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Panicked about working from home? Here’s how to do it right

A time management coach shares a few surefire methods to stay productive and levelheaded while working in unprecedented times.

Panicked about working from home? Here’s how to do it right
[Photo: Daniel Cañibano/Unsplash]

For some, the idea of working from home is a dream—no commute and no drop-in meetings—pure productivity bliss; for others, it’s terrifying.

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You’ve always said that you could never work from home because you wouldn’t get anything done. But now, due to panic around the coronavirus, you have no choice. Ready or not, you’re working remotely.

As a time management coach who has coached individuals virtually for over a decade on how to be productive when they work remotely, these are my top five tips on how to still get work done:

Stick with your routines

As much as possible, try to regain a sense of normalcy by sticking with your set routines that work for you already. If you get up at a certain time, keep getting up at that time or as close as possible to it. If you eat at a certain time, keep eating then. If you exercise at a certain time, do that the same, too. Anything you can keep the same, try your best to do it. It will simplify the number of decisions you have to make so you’re not asking yourself each night: “Do I watch another Netflix show or go to bed now?”

Abandoning all your routines will lead to decision fatigue and likely a lapse of willpower. You may find yourself home all the time, yet not even showered or dressed most days. For the record—this is a bad idea, especially if you are signing onto videoconferences that require you to be seen.

Set your hours

When you work from home, you don’t have the natural structure of other colleagues around helping you dictate when you are on or off the clock. There’s a lot more flexibility, which can be exceptionally dangerous. You can end up barely working, working all the time, or somewhere in the middle where you begin your work very late and end up needing to work into the wee hours of the night.

Decide when you’re going to work and not work, stick with those hours as much as possible, and communicate them to the other people living in your home. If you struggle with the morning hours, schedule morning meetings to force a strict start time.

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Pick your office space

Some of you may already have a home office, and some of you may not have that space available to you. If you’re in the latter category, decide on your working space and form a ritual around it. Maybe it’s a part of the kitchen table or a sofa or a desk. Stake your territory and make it your own. Have pens on hand, figure out how to connect all your chargers, and maybe put a pretty picture there, too.

Get comfortable with this updated setting and put yourself in the mindset, “When I’m in this place, I’m in ‘work mode.'” Conversely, when you’re not working, avoid spending too much downtime in this area.

Clarify work and nonwork activities

When I first started working remotely, before I was a time management coach, in 2005, I did a poor job of defining what I would or would not be doing during office hours.

Some days, I might spend my daylight hours meeting friends for coffee or doing errands, then need to work late into the night. When I got my schedule in order and gained a sense of balance, one of the most important things I did was to define what I would—and would not—do during work hours. Personal tasks such as doing dishes, laundry, or errands became reserved for lunch breaks or before or after work, just like someone would do who worked from the office.

I encourage you to set up similar rules for yourself. Segment out what home or personal tasks you won’t do when you are in your work hours; that way you don’t spend half the day tidying the house and neglecting key tasks.

Seek out social interaction

In the midst of all the current rules, there are fewer natural opportunities for social interaction, but connecting with other people is needed more than ever to stay happy, healthy, productive, and sane.

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Isolation can lead to depression and anxiety even in the most levelheaded people. Make sure that each day, you’re getting some type of “people connection.” This may look like holding a virtual meeting, jumping on a phone call, or sending a friend a text. Do whatever you can to make sure that you don’t feel alone in everything that is going on. In my experience, the best possible way to stay peaceful and resilient in this panic is to reach out and support one another—and laugh! We are not meant to go through hard periods like these alone.

I can’t guarantee you will like working from home, or that you will be at your top productivity with all the upheaval. However, we will hopefully be back to normalcy soon. In the interim, these tips can help you to keep calm and carry on with work.

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