道听起来很疯狂,但每次感觉艰难的时候可以去看看树。看那些光秃秃的树枝在灰白天空下形成的图案。看树叶,看石头,看云朵。2019年,英国埃克塞特大学(University of Exeter)的一项优秀研究显示,身处自然界里身心能够获得极大恢复,而且我们需要接触自然的时间比想象中要多,每周如果可以保持120分钟幸福感最强。居家办公有时让人感觉,想度过艰难时期只能够更努力工作,事实并非如此。如果感觉卡顿,只是大脑宣布需要休息一下,即便转而做其他事情,大脑也还在处理问题。

其他可以尝试的事情包括:在工作日和工作间隙保持规律休息,可以锻炼身体,也能够尝试一些爱好,以完全不同的方式让大脑活跃。注意饮食均衡,即便只有一个人也要做丰盛的午餐。应该吃好一点,这样一来后面才可以完成更多的工作,也更高效。尽可能地营造最好的工作环境。

不过,最重要的是降低预期,好好对待自己。我们面对着最不寻常的压力,大部分人都焦头烂额。现在不要指望自己达到最高水平。多花点时间照顾自己。首先要明白,当前并不能够算真正的居家办公。疫情期间居家并不是正常状态。这种状态很奇怪,很孤立,有点幽闭恐惧症的感觉,挑战巨大。如果你感觉讨厌居家办公,要记住这不是常态,如果担心再也无法去办公室工作,也没有必要。正常状态下的居家办公比现在好得多。你还真有可能喜欢上。(财富中文网)

译者:夏林

令许多人沮丧(也有一些人高兴)的是,居家办公变成了新常态。虽然新冠疫情加速了这个进程,不过多年来这种情况一直呈上升趋势。

在由Gallery Books出版的《独处:如何独自工作(且避免发疯)》(Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind))一书中,资深记者丽贝卡•席尔提供了新指导,帮助读者在居家办公环境里保持高效工作,并且避免发疯。

席尔已经独自工作10多年,所以她比大多数人都更了解其中的优缺点。这本新书从心理学、经济学和社会科学的最新研究中精选了很多经验,可以帮助人们保持适应力、独处时的专注力,并且高效工作。在全球疫情颠覆办公环境之后,这本书的作用更是非同寻常。在“孤独与独处”、“计划的力量”和“比较的诅咒(为何社交媒体如此糟糕)”等章节里,《独处》一书弥补了其他自由职业者指南的不足,从伊索寓言到医学期刊等各种来源中精选了实用、鼓舞人心,也令人信任的建议。

最近,席尔跟《财富》杂志聊到疫情期间对居家办公的观察,也向连续数月独自居家办公的人们提供了保持效率和战胜孤独的建议和技巧。

为表述清晰和简洁,以下对话略经编辑。

《财富》:你在家工作多年,也写了相关的书,所以能够想象疫情爆发时家人和朋友首先就会找你咨询经验。刚开始你向适应居家办公的人提供了什么建议或指导?过去一年中是否发生了变化?

席尔:是的,在当今陌生的时代发现自己很有用,感觉还挺不错。我给的建议是有些变化,主要因为根据生活中受限制程度的不同,某些建议有时很难遵循。对独自工作的人来说,最重要的原则之一就是确保每周有充足的社交活动以保持理智和快乐。独自工作时很容易错过浅层社交联系,而研究表明正是此类社交可以让我们感觉自己是社会的一分子。现在,技术手段能够解决很多以前必须去邮局、文具店或找供应商才可以完成的小任务,人们发现见到的人比以往都少。各种应用程序似乎节省了很多时间,却也剥夺了跟他人见面的机会。相关数据清晰地显示,经常与其他人相处,哪怕只是买杯咖啡或出去散步,幸福感也会受到正面影响。此外,事实证明,工作日中加入社会关系实际上有助于完成更多的工作,并且效率更高,这可能是因为总体幸福感更高。

虽然可能不太愿意离开办公桌,但如果真的起身,回来时就会精神焕发。即使不能经常出去,还是可以加强现有的社会关系,我鼓励人们通过电话而不是在Zoom上开视频会议。我们的视频会议开得够多了,让人筋疲力尽。另外,如果不用盯着部分脑袋,还有有点模糊的2D人脸,大脑理解和倾听起来就更容易。跟朋友、家人或同事接触,真诚地询问大家最近过得怎么样,还能够帮助他们跟你一样减少孤独感。

