No matter what your daily life looks like – some of us are working from home, some are homeschooling, some are just trying to stay sane and keep mentally healthy, and some are all of the above – for more of us, being productive at home is one very challenging part of this very challenging situation.
We’ve compiled a list of tips to keep you productive – and then another list to keep you productive with kids around which, as we know well, presents a whole new set of challenges.
Staying Productive While Isolated at Home:
First tip is a gimme, but still needs to be said: THIS IS NOT AN EXTENDED WEEKEND/STAYCATION. We know it feels like that, but that’s the quickest way to devolve into less-than-your-best self.
And now, the actual list. For those who are laid off, take what works. For those who are working, remember to constantly forgive yourself.
Stick to a schedule (set reminders if you have to) that works for you, unless your hours are still strictly prescribed
If working from home means more flexibility of your hours or your tasks, this is a great time to figure out when you work best and set up your schedule to allow for your best work. Keep to your pre-isolation hours for one week, then slowly start shifting your hours and tasks until you find what works best for you.
Get “unimportant” things done ahead of time to prepare for unexpected interruptions
Life comes at you fast, and having things cleared off your plate before they need to be (especially since there’s no productivity peer pressure happening) might take tricking yourself with fake deadlines. You’ll be glad you got those important-but-not-urgent things done ahead of time when it hits the fan for the 14th time in one day.
Check email at regular intervals and turn it off in between
Email is the bane of productivity, and in isolation it’s doubly tempting both as a distraction and a little bit of connection. You still have big tasks you want to take on, you still have an actual job to do, and playing email ping-pong isn’t any more useful now than it was. Check at specific times during the day. If your job requires a ton of communication, that could be every 90 minutes with 10 minutes set aside for responding and then get right back to work.
Bonus if you work with a team: have the team pick one method of communicating (Slack, Basecamp, IM, email) and stick to it – avoid wasted time “monitoring comms” and avoid duplication or lost messages.
Put on background noise (there are podcasts and youtube channels with coffee shop sounds)
If you’re used to working with a background hum of activity, then download one! Spotify has coffee shop sounds, and there are youtube office sounds as well – turn on a low volume playlist or white noise. (Unless you usually work with noise cancelling headphones on like us! You can revel in the silence!)
Change your clothes, shower, wear indoor shoes or slippers that feel like shoes.
And of course you will have any video meetings, get dressed as you would on casual day. Working in your jammies is fun but it doesn’t help your productivity, your sanity, or your memory of what day it is.
Mark the start and stop of your workday
When you live at work, it’s easy for hours to fly by and for you to do “just one more thing”. That is a sure path to burnout and anxiety. Set your daily hours and stick to them. Aim for 8 hours work, 8 hours life, and 8 hours rest. You’ve eliminated your commute and replaced a ton of old distractions with new distractions – balance your productivity with your mental health.
Leave the house and “walk to work” each day, then “walk home from work” again at the end of the day
Give yourself 5 minutes outside and bookend your days so your brain learns your new routine. We often use our commute – no matter how short it is – to get ready for the workday and get into the work mindset and then decompress and put away the workday to be there for our families. You still need those times.
Start a “Done” list instead of just checking off a to-do list
It’ll keep your motivation high and if you add times of day to it, it will allow you to see when you are most productive.
DO NOT MULTITASK.
You’re not good at it, it isn’t motivating, and completion will keep you motivated more than dealing with 187 open tabs and 4214 unfinished tasks.
This includes eating at your workspace. Even if you’re working at the kitchen table, try to create smaller nooks within your space to do separate tasks throughout your day, or thoroughly wipe down the space between meals and work. Anything you can do to keep separation will help.
Use your former commute time to meditate, learn a new skill, or text that friend who you always say you should “Have coffee with next week”
Even if your commute is from your bed to your living room, take 10 minutes of pre-work time to settle in, get your mindset right, and be ready to show up.
Don’t romanticize how productive you were at the office…
…lots of days will be unproductive in both types of work environments. Thinking back, it’s easy to feel that it was so much better to have ergonomic chairs, no fridge calling you every five minutes, etc. But there were different distractions that no longer exist. It’s a change, for sure, but it doesn’t have to be a conflict-ridden change. Do your best.
Forgive yourself. Daily. Hourly. Again and again and again.
Staying Productive While Isolated at Home: With Kids
Give them a schedule too (search daycare schedules for general ideas), and match adult-supervised activities to when you can best accommodate them.
Set them up with high energy tasks in the morning, at noon, and in the evening (even just getting them running up and down the street or around the backyard trying to beat their own time)
Let them veg on devices while you work. Give the guilt trip a day off – and remember there’s sites like Duolingo, Khan Academy, and a million others where you can get easy lessons to keep up with their skills (but with fun stuff too!)
Give yourself a break while you learn your routine and theirs – be ready to adjust as needed. Nothing these days is set in stone.
Let them be messy – let them be bored – let them be children.
Forgive yourself. Forgive them. Again and again.