To be honest, most of my work as an environmental scientist takes place indoors. Being in charge of a section in the Patrick Center for Environmental Research means that my great team gets to do the fun stuff in the field and the lab, and I join them when I can.
My work leading the science in the Delaware River Watershed Initiative mostly entails meeting with collaborators and writing about our work and proposals for new projects. I get my dose of nature with regular hikes outside of Philly and walks in parks.
The move to working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a huge leap from working in my Academy office, but it is a big change from not interacting in person with my fellow scientists and other Academy colleagues. So I came up with some tips that will help me, and I hope others will find them useful too.
- Set a schedule, even if it’s slightly different from your usual work schedule. For me, this means starting a little earlier, but taking some sizable breaks to stay motivated.
- Take breaks. It’s especially important to leave work alone during these breaks and after your work hours.
- Get exercise. We all know physical activity is important for mental well-being. I’ve got some go-to Youtube videos, but many gyms are offering classes online with the trainers you usually work with.
- Get outside. Take a couple of walks around the block. I have a dog that joins me. Just 10 minutes a day in nature — walking or sitting in a nearby park or just admiring a tree for a few minutes — can satisfy your nature craving. See more outdoors tips in this Academy Blog.
- Find ways to refocus. You might be someone who meditates or has another way of refocusing your attention. In college I did origami. We are not machines, and we will lose focus during the day. Take a short or long break, or even a dance break to “Time Sands Still” by Cut Copy!
- Plan your week, day and month. If you love checklists, you’ll love this; if not, perhaps you’ll get into them. You might not hit every goal every day, but planning helps you set goals and understand where you might have over- or under-estimated the time you needed. One page I found useful is here.
- Figure out what makes you most productive. There are lots of techniques, including the Pomodoro technique that acknowledges that we work best in 45-minute stretches, need breaks and rewards. Maybe organizing your space or finding your most productive times is in order. I use this handy guide on Medium.
- Find what works for you. Maybe you hate the outdoors — well, congratulations on living the dream! Maybe you love Zoom calls — then this is your happy place! But don’t assume that sitting 9-5 is going to get you through this. Experiment a little and soon you’ll be a well-oiled work-from-home machine.
- Stay in touch with people. We used to have monthly lab check-ins at work, but now we do them weekly. I’m also checking on friends who might be struggling with the new arrangement, especially if they live alone. It’s time to take extra care of the people in our lives.
- Most important: Stay calm. Remember “The Shining?” Was it all in his head? Would it all have been different if he had meditated and done yoga? Maybe. These are uncertain times, but our physical and mental health will benefit from following the suggested behaviors (social-distancing, isolating ourselves, etc.) and trying to stay calm. It’s ok to be worried at times, but try not to let it take over. It can be helpful to be optimistic.
Well, my break is over, so I’m going to do three jumping jacks, one dog-belly rub, and get back in my chair.
By Stefanie Kroll, Ph.D., Watershed Ecology Section Leader, the Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Science
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