我给出的另一个建议则是关于边界,这一点没有什么改变。要尽可能地为工作创造空间和时间,这样就不会渗透和侵蚀正常生活,可以说生活比工作重要得多,这一点至关重要。对有些人来说,不工作的时候要把工作藏起来,象征性地告诉大脑和身体工作已经完成。可以把工作塞进盒子里或者柜子里,如果在卧室的话可以在桌子上盖张床单,只要能够模仿正常上下班状态的行动就可以。虽然地方没有变,但要坚持从居家调整到工作模式,下班再调整回来。我上班会穿好衣服,化上妆,就像过渡仪式,让自己脱离当前状态,只要工作起来我就不是在家教孩子的妈妈,花很多时间洗衣服做饭,擦干净小孩子黏黏的手。有些人在工作时点燃蜡烛,工作结束时把蜡烛吹灭。其实可以非常简单,平时吃饭时坐在餐桌一边,工作时换一边坐也可以。

你的家庭办公室是什么样的?桌上有什么必需品?调整家庭办公室的美感对你的工作有多重要?

经常检查工作安排是否适合自己真的很重要,我指的不仅仅包括办公桌。要考虑单独办公时哪些方法奏效以及哪些没有用,这一点很有必要,也要记住几乎所有事情都包括一定程度的选择:坐在哪、时间如何分配,以及周围环境如何。我的办公桌紧挨着一扇窗户,创造机会接触阳光有助于晚上睡眠,白天也容易提起精神。黄昏来临时,我把办公室的灯光调暗,变得温暖柔和而不是太明亮,也让大脑明白很快就会过渡到晚上,这在大办公室里其实做不到。我有很多植物,因为大脑在植物的陪伴下能够表现得很好,我们观察树叶纹样得到的体验似乎跟听音乐类似。当我面临最后期限的惊慌失措,或者陷入自我否定情绪时,有东西可以关心则能够帮助我理清楚什么重要什么不重要。

我还有一张木制书桌,由书中采访的一位室内设计师设计,风格偏向亲近自然,书中还顺便解释了大脑如何渴望自然的纹理和颜色,然而大多数办公室里的设计恰恰相反。于是,我坐在办公椅里,背后搭着可爱、柔软、舒适的羊毛皮,桌子上方是天空和大海的照片。类似我这种“充实的”工作环境已经被证明可以提高效率和创造力。即便没有专门的工作空间,我就曾经在厨房餐桌上工作过两年,所以很了解那种感觉,还是能够找一两棵植物放在旁边,安排得舒适放松。(写这本书的最后阶段,我在家和几条街外的一处地点频繁转场,每次都背着笔记本电脑包,胳膊下夹着一盆植物。我可以想象邻居每天看到我会怎么想。)

你发现居家办公最好的地方是什么?如何保持高效率?更重要的是,如何保持情绪稳定?

我刚开始居家办公时,很吃惊的是工作效率非常高,不会像在办公室一样浪费时间。不幸的是,我吸取了一些错误的教训;我并没有抓住机会减少工作,多投入生活,而是工作得越来越多,最后累到筋疲力尽。(这不完全是我的错;我只是采取了社会惯用模式,按照工作时间越长越好的思路对待工作。)现在,我对生产力、大脑,以及身体需要什么理解得更加深刻,关键在于不要过量工作!对我来说,最美好的事情就是能够真正过自己的生活,如果每次上班都要花一个小时,要做到就很困难。正常情况下的工作意味着中午去健身房,自己接孩子,或者有时在咖啡馆工作。现在的状态下我可以跟孩子相处更多时间。有趣的是,这也意味着我和丈夫花很多时间、精力和心思把家变成美好的地方,因为大部分时间都是在家里度过的。

帮助我保持清醒的是尽量把工作时间和家庭时间隔开。我丈夫也是自由职业者,我有一条规定,早餐前、晚上8:30后或周末,除非情况真正紧急否则不准谈论工作。为一些跟工作完全不相关的事情腾出时间也很重要。对目前的我来说,主要包括跑步、做饭、看书、每周在线普拉提课、出去散步时和朋友通电话、做点针线活,天气还没有太冷之前做点园艺,这些事情能够让大脑离开屏幕放松一下,身体也可以摆脱桌椅得到休息。

另一方面,你居家办公有哪些挣扎?你如何克服障碍?

