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Work Like a Pro: Quarantine Edition

The 'work from home' mandate due to COVID-19 hasn't disrupted my productivity much since I've already been doing it for 2+ years. HOWEVER...

I now share a space with someone full-time who certainly wasn’t used to working from home (hi husband) and it’s been interesting to see how he and other friends deal with the adjustment. I'm guessing you might be in the same position. Maybe you've literally never sat on your couch in the middle of a Monday afternoon before, and now here you are having to tackle work, productivity, and your personal life all within the confines of the same four walls.

After seeing others face issues, challenges, and paradigm shifts that I also had to learn how to overcome, I wanted to write a blog post with a few tips and resources that helped me make the necessary adjustments in the beginning.

(A few months ago I wrote a blog post about working from home as an extrovert, and how I still stay healthy & productive in general. This post will be quarantine-specific, meaning really digging into best practices and habits for professionalism while working at home, especially when you have no other option.)


Claim your territory

Stake out a spot that will be your “office.” I know not everyone has the ability to turn a room in their house into a home office, but that’s not the point. The important thing is that you have a space that’s conducive to focus and productivity, and when you’re in that space consistently your brain knows it’s time to work. So find a table, a desk, a writing nook, or a room and let others in your house know this will be your working spot. Welcome to your new office.

Upgrade your WiFi

When I first started working from home for another company, we had to upgrade our WiFi plan to have faster internet. A slower WiFi speed was fine for using our phones, checking social media, watching Netflix, and basic things like that. But when I needed to consistently be connected to the company's server, access remote files, and jump on video calls, we needed faster, more reliable WiFi.

If you've been getting frustrated by slow WiFi or poor connectivity you might want to consider upgrading your plan, at least temporarily while you're stuck working from home. Depending on your company, you may even be able to write it off, or at least expense the cost difference between a basic plan and a higher speed plan.

Learn how to time block

You may be thinking that you don’t need to do this while working from home because you’ll have less interruptions. Sure, you don’t have coworkers popping by your desk to ask you questions, or bosses who pull you into conference rooms, or obligatory birthday celebrations over cake in the break room anymore. But maybe you have children at home. Or maybe there’s a sink of dirty dishes staring you in the face. Or maybe your dog now expects to go outside with you at lunch every day…

So you solve this with time blocking and let me tell you, the days I block out my time are 100x more productive than the days I don’t. The idea is to account for every hour of time that you’re awake and make a plan for how you’re going to use it. Include both work and personal tasks. I know this sounds rigid and controlling, but it WILL help you stay productive by allowing your brain to focus on the task at hand instead of a scattered, exhausting attempt at covering all your bases each day.

Another benefit of this practice is developing a sense for how long certain tasks actually take. You might assume you need an hour to answer emails in the morning, so you block out time for this from 8-9am only to find out you can typically get through your inbox in just 20 minutes. On the other hand, you might expect bath time with the kids to take 30 minutes, when in fact it takes an hour and a half.

Having the facts about how long tasks take will help you structure your day more efficiently because your time blocks will be more realistic and you’ll be able to stick to your schedule.

Lastly, if you live with other people, consider sending them your schedule, or printing it out and posting it up in a common area where they can see it. Letting others know what you're trying to accomplish will help minimize interruptions, or will at least let them know when will be a convenient time to reach out, as per your schedule.

A few resources for time blocking:

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. He is a genius and literally wrote the book on this stuff. I’ve learned so much about adopting time blocking and deep work practices as a professional!

  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. More life-changing practices and a really strong argument for strategic minimalism in your work and personal life.

  • I like using a physical planner for time blocking, although a digital calendar is fine too. Whatever works best for you. The planner I use is this one from the girls at Northfolk. I personally prefer a weekly view, and this one is already designed with slots by the hour within each day. Also the overall designs are beautiful, sleek, minimalistic, and bound in linen. Wooow.

  • Golden Coil is another great option. They make completely customizable planners and journals so you can pick page types, layouts, and content that fit your life and work needs to a T.

Don’t get too comfortable

Do you have the same pair of sweatpants on that you’ve been wearing for the last three days? Lots of people think working from home means wearing pj’s 24/7 or hey even just working in the nude. I’m not at all judging you if this is your personal preference for comfort, but I’m betting it’s not helping your productivity.

My advice is to get dressed every day. Or at least don’t work in the same clothes you sleep in. If you have some comfy, casual clothes you’d still feel okay about wearing in public then that’s probably a safe middle ground. I’ve found that I take myself and my work more seriously when I’m dressed for it.

Ignore the dog poop, dishes, and dirty laundry…until later

Working at home means that what’s usually out of sight, out of mind while at the office is now a full on threat. It can be really hard to focus on your work when chores are literally piled up in front of you.

Going back to my first point - try to pick a consistent work space that does not place household chores in your line of sight. So working from the kitchen table with a view of all those dishes in the sink won’t be setting you up for success. If possible, pick a work space that allows you to tune out or at least visually avoid chores.

Also going back to my point about time blocking - if there are lots of chores to be done, schedule a time to do them in your calendar for that day! Knowing that you’ve already carved out time to take care of the chores will let your brain truly focus during times you’re trying to work because 1) you know the chores WILL definitely get done and 2) you know exactly WHEN they’ll get done.

Move your body

This one is simple so I’ll keep it short: try to exercise every day. Working from home means you barely move. Even getting up to go to the bathroom or get a snack from the kitchen is probably only a few steps away from your computer. You will physically, mentally, and emotionally feel so much better if you’re getting exercise, and it’s even more important while working from home.

Looking for some good at-home workouts? These are a few of the people in the fitness & nutrition space that I turn to when I need a great workout with little to no equipment required:

  • Rachael DeVaux, RD, CPT, PES @rachaelsgoodeats

  • Kayla Itsines, Founder of BBG Workouts and SWEAT @kayla_itsines

  • Kelsey Wells, Trainer on the SWEAT app @kelseywells

  • The SWEAT app - has specific courses for at-home workouts right now! But also includes a variety of exercises for every experience level, from yoga to heavy weight lifting to calisthenics, even postpartum workouts! It really is like having a personal trainer in your pocket and I've been using the app for years at the gym. My husband even does them with me!

  • CorePower Yoga, offering classes online right now!

Get outside!

Sunshine! It’s important. You could easily not leave the house at all when your work and personal life both exist inside your home. So try to get out for one reason or another every day - whether it’s a walk around the block, standing on your front porch, or saying hi to a neighbor (from the legally allowed and safe distance of 6 feet away) *wink*.

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