Throughout my studies and PhD research, I thrived when studying or working independently from home, following my own rhythm or routine. I created this possibility whenever I could, and ultimately chose a line of work where this could be part of my lifestyle. It takes tremendous self-discipline and one needs to develop strong time-management skills, and it may have some drawbacks as well, but overall I find that working from home is a wonderful opportunity.
In this COVID era where millions worldwide have been forced to adapt to a new reality of teleworking, I am sensitive to the fact that the lifestyle I have long cherished is actually quite challenging for others.
I thought I would share some of my strategies and guiding principles for working efficiently from home, with the hope that they might help you turn this challenge into opportunity.
1. Know your rhythm
What are the signs that you need a break?
Which tasks do you dread the most?
What distracts you?
Consider all of these details when you plan and structure your day, to give yourself the BEST chance of staying focused, especially during tasks that are not your strong suit.
2. Start the day right
Let light and fresh air into your working space. Tidy a little. Start the day with something that makes you feel good - coffee, tea, music, gratitude, stretching, journaling gardening, yoga - anything that will fill your body and mind with energy to tackle your day with ease.
Look forward to working; it's a game-changer!
3. Set rules
This is by far the biggest challenge for me, especially when friends or family are on a different rhythm (and are sometimes disappointed that I am difficult to reach during the day), but it's the only way I can stay in the zone, especially for demanding tasks like writing, translation or brainstorming. I even leave my phone in another room (I used to call it "putting my phone in quarantine" but then this pandemic broke out and that word stopped being funny to me).
4. Stay organized
Avoid having a "dumping pile". Make sure everything has somewhere to go, physically or on your computer.
Use folders, different colors, to-do lists, post-its, storage bins, dividers, an agenda and apps (like Asana) to stay organized.
Start and end each workday with a few minutes of tidying.
The clearer your space, the clearer your mind!
5. Track your time
Make sure you know what your 1-3 main priorities are for the day - what is urgent and/or will bring you closer to your goals?
Break your tasks down into a list in manageable chunks that you can assign a time interval to. If the task is so huge that you can't estimate how long it will take you, it needs to be further broken down into smaller pieces.
If you don't want to set a time for every task, another strategy is to break your day into 3 parts (e.g. morning, early afternoon, late afternoon) and stay on track with the tasks within those blocks of time. Remember to leave room in your schedule for breaks!
Once you estimate how long something should take you, track your time to stay on task! This will further motivate you to eliminate distractions and silence your notifications. Lots of apps exist to help you track your time if a simple clock doesn't do the trick for you!
6. Schedule breaks
Whether it's a short walk, exercise, lunch, bath, a phone call, a YouTube video, gardening, meditation or laundry - write it down and make it happen.
I literally put "self-care" on my to-do lists because it makes it important - just as important as all the other items that measure my productivity - and it eliminates any ounce of guilt I have a tendency to feel if I am not working towards my goals. I tell myself that feeling well (physically, mentally and emotionally) is also a priority.
Taking a step back from our work helps us refuel the body and mind, which helps us work faster and with more clarity once we get back to it.
Writing down what you want to do on your breaks keeps you accountable. Work life balance is important, and so is your mental health!
7. Prepare healthy snacks in advance
To avoid binge eating unhealthy foods, it helps to have healthy snacks already prepared so you can grab them easily: yogurts, pre-cut fruits and veggies, healthier types of chips, cheese, nuts, dates, bars, etc.
When you do your grocery run, try to think of what you might enjoy snacking on while working or a lunch that doesn't take long to prepare. Making healthier items easy to grab will lessen the urge to reach for quick, junky foods.
8. Nurture your space
Choose accessories, furniture and decor that inspires and uplifts you. You should feel comfortable and happy in your space, so that you enjoy being there for hours on end.
Don't be afraid to make changes to your space. Your needs evolve, so your space should too!
9. Move around
Be sure to move around while you work (some tasks can be done without your full setup) or during your breaks.
Stand up and stretch. Work while standing sometimes. Pay attention to your posture and how many steps you've done during the day.
If you're the type to lose track of time, set an alarm to get up and get your heart going a little bit, even if it means dancing like no one's watching.
10. Create a boundary
If 10 new ideas popped into your mind but are not priority, jot them onto a post-it and leave them for another day.
If your "work pile" is causing you anxiety because it's in the middle of your kitchen, put it somewhere else at the end of your day.
If you've noticed that reading emails or checking social media before bedtime causes you stress or insomnia, have a strict no-device policy after supper.
Whenever possible, delineate boundaries between different aspects of your work, or between "work" and "home". Be conscious of how you feel and how you thrive, and set boundaries that protect your mood and mindset.
11. Know when to stop - and stop!
Know when it's time to stop, and STOP.
Whether it's after 1 more task or at a scheduled time - whatever it is, respect that limit.
Make yourself a note or list so you'll know exactly where to pick up tomorrow.
Something you learned, a way you stepped out of your comfort zone, a problem you solved, someone you helped, positive feedback you got, a challenge that is behind you, a new opportunity, good news.
Celebrate anything that makes you feel pride, relief or joy.