我写这本书就是因为每件事情都让我挣扎。我跟边界斗争,很孤独,工作日吃不好,也没有休息,我没有优先考虑照顾自己,不见朋友,喝太多咖啡,睡眠不足。由于使用智能手机,工作渗透到生活每个领域,例如床上、早餐时间、健身房锻炼的时间,还有周末,都是工作不应该侵占的地方。我相信只要再努力点,一切都会好起来。我也相信长时间工作意味着进展顺利,总有一天会达到神奇的“成功”。赚钱是我判断工作和生活中是否获得成就的唯一标准。我从事的工作从某些方面来看地位很高,但我不喜欢也不觉得有意义。我简直大错特错!我没有停下来思考,也没有考虑这是不是我想要的生活。我只是埋头工作。

我用了两个办法来克服这种状况,一是写这本书,发现了工作方面人们的各种困惑,而且如果独自工作没有在正规的办公室里的话,情况只会更糟。传统办公室虽然有时让人憋闷,但偶尔也有用。第二是转向提问的心态。这项工作适合我吗?与我的能力相符吗?当前的安排对我好吗?我的身体对独自办公感觉还好吗?工作时间太长了吗?我花在朋友或家人身上的时间够多吗?工作让我精疲力竭还是精力充沛?是不是朝着我喜欢的方向发展?我到底希望哪个方向?不过我要指出,这项工作方面我也在进展中,我也不是时时都能够理清所有头绪!

考虑到当前的疫情,看起来很多美国人至少在夏天之前都得居家办公,这意味着很多人已经困在家里(通常是独自一人)一年多了。对居家办公的人,要完成冲刺阶段你有什么提议,或是建议做哪些调整?

我知道听起来很疯狂,但每次感觉艰难的时候可以去看看树。看那些光秃秃的树枝在灰白天空下形成的图案。看树叶,看石头,看云朵。2019年,英国埃克塞特大学(University of Exeter)的一项优秀研究显示,身处自然界里身心能够获得极大恢复,而且我们需要接触自然的时间比想象中要多,每周如果可以保持120分钟幸福感最强。居家办公有时让人感觉,想度过艰难时期只能够更努力工作,事实并非如此。如果感觉卡顿,只是大脑宣布需要休息一下,即便转而做其他事情,大脑也还在处理问题。

其他可以尝试的事情包括:在工作日和工作间隙保持规律休息,可以锻炼身体,也能够尝试一些爱好,以完全不同的方式让大脑活跃。注意饮食均衡,即便只有一个人也要做丰盛的午餐。应该吃好一点,这样一来后面才可以完成更多的工作,也更高效。尽可能地营造最好的工作环境。

不过,最重要的是降低预期,好好对待自己。我们面对着最不寻常的压力,大部分人都焦头烂额。现在不要指望自己达到最高水平。多花点时间照顾自己。首先要明白,当前并不能够算真正的居家办公。疫情期间居家并不是正常状态。这种状态很奇怪,很孤立,有点幽闭恐惧症的感觉,挑战巨大。如果你感觉讨厌居家办公,要记住这不是常态,如果担心再也无法去办公室工作,也没有必要。正常状态下的居家办公比现在好得多。你还真有可能喜欢上。(财富中文网)

译者:夏林

To the dismay of many (and the delight of others), working from home is the new normal. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated the process, the trend has been gaining traction for years.

In Solo: How to Work Alone (and Not Lose Your Mind) (Gallery Books), veteran journalist Rebecca Seal provides a new guide to managing a productive career from the confines of a home office—without losing your mind.

Seal has been working solo for more than 10 years, so she knows the benefits and downfalls better than most. Her new book culls wisdom from the latest research in psychology, economics, and social science to help us stay resilient, productive, and focused in a company of one, especially on the heels of a worldwide pandemic that has upended the workplace. With chapters titled “loneliness and solitude,” “the power of planning,” and “the curse of comparison (and why social media sucks),” Solo picks up where the how-to guides for freelancers stop—offering practical, inspiring, and reassuring advice culled from a variety of sources, Aesop’s fables and medical journals among them.

Seal recently chatted with Fortune about her observations on what working from home has been like during the pandemic as well as her best tips and tricks to staying productive and combating loneliness for those of us who have been working alone from home for months on end.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Fortune: You’ve already been working from home for years—you literally wrote the book on it—so I can imagine you were the go-to resource for your family and friends when the pandemic started. What advice or guidance did you initially offer to anyone adjusting to working from home? Has that guidance changed in the past year?

