Survival Guide for Music Therapists Working at Home

by Annie Roberson, MT-BC

If you’ve suddenly found yourself thrust into the world of at-home work during this COVID-19 outbreak, you’re not alone. Remote work can be tricky for all professionals, but particularly for music therapists working from home, as we are so used to seeing our clients face to face every day.

Hopefully you’ve found some things to keep you productive during COVID session interruptions – if not, here’s a blog post of COVID music therapy ideas – but you might still be struggling to establish a productive routine. 

As a music therapist with experience in remote work in other fields, I’ve written this survival guide for music therapists working at home to give you some tips, tricks, and resources to make the best of this situation!

1. Keep a Schedule

No, I’m not saying you have to get up at 5:30am every morning while social distancing – but I am saying you should set some kind of wake up and bedtime alarm each day. With no end date to this crisis in sight and few hard deadlines, it would be easy to stay in bed past noon every day, realize you’ve lost more time than you meant to, and decide to just save your work for tomorrow.

You can see how this kind of pattern could snowball, and you might realize two weeks later that you haven’t done anything you set out to accomplish! Irregular bedtimes and routines will also make it that much harder to get into a routine once we do regain some normalcy in our schedules. 

Whatever routine works for you during this time, make sure you use it!

2. Shower and Get Dressed Every Morning

Don’t get me wrong, my best lazy days are spent confidently in my pajamas with my hair in a bun. And while we should all be taking some time to relax and practice self-care during this stressful period, there will also be days when we need to get things done. 

Personally, I feel much more productive when I’ve showered and put on “real” clothes (that still include some kind of elastic waistband, because who are we kidding here). It lets my mind and body know that today will be productive and gets me in a working mindset. 

If you’re struggling to get in that workflow state of mind, try taking a shower and putting on some work clothes. Throw on some cologne, perfume, or lipstick if you’re feeling fancy, and really get in the professional zone.

3. Establish a Work-Play Balance

Folks who regularly work from home will tell you that maintaining a work-play balance is one of the most challenging aspects of remote work. 

To keep a physical boundary in your home, try setting up a dedicated workspace. This doesn’t have to be a separate room, although bonus points to you if you have that luxury. A dedicated workspace can be something as simple as a particular corner with a chair and a TV tray table used only for work. Creating a physical boundary in your home can help you focus more when it’s time to get work done and relax more readily when it’s time to play, especially since your work and play will all be happening under the same roof for the foreseeable future.

To maintain mental boundaries, try setting aside designated time for work and play. Write it in your calendar, set alarms, and enforce your own schedule. When it’s time to work, settle in and work on that to-do list. Avoid Netflix, social media, video games, or other things you wouldn’t typically do at the office.

That being said, when work time is over, let work be done. Don’t answer emails or write blog posts or just check that one last thing off your list. Let yourself clock out.

With most people working from home now, there seems to be an agreement that we are all available for any kind of work at all hours of the day. Music therapist friends, this is simply not true. 

Just as if we were all working regular hours in an office, we still need time to take off our professional hats and relax. Do not give in to the lie that you must answer that email or return that call as soon as it comes in (at 9:00pm!)  because you are closer to your computer now.  

Resource: To stay on task during work hours, try using the Pomodoro method – 25 minutes working, 5-minute break. After four rounds of work, take a long 25-minute break. Apps like Focus Keeper automate the Pomodoro method for you.

4. Start with a Reasonable To-do List

If you’re anything like me, you’re staring at the next few weeks with visions of massive projects dancing in your head. And while it’s true that you can probably get some incredible things done with some extra time at home, it’s also important to set reasonable expectations for yourself.

Look at the big tasks you want to accomplish – set up a website, create a new CMTE course, write a book – and break them into smaller, more bite-sized steps. You probably won’t write a whole novel in the next two weeks. You may, however, be able to get a ton of outlining and research done for your next book, and that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating in itself!

5. Take Care of Yourself!

Really truly, it is okay if you are not operating at full productive capacity during an international pandemic. It really is. Please be sure that you’re taking care of yourself as we navigate this stressful journey together. Get some fresh air, even if it just means opening a window. Do a workout video on YouTube or dance while you’re mopping the floors to keep yourself active. FaceTime the people you’ve been meaning to catch up with. Eat a vegetable, canned or otherwise. Drink lots of water. Seek support and ask for help when you need it. 

This is a big adjustment for lots of us, and we’re learning to navigate it together. Hang in there friends – we’re all here for each other!

Annie Roberson, MT-BC

Music Therapist – Board Certified

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