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How To Live Alone And Work Alone Without Losing Your Grip On Reality


You don’t want to know how many microwave grilled cheeses I’ve eaten in the last year. (Less than 50, more than 48.) Living alone and working alone are rare privileges. Combined, they are difficult. Combined in a studio apartment? That’s how you end up microwaving your grilled cheeses.

As the need to quarantine spreads across our continent, thanks to the Wuhan virus, many of you may find yourselves in my well-worn slippers. Introverts will rejoice. Extroverts will fret. Neither will ultimately be satisfied. That’s often the case when healthy balance is out of reach. Not all hope is lost.

Feel free to revel in your freedom at first. Wear pajamas until you head to bed again. Blast music. Sleep in right until the clock starts. Beware, however, that your structureless bliss may not last into April. Isolation is good for no one.

As a veteran of this tricky arrangement, I can confirm the helpfulness of the usual work-from-home advice: set a start time, get dressed every morning, designate a physical workspace, set an end time. I’d also suggest buying nice speakers (not tinny gas station fare), stocking up on decent candles, and getting office supplies.

The speakers are for ambiance. It can be tough to focus in your environment—playing personal favorites can make your space fun, and queuing up a classical playlist on Spotify can be amazing for concentration. Sound quality makes a big difference when you’re listening all day.

The candles are also for ambiance; lighting them helps keep a small room pleasant when the walls start closing in. (And make no mistake, they will start closing in.) The office supplies can be as simple as a pack of pens in a coffee mug, a notebook, and post-its. Desk organizers help. Don’t underestimate the value in recreating the kind of space from which you’re conditioned to work.

Noise-canceling headphones can save entire days from the yapping dog upstairs or an inconsiderate upstairs neighbor discovering exercise videos. Wear shoes. Keep things clean so you can focus from 9:00 to 5:00. Leave your blinds open as much as possible. Crack a window. Do not under any circumstances start conversing with Alexa.

As time goes on, you’ll long for a reason to get out of your PJs. You’ll start feeling slow and want to stop putting in the effort. Days will blend together. The inspiration for “Wide Open Spaces” will become abundantly clear. That’s when structure will be important.

Set time for a morning or evening workout. Start and end your day with a devotional. Make coffee and eat breakfast. Make phone appointments with coworkers. Many. Add them to your calendar. (Communication is surprisingly difficult on email alone. Over-communicate to compensate.)

Change back into comfortable clothes in the evening, just like you would do after work anyway. Set up Skype dates with friends. Try to designate an evening activity for most nights, whether it’s cooking a special meal, trying a classic film or novel you’ve never gotten around to, or simply talking to friends and family. Buy a new guitar.

All of this may well fail. Everyone is different. In my experience, contrived structure is not an adequate replacement for social interaction, a shared workspace, living space, or both. But it’s a way to keep your head occupied and focused, not wandering aimlessly through the great wilderness of your mind.

Under normal circumstances, it’s easier to take the edge off living and working alone by bringing your laptop to a Starbucks and hanging out with friends on nights and weekends. If that’s not an option, structure and passion will be your best friend.

It’s important to love your small space, and fairly cheap to make easy improvements. Something as simple as getting new shelves can help. Think about what you love doing most and organize your free time around it, especially by branching out in new directions you’re usually too exhausted after commuting and socializing to explore.

Above all, for the weeks of isolation the near future may bring, remember you’re never really alone. Let’s get some extra shut eye for a week, sure. But when we’re all caught up on rest, we can use our commuting time to study the Word. As we are instructed in James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.”