Freelance journalist Saša Janković reckons we should get inspired by the regular habits of the self-isolating anchorites of the Middle Ages
Working as a freelance journalist while living in a variety of household setups has given me some tried-and-tested techniques for how to work from home without losing my mind, or falling out with everyone else in the house. As the ranks of us currently home-working are swelled, some of these tips might come in handy.
1. Establish a routine, like a medieval mystic
Another way of steadying the mind is routine, and yet this can be one of the first things to slip when working from home.
Here we can take some pertinent advice from those late-medieval practitioners of self-isolation called anchorites. These – usually female – religious hermits withdrew from society to live alone in walled-up rooms attached to churches in order to devote themselves to a life of prayer. Some also found time to write anchorite manuals about their lifestyle choice, with much of the advice therein about the benefits of routines. Anchorites recited Bible passages, psalms and prayers at specific times of day, but if that’s not your cup of tea then at least set yourself some fixed points to break for something that is, like an actual cup of tea at 4pm.
2. Avoid the busy-ness trap
If you’re not used to working from home – or, more likely, your boss isn’t used to you doing it – don’t fall into the busy-ness trap in an effort to polish up a shining productivity badge for yourself.
Home working hyper-productivity due to the uncertain conditions we find ourselves in right now is leading people to “panic work”, according to Dr Ali Fenwick, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Hult International Business School in Dubai. This need to appear busy can manifest in making sure your colleagues know you are constantly available, and agreeing to take on loads of extra tasks. However, if none of these accomplish the job in hand they are waste of your valuable time and effort, some of which you should be reserving for some soul-replenishing idling every day.
If you find this “hyperdrive”, as Dr Fenwick calls it, ramping up in response to the understandable fear of losing your livelihood, or even your life, take heed of the Pyrrhonian sceptics. These ancient philosophers urged people troubled by worries, to find peace of mind in the realisation that uncertainty is the only (relatively) certain thing.
3. Look after your relationships; play music
If you’re new to this home office thing, or if you’re used to doing it but usually with the house to yourself, then having everyone else in your household bundled up in your latterly peaceful space can be erm… challenging.
Having said that, connecting with other people is obviously important for our mental health, and never more so than right now. Taking time to eat together is an easy way of communing with your household.
Of course, being cooped up with the same people all the time can stretch even the closest bonds, so do schedule some alone time. Go for a walk and take your dog, or walk one belonging to someone who can’t get out right now – the Cinnamon Trust is always looking for volunteers. If you’re stuck inside then bag a room to yourself for an hour and hunker down with a good book, an episode of something no one else ever wants to watch with you, or one of the mind-expanding, life-enhancing courses from the Idler’s online academy.
And if you need some extra focus when you do get back to your keyboard, academics says listening to classical music while studying helps students score higher in their assessments and can also lessen anxiety. With that in mind, here’s my suggested playlist to help you stay on track.
Saša Janković is a Yorkshire-born, Kent-raised half Scouse half Serb journalist and writer. She procrastinates constructively on Twitter and Instagram as @SasaWrites and keeps it professional on www.sasawrites.com