With the possibility that temporary remote work arrangements may continue for the foreseeable future, we’re sharing work-from-home advice. Many of us were thrust unexpectedly into working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, but there are many advantages to this approach. For some companies, fully remote or more flexible working arrangements may be a good choice even after they are no longer a necessity. Knowing how to manage yourself can help make this approach to working a winner on both personal and professional fronts.
Ideas for improving your work-from-home experience fall into four categories:
- Managing Work/Life Boundaries
- Structuring Time
- Maintaining Focus
- Staying Connected
Create Boundaries Between Work and Life
Boundary management is important to being able to be your best self in all aspects of your life. When your professional office is just steps away from your bed, it is all too easy to find yourself with work tasks and concerns creeping into the corners of your world. Similarly, when family, roommates, pets, and chores are so close at hand, it does not take much for them to erode your ability to focus on work tasks.
Creating clear lines and practices that separate these aspects of your world can reduce stress, prevent burnout and enhance both mental and physical health. It takes both physical and mental practices for this to be most effective.
Create start of day and end of day routines
No longer having to be into the office by 9 AM can provide a great deal of flexibility at the start of the day. In the abstract, this sounds great. But what you might not realize is that all the patterns and routines you used to follow, including the dreaded commute, helped to get your mind oriented toward tackling the professional workday. Routines provide structure and allow us to work in a less effortful way. Without these routines, finding the focus required to be truly productive can be a challenge. The same can be said for the end of the day, where closing out the workday and shifting gears to your personal life is equally important.
Whether it is doing morning stretches, meditating, reading, or listening to a podcast while you take a walk around the block, start each day the same way. This will help your brain get organized and ready to turn to work tasks.
Similarly, for the end of the day, choose an activity or two and commit to practicing them regularly. Whether it is heading out for a stroll for a dose of Vitamin D or changing your shoes and sweater the way that Mr. Rogers did on every show, these small punctuations will help to create some separation and bring closure to the work day.
While it may be tempting to start the day in your robe and slippers, the small practice of getting dressed in “work” clothes can again help to get your mental processes oriented toward the tasks at hand. And help to limit the draw of your bed calling you back for that quick 10-minute nap.
Create a dedicated workspace
Being able to physically walk away from work at the end of the day helps make the boundaries between work and non-work life more real. With a dedicated space for working, you can invest time in optimizing it for productivity by setting up tech and office tools so that you will always have what you need right at hand. Having a dedicated space can also be very helpful for managing boundaries with the other people in your home. If you have a space that you use only for work, when they see you at that desk, they know that you are involved in work that shouldn’t be interrupted.
Avoid TV and household chores during the day
As tempting as it is to try and throw a few loads of laundry in while working on your quarterly reports, fight the urge. The same goes for watching a little bit of television. Household chores are deceptive and rapidly eat away at your time. But more importantly, they muddy the water about what your purpose should be during the workday. Staying focused on work tasks during the workday will allow you to get done on time and then devote your energy to taking care of other responsibilities after work has ended.
Structure Your Time
Working in an office provides you with many clear time boundaries. When working from home, it is important to set your own. Doing this will help with creating boundaries in your life and will help make sure that you stay on task.
Start and end work at regular times
This works hand-in-hand with setting routines to bookend the beginning and end of your workdays. No employer should expect employees to be always available, but with the variety of technology tools available, it is very easy to find yourself in an always accessible mode. Help your team understand your boundaries by setting start and end times for your days and sticking to them. Remote working can allow for more flexibility so that not everyone on the team must start and end at the same time, but each person will be best served by maintaining their own fixed schedule.
Set up DND times
Because many people do not live alone, it is important to make sure that the individuals that share your space understand your need for privacy to be able to focus on work. To help make this happen, consider having standard blocks of time set aside for work that requires significant concentration and treating them as “Do Not Disturb” blocks. It is also good to turn off or disable digital communication tools during these blocks. By blocking these times on your calendar and limiting other people’s access to you, you increase your chances of getting meaningful work done.
Designate specific blocks of time for different tasks
Structuring your days into working sprints with breaks built in throughout the day will help to make sure that the quality of your work remains high. While some research says that approximately 50 minute blocks of time with fifteen minute breaks works best, other types of work can benefit from longer stretches that allow the worker to enter a “flow” state. Pay attention to how you feel during the workday to determine what your ideal working block is, and then begin using that to structure your time to accomplish tasks and to recharge your batteries.
Distractions abound in 2020. And while they certainly aren’t limited to work-from-home environments, there are special challenges that remote workers face beyond those confronting people in a traditional office environment. Ideas for creating boundaries and structuring time can help to limit distractions, but here are some additional ideas to consider.
Turn off phone notifications
Cell phones work to keep us up-to-date, with alerts from social media and the news. Consider disabling notifications during the workday. The same concept applies to email notifications and smart watches.
Consider an app to limit internet and social distractions
Many apps exist that are designed to bolster your self-control and help you stay the course of not checking the sports scores, celebrity gossip, or updates from friends. Anti-distraction apps help put you in control by letting you set guidelines at a time when you are actively engaged in planning your activities, and help you get through the times when you are tired and looking for an emotional escape from the task-at hand. Some apps to check out include Dewo, Freedom and FocusMe.
Try to single-task
It is strangely tempting to split our time and attention across tasks. We tell ourselves that we are getting more done, but research almost universally demonstrates that multi-tasking is both inefficient and may have long-term negative effects on our ability to concentrate and tackle complex tasks. Use time blocking to your advantage and actively choose where you will put your energy for a defined period of time. If you are tempted to multi-task, remind yourself that there is time designated for other activities, and work to stay on your current target.
Let go of what you can’t control
Many distractions are entirely in our own heads. In times as disrupted as these have been, it is important to recognize that there are many factors that exist that we do not have the ability to control. Rather than obsess over them endlessly, consider recognizing the emotional turmoil and designating a time to spend each day worrying. If you aren’t yet at the designated time of day for worrying, write down your distracting thought, know that there will be time for it later, and then return to the task at hand. This approach may sound crazy, but by recognizing the reality of your own stress and having a plan for it, it will be more manageable.
Humans are social creatures and need interaction to operate at peak levels. This is not only about keeping work flowing and making sure that activities are coordinated. People working from home should stay in regular contact with coworkers and managers to maintain personal connections as well.
Tools like Slack provide great options for having broad conversations as well as for facilitating decision making and task collaboration. But text-based chat tools should not be the only mechanism used. Teams should invest time in having face-to-face meetings via Zoom or Microsoft Office Teams. Management should allow for and support the social use of these tools and not seek to shut down conversations deemed as “not work” in order to help employees stay mentally and emotionally fit. Interacting with other team members helps create resiliency in both teams and individuals, which is something we all need right now.
By focusing on these four areas, managing work/life boundaries, structuring time, maintaining focus, and staying connected, you can establish an approach to working from home that will meet both your needs and your employers. If you manage a team, share your advice with them so that they too can devise ways to maintain their productivity and job satisfaction. At Gift CPAs, we are here to help our clients manage through these difficult times. Check out our COVID-19 Resources page to get updates and advice for your business.