For Librarians who Telework: Separating Work from Home, Part II

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

April 28, 2020
Working from home and not having the option of in-person meetings and places to go puts enormous stress on most of us, including introverts. The lack of warning that shifted most of our work from an office to home is a shock and most unsettling. How do we all adjust?

Having worked from home as a free-lance librarian for most of my career, I’m sharing some tips that work for me.


The hardest aspect of working from home is focusing on work and not on our personal lives. Everything becomes a distraction especially if your family members and significant other are living and working in the same space. It’s time to develop strategies for focusing on work routines.

  • Get dressed before work. This sounds crazy, but putting on casual work clothes sends signals to your brain that it’s time to work. You might want to invest in more jeans or comfortable leggings along with cozy tops to keep you comfortable.
  • Continue your rituals for getting in and out of work mode. These rituals often include showering, dressing for work, and exercising. They are normal demarcations between work and home. Keep up the routines and rituals and they’ll make you feel better and increase your productivity and focus on work.
  • Work in a non-distracting place. Move your work (computer, work phone, copier/printer) into a spare bedroom, a warm, quiet space where you can talk on the phone or have a virtual meeting. Work away from the kitchen and the TV, both are incredibly distracting. Avoid the news, talk radio, and constant TV. Schedule e-mail time.
  • Take regular, short breaks to clear your mind and refocus on work. Take a quick walk around your house, around the block, or even for coffee. Limit breaks to 15 minutes or less, every hour or two. Then go back to work. Schedule some breaks “together” with your colleagues. Chat via computer.
  • Schedule work hours. You may have no choice if your place of business requires an 8-5 day. Create a daily, realistic to-do list and finish what you can. You’ll find you’re more productive without your colleagues around, so take some time to catch up on neglected professional reading.
  • Take a lunch break. Schedule time for lunch, for a social chat via phone or e-mail. Lunch should be an opportunity to get away from work, from the computer, or your research project.

Close the door on work at the end of the day. It’s so tempting to keep working, after all, you don’t have to go home, catch the bus, or train. Nevertheless, it’s mentally and emotionally healthier to stop working at five, and shift your focus back to “home.”


Now that you are working at home all day, every day, develop self-renewal habits and routines. You’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to transition to non-work. So, what do you do to make that mental shift?

  • Change your clothes.
  • Turn on the radio and meditate. Pick a TV exercise channel and get your blood flowing. Shock your hormones into happiness.
  • Have a relaxing cup of tea or a glass of wine (or beverage of your choice). Call your loved ones and check in with them.
  • Take the time to dive back into your latest book before fixing dinner.
  • Take a walk around the block to clear your head and prepare for a night in.
  • Do some housework or laundry, make soup or bake bread. Make your ‘house’ more comfortable by taking care of that neglected chore and get it off your personal, procrastination list.

Make no mistake, it’s difficult to work and live in the same space. Recognize that you aren’t alone. All your colleagues are working from home and struggling with the same challenges.

Fighting Depression

Working from home can create burnout or depression. It’s isolating to be by yourself, at home, all day, every day with nowhere to go to relieve that sameness. Working from home isn’t a “staycation” or even a bit like retirement. Working from home means you have to work and also keep yourself happy, refreshed, and renewed every day. The hardest part is not leaving the house and not having a physical separation between work space and home spaces.

  • Sit under a full-spectrum light for an hour to grab that bit of refreshing vitamin D, especially on a gloomy day.
  • Have a virtual coffee date with a friend and chat about things other than work.
  • Limit your intake of news.
  • Cultivate a hobby you’ve been neglecting. Just think, you’ll have time to garden, stitch, or do a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Read a book you’ve been meaning to get to for a while, one of those thick books sitting on your shelf or bedside table.
  • Go to bed and get up at your usual time. It’s tempting to stay up all night and binge watch your favorite TV series. Don’t. Keep your regular work routine. Don’t forget to get dressed in work clothes, or at least casual clothes every morning.

Summing it up

Teleworking is a challenge that most of us aren’t used to. We’ve been forced to physically distance ourselves from others but that doesn’t mean we have to cut ourselves off socially.

Teleworking demands a shift in work routines, attitude, and internal rhythm. You’ll be working hard to keep up a stable work routine and be home with your family or by yourself. There’s nothing easy about teleworking.

Treat yourself kindly on the gloomy days and recognize that you are not alone.

For a contemporary take on getting dressed for working at home see the article by Vanessa Friedman and Sapna Maheshwari “What Does ‘Dressing for Work’ Mean Now?” NYT (March 18, 2020)

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills and strategies for special librarians. **Refresh your knowledge of Lucidea’s flagship ILS, SydneyEnterprise, here.


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