Seal: I was, and it’s been lovely to feel useful in these strange times. My guidance has only changed in as much as some of the advice I give has sometimes been harder to follow, depending on what level of restriction we’ve been living under. One of the most important things for people who work by themselves has always been to make sure you get enough social contact during your week to keep yourself sane and happy. It’s easy, when you work alone, to miss out on even the shallow social connections, which, research shows, make us feel rooted and part of a community. Now that tech can do many of the little tasks which would once have dragged us to the post office or the stationary shop or to visit a supplier, we can find ourselves seeing fewer people than ever. Apps seem to save us a lot of time, but they also rob us of the chance to see other humans, and the data on this is really clear: Our well-being is positively impacted by being around other people regularly, even when you’re just buying a coffee or going out for a walk. Moreover, it turns out that adding social connection into your working day actually helps you get more done, and quicker, probably because your general levels of well-being are higher.

Although leaving your desk might feel unappealing in the moment, if you do it, you come back refreshed. And even if we can’t go out much, we can still reinforce our existing social connections, which I encourage people to do via the phone and not Zoom. We’ve all had plenty of video-calling time, and it’s exhausting. Plus, our brains are better at decoding and listening when they’re not being confused by partial, fuzzy, 2D humans. Plus, by reaching out to people—friends, family, or colleagues—and genuinely asking them how they’re doing, you will help them to feel less alone, as well as you.

The other big bit of advice I give is about boundaries, and this hasn’t changed. Doing whatever you can to create a space and time for your work so that it doesn’t bleed into and overtake the rest of your life—which is arguably far more important than your work life—is crucial. For some people, that’s about hiding work away when you’re not working, to symbolically tell your brain and body that work is finished. You can shove it all in a box, or stuff it in a cupboard, or throw a sheet over the desk if it’s your bedroom—anything that replicates the job a commute once did, of changing your mode from home, to work, and back again, even if it’s all in one place. I get dressed for work, and put on makeup, just as a transitional ritual, which moves me away from the other person I am right now: a homeschooling mum who spends an awful lot of time washing up and cooking and wiping small children’s sticky hands. Some people light a candle when they work and blow it out at the end of their work session; it can even be as simple as sitting on the other side of the kitchen table to where you normally sit at mealtimes.

What does your home office setup look like? What are the essentials on your desk? How important is adjusting (and readjusting) your home office aesthetic to your work life?

Constantly checking in on whether your work setup is working for you is really important—and I don’t just mean your desk. Considering what is and isn’t working about your solo working life as a whole is really valuable—as is remembering that almost everything about how we set ourselves up when we work alone contains a degree of choice: where we sit, our hours, and what we are surrounded by. My desk is right next to a window; giving ourselves access to daylight is a great way to help us sleep, as well as staying alert during the day. As dusk falls, I dim the lights in the office, making them warm and soft, rather than bright and white, to help my brain understand that soon it will be transitioning away from work and into the evening, something which wouldn’t be allowed in most big offices. I have quite a lot of plants, because our brains do well in their company—we seem to get the same sort of stimulation from looking at the fractal patterns found in foliage that we do from listening to music. And caring for something gives me useful perspective on what is and isn’t important when I’m panicking over a deadline or struggling with imposter syndrome—my plants couldn’t care less.

I also have a wooden desk. One of the interior designers I interviewed from the book, who practices biophilic design, explained how our brains crave natural textures and colors—the opposite of what most office design gives us. So I sit on a lovely, soft, and cozy sheepskin fleece draped over my office chair, and above the desk I have photographs of the sky and the sea. “Enriched” working environments like mine have been shown to enhance both productivity and creativity. And even if you don’t have a dedicated space to work—and I worked at the kitchen table for two years, so I really do know how that feels—you can still surround yourself with a plant or two, and make your setup comfortable and soothing. (During the final stages of writing the book, I had to desk-hop between home and a space a few streets away: I carried my laptop bag on my shoulder and a potted plant under one arm. I can only imagine what my neighbors thought each day.)

What have you found to be the best things about working from home? What keeps you productive? More important, what keeps you sane?

