5 Things I Always Keep on My Desk While Working from Home
As of this Jan. 1, I will have worked from home for 10 years. To say that transition was an easy one would be… a bald-faced lie. I went from a bustling newsroom filled with activity to a tiny, fifth-floor walkup in Boston’s North End, and it was a rude awakening. No longer stimulated by the news and journalists around me, I found it tremendously hard to focus, despite being cloaked in the silence of living alone.
Ten years (and three apartments) later, I relish the opportunity to work from home. And when the pandemic hit in March 2020, I felt as if I had a head start over the rest of my peers who were dealing with the difficult transition. That said, it was quite the learning process. These days, I swear by certain items that allow me to get through work productively. Here’s a look at things I keep within an arm’s reach during the work day.
I cannot control much in life, but I can control which scented candle I choose for the day. For me, lighting and extinguishing a candle is a declaration of focus. It’s a symbolic announcement that I am starting and concluding my day. But one of my favorite aspects of this ritual is choosing which scent I’m going for. If I need to buckle down and finish an assignment, it’s something woodsy or spicy, like a spiced apple or campfire scent. If I’m delving into an essay, it’s something more floral. And don’t forget the magic of actually buying the candle. Some days when I’ve just had enough, I say to myself, “Screw it. I’m going to the Marshall’s candle aisle.”
A Hot Pack or Heating Pad
According to many health experts, sitting is the new smoking. Unfortunately, anyone who needs to make a living by working at a desk can’t really do much about that. I have some chronic back issues that are exacerbated by sitting, and one of the best ways I’ve found to deal with any sort of inflammatory pain is by keeping a microwavable hot pack or electronic heating pad on hand to roll up behind me on my desk chair. Plus, the constant need to get up and re-microwave it is a surefire way to break up a sedentary day.
A Nail File
Sometimes, you just need a quick activity to occupy your hands that still allows you to think. I like to mull over the sentences I write while filing my nails. That said, I also use the file to open mail and break up boxes for the unnecessary items I buy online throughout the day.
Last year, I interviewed Paula Rizzo, author of “Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed.” She taught me about the Pomodoro Technique, a time management system where you break work into 25-minute intervals. Any time you get distracted, you stop the timer, and then return when you’re ready. The idea is that since failing to complete a large task can be a blow to your ego, breaking it down into smaller chunks can be mentally beneficial. If there’s something I don’t really feel like doing, setting a timer for 25 minutes feels like a manageable period before taking a quick break to heat up my coffee or lie on the floor of my office and stretch.
I used to gawk at friends who kept cheesy inspirational quotes within view. These days, the walls of my office are covered in notes scrawled to myself of phrases I’ve picked up along the way; ones that speak directly to me in an authentic way. They vary from curse-word laden reminders to get out of my comfort zone to advice from people I trust. When one seems particularly applicable to a situation I’m dealing with, I move it to the forefront, so I’m forced to look at it. And that’s how you end up with large signs that read, “You’re just a butter knife. I’m a machete.” Thanks for your wisdom, Big Daddy Kane.