Clothes? Wear them. Tips for working from home by artist Penny Anderson
Penny Anderson is an artist and writer. Well versed in working from home, we asked Penny to share her top tips on coping, managing deadlines and looking after yourself whilst living and working in the same space during lockdown.
I have spent most of my working life working from home. I have been a journalist for many years (including for The BBC, Guardian and NME).
Working from home is difficult at first, let’s not pretend. The temptations to get up later every day, and binge watch into the early hours, procrastinate with cleaning and DIY, and hold Zoom drinking sessions resulting in hangovers so bad that death seems a merciful release are impossible to overstate. Like everyone, the first lockdown was me drinking like was at an Aya Nappa Stag do. Remain aware of what is a treat and what is wine with breakfast.
My usual tips are not easily applicable. My normal, non-lockdown/apocalypse coping strategies are mostly out of bounds. I generally work in libraries or cafes, meet friends or go to the gym. Clearly, and not for a long time, will that resume.
As I look around my lovely home, it is obvious that one measure is strictly enforced. There must be a clear boundary between work and…home. In a shared home, or a small flat this is not easy, but achievable by clearing ‘work’ away at the end of the day. I am sculptor; I have a chaotic ‘art cupboard’ where I shove materials/work so it’s not visible when I’m out of office.
And individual practice can raise problems: I think print makers and many sculptors (eg welders/those who cast) are uniquely scunnered, albeit temporarily. So try something else. And ask around; there might a shed, or an unused garage. People can be so kind and generous.
As for a working day, that’s highly individual. Whether you are a night owl or early rising motivated lark, stick to a working day and don’t let tasks bleed into leisure or down time.
And clothes? Wear them. My friend announced she realised she only wore make-up for other people; her friend replied he was the same with trousers. It’s easy to not feel as if you’ve ventured out for days, other than to the bin in your pyjamas, which fosters feelings of alienation and isolation.
Working at home is hard on bills. If you pay them, and especially in shared houses or spaces, the thermostat battle is a challenge. I wear a blanket kilt, blanket poncho, woolly hat and fingerless gloves like a tormented Dickensian scribe. But it works. Don’t be cold.
Isolation can cause comfort eating. Food is good. Eat food. But there is an I believe Japanese saying which says people comfort eat because their mouth is lonely. So… when tempted and not hungry, try cleaning your teeth, or having a cup of tea with a strong flavour, or chewing gum. Also be aware of forgetting to eat and skipping meals. If this is due to lack of money, ie. you can’t afford food, seek help with foodbanks, and social security. Check entitlements with www.turn2us.com
Otherwise walk around. Move; keep moving: fidget and wander around and about the street or close. I have MS which means I benefit from physio, and have these tips: try walking along an imaginary tightrope (or a real one) and climbing stairs, then back up and down again. Dance like nobody’s watching, as nobody is watching (NB remember what I said about clothes.)
And make friends with your neighbours. Mine are great, We have a post work glass or bottle as we are all disconnected from friends and family. But be kind to yourself. Admit that we are trapped in (…oh no, she’s going to say challenging and unique time, isn’t she, sound the klaxon!) unique and challenging times. So the occasional duvet day, or day sitting in the sun whenever it appears is understandable and advisable. But, when it’s a habit, this might signify a problem.
As one day rolls into another and weekends vanish, manage your deadlines – indeed set deadlines. My To Do list has achieved sentience and issued a list of demands, but I find a To Do list which contains several achievable tasks, such as washing up, going to the shop so you can tick them off, makes a larger task list surmountable.
If you are tasked with deadlines there’s deadline surfing. Don’t. Do. It. Freelance journalists are aware of this; becoming able to meet deadlines in isolation by the thrill of an oncoming deadline rushing past your ears, and the resulting adrenaline, subsequently become tolerant or immune, thus needing more adrenaline to get fired up (I know of writers with substance abuse issues because of this.) So strive to ensure your work is timely.
Pace your day: try to have a lunch break (find neighbours in a similar situation, to safely-distance raise a cuppa-soup. Stop at the end of the day and tidy away your work. Go to the park and talk with one of the many strangers who are similarly lonely and desperate to chat. Mix household tasks and housework with grim and boring admin, and fun work like making work as a ‘treat’ when you’ve eg tidied up. And enjoy a sunny day outside, whenever you can.
Don’t forget to enjoy your art practice and life. It will get better, and as I write, already is. But if you are struggling, seek help from your GP, or friends. And clean your teeth; otherwise you’ll be found with a knee length beard buried under takeaway cartons decades in the future by a rescue party of concerned friends. Who’ll always remember how bad you smelled.
Penny Anderson lives and works in Glasgow.
Image: Maypole, 2020.