8 Items Under $20 That Revolutionised Working From Home for Me

Published on 1/26/2021

Many of us aim to leave lockdown with a completed manuscript, a thriving side-hustle or other grand ambitions achieved. And it is good to aim high and want more from yourself, but you need to be realistic in what you require to achieve such things.

Our surroundings are vital to our accomplishments. That isn’t to say that you need a fancy office with high tec equipment, but rather that you need to fill your needs before you can achieve more. You don’t need a huge budget, as most items can be found for $20 or less, it’s just about working out what you need and making it happen.

These items reflect all the aspects required for productivity, including both your emotional and physical wellbeing. Treat yourself like the whole package and treat yourself to the following working from home tools.

1. Light Therapy Lamp

I have been tired for as long as I can remember. Since adolescence, I have never been able to get the energy I need. I’ve tried blood tests, vitamins, fitness and nutrition, but I have always found myself exhausted by the afternoon. And no one could tell me why.

I’m not going to say that this lamp is a miracle worker, as many factors play into your health and wellness, but rather that this lamp was the first thing to make a difference for me genuinely. I received it as a gift from my sister, who said that hers had given her such an energy and mood boost. They can't cure any disorders, but they've been found to ease symptoms, increase energy and elevate your mood.

For one hour per day, I have this light next to me whilst I work at my desk, and it has truly made such a difference. After a few days already, I felt like I had swallowed an extra espresso, and I found that I could still sleep soundly at night.

Many of us are spending far too much time indoors, as the lockdown restricts our movements and possibilities. The reduced exposure to sunlight could be affecting your health in more ways than one, so why not boost yourself with this lamp?

There are many options available, and this one is available for $19.99. This is an investment in your health, which I consider to be a direct investment in your productivity and business. It’s an easy habit to adopt, as it accompanies your usual routine.

2. A Milk Foamer

I live in the Netherlands, and cafes closed quite quickly here. I found myself missing a good old fashioned cappuccino, mostly temporarily since there was little else in my day to thrill me. On a whim, I went online and bought a milk foamer, and this is an investment that I have made full use of. For $19.95, you can have cappuccinos forever.

We’re living for those small joys at the moment. A pleasant walk in the evening, snuggling up with a good book, a new series to binge on Netflix… and a classy cappuccino. It gives me that little moment of joy to watch the milk foam up, and to sit behind my laptop with a delicious cappuccino. That moment is enough to power my productivity and ensure that I don’t mope around, feeling sorry for myself.

If a cappuccino can do the trick for you and fill the hole in your heart left by cafes, then certainly treat yourself to one. If it is something else, then get that. Add moments of joy into your day and use them to propel yourself forward.

Plus, this can reduce coffee costs in the future, so really it can be considered as saving money!

3. Footrest

I am one of those people who struggles to sit still. I fidget and move continuously, and I quickly end up lounging on my office chair or relocating to the couch. And then I’m one of those people who always complains about their back pain or continuously cracks their neck. I’m not proud to be one of them.

When filling my home office, I made sure to have a proper office chair, as I planned to spend a lot of time writing in there. Then the pandemic hit, and I had to work from home and spend even more time than planned in that seat. It’s a great seat, but it can’t do its job when I’m curling up or placing my feet on the desk. 

Then I was clearing out my Dad’s house and ended up with a box of stuff that I placed under my desk temporarily, which proceeded to be used as a footrest. I realised that since placing the box, I never curled up in my chair or fidgeted as much, I sat in my chair correctly and gave my spine relief for a day.

I moved the box and bought an ergonomic footrest instead, which you can find for as cheap as $19.99. The miraculous trend continued, and I found myself able to sit in a suitable position for hours!

No office chair, laptop rise or external keyboard can help you if you don’t sit properly at your desk, and a footrest can significantly assist you in doing this. You can also use it for other sitting purposes, or even when travel finally opens up again!

4. Gratitude Journal

After reading Rachel Hollis’ book, I began writing down my daily gratitude list. First, I did this on paper, as I wasn’t sure if the habit would stick. It was tough to build up, and I found myself missing days frequently. But once I cemented it to an existing practice, writing my daily to-do list over coffee, it became far more effortless.

I love starting my day with that burst of positivity. It also makes me more aware of the good things in my life and events that happen, as I know that I have a list to write tomorrow.

Whether it is this Gratitude Journal for $6.99, or in a plain notebook, start your day with a moment of reflection. It will boost your focus significantly and get you into the right headspace for a productive working session.

