How to Stay Productive When Working From Home (During a Pandemic)

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s a scary time right now as the Coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world. We’re in uncharted territory.

Here in America, schools are closed, businesses are asking or requiring employees to work from home, and the majority of sporting events and leagues are canceled or postponed.

For those of you that haven’t worked from home before, or have found that you’re not productive at home, I’m going to give you some tips on how to stay productive when working from home.

Public Service Announcement: Please wash your hands often. Wash them with soap and water for 20 seconds and thoroughly dry them with a clean towel. If you feel sick, do not go out in public. Practice social distancing as much as possible. It’s on ALL of us to help stop the spread of this awful pandemic. Be smart. Stay safe and healthy.

If you find yourself working from home either for the first time or again, but with limited success, I’m here to help. Let’s discuss some tips on how to stay productive while working from home.

Working with Children at Home

The most significant challenge I hear from employees on remaining productive at home comes from parents with children. With many states canceling schools for the next few weeks, a substantial amount of employees are going to have their children home with them during the workday.

Without getting into parenting advice because I don’t have a child of my own yet, parents have shared with me a few strategies they’ve found successful:

  1. Reevaluate your meetings: Be very honest with yourself and your colleagues. Do you need to have that meeting? And if so, can it be done instead over a communication app like Slack or (I shutter suggesting it) via email? Can you push it back a month or two until we have more information on our current situation?
  2. Schedule (or move) meetings/work around your child(ren)’s downtime: If they’re late sleepers, try to schedule important ones early in the morning. If they typically take an afternoon nap, push for that time.
  3. Discuss with your child your schedule for the day (quiet time): This one might be hit or miss depending on your child(ren)’s age, but sharing your schedule for the day and positioning it as “quiet time” can help. Stress the importance of adhering to quiet time. Hell, even throw in some prizes if they do well during quiet time.

Hopefully, these strategies help you be more productive while you’re at home with your child(ren). It’s essential to understand what works for you and your child(ren) might not work for others. It’ll take some time to figure out what works best for your situation.

Optimize Your Workspace

The key to optimizing your workspace is removing distractions. Distractions will keep you from achieving optimal flow and ensure you remain unproductive.

Distractions can include TVs (my arch-nemesis for productivity), stereos, food, books or magazines, animals, etc. You’re looking for anything that you can remove or turn off that regularly distracts you.

In my case, the desk in my office is facing a large flatscreen TV. Awesome, right? Well, not so awesome if I’m trying to accomplish work. I have to be very deliberate and not turn the TV on, or I know I might be down a rabbit hole watching Law and Order: SVU. I can’t stop it.

For you, it might be different. TV might be excellent background noise for your productivity. But maybe snacking knocks you out of your flow. You’ll need to take some time to figure out what your triggers are and remove them from your workspace or turn them off.

Set Boundaries for Yourself

Another challenge when working from home is keeping your work separate from your personal life. There are always chores at home you could be doing, like the laundry, the dishes, vacuuming, etc. There are those emails or texts you meant to send to family. That contractor you meant to book weeks ago.

It’s important to set boundaries for yourself during work hours. These boundaries will ensure you remain productive by limiting those personal tasks you might find yourself trying to do.

If you usually work in the office from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, the same should remain true while you work from home. Keep your work schedule at home so that you know that during those working hours, you can only focus on job-related tasks.

Taking that one step further, if you do notice things around the house that need doing or personal communications that need sending, schedule those on your calendar during your own time. It gets it off your mind so you can focus, but it also ensures you have time scheduled to get it done.

Again, what works for you might be different than what works for others. Try to find a schedule and boundaries that keep you productive.

Be Patient With Yourself (And Others)

To reiterate, we’re all in uncharted territory. We’ve never lived or had to work during a pandemic like the Coronavirus. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared and worried. And I’m ok with admitting that to you.

Sure, it probably will affect my productivity from time-to-time as I check the latest news. Taking a few minutes for yourself isn’t going to make you an unproductive employee ripe for firing. Just be mindful that it can be a slippery slope, so allow yourself those few minutes (set a timer if you’d like) and then get back to work.

What you’re feeling right now, many others are feeling, too. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with others. Let’s get through this together.

If you’re interested in reading more on productivity, check out my post on 3 Productivity Tips For Your Online Business. I’ll walk you through productivity frameworks, project management tools, and how to time block your schedule for maximum productivity. It’s highly relevant, even if you don’t own your own online business.

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Author: Andy Gibson

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