The weekend before the government announced the lockdown I was due to go to Bristol to visit a friend, and a few days earlier we’d been notified at the office that we would be working from home for the next few weeks (of course little did we know, five months later we still would be!). I remember frantically trying to take everything I needed home on Thursday and then lugging the last bits with me on the train for the weekend. It felt quite odd as everyone was packing up on that last Friday, saying goodbyes and have nice weekends, as usual, but not really knowing until when.
I optimistically started the lockdown with a schedule of home workouts, yoga mornings, reading lists and recipes to try to make the most of my working from home time, but I quickly became overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but feel like I needed to use this newly gained time as best as I could by filling every non-working hour with other productive activities which I normally wouldn’t get a chance to… but after the first month or so, I was getting tired and burning myself out. I decided to try to take this pressure off myself. I told myself that not all free time needed to be productive time, and slowly started getting used to splitting my day a bit more strictly, setting myself time to relax and unwind, and not feel guilty about it. I’ve also recently moved home, going from a very cramped open-plan London apartment to something with more space and a separate room for my office, so this has definitely enabled me to keep the different parts of my day more separate. And most of all, being able to leave the office room after I’ve finished work for the day instantly makes me to switch to non-work mode.
After getting used to the unfamiliarity of working at home on a daily basis and settling into my make-shift office, I managed to get into my work flow fairly quickly and easily. It was very unusual for the first few weeks when we were still trying to figure out the physicality of not being in the office, smoothing out the kinks of Zoom meetings and approving artwork files digitally, but after that initial learning curve it became much easier. Although I have all my home comforts I’ve actually felt more focused and less distracted. From a design point of view and in terms of working on new covers, I feel like I’ve been more productive and can get into the flow quicker. I think the main reason is that I don’t feel ‘restricted’ by the office environment. Coming from an art school background, I’m very much used to working in big studios with piles of stuff everywhere and people being messy, which of course is very different to the office; although we are casual it’s still a very different atmosphere. Since being at home, in my own space, I feel like I can be creative in many different ways and make a mess, which has given me a bit of a boost and helped me move forward faster in the initial stages of new projects.
I’m very luck to be part of a small and tight-knit team, which I feel has made a big difference during this time. I speak to my colleagues on a daily basis, and the spirit of the office is always there during our virtual meetings and chats, keeping up with each other and making sure everyone is always doing ok. As much as I’ve been able to get into my work easily, it’s also been something that I’ve heavily leant on. In so many ways it’s been the only familiarity and constant during the last months, with so many unknowns and uncertainty around us, it’s a become a little bubble I’ve been able to make myself comfortable in and focus on, making the realities of living in lockdown slightly easier to process.
Having my other half at home the whole time too has been really valuable and a massive support system. It’s been very refreshing because normally on our day to day life we became so busy with work and commutes, so stressed out, that by the time we got home in the evening the only energy left was to make food and watch Netflix. Now, since being in quarantine and without the stress of the city and long commutes, we’ve found ourselves wanting to be more active and to do much more. Also as I don’t leave the house, by the end of my work day I’m itching to change my environment and get some fresh air, so since the lockdown eased a bit we’ve started spending much more time doing activities after we finish work like walking in parks in the evenings or cycling.
Overall, my lockdown has been mostly focused on finding a good work-life balance and figuring out how to use the time I’ve gained to my advantage without feeling pressured by my own expectations. It’s also been a liberating experience for my design process, stepping outside of my computer much more, mixing mediums and having a lot of fun, essentially going back to the way I used to work when I first fell in love with design.
Carmen R. Balit is a designer at Atlantic Books, and a Bookseller 2020 Rising Star.