The Do’s and Don’ts of Working From Home: A Dietetic Intern’s Perspective

By: Hannah Lundeen

A year ago, when I envisioned my life as a dietetic intern, I was not expecting to spend much of my time in my house. However, as we all are experiencing, times have changed in ways that nobody could have predicted. With the unfamiliarity of the current COVID-19 pandemic, society has been forced to adapt to a new way of living. Having spent the first two rotations of my internship working from home, I have adjusted and found techniques in order to work as effectively as possible.  

Within the first few weeks of working from home, I determined that it would be important to set up my workspace. I learned some good, practical things from a webinar on staying organized given by a University of Maryland faculty member. I knew implementing some of these new tactics would be crucial in order to be the most productive and efficient dietetic intern possible. For instance, with a few simple modifications I was able to maximize my workspace to make working from home a more comfortable experience. To begin, I elevated my laptop using five textbooks. This helped to maintain posture and kept my computer screen within eye level. Additionally, I purchased a keyboard, mousepad, and mouse, all of which made working from a desk easier.

During my second rotation, I came to understand the importance of sticking to a schedule. For this seven week rotation, I had to sign onto my email by 7:30 AM, and I usually finished work and signed off around 5:30 PM. Having never worked a 9-5 style job before, there were several habits I cultivated early in this rotation that helped me work long hours from home. For example, I learned that sticking to a morning routine was extremely important. When looking to create a new habit, integrating it with something you enjoy can help with adherence. For example, I had to wake up around 6:30 in the morning in order to be ready by 7:30. I mentally connected the act of drinking coffee, which is something I deeply enjoy, with waking up. As such, combining my morning routine with an activity that I look forward to made it easier to uphold. 

Additionally, I came to understand how important maintaining good sleep hygiene is. This, perhaps, is even more necessary when working from home. Sleep hygiene is the practice of creating an environment that helps to foster healthy sleeping habits. Though it doesn’t have to, working from home can hinder one’s sleep hygiene if adequate precautions are not taken. I had to learn this the hard way. Within the first three or four weeks of working from home, I had my desk setup in my bedroom. Not surprisingly, I began to develop insomnia and I think that having my desk situated so close to my bed definitely played a major role. Following the onset of these symptoms, I took steps to improve my sleep hygiene. Most notably, I moved my desk from my bedroom to the basement of my house. This change made an immense difference in my ability to get a restful night’s sleep. As such, I now understand that even if one works from home, there are spaces that should remain work-free.

Upon advice from another University of Maryland faculty member, I learned that getting in regular movement or stretching throughout the workday is very important. During our class days that take place once a week, we generally get up and take a break every 45 minutes. However, on rotation days, it can be easy to fall into the habit of not taking breaks and continue working for long stretches of time. Being able to compare how my body felt at the end of class days versus the end of rotation days was reason enough to implement walking breaks every hour in a half. Now I look forward to walking breaks not only to give my eyes a rest but to see the beautiful fall weather as well.

 In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed many aspects of day to day living. Although this may not be what I had anticipated pre-pandemic, I have learned tactics along the way that have made working from home a more productive and pleasant experience. The skills gained during this time can be carried with me throughout my career as a future dietitian — no matter where the setting may be.

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