Suddenly Working From Home? 6 Tips for Productivity, Sanity, and Balance
The impact of COVID-19 around the world is undeniable - for many, this has meant that some now, overnight, have a work-from-home position!
I have been working from home for the better part of 2.5 years, and have been (inadvertently) somewhat practicing social distancing for about that long too - I'm pretty content staying home and finding things to keep busy!
So, I thought I'd share some tips to stay productive while working from home, and balancing your home life/work life when there isn't a clock (or a commute) differentiating the two.
The beauty (and the struggle) of working from home is that you have the freedom and flexibility - for the most part - to do what you want, and when you want to do it. The key in all of this is discipline.
I have to warn you, some of these are not conventional tips. However, you may find that implementing even a few of them makes you even more productive than ever!
1. Set your alarm.
This one seems like a no-brainer to some of you; the reality of the situation is that if you don't set your alarm, one of the following two things will happen.
You will either:
a) Wake up on your own, within 20 minutes of when your alarm would have normally gone off - in a total panic, because you're obviously "late for work" - or,
b) You'll sleep til noon, and have missed half of a day of productivity.
If you're working for a corporation or report to a boss, you're still expected to be awake, alert and working during normal business hours. Don't drop the ball by thinking an extra hour or two of sleep won't hurt, or that no one will notice. It's a slippery slope!
If you're an entrepreneur, it can be tempting to jump right into trying to start playing around with your own work hours. Before you jump in head-first and decide that you're now working from noon to midnight, I'd strongly encourage you to find your natural Circadian Rhythm. You can learn about that here. Either way, you'll still need to set your alarm as a back-up!
2. Set up a designated work area.
Guys, I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to find wiggle room on this one. I LOVED snuggling up with my laptop (and most importantly, my two dogs) on the couch more than you could ever, ever understand. So much so, in fact, that I recently had to retire my laptop and get a desktop computer. This is the area I struggled most, even after years of working from home.
I would argue that this is one of the single-most important tips that I could ever offer you. No matter what loopholes I try to find, or how many people I ask, the result is always the same:
Since our school days, we have had it engrained in our minds that when we sit at our desk, it's now time to work.
Don't try to work from bed. Don't try to work from your couch. You can try to trick yourself into thinking that you're still being productive... just productive AND comfy. You'll think,
"Gee, those peasants in their cubicles don't know what they're missing. I am both a hard worker, and a perfect picture of luxury. I am a master of my own life. I have undoubtedly hacked the life code."
...go ahead. Ask me how I know.
Again, one of two things will happen: either the primitive, reptilian part of your brain will tell you that because you're in bed, it's time to sleep... and you'll only have a good half an hour of work time before you're ready for a nap. Or, come bed time, you will have trained your brain that this is now the "work spot", and you'll be dealing with a mad case of insomnia and racing thoughts when you lay down.
Don't set yourself up for failure.
Set up a desk in a quiet room, if possible. If that's not available to you, don't worry. The dining room table, the counter with a stool, or (after the pandemic passes) a quiet coffee shop should do just fine. Just make sure that the space is relatively free from distractions, allows you sit upright with good posture, and naturally gives you a sense of focus.
3. Set a realistic to-do list each day.
The list should be two-fold: a list of work tasks that you need to finish for the day, and a list of tasks you need to get done around the house. Sure, this will help you with self-accountability, as well as to have a visual reminder of what all needs to be done. But, this is why I find this small hack especially important...
It is much harder to focus on the work tasks at hand if you're surrounded by a pile of dirty laundry and dishes.
Sometimes, even the simple act of writing down that you'll get to it later can be so mentally freeing.
If you're ready to take it a step further, write down how much time you think each task will take (roughly) to accomplish. You may be surprised to find yourself in a situation like: a phone conference at noon wrapped up a few minutes early, and now you have those outlined 8 minutes needed to switch over the laundry before your call at 1pm.
See, here's the thing... when I worked in an office full-time, I often needed a quick break to stretch my legs, grab a coffee, and refocus. I have never been able to sit still at a desk for hours on end; that just isn't me.
Now that I work from home, instead of wasting time just walking around my office for 3 minutes, I can unload the dishwasher in those same 3 minutes. Then, not only am I allowing myself the break I need to step away and quickly refocus, but I've crossed something off of my to-do list in the meantime.
You may find that it becomes almost like a game, figuring out how you can squeeze in small tasks in the midst of your work. You may also find, like I have, that you can be done with both your work and housework by the time you'd normally be getting home from the office.
Nothing like mutually-beneficial productivity, baby!
4. Set up a daily routine, and stick with it.
For example, my non-negotiable, un-changing daily routine might look a little something like this:
Start Day: Breakfast, shower, dressed, coffee.
Afternoon Break: Lunch, 30 min. personal time (personal e-mails, social media, call mom)
Finish Work Day: Check in with boss, set away messages, log out off all work devices.
End Day: 30 Minutes of Meditation, Journal, Read for 30 Minutes.
This allows me the flexibility to change around the work and home activities based on my To-Do List each day, while still having some structure to rely on. This can be instrumental for self-accountability; it also helps keep us with practicing good time management, while not losing sight of self-care.
5. Set your clothes out the night before.
Ever have one of those days in the office where you thought to yourself,
"If only I could have come in to the office today in my sweatpants, this day would be 500% better."
Yeah, me too.
And listen, I'd be straight-up lying to you if I said I never worked from home in my sweats. Some days, I am sick: my stomach hurts, or I have cramps, and think back on that girl I was in the cubicle - desperate for comfort - and let her have her day in some sweatpants.
Let me be clear: some people could work in their pajamas day-in and day-out, and it would have absolutely no bearing on their productivity. To them, I shake my head and pout: no fair!
For the rest of us, the simple step of still waking up, washing our face, and getting dressed for the day can make a huge difference in feeling like it's "time to work".
I'd encourage you, at least for the first week or two, to make a concerted effort to lay your clothes out the night before. It makes it easier to feel motivated to get ready, and I think you'll find that it does make a big impact on your productivity.
6. Set up lines of communication.
Gone are the days of talking to your coworkers at the water cooler, or the days of taking a lunch together. No more cramming into stuffy board rooms, or leaning around the divider wall to gossip with your cubicle neighbor.
Guys, working from home can be really, really lonely.
I cannot stress enough the importance of developing effective lines of communication with your coworkers early on. Yes, it's important for work-collaboration, but it can also be important for maintaining friendly relationships with coworkers. Even the most introverted of us still require meaningful social interactions each day to thrive.
There are a wide variety of programs that can help facilitate both of these elements of communication, but my personal favorite is Slack. It does require all of you to download the program or app; though, based on the wide variety of functions and uses, as well as the easy-to-use interface, it shouldn't be a tough sell.
When it comes to phone or video conferences, I cannot recommend Zoom strongly enough. Video chats and meetings can really bring you a sense of connectivity across the miles, and can be an invaluable tool when it comes to effective communication among coworkers or clients.
As always, use your best discretion... if you're spending your entire day sending memes to your Best Work Buddy, it will almost certainly impact your deadlines. But, when used properly, you have allowed yourself a fairly good alternative to face-to-face interactions.
Above all, trust your instincts and past experience to know what will work best for YOU to stay focused, patient, in good communication and balanced during this transition period.
You've got this!
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