Are you in your work-from-home groove or are you still struggling?
Many people I talk to have found that they love working from home and want to continue doing it, while others are struggling to find ways to be productive. I’ll talk about how to advocate for yourself if you want to keep working remotely on Friday. For today, let’s talk about succeeding in the remote world!
If you’re like many of my clients, you aren’t quite there yet when it comes to working from home. Yes, you have plenty of practice, and yes, you’re mostly getting your work done. But you may also be finding that you’re less efficient, or that your work time and non-work time are bleeding into each other.
The first thing to know about productivity is that it probably looks very different from your home than it does from the office. Since you don’t have coworkers sharing physical space, there isn’t that normal exchange of pleasantries and chat to interrupt your day, so you might vacillate between super-efficient chunks of time, in which you do All the Things and long stretches of staring out your kitchen window or getting sucked into endless videos of baby sloths. While some of this is normal (come on, BABY SLOTHS!), too much can be frustrating, so if you find yourself getting caught in that loop too often, try short bursts of work instead. Choose a task that you need to accomplish and think it through. Are there some pretty easy ways to break it into sub-tasks? Or is it something that you just need to jump in and do? If you can break it down, think about how long the easiest part of the task will take and set a timer for about that long. Otherwise, aim for about 15 minutes for your first burst of activity. When the timer goes off, even if you haven’t completed the task yet, get up and have a stretch. Make yourself a cup of tea. (I’m trying to keep myself to 2 cups of coffee per day—my new office is in the kitchen, and with that coffee maker so close by, I was burning through the stuff, and it wasn’t doing my sleep any favors!) Maybe do a jumping jack or two. After a few minutes, sit back down, choose your next task (or continue your previous one) and set the timer again. You can fine-tune your active bursts so that the period is right for you, and you can even choose to ignore the timer if you’re really on a roll. But make sure that you take a little break when you finish a task so that you’re not staring at your screen all day. Too much of that blue light can lead to exhaustion and eye strain, and the last thing we all need to close out this weird year is more headaches.
Next, make sure that you’re honoring the rituals you have in the office. Set the alarm, go through any morning rituals, and give yourself a “commute,” even if it’s just getting your top half dressed and opening your work computer. If you work out before work, grab your workout first thing. If you normally take a coffee break at 10, then take a coffee break at 10. You might even grab your thermos mug and take the dog for a walk around the block. I find that getting away from screens for a few minutes is key to my focus throughout the day, but if watching a couple minutes of TV works for you, go for it. Think about what’s normal for you in normal times, and do as much of that as makes sense now. I’ve even known people who are so tied to a morning commute that they’ll hop in the car and drive around for a few blocks just to get into the work mindset! Find what works for you, even if it looks a little silly from the outside.
And be sure that you’re taking your lunch break! I have struggled with this, myself because lunch is often when people are available to meet with me. But a hangry career counselor isn’t good for anyone, so now I’m scheduling at least half an hour for it, even if it’s not the same time each day. For my lunch, I find it crucial to step away from the computer. If, like me, you have a spouse also working from home, it’s a nice little break to take lunch together. If you have younger kids, you probably want to give yourself 45-60 minutes so you can be sure everyone gets fed. In any case, just make sure that it’s a clean break—don’t answer emails over your soup or do paperwork as you munch through your chips. I usually close my laptop and plug my phone in for a midday recharge so they’re not there in front of me, waiting for my attention. And be sure to include a fruit and a veg in your meal! I got complacent about that for a while, myself, and I can tell you how much better I feel when I’m paying that little bit more attention to a healthy diet. Plus, if you have some salad and an apple, a cookie afterwards is more defensible.
Finally, have a set end time to your workday. Like me, you may not wrap up at the same time each day, but make sure there’s a clean and clear end to your work each day. I have a small ritual to start and end my workdays: at the beginning of each day, I unplug my laptop from where it sits overnight, move it to my “office” (the kitchen is farther away from the TV so it wins out as my workspace), and then set up my work station. Then, at the end of my day, I pack everything up and move it back.
These are all small things, but they can make a big difference to your success at working from home. And since it’s looking like things will continue this way for at least a few more months, we might as well get used to it!