Remember the good old days when working from home meant quiet, solitude, no interruptions, and serious focus time? When we could plow through what seemed like a week’s worth of work in a day? And get the house vacuumed, dinner made, and take a walk before the kids got home from school? Bliss.
It’s crazy that it was only a month ago. Now, working from home has taken on an entirely new dynamic. Lack of focus, plenty of distractions, the Groundhog Day effect, and general worry and anxiety. Many of us also now have little colleagues at home. Bored, antsy colleagues who need our attention and invade our workspace. All of a sudden, we’ve added in chef, teacher, art director, therapist, and negotiator to our regular jobs.
There are plenty of tips about good planning, structure, creativity, and flexibility that help us better manage our time and create environments that improve productivity and maintain family harmony. We share some helpful ideas below, and they all work well. Under normal circumstances.
But in our current new norm, following any one of these tips consistently is a challenge. Managing time is difficult right now because time itself is different right now. It’s like we’re slogging our way through quicksand, each day the same as yesterday. And sharing space with other family members is frustrating, perhaps even chaotic, when we’re mostly stuck in the house.
So, the best advice? Don’t aim for perfection. Or normalcy. It may not feel like it when you look at your Instagram feed, but we’re all struggling. We’re going to have good days, and we’re going to have not so good days. Every situation is unique, so pick one or two time management tips that will fit your current lifestyle. Take advantage of those moments of high productivity and when you just can’t focus, walk away. Like literally take a walk. Clean something. Play a game with your kids. Do push-ups. Just breathe and clear your head. It’s okay, we’ll get through this together.
Below are some ideas that may help you better manage your time and share your space while working from home.
Have a Conversation
If you haven’t already had a candid conversation with your manager, have one. Talk about your personal challenges and current work expectations, and then discuss creative and realistic solutions that will allow you to remain productive. This may mean some compromise on both your parts, including working non-traditional evening and weekend hours so you can spend time with your children during the day.
Be an early bird
Avoid the urge to sleep in. Set the alarm an hour or two earlier and get a jump on the day while the house is still quiet and before ‘school hours’ begin. If possible, let your kids sleep later than normal. Getting your most pressing projects completed in the early hours will make it easier for you to take a mid-morning break to help with schoolwork.
Commute to work
Start your day by walking around the block. It forces you out the front door, signaling to your brain that you are heading off to work. At the end of your workday, walk around the block again, but in the opposite direction. When you re-enter your home, you’ll feel like it’s the end of the day and time to ease into your normal evening routine. The fresh air and exercise is a bonus.
Create a schedule and a routine
Seems obvious, right? But setting and sticking to a schedule while working from home full time might be harder than you expected. Keep at it. Just like your “commute,” a routine creates a start and stop time for your day, allows for breaks, and helps you reduce distractions and stress. It also helps with balancing work time and school time, as you may need to set aside complete blocks of time throughout the day to help with school work. And although they’ll deny it, your kids need routine too.
Make a list
Fight the urge to multi-task, which actually decreases productivity. Instead, at the end of each day, write down your five most important tasks for the next day and prioritize them. Then, when you start work in the morning, focus on the first task, and start crossing off your items. Try to stick to this and move any unfinished items to your next day’s list. This practice helps you to stop thinking about them, which will help you relax at the end of the day.
Set a timer
It’s easy to jump from task to task or stare mindlessly at the screen without accomplishing anything. It’s just as easy to walk away from your desk and get caught up in a personal project. Set a timer for 45 minutes for heads-down work and then reward yourself with a 15-minute break (or whatever schedule works best for you). Your focus will increase, you’ll feel less overwhelmed, and you’ll get a chance to rejuvenate. Our blog on Apps for Remote Work Productivity has some great suggestions for tools that will help you stay organized and on-task.
Turn off Wi-Fi. Hide your phone.
Seriously. It’s too easy to get distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook, and Instagram Posts, the latest COVID article, or your friend’s text messages. Obviously, you’ll need to get back online periodically to check in and connect, but if you manage your online time, your productivity will go through the roof.
When you’re at the office, chatting with people happens naturally. When you’re working remotely, interactions with colleagues may be all work. Downtime is important, and social bonds improve productivity and well-being. So, it’s important to find the time – even if you have to schedule it – to keep personal relationships alive. Go for a walk and call a work friend, schedule a virtual lunch while your kids meet up over Minecraft. The quality and quantity of your work will improve if you make time to stay connected and have a little fun in the day.
Divide and conquer
If there are two adults in your home, divide the day into blocks so that each person has time to concentrate on work and time to help with schoolwork or play with the kids. If it’s just you at home and you need to oversee your children throughout the day, conquer your most critical projects when there is quiet time. Save tasks like answering emails for times when your children are playing or you’re watching TV and distractions are okay.
Define your workspace
Set up a dedicated workspace in your home to reduce distractions and maintain a work-life balance. Try to make this space off-limits to your kids unless there is an emergency or it’s a scheduled break time. Likewise, set up dedicated ‘school’ spaces and play spaces for your children. If they have a space of their own, they may be less likely to come into yours.
If you have to share a space, keep your area tidy and organized to maximize your effectiveness. Plan ahead and find ways to keep kids happily occupied when you are virtual meetings, allowing you to maintain a professional appearance – and your sanity.
Get with your manager asap if you still need tech to improve your remote work experience. Noise-canceling headphones are a great option to help you zone in, stay focused, and tune out playtime. Read our Ideas to Stay Positive and Productive blog for more inspiration on how to create an effective workspace.
Resist the urge
Just because your computer is in the next room doesn’t mean you have to be on it. It’s 8:00 pm. Relax. Watch TV. Hang out with your family. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments for the day.