If you’ve never worked from home before, the COVID-19 pandemic has probably turned your norm inside out. Your home previously might have been a place of respite from work, but now all the aspects of your life — partners, kids, pets, work, and chores, not to mention health precautions and cabin fever — are likely jumbled into one location.
For many people, this creates a conundrum because they need to be productive while working in their normal place of sanctuary from work. Sound familiar? If so, it’s important to be aware of the many time-wasters that can creep into your work hours. Here are some ways you can conquer these pesky distractions and boost your productivity while you’re working remotely.
Now that we’re in isolation for several weeks (and, in some states, longer!) with no definitive end date in sight, everyone in your home is probably tired of working on top of one another. Living and working together with spouses, kids, roommates, and/or possibly extended family can create huge disturbances. Here are a few ways to minimize them:
- Carve out a designated space for every person who needs to work.
- Set a schedule — and take turns if not enough room exists. (Many employers and schools are allowing flexibility at this time, so take advantage of any off-hour time slots you’re allowed to work, if your employer permits.)
- Establish a “quiet” space where household members who need to video or teleconference can close the door to filter out noise.
Additionally, if you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to clear some functional space to serve as a home office. If your living quarters are cramped, it might be time to do extreme decluttering by putting possessions you don’t need right now in storage, or even renting an affordable dumpster to rid yourself of old junk you really don’t use.
Nailing Down Tech
If you haven’t gotten all your technology into line yet, now is the time to do so. If you’ve been making do with an outdated laptop or tablet, you probably need a more permanent setup — especially if you live in a state where it looks like restrictions aren’t nearly ready to be lifted. You might want to think about taking the following steps:
- Upgrade hardware that’s too sluggish to run the applications you need for work. If you’re in isolation for another couple of months, it’s going to really hinder productivity if your computer needs 30 minutes to boot up and forever to launch.
- Update your software to install more efficient applications, and apply any necessary patches to the software you still need to keep.
- Use folders and filters to manage email — that’s a big time saver! Also, set specific times for checking email. Too many email sessions per day can lead you down deep rabbit holes if you’re not careful.
- Shift work files to the cloud so you can access and share projects from any device. This is especially important if family members are sharing hardware.
- Most importantly, start silencing your phone and turn off notifications on your computer, especially those for social media or apps, unless they are strictly work-related.
Digital distractions are huge time-wasters. Be mindful of these because you’re more likely to encounter them at home than you would be at the office.
Planning and Scheduling
Setting a plan, along with a schedule, can go a long way toward helping you maintain productivity without sacrificing the quality of your work. Here are a few tips:
- Make a to-do list at the end of every work shift for the next day. Allow wiggle room for each morning in case you need to change a few things on the fly, then stick to your list as much as humanly possible.
- Pencil in time to reach out to your clients. Send a thoughtful email or a handwritten note along with a promotional gift, such as a branded pen.
- Be sure to leave room on your list to accommodate video calls, virtual conferences, or telephone calls. These can eat into your scheduled time blocks and throw your plan off track.
- Schedule breaks throughout the day. Isolation is tough, so leave enough time to step outdoors for a walk, to meditate, or even go for a short drive (barefoot!) to get a glimpse of different scenery.
- Stay hydrated and take ample time for meals.
A schedule helps maintain structure, but you’ll also want to leave room for flexibility. Impromptu meetings with bosses and colleagues might pop up, or your family situation may cause disruptions (i.e., a kid meltdown or three). Be sure you’re prepared for any of that, too!
While having enough room to work, the right technology, and a good schedule can go a long way toward eliminating distractions, if you want to truly succeed at remote work, you also need to set boundaries. Let people know not to disturb you during work hours, and when you log out for the day, truly check out. If you work nonstop, in the long run, you could find yourself experiencing burnout. This is a condition you want to avoid at any time, but especially when the world is upside down.
In these surreal times defined by the coronavirus pandemic, so many aspects of our lives are completely out of our hands. But by taking charge of whatever’s possible, you can gain a feeling of reassurance and control over your own space. Work smarter and more efficiently, but remember to also make time to enjoy the things in life we tend to overlook. In the end, you’ll find yourself better equipped to deal with the current situation until life outside the home resumes again.