One of the best words to describe 2020 is “fragmented.” A lot of the normal rhythms of life have been interrupted by starts, stops, and starts again. And many of the natural partitions among office, school, and home have crumbled.
In the midst of so much change, it’s easy to end up with an exceptionally disorganized work-from-home schedule. If you find yourself in that situation, I want you to know that there are remedies. I can’t guarantee that there will be a great amount of flow, given a lot of uncontrollable factors, but as a time management coach and as someone who has worked from home for 15 years, I do know that there are many things you can still do to improve your work-from-home schedule and decrease your stress.
Here are my top tips for tackling this process.
Wake up at the same time
There’s enough in your schedule that you can’t predict, so it’s critical that you follow routines when you do have a choice. One of those areas is in your wake and sleep time. Pick a time that works well with your body clock, work schedule, and personal commitments, and then stick to that. Set a recurring alarm on your phone for Monday through Friday for this time. And if needed, set a going-to-bed alarm on your phone for Sunday through Thursday nights to remind you when you need to start getting ready for bed.
Treat yourself in the morning
To make sure that you have at least a little “me time” each day, do at least one thing for yourself in the morning. That could be as simple as taking 5 to 10 minutes to drink a cup of coffee and read, journal, or stare out the window. Or it could be something more like taking time to exercise. The key thing is that you do something that makes you feel calm and centered right away so you don’t feel like all you ever do is take care of everyone else’s requests.
Plan your day
I recommend doing both weekly and daily planning to lay out your schedule. But if the idea of weekly planning is too daunting, start with daily planning. This can be more complex, like slotting things into your schedule at certain times.
Moreover, daily planning can be as simple as jotting down your top two to three items that you need to get done for the day as well as any small time-sensitive tasks. Every time you are in between meetings, look back at that list–or to the daily plan you made in your calendar—and try to cross those items off. This will keep you from reverting to answering email during all breaks and not getting any “real work” done until after hours.
Batch reply to messages
In some work environments, you need to be on email all the time. But in many situations, you can take breaks where for an hour or more, you can focus on the urgent tasks at hand and then return to your messages once you’re finished.
If possible, group replying to emails and other messages together into two to three times per day. And also be careful for your relationship with your phone. For example in regard to texts, I will answer the most pressing text messages more promptly. But for all others, I do a reply in the morning and then catch up after my workday is done.
Set an end time
When you work from home, it can be easy to have your work time spill over into your evening. I encourage you to not only have a clear time to start work but also a clear time to stop. Decide what that is and then stick with it. This will give you more motivation to be focused and productive during the day and afford you more enjoyment of your evenings.
To help with keeping yourself accountable to stopping, plan post-work activities such as a call with friends, dinner with your family, or working out. When you have a reason to stop, ending your workday is more compelling.
Special note to parents
There is a huge range in terms of the school situation this fall, from children fully back to school five days a week to completely remote learning to hybrid models.
If your kids are expected to do school part of the week or all week from home and you’re a single parent or there are two full-time working parents in the household, you’ve been put in an extremely difficult situation. Furthermore, if your children are young or have disabilities, this situation may be impossible to manage without help. Most of my coaching clients in these situations have hired nannies or tutors, or are sending their kids to daycares where they will also help with schoolwork.
If that is not possible in your situation, at the very least have a time each day to go through with your children what is expected for the next day. Try to get them set up as much as possible the night before, including supplies, log-ins, alarms for class times, etc. And you should have a daily checkpoint at the end of the school day to make sure they are doing their work and turning it in. This is a big issue for even many smart, good kids. Also, work with your children to come up with ideas of what they can do once school is done so that they aren’t on screens the whole time.
We’ve still got a little over four months left of 2020. If your work-from-home schedule has gotten messy, use these steps to realign and have a fresh start to the rest of the year. You can finish better than you started.