For those of us lucky enough to have work to do during the time of COVID-19, it may be hard to actually get any work done. What started as a fantasy of more sleep, more time with family or more time for oneself can quickly become a nightmare for personal productivity. Even with all the time in the world it can be easy to find yourself procrastinating on a to-do list by first indulging in one more Netflix episode, an entire load of laundry or a 4 hour social media blackhole.
The most important thing to understand is that achieving optimal success while working from home is all about balance. You don’t need to beat yourself up every time you take time for yourself and your mental health, just make sure you set yourself up to continue work afterwards. With the right balance of work and play, all of us can thrive in quarantine instead of getting stuck in a rut.
Here are our favorite ‘hacks’ to stay productive while working from home.
Set A Schedule
Coming from a set daily routine can be jarring to our internal clocks. It's a common misconception that people who work from home are available for recreation during work hours. Not having a routine can mess with our sleep, our eating, our exercise and our overall focus! When you're working and relaxing environments are combined, it's helpful to create a schedule to differentiate between the two.
Generally, awaking with the sun and beginning your relaxation and pre-bed routine at sunset allows for adequate sleep and aligns you with the circadian rhythm. Block out a period where you can commit to work with no distractions. From there, you can add in time for health (yoga/ fitness), personal self-care, and social time with friends, family, or online groups.
It is okay if you falter on the set schedule once in a while. Give yourself the freedom to spend a day watching Netflix. The schedule is there for you when you return, to keep yourself on track. Most importantly, when you are not working, shut down your electronic devices, so you can truly unwind without distractions. If you must use your phone or computer, tune in to one of many apps to aid in relaxation, such as Moment or Offtime.
When creating your schedule, try to use the same language you would if you were working at the office, you can even refer to your home work space as “your office”. That language creates a distinct separation between work and play.
Don't Mess Around
When you have a deadline looming, it's easy to spend time doing almost anything else. It’s easy to become distracted by the endless list of “to-dos” around the house. What may have been your least favorite house chore may now be a means for you to prolong getting to work! Don’t let a pile of dirty clothes take precedent during your scheduled work time. Here is a guide on how you can work remotely and still be the best with the remote worker's tool belt.
So, how do you avoid mid-day cleaning sprees? One suggestion is to position your desk or workspace with your back to the mess so that it's ‘out of sight out of mind.’ Even better, if you have the space, set up a partition to actually separate your workspace from living space. It may not be the office you are used to but having a physical boundary between work and living space may help your brain to better adjust to working from home.
Likewise, set aside time to tidy the house. I like to do this before I get settled at the desk. I also use this time to organize my thoughts and formulate my list of work priorities for the day. This way, once you sit at your desk, you can adhere to your focused work plan without domestic distractions.
Don't Shift Where You Sleep
Having a defined sleeping space is just as important as a designated workspace. When we enter sleepspace, our body and mind will be triggered to wind down. Maintaining your sleepspace as a place of comfort is essential during this time. It may be tempting to work from bed but do try to avoid this! Doing so brings stress into what should be your most peaceful area.
Start your day with self care to maximize productivity throughout the day. This could mean meditation, exercise, reading, making a cup of tea while performing your skin care routine, whatever you need to feel good in the morning. Use this time to center yourself before the workday ahead. A great practice is to write down 5 things in a gratitude journal every morning. This way, you train your mind to stay optimistic towards life and focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t.
Getting ready for work has also shown to be successful in raising productivity while working from home. Try to maintain your routine even though you may not be traveling to the office. This way, when you eventually return to the office, it will be a smooth transition! Also, as nice as it sounds to work in your pajamas, don't. It is key to have a clear separation between work and rest.
Take advantage of the ergonomic flexibility while working from home. Ergonomics is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as the science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely. Basically, ergonomics is all about increasing work productivity and reducing physical discomfort.
Many things can be done in a home office to increase ergonomic design. This can be anything from adjusting the angle of your computer monitor, the location of your keyboard or the height of your desk. Take note of whether your back hurts at the end of the day or if your eyes feel strained. These things can be lessened using the design principles of ergonomics. A video from the WSJ explains exactly how to set up your desk for greatest success while working.
Another thing that can be done is to set up different work stations to keep your body active, as ergonomics is also about the need for movement throughout the day. A balance between sitting and standing is a proven way to keep yourself moving during the workday. A height-adjustable desk is ideal, but not all can afford to invest in ergonomic furniture. Create your own sit/stand options!
Luckily there are plenty of DIY standing desk articles and videos on youtube, like this one from C-net.com.
The last thing that can be done is to take “stand up and stretch breaks”. Not only does doing this keep you mobile, but also can be used as a tool to refocus your mind when your sustained attention falters.
Unspin your Wheels
Sometimes, after everything we do to try to remain productive, it just isn’t happening. When you feel stifled or stuck on a work task it's okay to take a break. Move away from the task, go unwind, and come back later with a fresh perspective. Use the time to check other things off the list: go to the grocery store or prep dinner for the night. This way, you remain productive but get a chance to get your mind off work for a bit.
If you had a commute, try buffering your work time and home time with something that helps you to transition from one to the other. Take a walk, do some yoga, meditation, pranayama, a bike ride. The options are endless, but taking at least 20 minutes doing something else can help you to make that work/home shift smoother.
In the end, the switch to working from home can be a big transition. What’s valuable to remember is that you are fortunate enough to still have the opportunity to work. Even if productivity is not at an all time high during this time, the little things you can do for yourself will make the shift smoother.
Use this time to design your workspace exactly how you want it to be! Test out several healthy work/life habits now. Then, when the world heals and the stay-at-home mandates lift, you will be able to bring your new favorite remote work hacks into the next chapter of your career!