We’ve all had days when the idea of working from home has seemed a lot more appealing than getting up early to prepare for another day in the office. The allure of stretchy pants, a comfy couch, and coffee made just the way you like it cannot be denied. However, the ability to work from home was for many a far-fetched idea that has quickly become our new reality. And for a lot of us, what once seemed ideal has become quite a challenge.
I know exactly how lucky I am to be able to continue working from the safety of my home when millions of people have found themselves suddenly unemployed or working in dangerous conditions. But the difficulty of staying sane in this upheaval of normalcy is universal. For those of us who have suddenly found it nearly impossible to draw lines between our personal and professional lives, it can take a toll on our mental health and the ability to do our jobs effectively.
The lines between work and non-work can quickly become blurry when the kids need to be fed, and the dog needs to be walked, and the washing machine is buzzing. Speaking from personal experience, the morphing of my personal and professional worlds has led to work days that start earlier and extend later than they would if I wasn’t working remotely. Most evenings, I find I’m more exhausted than I usually would be after a day at work because I can no longer focus on only one part of my life at a time.
So how can we continue to compartmentalize our work and non-work lives in light of the extraordinary situation that we are in today?
Maintain a Routine
Employees working from home (and students learning from home) should try to maintain some sort of routine. Though sticking to a 9-to-5 day may not be entirely realistic, is it possible to get up before everyone else to have some time to wake up in a way that makes you feel peaceful and ready to take on the day? Can you have your coffee and meals around the same time you would were you at work or school? Can you put on pants with a zipper for your Zoom meeting even though no one else will see them? Whatever makes you feel more in control during these uncontrollable circumstances can significantly aid in keeping a feeling of normalcy in each day.
Create a Dedicated Work Space
Find a spot in your house to work that minimizes distractions (the TV, the kitchen, the playroom). If that’s not possible, stick in some earbuds and listen to music or soundscapes – whatever helps you separate yourself from the sound and motion taking place around you. If necessary, set some ground rules with the family. When you’re in your ‘office’, you’re working, even if it looks like you’re just hanging out at home.
Focus on the Most Important Work
When working from home, it is common to feel the need to project the appearance of productivity, which can cause some employees to focus on immediate needs more than what is most important. Try not to get bogged down with busy work (urgent tasks with short completion windows) and retain your sense of what is your most important work (important tasks with more considerable outcomes). Take 10-15 minutes at the beginning of each day to prioritize your daily tasks in the order in which they need to be completed to maintain deadlines, as well as in the order of importance.
Every day in this crazy time we’re living in is a learning process, and finding the right day-to-day routine that works for you can help in maintaining your productivity and your sanity. Eventually, we will be on the other side of this. Until then, we’re all in this together. Solidarity.