One thing I was startled by when I first started to work from home was how productive I was without all the time sucks you get in an office. Unfortunately, I drew kind of the wrong lesson from that; rather than seeing it as a chance to work less and have a bit more life, I just decided to work more and more and more, until I reached somewhere very close to burnout. (That wasn’t entirely my fault; I just adopted societal patterns and thinking about work which prize long hours over almost any other achievement.) Now, I have a better understanding of productivity and what our brains and bodies need—and it’s almost never more work! The best things for me have been being able to be present in my own life in a way, which is hard if you are always traveling an hour each way to get to work. In normal times that meant going to the gym in the middle of the day, being able to pick up my kids myself, or working in a coffee shop sometimes. Now it means I am more available for my kids; it also, funnily, means that my husband and I have put a lot of time, effort, and thought into making our home a nice place to be, since that’s where we are so much of the time.

Things that keep me sane are trying to ring-fence work time and home time; my husband, who is also freelance, and I have a rule where you are not allowed to talk about work before breakfast, after 8:30 p.m., or on weekends, unless it’s a real emergency. Carving out time for things that are very much not work is also really important. For me, at the moment, that’s running, cooking, reading, weekly online Pilates classes, talking to friends on the phone while out for a walk, a bit of sewing, a bit of gardening when it’s not all frozen solid—anything that gives my brain a break from screens and my body a break from my desk chair.

On the flip side, where do you still struggle from working from home? How have you tried to overcome those hurdles?

I mean, I wrote the book because I struggled with everything. I struggled with boundaries, I was lonely, I didn’t feed myself well during the workday, I didn’t take breaks, I didn’t prioritize anything to do with looking after myself, I didn’t see my friends, I drank too much coffee and didn’t sleep enough; through my smartphone I let work bleed into every area of my life—like my bed, my breakfast time, my time in the gym, my weekends—places where it has no right to be. I believed that if I just worked harder and harder, everything would be okay. That working long hours meant I was doing well and would reach some mythical point of “success” one day. That money earned was the only way to assess whether I was achieving in relation to my job, and my life. I took on work which was high status in some lights, but which I didn’t enjoy or find meaningful. I got so much wrong! And I didn’t pause to think about anything or consider whether this was what I wanted life to look like. I just worked.

I overcame all that in two ways: one was writing the book, discovering all the different ways in which we are confused about work in general and how much more so if we are solitary workers without the formal structures of an office, which, while sometimes suffocating, can also occasionally be useful. And the second was just by adopting a mindset which asks questions. Is this bit of work right for me? Have I got capacity right now? Is this setup good for me? Does my body feel okay with how things are in my solo work? Am I working too many hours? Have I spent enough time with my friends or family? Do I feel depleted by my work or energized? Is this going in a direction I like? What direction do I want to be going in, anyway? Although I should point out that I am very much a work in progress, and I do not get all the things right all of the time!

Given the state of the pandemic right now, it looks like many Americans could be working from home until at least the summer, which means many of us have been stuck inside (and oftentimes, alone) for more than a year. For those who might be struggling with working from home, what advice or changes would you suggest to get us through the homestretch?

I know it sounds mad, but every time it feels hard, go and look—really look—at a tree. Look at the patterns bare twigs make against a white-gray sky. Look at leaves, look at stones, look at clouds. The restorative power of time in nature is really quite extraordinary, and we need more of it than we think: 120 minutes a week for optimum well-being, according to an excellent study from the University of Exeter in 2019. Although it may feel as though the way through a difficult time with working from home is just more work, it really isn’t. When we feel stuck, it’s just our brain’s way of saying it needs a break, and it will carry on working on problems while we are doing other things anyway.

Other things to try to include: taking regular breaks from work which really help you unplug, both during the working day and between them, either through something like exercise or through a hobby which engages your brain in a completely different way. Feed yourself with care, make yourself a nice lunch, even if you’re alone. You deserve to eat well, and it will help you get more done, quicker, later on. Provide yourself with the best working environment that you can.

More than anything, though, lower your expectations and be very, very kind to yourself. We are dealing with the most extraordinary levels of stress, and very few of us aren’t feeling ragged. Don’t expect yourself to perform to your highest level right now. Take time to look after yourself. And understand this above all else: This is not what working from home is. Working from home in a pandemic is not working from home. It’s weird, isolating, claustrophobic, and deeply challenging. If you think you hate working from home, just know that this isn’t what it’s normally like—and if you fear that you will never get to work in an office again, don’t. Working from home has the capacity to be much, much better than it is right now. You might even like it.

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