Recently, the government of Ontario has announced its plan for high school students across the province. Students have the option to attend some classes in-person or to partake in synchronous virtual learning. I, along with many other students, have had to make the decision on whether or not to attend in-person classes. Many of my friends have expressed the desire to return to school solely due to the fact that they feel unproductive at home. While I, just like them, thrive in a school environment, quarantine has taught me how to adapt to working at home to maximize how much work I get done.
For those of you who aren’t planning to return to school in September, or even for those who are, here is my guide on how to build a productive workstation at home.
Separate and theme spaces.
I have found that the most helpful step towards feeling productive at home is to separate your workspace from the space where you choose to rest and relax. Look at your spaces from a functionalist perspective. Identify what each space in your house means to you and what you most commonly use it for. Just as most people view weekdays as days for working and weekends for relaxing, it is important to view your office as a space for working and other locations as a space for relaxing. This might mean working on a desk rather than near your couch or your TV. Changing your scenery based on the activity you will be completing can help theme your space in your mind. If your mind learns to associate a specific space with working, it can help you get started on your work faster and manage your time. However, if you are not strict about where in your home you choose to work, you are more likely to be unfocused and you risk not being in the right mindset for work.
Next, ensure that there are as little distractions as possible in your new workspace. I personally find it very difficult to completely remove distractions from my workspace, but this step is where you have to exercise a lot of discipline. I struggled to keep my phone in a different room from where I study, so I compromised by keeping it near me and disabling all my notifications. Try to remove the most significant distractions from your work area, whether it be technology, distracting noises, and more.
Set specific work times.
Productivity is measured by the effectiveness of your work. Being able to complete quality work quickly is a sign of productivity. Many, including myself, struggle with managing their time when working. I often used to find myself spending up to 4 hours on an assignment that could be completed in 2 hours due to the fact that I was unfocused and working inefficiently. I found that creating a schedule for myself helped me in the loose work atmosphere that was online schooling during quarantine. I would wake up at around the same time school would start and create scheduled breaks for myself. During my breaks, I would leave my workspace and work materials behind completely and focus on a relaxing or fun activity. By separating my work schedule into distinct times, I could focus and get work done quickly by preventing myself from being distracted as easily while still offering myself a reward for my hard work. Remember to avoid bringing thoughts about your work into your relaxation time and vice versa!
Finally, try to invest in ergonomic furniture if possible. It is much easier to work when you are sitting on a comfortable chair in a room with lots of light. As shown through urban design, the way that places are shaped tends to influence the interactions that users have within these spaces. Just as cities are built to suit the needs of their citizens, your workspace should be built in a way that fosters productivity. I’ve tried to work while laying down or while sitting with poor posture, and I find that it leads to me feeling more fatigued and distracted, whereas a good chair and lamp can help me work more efficiently. It is also worth considering a stand for your computer if it does not generally rest at eye level on your desk. Having to crane your neck to work on your computer can lead to inflammation or ergonomic related injury, which can prevent you from being able to work for extended periods of time. If the furniture and objects in your workspace reflect productivity and are comfortable for you to use for extended periods of time, you will be able to focus more on your work and less on your surroundings.
The Productivity Trap
Quarantine had upended normal life and given people everywhere a lot of free time. I personally felt like I was constantly being told to use my newfound time in a productive manner. Whether it was to start a new hobby or to get in shape for the summer, I felt pressured to make the most of that time, which I’m certain that others must have felt as well. Rather than using this extra time to process living through a global pandemic, it simply made me more stressed out.
The secret that I learned is that not every second of our time must be put into doing something productive. Instead of putting all of our time into work or being productive, we must learn how give our full attention to work when it must be done and then set work aside completely in order to relax. This is something I plan to carry into the upcoming school year, and I think that it is especially important for those who will be pursuing online learning.
With school resuming, investing your time in creating a productive workspace for the upcoming school year can prove to be incredibly worthwhile. We are still in the midst of very stressful times, so while it is important to get work done for school, we must also practice managing our attention to allow us to have time to unwind. Optimizing your time for both work and relaxation is essential.
Good luck to all high school students with school this coming year!