As COVID-19 rears its ugly head, you get the email from HR: work from home. So, the sweet life, right? You can finally get those dishes clean and get to the laundromat.
Well, not so fast.
Without creating boundaries for yourself, your days can become a blur where you look at the clock and think It’s 6:00 P.M. and I feel like I didn’t do anything today. This can be true in an office, but without your friends and colleagues to hold you accountable, it can be especially difficult at home.
Here are some things to consider as you approach working from home, written by someone who’s lived it every day for over two years.
Work from Home with Structure
When I first moved away from New York and I learned I would be working from home, I knew I needed to create some rules and boundaries for myself. It’s not always the easiest thing, and some folks can have a lot of trouble with self-regulation. But using some of the same behaviors and tools that make you productive and efficient in an office can really help with remote work too. Here are some ways to avoid falling into those traps.
Your Work From Home Routine
One simple way to start creating structure in your day is with routine. When you work from an office, you have this built in: you wake up, you get ready, you do your commute, you get to the office by a certain time. With no commute, you could feasibly wake up at 9:00 A.M. and start working from your bed.
For your sake: do not do that. Instead use that time you are saving on your commute to create different routines. Go for a run, walk the dog, sit with your coffee and do a crossword puzzle. Create morning rituals that help center your mind and put you in a headspace where you can commit to work.
Use Your Work Tools At Home
Again, regardless of your place of business, you likely have tools at your disposal that are meant to increase your efficiency at work. These become more valuable when you’re working on your own. Here are just a few example I find valuable:
- Calendar: Use your priorities to block out time on your calendars (At Conductor, we use 15Five to document those priorities, week-to-week). Then, respect your calendar and actually use that scheduled time to work on those priorities. It’s a simple way to create accountability for yourself and to know what you should be working on at any given moment.
- Two-minute Rule: Did you get an email with an ask for something? Do you think you can complete it in two minutes or less? If so, do it now and get it out of the way. If not, schedule a block of time on your calendar to address it. This helps to prevent backlogs of small items and gets you to schedule out these asks along with your other priorities and commitments
- Agile tools: Consider using work management apps like Asana or Jira to address your workflow using Agile methodology. Plan sprints based on your weekly priorities and sync it with your blocked out calendar. Take 15 minutes on Fridays to do this for the next week, so you know exactly what to do when Monday morning rolls around.
Create Time Boundaries For Your Work
Use your best judgment—sometimes it’s all hands on deck—but when it’s the end of the day, close your computer and say I’m done. Don’t let the fact that you can work from anywhere mean that you can work any time. Set expectations with your coworkers about when they can expect you to respond to communications. And be sure to value your personal time, even when it feels like all of your time is on your own.
Creating this kind of structure can help you manage your time and hold you accountable to yourself—even when you’re feeling most isolated.
Go from Home to Work and Back
People prefer different types of environments to work in, so this one is probably more open to interpretation than others. Still, at home, there are some simple actions you can take to keep your work time productive.
Find the right place in your home
If you have the space, set up your computer in a place where you don’t sleep or eat. If you work better with people around, consider going to a coffee shop or other space (depending on the COVID-19 situation, naturally). The trick here is to create a distinction between your personal space and your professional space.
Cut out distractions as necessary
With no one over your shoulder, consider blocking social media sites on your computer (if that’s a problem for you). Likewise, block time proactively to take care of household chores so they aren’t looming and creating anxiety as you work a few feet from those dirty dishes or laundry.
Seriously. No pajamas. Comfort is important, but so is delineating your home life from your work life.
Choose the work most conducive to doing at home
While you are remote, take advantage of the kind of work you can do better alone. For example, take an online course to improve a skill, read up on industry news, or catch up on emails you’ve been putting off.
How Does This Affect Your Personal Life?
Isolation can have good results for some kinds of work. But it can also drive you a little crazy. You might find yourself getting ready for bed, realizing you didn’t step foot outside your apartment all day, and didn’t talk out loud to another human being.
That can mess with your head.
By all means, abide by the recommendations for containing COVID-19, but be sure to find ways of having social interaction with people around you.
All the isolation and changes to your routine can be stressful. And they can change how you interact with the people around you. Do you cohabitate? Are you giving each other enough space? Consider how your partner might feel about you being at home ALL. THE. TIME.
Be sure to communicate how you are feeling. Case in point: My wife and I are both introverts, but she spends most of her days around her colleagues and her patients in a high-stress job. Some days, when she gets home from work, she wants to take it easy. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last 10 hours by myself, and I’m itching to go out and do something—ANYTHING.
By addressing these issues head-on and changing up the routines in our relationship, we’ve found ways to balance the space and the social interaction we need to remain sane.
Lean on Your Coworkers
Given that all of this is new to most everyone, we’re all in the same boat. Look to your teammates and friends to give you pep talks when you need them or to commiserate about your work from home life.
Let’s be there for one another and see what we can accomplish. Maybe if we’re productive, we’ll get to those dirty dishes, too.