What a difference two months makes. No matter who we are, where we work, or what we do, our lives have changed– possibly for a long time. We've gone through so much uncertainty and made so many adjustments in the last nine weeks that it's unreal. Most of our well-established, stable routines have been shattered, giving space to new ones that we had to design from one day to the next. Yet, by now, the adjustment process is over; we have adapted to new schedules and tasted the ups and downs of 24/7 family interactions (no complaints there!), being in lockdown, and studying and working remotely.
After two months, the grievance I hear the most is the struggle to remain productive while working from home. In the past two weeks, I've provided ideas on how to create a functional home office and increase personal accountability. The third suggestion I have for a productive workday is building structure into your workday. Below, I'll provide a few ideas on how to structure your day while working from your new corner office.
So, how can you be productive without working longer hours, feeling overwhelmed, or losing motivation? Good question. The first step is to be realistic and understand that we are under unfamiliar, uncertain, stressful circumstances; thus, you're not alone. All of us are going through the same– admittedly at varying levels of stress and complexity, but similar nonetheless.
Your workday is unique and depends on your family situation and the type of work you do, but these seven tips apply to everyone working from their home office. Let’s start.
1. Routine. Much has changed around you, so the closer you can stay to your pre-COVID-19 work schedule, the more relaxed you'll feel. Probably you won't need to wake up as early as before or have lunch at the same time. However, if you used to hold a daily 30-minute planning meeting, don't stop now -unless the purpose of the meeting has changed.
2. Planning. Every Friday afternoon, while you’re still in work mode, plan the following week. Make sure to enter all your priorities first: meetings, important calls, follow-ups. Every non-negotiable task you need to complete the next week should be in your calendar. Block and protect the time you assigned to those priorities. The goal is to start on Monday -and every morning- knowing what to do and when.
3. Breaks. You may not realize this, but while at the office, you used to take frequent breaks from your desk, even though they may not be regarded as such. For instance, walking to a meeting room is a short break; if you need to stretch your legs and walk to your coworker’s cubicle to pick up a report, you're taking another short break —the same with a trip to the coffee machine, or the cafeteria for a quick bite. At the office, you were taking several short breaks during the day. Now at home, you may feel pressured to be at your desk for long hours -taking only bathroom breaks. Guess what? Nobody expects you to be at your desk for hours at a time. Set a timer if needed, but take frequent short breaks and a few longer ones during the day. Getting away from your desk for a few minutes will help you perform better at your work. The Pomodoro Technique will help you plan those breaks.
4. Priorities. Let's face it, your workday at the office was plagued with interruptions and distractions. Even if you were there for eight hours or more, you rarely had a couple of hours straight to focus on priorities. At home, your schedule is more flexible. Block time for priorities (professional and personal) in your calendar and protect it from competing tasks. Think outside the standard 9:00-5:00 work hours. Maybe you can do your best work early in the morning while the children are asleep, or napping, or even after dinner. Plan it and make it happen.
5. Accountability. You blocked time in your calendar for your priorities; you made sure you have what you need to complete your high-value tasks; everything looks great, and you're ready to start. Then a notification pops-up in your phone, and your good intentions fly out the window. All of a sudden, your deadline is upon you. You're responsible for your actions. Set alarms, download an app, set visual cues, whatever works for you; what matters is that you devise a system that will help you stay on track.
6. Interruptions. By now, one thing is clear– there is no way to avoid interruptions, so aim to minimize them. Tape a schedule to your office door, or set a timer for your children. Communication is key to getting your family on board and integrating your two worlds seamlessly.
7. Weekends. Since you have nowhere to go, you may find yourself working on weekends just because there’s nothing better to do. So, make sure you differentiate weekends from workdays. Go for longer runs, schedule video-calls with your friends, try new gourmet recipes, play catch in your backyard, or read relaxing, non-work-related books. If you work during the weekend, you will not give your body and mind time to recharge and start the new week reenergized.
Productivity is about making time work for you. Even though these seven tips will help you build structure into your workday, remember that in uncertain times it's also important to keep an open mind and be flexible when necessary. Avoid getting discouraged if you get sidetracked from time to time. It'll happen and you'll be able to get back on track again.
Is it easy for you to design a structured workday? What has worked well for you What has failed? I would love to hear from you! Like, share, and leave a comment below so others can benefit too. Meanwhile, have a productive week!