Just because you're not in the office doesn't mean you can't have a productive day.

By Lexi Walters Wright
March 19, 2020
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If COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) has relocated you from the office to your dining room table for the time being, you’re in good company. With the Centers for Disease Control Control and Prevention (CDC) advising employers to encourage telecommuting as the outbreak of coronavirus spreads, an unprecedented number of U.S. workers are finding themselves holed up at home.

But before you resign yourself to elastic-waisted pants and daytime TV breaks for the foreseeable future, think through the following to boost your productivity and your mental wellbeing during this disorienting time. (As a writer, editor, and online community manager, I've spent the past decade working remotely, myself, so these tips are remote employee-approved.)

A note for parents and caretakers: These work suggestions do not explicitly take into account the sudden additional pressure of occupying kids whose schools have closed. If that is your circumstance, consider having an honest chat with your boss and team about the new demands on your time. You’re certainly not alone, and together you might agree on effective ways of chunking time that benefits everyone, and maybe share some online homeschooling resources.

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Establish “On” Times

Likely, your company has set guidelines about when you’re expected to be on the clock during this social distancing period. Within those hours, consider whether you have the flexibility to establish your schedule or move commitments.

Are you a super early bird? Know you’re a zombie after lunch? Burn the midnight oil with pleasure? Now’s the time, if it’s okay with your team, to arrange your schedule, so you’re most productive at home.

Of course, you’ll need to consider any standing commitments. For example, which meetings will you continue to have each day, and how will you take them to be most effective? If you’re video conferencing or catching up via instant message, you’ll need to be at your desk. Maybe you can batch those meetings closer together and allow colleagues to know that’s the right window for scheduling additional conversations.

Once you know when you need to be in front of the computer, build in some head-down work time. Block off time on your company calendar and set a “Sorry, I’m working away!” status if you use a digital messaging service so folks know you’re not to be disturbed. Then, dress the part. Change into something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught wearing on an impromptu video call.

Embrace Daytime Multitasking, A Little

Without a commute, you’ve got a little more room in your day to throw in that load of laundry, take a mid-morning walk around the neighborhood, or chop veggies now for your Instant Pot tonight. In fact, for many people who work remotely, this setup can feel a lot more conducive to getting everything done.

That said, as we’ve all heard, too much multitasking means getting very little done at all. You know yourself: If now’s the time to silence your news and social media alerts so that you can focus, just do it. Many an at-home worker relies on website blocker tools such as Cold Turkey and Freedom to get the most done in a day.

Get Real About Turning “Off”

This is the kicker. If you always have access to work, can you always be working? Sure, but you're going to become burnt-out fast.

Being unable to disconnect from work mentally, emotionally, and even physically is the most common issue people experience when working from home, says bestselling author and productivity expert Dave Crenshaw in his LinkedIn e-learning course, Time Management: Working from Home. (Note: This class is currently free for LinkedIn members.) Crenshaw advises workers to think about their day less like a hamster in a wheel and more like a runner in a race, with a clear start and finish times.

If your boss doesn’t set your end time, establish one that works for your situation, and stick to it as close as possible. That means no checking of email or messaging coworkers after your defined time is up.

Carve Out Your Space

If you have a home office available, you’re already winning. Why? Having a dedicated space to work, with a door that closes, is a definite work from home "do," according to productivity experts. When you’re in that room, you’re working; when you’re not, you’re, well, not.

Strategize Your Sustenance

The things that maintain your wellbeing as a worker are more critical than ever to plan for right now. This looks different for all of us, of course. But specifically, think through:

  1. Food: The fridge is now only a few steps away. As social distancing precautions change, how will you fill it, and with what? Moreover, how will you resist visiting it throughout the day?
  2. Fitness: Gyms are closing, and group fitness is discouraged. If you’re someone whose productivity improves when you take care of your physical wellbeing (ahem, all of us), what’s your plan to keep moving?
  3. Friends and family: This is the hardest for lots of us. Isolation is necessary right now to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. But that means keeping a distance from colleagues and the folks who you vent to about work. Plus, if you’re sharing a home workspace with someone else, relaying your needs and wishful patterns is paramount. Scheduling communication time isn’t something we’re all necessarily used to doing, but shifting daily patterns means making the extra effort to talk to those who keep us grounded.

Finally, this is a stressful time with ever-evolving demands. So feel confident taking that one-on-one catch-up call from your car en route to Thai takeout. Eat lunch on your stoop, sitting in the sun. Schedule in a 20-minute cat nap when you’re naturally snoozy. Know that likely your work and daily life routines will, again, change shortly, and it's OK to find small pleasures in your new schedule now.

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