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Wellness: Five ways to stay healthy while working at home | Darryl Singer

Friday, August 21, 2020 @ 2:02 PM | By Darryl Singer


Darryl Singer %>
Darryl Singer
I think I have alluded in each of my last four columns to writing about my 10-year anniversary of recovery in the next column. But the novel coronavirus lockdown leaves no shortage of things to write about in terms of wellness, so if I may, here is one more column on wellness in the age of COVID-19.

I have no desire to go back to the old ways of working. My litigation schedule, with the exception of jury trials, is as busy as ever. I am conducting discoveries, mediations, client meetings, internal firm meetings and even court appearances via Zoom. Given that my office has been digital for years and I very rarely work with paper, I am happy that I can finally practise in what is fast becoming a truly integrated digital litigation environment. Working from home allows me to save dozens of hours a week otherwise spent in my car travelling from my comfy suburban home to client meetings, courthouses and reporters’ offices all around the province. I am less stressed and more productive as a result.

I didn't realize until several months into this pandemic just how much stress and tension I had been carrying around, not from my high-volume caseload or the work itself, but simply due to the physical and emotional toll of spending so many hours sitting in traffic. The result is that the time which would have been spent in a car is now spent on productive work or on family time. The ability to work remotely also allows me to work without distraction. I am one of those like many who enjoy the camaraderie of the office but actually find it distracting from getting through my to-do list on any given day.

There are however a number of downsides to working from home that impact directly on wellness. We are by nature social creatures and there is a camaraderie that many of us relish whether with our office mates or when we see colleagues at court or reporter’s office. That has all but been lost and although we replace it with telephone and Zoom it's not the same as the personal contact. Even now that some of us are able to venture into the office or socialize with drinks on the patio, many of us miss the ability to shake hands or hug long-lost friends. For many who work at home it's not as enjoyable if you have young children or live with older relatives. If you are in a marriage or relationship that was already taxed before the lockdown, that has no doubt been amplified by multitudes. There's also the sameness of not changing your environment; not having that separation between home and office.

I am one of the lucky ones: older kids, happy home life, nice private space at home in which to work. But even I could find myself falling into ennui if I did not follow the following five elements of a work at home routine:

  1. Commute: I leave the house every morning and drive to the Tim Hortons down the street to get my coffee. I will then sit in my car for 15-20 minutes with my coffee while I listen to a podcast. I then drive back home and go upstairs to my office having created a sense of separation between home and work. As the weather has been nice, often the drive is replaced with a walk or a bike ride.
  2. Get dressed: I follow the same routine as I would if I were going to work. Obviously, there is a more casual style over Zoom than in person. But make an effort, even casually, to look presentable. I do this even on days where I am not seeing anyone in person or on Zoom.
  3. Take frequent breaks: Much has been written about people having the inability to separate home and office while at home. I continue to do the same thing I would have done at the office. So, at lunch time, I go to my kitchen and make lunch or if I am not on Zoom all day may even go out to pick up lunch. My very brief lunch (often no more than 20 minutes) is nonetheless sacred. During that time I do not answer calls or e-mails or look at any work. I watch a show on Netflix, read my book or I listen to a podcast.
  4. Have a regular time where, barring work emergencies, you can log off: I try most days to shut down by 6. There are days where I have meetings that go into the evenings and of course I will nonetheless check e-mail periodically throughout the evening. But unless I have an immediate deadline, I strive to shut my computer down around dinnertime and have dinner with my family. I can then spend time with family or friends.
  5. Exercise your mind and/or your body: Do what works for you but do something. Walk, ride your bike, do yoga. And nourish your mind the same way. I make a point of reading something unrelated to law every evening.

This new world is not going away anytime soon. It appears unlikely that most of us will be back in our offices full time until at least January. Make the best of it.

Darryl Singer is head of commercial and civil litigation at Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP in Toronto, although he has agreed to be the first lawyer in the firm to give up his office and stay home when things get back to normal.

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