Do you have any suggestions for creating a peaceful work environment?

Date: June 2020


Dear deans,

It has been somewhat of a challenge for me to transition to working from home. Generally, my living situation is just not well suited for productivity. In my apartment, I surround myself with all the comforts that normally help me to relax after working on campus. But now, while having to work surrounded by all these things, I’m finding it easier than ever to take extended breaks, and I don’t have the luxury of a dedicated work space for me to “get away” from the distractions. Further, my next door neighbors have been doing noisy construction (jackhammers, bulldozers, etc.) for two weeks, and the downstairs neighbors have a newborn baby that’s up all hours of the day. Is there anything I can do to find a peaceful work environment?



Behind on all my work


Dear Behind on all my work,

Thank you so much for reaching out and asking your question. You are absolutely correct in that our environment can impact how we feel about the tasks that need to be done, our ability to focus and concentrate, and getting our work accomplished. I, too, have struggled with this reality as having a child in my household doesn’t always equate to a peaceful environment… 🙂

While there is not an easy answer that works for everyone, I encourage you to be creative in trying new strategies that may allow you to create a new environment and perhaps rhythm that can help you find a new way of being. A quick Google search will allow you to seek out what the professionals are saying as ways to create a more productive work space. Some ideas that I have seen that may be helpful to you include…

  • Create a space to work. Perhaps use a corner in your bedroom, a nook in your hallway, or an unused attic space, and figure out where to have a desk (which can be a small desk, a vanity, or a folding table). The key will be to set up the area to have no distractions, but only the materials that is required to do your work. Anything that you can see from your desk that can be a distraction should be removed.  
  • Create a quiet area. You may want to make sure that your work space is in the most quiet area of your apartment to minimize noise distractions (most state that you need a quiet space to be able to focus and concentrate). You may want to think about noise reduction ear muffs/plugs or background noise to help you concentrate and drown out the jack-hammer and kids!
  • Pretend like you are going into the office. Try establishing a mental association between your preparation for work and your space to be more productive. Do all of the things that you did when you were coming to campus – wake up with an alarm, shower, drink coffee, and put on nice clothes. That could help you prepare to sit down and get in the zone.  
  • Use smell. I love this one as it ties our ability to work to certain smells. If part of your routine includes a good cup of coffee and that smell gets you going, that would be a great time to sit down and work and make that a part of your routine.  Some essential oils may help with this as well – one suggestion is that peppermint gives energy.
  • Structure your day and review your time management strategies. You are in charge of your hours and may need to schedule all hours to help establish a rhythm. In addition, you may need to go back to basics of managing your time and start small. Every day, identify four to five things that need to be done during your work hours and celebrate when you have been able to do this. If it is too overwhelming to do too many things in a day, that can make it difficult to use your new office space. 
  • Pay attention to your natural energy and moods. Learn when you work the best as it relates to your own natural energy and moods. Throughout the day our motivation wanes; you may want to schedule harder tasks for when you have more of the capacity to focus and concentration and do more routine task when you are slower. 
  • Take purposeful breaks. Reward your work hours with developing purposeful breaks that allow you to recharge your batteries, reward yourself for the work done, and be more productive. This could be with some of the comforts in your apartment, but time even your breaks so that you know when you will go back to the work to be done. 
  • Stay connected with others. It may be more helpful now to connect with your faculty mentor or other students in an effort to be connected to the work that needs to be done. With students, creating time to connect with others using technology can be really helpful. And, I am sure that you have peers that are struggling with the same thing and would want to connect with you to serve as a “accountability partner.”

Those are just some initial ideas. Perhaps you have already tried these, but I would encourage you to keep trying – you’ll find your new rhythm and routine. Also, please be kind to yourself during this time – the stress involved in the pandemic is real and may be impacting your ability to figure this out. Obviously, you are not working at home by choice, but are now managing and trying to figure out what works to help you increase productivity while at home. If you would like to talk more about ideas, I am happy to connect with you one-on-one to discuss. Another resource would be Cornell Health to talk with a  provider to see if they can help work with you to better determine how to best support you during this challenging time. If that is of interest to you, you can talk with a mental health provider at 607-255-5155, 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Wishing you all the best.


Janna Lamey

Janna Lamey
Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life