How to Work from Home in a Small Apartment
I’ve mentioned this before, but I live with my family of 3 in a fairly small space. (Though, having lived in multiple cities, I’d say that by East Coast standards, our apartment is practically cavernous). This is dictated by both choice and finances, and we’re very happy with the arrangement.
However, every single list of work-from-home tips begin by telling you to create a “dedicated workspace.” In theory, this is a great suggestion, and it would really be wonderful if all companies could pay for their employees to have top-notch at-home equipment and an office.
In reality, many people live in small spaces and have access to little more than a computer and a mug of coffee to get their work done. I’m a fan of lots of new organizations that working with corporations to help set up employees with great work-from-home tools, but so many companies, not to mention nonprofits, just can’t afford these options. And I’ll add, having a dedicated workspace in a small living space with children underfoot? Impossible. If you earn a low income? Doubly impossible.
Here’s my solution: a clean table.
In our current home we have one table, one that we use for meals, puzzles, games, and everything else. But on work days, it’s my work table, and I begin each work session, to the best of my ability, by clearing off the table. Sometimes I have thirty seconds before I really need to get to work. If that’s the case, then I shovel everything off the table and onto the bed or into a basket. If I have extra time, I’m a bit more organized with my clearing.
The important thing, though, is just clearing off the table.
My theory is that it’s not so much that we need more stuff to make work-from-home work for us. It’s that we need less stuff.
Our possessions, clutter, mess, and an endless list of domestic tasks to be accomplished are a much greater hindrance to get work done than our lack of appropriate hardware and materials. I know that this is not the case for folks who do highly specific work that requires specific tools, but these days, many white collar jobs require little more than a fast computer, a fast internet connection, the right software, and maybe a phone.
So when it comes to working from home, less is actually more.
After clearing the table each morning, I start my work cues, which I discussed in this post. Over time I’ve tried to “train my brain” to slip into work mode using a variety of mental cues. I clear the table. I fill a glass of water and brew a cup of tea. Usually I get some chocolate. Then I slip on my over-the-ear headphones, and do a quick 10-minute email attack.
I tried to work on top of this puzzle for three weeks, and it nearly killed me.
How can this be adapted if you have young children at home? I recent months, since my toddler is now running all over emptying bookshelves and ripping the letter “t” off my keyboard (yep), I’ve had to change my “clear-the-table method” to “clear the dresser.” Instead of sitting at a table, I usually do most of my work while standing at our bedroom dresser.
My child can’t reach my laptop or my water and tea, and, bonus, I’m free to stretch my back. If you’ve got a shelf or a dresser, I highly recommend going this route. But the same principle applies. Remove framed pictures, dump off the laundry stack, etc.
I’ll add: when I’m finished working, even if I’m just taking a lunch break, I apply this principle in reverse. I close my laptop; put it away in a closet; and try to shut down all signs of work. When you work from home, you need mental cues to slip out of work mode as well.
Curious to know what my cues are for ending work? Let me know, and I’ll write a post.
P.S. I’m slowing adding to this post. Check it out for resources!