Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, most Americans are going to be subject to Shelter-In-Place and Safer-at-Home orders. While that can disrupt your life in a lot of ways, on a day-to-day basis it’ll probably shake up your work routine more than anything else. Everyone’s probably worked from home on occasion, but working at home full time and indefinitely can be daunting.
Some jobs are easier than others to transition from an office to a home, and some people can adapt to changes better, but a lot of people are probably struggling with this change. If you’re having a hard time settling into working from home, here are a few tips to keep your productivity and morale high.
Not every suggestion works for every person and finding a routine that fits your strengths is key, but these are some things that have worked for me in nearly two years of working from home.
1. Set Goals Every Day
One of the biggest challenges of working from home is the lack of a routine. Even if your manager is responsive and active online, you’ll never exactly have the same structure in your workday that an office affords. That’s why it’s vital that you can set goals for yourself to keep focused and finish tasks on time.
Obviously how much personal goal setting you can do on a given day depends on your job, but generally speaking, it’s a good idea to set a number of tasks to finish each day. The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to stay on top of tasks and track your accomplishments. The strategy is simple:
- Pick a task, and set a 25-minute timer
- Work until the timer goes off
- Break for five minutes, repeat
- After every four sessions, take a longer break
By working hard in timed bursts between breaks, you’ll have less trouble focusing and can maximize your productivity while you work.
You should also spend a few minutes every hour moving around, even if you have to stay inside. If you have a Fitbit, it encourages you to take 250 steps per hour, every hour from 9 am – 6 pm, which is a reasonable exercise goal to keep you active.
2. Shut Out Distractions
At work, it’s probably easier to lock in and focus than it is at home. You might have family or roommates you want to spend time with, or books, TV shows, movies and video games readily available to distract you. You should try to do whatever it takes to make sure that distractions are minimized throughout the day.
This tip applies differently to every person, but it’s pretty critical to creating a sustainable work from home environment. Whether that means having someone change your Netflix password, investing in noise-canceling headphones, or hiding your Nintendo Switch from yourself, find a way to keep focused.
3. Keep Work and Home Separate (If Possible)
Most people like to keep their work and home lives separate naturally, but that’s becoming nearly impossible with quarantines and work from home measures. Still, it’s important to keep some semblance of separation between the two, for your own sanity if nothing else.
One common tactic is keeping your work contained in one room, while you spend your breaks and nights after work somewhere else. If your home layout allows for this, give it a shot. Even if you can’t, try keeping away from anyone you live with outside of breaks. If you have noisy roommates, try hanging a “do not disturb” sign on your door.
For parents, this can be particularly hard. If you’re quarantined, your kids probably are as well, meaning you have even more to juggle during your workday. Communication is key to making it work. Be upfront with your coworkers that you’re at home with children, and they’re very likely to cut you some slack under the circumstances. Talk to your kids too, and explain that even while you’re home, you need to work and might not spend much time together during specific hours.
Allowing your work and home lives to blend together too much can hurt your productivity throughout the day, but also take a serious toll on your morale outside of the job.
4. Keep in Touch With Your Team
Communication is central to basically every business, and with entire offices working from home, it’s difficult to communicate as actively as you could before. If you don’t already have a group chat within your office or your particular team, make one ASAP to keep communication strong. Slack is designed for exactly this, but any messaging service is better than strictly email.
In addition, keeping up personal contact while at work is critical to staying positive and focused. If you live alone or separate yourself from your family or roommates while working, it can be mind-numbing to spend nine hours each day in isolation. Keeping in touch with people throughout the day will improve your productivity and mindset.
5. Take Breaks
Showing up to the office daily is part of the work you put in. Even if you take breaks or have a slow day, you came to work, put in your time, and clocked out to go home. When you lose that part of the routine, you also might lose some comfort in taking breaks or a few minutes of slack.
Downtime is a natural part of the daily rhythm of work, and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking breaks. Take lunch like you normally would, and spend a few minutes each hour on your feet to keep active.
6. Parents – How to Juggle Kids and Work
Working from home with kids in the house might feel like you’re handling two full-time jobs at once. Not only are you keeping up with work from home, but you also need to entertain, educate or care for your kids as well. You have a lot on your plate and might need some unconventional plans to tackle it all.
First, as mentioned above, be open with your coworkers that you’re home with your children and may not be as active during the day as you would be in the office. That might also mean switching to a less-than-conventional schedule to juggle everything. If you have young kids that you can put to bed early, maybe try spending time with them during the day and switching to work mode after dinner.
Also, find activities to occupy your kids while you need to get away and work. There are tons of educational and entertaining resources that are free online right now, meaning you don’t just have to throw on Netflix and hope you get some quiet time. Balance your kids’ education and interests as much as you can. It’s important that they have time designated for studying or reading, but too much work could end up driving everyone crazy.
One mom shared her unique weekly calendar on Twitter:
Communicate with your partner as well, if you’re both at home. Working as a team is the best way to split a hectic schedule and get through it. The biggest key is finding a schedule that works for you and doesn’t involve all-nighters or 4 a.m. wakeup calls. After all, your health matters too! With offices and schools closed, parents are some of the unsung heroes that keep things working smoothly during this outbreak.
By James Duffy