As I am sure you are aware, the world has changed in some drastic ways. The world is making an effort to minimize the damage done by COVID-19. Here in the U.S. and in many countries abroad, people have been going into quarantine, all non-essential businesses are being closed and anyone who can is working remotely/working from home. The efforts being made are important and necessary, and they might also be messing up your life. For some, working from home might feel like a natural fit. But for a lot of people working from home is difficult, uncomfortable and might mean less productivity. So how do you manage to stay productive while working from home? As a person who has spent a lot of time working from home prior to the quarantine I picked up a few tricks. I hope you can benefit from them.
Have a Routine
I know I know, every blog article that has come out since we have started this quarantine has told you how important it is “to have a routine”. Some even give you routines of famous people throughout history. But it’s true! Think about what your life looks like on the weekends or on holidays when you have nothing planned and no set schedule. Do you spring out of bed and get straight to whatever project you wanted to accomplish that day? No, you don’t. You take your time relaxing and before you know it, it is 7pm and you haven’t even looked at half of the projects that you wanted to do around the house. Better save it for next weekend, right?
As I am sure you have discovered, that attitude is fine every once in a while. It’s healthy to give yourself breaks from the stress of everyday life. But when you are working from home and it starts happening every day you can get into some big trouble. The simple solution here is to create a daily routine and make yourself stick to it. For instance, I know that if given the opportunity I will sleep all day. In order to combat that impulse I set up meetings first thing in the morning everyday. Knowing that I am accountable to someone else for being awake and productive means that I can’t give in to my sleepy impulses. Having a meeting first thing in the morning also usually gives me a good sense of what I need to get done for the day. This brings me to my next tip.
Make a To-Do List
When I was a kid at the beginning of every summer my mom would sit me and my brothers down and ask us what we wanted to accomplish over the next few months. She would get out a notepad and write down everything that we said, then she would put each of those things on a calendar. As a kid I absolutely hated this. Why did I need to accomplish anything over the summer? I just wanted to watch TV or read undisturbed for hours on end (yes, I am a giant nerd). But as an adult working from home I am grateful that my mom taught me this technique.
As I mentioned in the last section, after my morning meetings I usually have a good sense of what I need to get done for the day. Rather than trying to remember each of these things I like to write them down in a to-do list. A to-do list makes all of the big tasks that need to be done in a week manageable. Trying to finish an entire project seems daunting when you look at it as a whole. But when you break it into bite sized pieces you will be surprised at how much and how quickly you can get done.
Put Everything In Your Calendar
Another one of my favorite tricks for working from home is to put everything in your calendar. Once you have created your to-do list it is helpful to give a “by when” for each task. Without a “by when,” tasks that you don’t want to do can sit on your list for days, weeks or even months. Setting specific deadlines can make sure that you are getting important tasks done quickly. Or reaching out if there is something that you cannot solve on your own.
I say put this in your calendar because actually writing down the date makes you more accountable for it. Saying to myself, “okay I am going to write this afternoon” versus putting in my calendar “2pm-4pm Writing” are two very different things. This is a technique that psychologists call implementation intentions. Utilizing an implementation intention essentially means that you are setting a specific goal and designing how you will achieve that goal. Putting things in your calendar is just one way of doing this. Once you get comfortable with the technique you can use it in any way you want.
Finally, putting all of your meetings and tasks in a calendar can also help you to set clear boundaries for yourself. We’ll talk about this more in the next section, but scheduling free time is just as important as scheduling time to work. When you put everything in your calendar you are able to set limits on how late into the night you will be available. Also when you will begin work again the next day. Having clear separation between working and relaxing hours is especially critical when you are working from home.
As I briefly mentioned in the last section, setting boundaries is critical. When working from home the line between work and leisure can start to become blurred. Little things start to creep up and before you know it you can be in a weird mix between work and leisure all day everyday. Afterall, a few more minutes on your computer to answer emails is not that big of a deal, is it? “Sure, we can schedule a meeting on Saturday, none of us are leaving our houses anyway.” No. This blurring of worlds can leave you overwhelmed and underproductive.
When working from home it is best to try and treat it like going into the office. Give yourself designated working hours (e.g. Monday-Friday 9am-5pm), tell your coworkers what those hours are and stick to them. No scheduling meetings outside of those hours. But also when you are in those hours you actually need to be focused on work. You cannot set your working hours at 9am-5pm, then spend 11am-2pm cleaning the house, watching TV or messing around on social media. When you are supposed to be working you need to be working. As a side-note, obviously take breaks as needed throughout the day like normal. Just don’t take “breaks” for hours on end. Personally, I like to make sure I do this by putting my phone on silent. Another good options is using an app that blocks notifications for certain amounts of time. If you can’t trust yourself not to get distracted you can try apps like Cold Turkey which will block distracting websites for hours at a time.
What it all comes down to is knowing yourself and knowing how you work best. If you can’t work from the couch, then make your dining room table your office. If you can’t wake up early, make yourself accountable to another person. Finally, everyone is struggling to be productive during this stressful time of working from home. Don’t be too hard on yourself.