I like to write down three things that I’m grateful for, as well as my work and home goals. I love the satisfaction of ticking things off, and it honestly drives me to get work done. At the end of the day, I write a one-sentence summary, e.g. “Tried my best, but X took longer than expected!” or “Didn’t write an article, but became inspired for my novel and managed 4,000 words!”. Keep it positive and give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

5. External Speakers

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to working with music. I personally love having music playing whilst I work, but it is definitely dependent on the situation and type of music. Pre-pandemic, I adored going to a cafe to work on my manuscript and found it a place where I would get the bulk of it written.

I had solved the cappuccino conundrum, but it wasn’t enough, I was still yearning for the setting of a cafe. I found it difficult to concentrate with music playing in front of me, coming from my laptop, or even worse directly from my headphones. I then realised that one of the main aspects that I loved about cafes was having music playing softly around me. It created such a tranquil ambience but never stole your attention.

So I borrowed my partners Bluetooth speakers and placed them about a metre from me. I then curated an extensive “writing” playlist, where I added entire albums that I liked. Now when I sit down to work, I simply shuffle the playlist and allow the music to fill the room, to be more of a background effect. This has helped me so much that I then had to buy my own speakers, as I was using his all day every day!

You can get Bluetooth speakers for as cheap as $20.99 - I know, just over the limit, apologies!- and use them to create your own cafe aesthetic. Be sure to dedicate time and effort to create the right ambience in your home workspace, to make it somewhere you want to spend time.

6. Desk Lamp

Let there be light in your office!

Too many of us settle for dim light whilst working, particularly during these darker months. It strains your eyes, zaps your energy and diminishes your energy. Do yourself a favour, and make working early mornings or evenings more pleasant, by purchasing an additional desk lamp.

I always settled for my overhead light until I realised that I was almost squinting in the evenings and that the darkness made the room feel less friendly and welcoming. I would wake up early to get some writing done but be foiled by this dark room. A simple desk lamp allowed me always to have sufficient lighting and make my office space far friendlier.

I love this one from Golspark as it doubles as a pen holder, which is useful for small desks such as my own. It also has different light settings to create the right ambience but not be blinding, and is available for $19.99.

7. Tray Table

As much as you try to work from your desk, it’s impossible always to stay there. Especially now that you’re working from home all day and can’t even go to an office or cafe for a brief escape. We’re also living in unprecedented times when sometimes you need a bit more comfort and a cosier set up. That’s okay; there is nothing wrong adapting your working space to your needs.

I have a tray table tucked away in my living room for times when I need a cosy area, or I’m feeling a little low. I can then lie on the couch with a blanket wrapped around me and still do some writing. You can be surprisingly productive this way, as long as you feel comfortable. We often get so focused on physical wellbeing whilst working from home that we can neglect products that assist our emotional wellbeing.

Allow yourself to enjoy multiple working stations and adapt to even the lowest of moods with a tray table for your laptop. This one from Loddie Doddie ($19.99) even features a storage compartment, ideal for notebooks and pens!

8. Blue Light Glasses

Last year, I began getting these weird visual issues, where everything would kind of blur a bit, and I would see swirling shapes that caused blindspots. I got so concerned that I went to a doctor, who told me that these were actually auras following an intense migraine. There was nothing he could give me to help them, but he said that staying away from screens for a bit when they hit could reduce it.

When the pandemic hit, I had a migraine, and the same symptoms followed it. I found it challenging to avoid screens, given that I was home almost all day. I couldn’t see friends; instead, I had to face a screen to talk to them. I couldn’t go to a museum or bar, and so I just wanted to watch films. Even on my ‘day off’, I try to work on articles and my manuscript, so there was no escape from screens.

So I decided to try blue light blocking glasses, to see if they could ease issues at all. I would often forget about them, until I started placing them directly on my laptop when I took them off. After two weeks, I noticed that I was no longer having any issues, and my eyes felt less tired than previously. I used to also experience a slight twitch after a long day behind the screen, which was gone now too.

The science around blue light glasses hasn’t come to a conclusion, so I won’t say that they are definitely proven to have miraculous effects. But I found some relief through them, and I was happy to try for such a small price. We often discuss the dangers of screens and the light emitted from them, so this is a slight adjustment to make that could potentially help.

Not only are these under $20, but you can get a multipack of three for $16.98! That translates to less than $6 per pair and you could split them with friends or family.

Creating your ideal home space requires trial and error; you need to find what is right for you. But don’t stop at the simple necessities of a monitor and external keyboard, take thing a step further to craft your ideal working space. Productivity can stem from both internal and external facets, and often the two co-exist. So pin down what you need and make it happen, invest in the productivity you want to see happen.

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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

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