7 Creative Ways to Simulate Normalcy When Your Whole Life Is Online

Here are my seven favorites tricks.


Katie Santamaria

3 years ago | 6 min read

Whether you’re a college student like me or working from home, staring at your computer all day isn’t ideal. Sure, the novelty of wearing pajamas all day, eating 5-course meals behind the veil of your Zoom profile picture during meetings, and even petting your kitten mid-presentation might be exciting.

But after a while, the charm of the #WFH life wears off, and our most innate social desires take over. Trust me, I get it. I haven’t seen my college friends since March.

Although there’s no one panacea for curing the struggle that is social isolation, I’ve found a few tech-related tricks that help me pretend I’m not living through a pandemic and avoiding the outside world like the plague (literally). Here are my seven favorites tricks.

1. Personalize your physical environment.

This is probably the most well-known tip, but I’ll take it a step further. You’ve heard about making your space cozy and conducive to focus — but what about making your space meaningful? The key to good work is keeping your eye on the driving force. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s your ultimate goal?

Some people are into vision boards, but those require a bit too much blue for my liking. Instead, I use quotes, cut-out poems, photographs of evocative art, plants, and calming scented candles to keep me going.

The quotes give me purpose, while the more relaxing aspects remind me of my emphasis on prioritizing my mental health above everything else. I’ll cover quotes more in depth in trick #4.

2. Personalize your digital environment.

I don’t know about you, but the concept of occupying “digital space” was foreign to me before this pandemic. I’d log onto my computer, complete assignments, and then go on with my day in the real world. Now, I’m more of a digital citizen than ever, and with citizenship comes a newfound environment.

I’ve decided to make my digital environment simulate the physical environment I miss most: coffee shops on rainy days. This may sound silly, but it’s truly worked wonders for me. To do this, I found a photo of a coffee shop that resonated with me. I chose the image attached to this lo-fi music track on Youtube:

Something about the warm hues, foggy windows, and steamy cup of coffee reminded me of Hungarian Pastry Shop, my favorite little coffee shop in Morningside Heights.

My tech-savvy brother also made the video into a screensaver so that, when I step away from my work, I can see the rain rolling down the windows. The movement is extremely calming. I’m almost convinced I’m back in Manhattan ordering an Americano.

I’ve also taken to editing small details about my digital environment. I turned off sound effects so my Mac doesn’t make that horrible sound when I drag documents into folders.

You know the one. I’m not alone in my hatred, right? I also turned on “do not disturb” mode so that no text message can ever interrupt me when I’m focused. DND is a game-changer. No, not Dungeons and Dragons. You know what I mean.

Taking my extra-ness a step further, I turned all the blue folders on my desktop into manila folders. It matches the coffee shop ambiance and gives me the sense that I brought my work to this cafe for a long night in. Plus, why were the folders ever blue? Who thought blue folders made sense?

If you’re wondering how to change the color of folders on Mac, check out this nifty video:

3. Set firm boundaries…and don’t break them. Seriously.

This one is tough, especially if you’re as addicted to maintaining “inbox zero” as I am. I’ll be honest: I just set my strict boundary today. In fact, setting that boundary is what inspired me to finally sit down and write this article. “Maybe if I write about it,” my naive brain speculated, “I’ll stick to my own advice!” Peer pressure is an effective tool for success.

When I say boundaries, I’m talking time-based limits. For me, I’ve vowed to stop checking email between 7:30 PM and 8:00 AM. This means, even if I receive an email at 7:34 PM on a Tuesday night, I’ll leave it sitting in my inbox until the next morning. Nothing is so pressing that it needs an immediate reply. If it did, it’d more likely be a call or a text.

Creating this boundary allows me to really turn off work mode. That’s the hardest part of working from home, no matter your career or what you’re studying: nobody monitors how late you’re working. Nobody sees you sitting there at 10:54 PM sipping coffee and finishing up that pitch deck.

Nobody tells you to go home and get some rest. Instead, we have to learn to tell ourselves that. It’s not easy when we’ve been conditioned to believe productivity equals worth, but it’s crucial to maintaining mental health — not to mention feeling getting enough rest each night.

4. Find your WFH mantra. Put it everywhere.

Here are some of my favorite self-care reminders. I use the yellow one as my phone background! I’d also recommend printing out inspirational images or copying quotes by hand to paste them around your home.

5. Separate your work from your personal life, even if they take place on the same laptop.

I know lots of adults are afforded the opportunity of using a separate “work computer.” Unfortunately, college grants us students no such privilege. My solution? Use Google Chrome’s “people” feature, and create two different profiles: one for when you’re working, and one for when you’re relaxing.

The cat symbolizes my sun-bathing lazy side, while the dragon symbolizes my *fierce* work ethic.

This may seem small, but it’s made a huge difference in my mindset. My bookmark bar in my work account might stress me out when I’m trying to relax, and my bookmark bar in my personal account may distract me with games when I’m trying to focus.

I think of these different accounts as different digital spaces, the same way I spend time in my dorm room watching Netflix and in the classroom listening to lecture. Exiting “work” is like exiting the classroom. It gives me a sense of finality, allowing me to end my day in peace.

6. Compartmentalize by taking advantage of your space.

If you’re lucky enough to live in a home where you have an office, set those physical boundaries: leave work in the office, and keep relaxation in the bedroom.

You can even simulate a commute when walking between your office and bedroom. Take these roommates who recreated the tube using their shower, for example. You don’t need to take it that far…but some creativity can create much-needed levity during times of stress.

If you don’t have different rooms to separate your work and personal life, try making the bed itself off-limits and doing work exclusively on a desk. It’s not easy being in the same room as your bed (trust me, I know), but creating different spaces helps you mentally separate different states of mind.

7. Simulate spontaneous office chat by making a pact with friends.

All you need for this tip is a can-do attitude, a few excited friends, and a phone. Remember water cooler talk? Chit-chat between class? Heated politics as you heated your lunch? Those impromptu social interactions may seem trivial, but they actually make up a huge part of in-person work culture — even if it’s awkward, it’s refreshing to see a new face every now and then.

It’s important to talk about something other than work to break up the day.

How can we simulate these off-the-cuff convos? By creating a new social norm.

It’s tough, but it’s worth inquiring with your friends. Propose more spontaneous Facetime calls. Suggest that, instead of setting up a long call once a week and stopping there, you call each other over lunch or during your afternoon slump when you need that burst of energy.

I’ve made this deal with one of my close friends, and it’s been refreshing to know I have an open invitation to chat with her — even if only for a few minutes — just to get my dose of socialization.

We need to combat loneliness as much as possible, even if the methods aren’t ideal. The first step is normalizing digital contact and promoting more regular conversations, even if they’re only a few minutes long. Seeing someone’s smile can completely transform your day.

Originally published on Katie’s Ordinary Life.


Created by

Katie Santamaria







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