How to Stay Productive When Working From Home During COVID-19 - America's Future

March 17, 2020

Professional Development

How to Stay Productive When Working From Home During COVID-19

By: John Dale Grover

COVID-19, which is caused by a new coronavirus, is now a global pandemic. More and more organizations are having their employees work remotely. College students have been told classes will be online, and everyone is being encouraged to engage in “social distancing” to reduce the spread of the virus. Staying home, but without the social release valve of being able to get lunch with a friend or work from a cafe, will be difficult for many people. Here’s how you can stay productive and healthy despite being largely stuck in one place.

1. Stick to a Routine and Get in the Right Headspace
Routines and habits impact what your mind and body expect to happen every day. For instance, treat working remotely as if it is a holiday or the weekend, and you will have trouble getting up in time for that conference call or will struggle to ignore your TV or Facebook. It is vital to still get up on time, shower, and get dressed as if you are headed physically into work. (And no, obviously this doesn’t mean you need to be in a suit—it just means that there’s a mental shift that happens when you’re in even casual clothes instead of still in your sleepwear.)  Keeping close to a regular routine is a good way to ensure that you stay motivated and not have your work or mood derailed.

This is not to say you can’t sleep in a little, but remember that there’s a limit to how much you can bend your routines or change the sleep rhythms your body is used to. Psychological and physiological signals—such as getting dressed or making a to-do list—help to prime yourself for what needs to be done. Without these, your body’s clock and energy levels will be out of sync both during telework and when (eventually) things return to normal and you have to return to the office. Moreover, you don’t want your internal self-talk to go off track. If you don’t get much done or if you don’t connect with family and friends over the phone or by video chat, you may end up beating yourself up about it. This kind of negative self-talk isn’t helpful if you wallow in it. Social distancing and remote work is hard. You need to always give yourself the grace to forgive yourself and improve so you aren’t missing deadlines or forgetting to reach out to loved ones.

Finally, studies show that people are better rested, healthier, and happier when they have consistent sleep and wake up times. In fact, a lack of consistent sleep contributes to downswings in one’s mood. This is not fun for anyone, especially if you are someone who is prone to seasonal affective disorder or depression. Therefore, it is important to still get up in the morning as if you have people to keep in touch with and a job to get done—because you do.

2. Get Some Sunshine and Exercise
If you want to feel energized and upbeat, sunlight and exercise do wonders. Thankfully, with the time change and warmer weather approaching in many places, everyone will start to enjoy more sunlight. Since being cooped up is often gloomy, you can still get outside for a short walk, but you should be careful when doing so. To be clear, I am not a medical professional and none of what I write here should be taken as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor, and if you are feeling sick at all or if you have underlying health issues or are elderly, then you should stay home and not go outside.

However, if you are healthy and cautious enough, consider going for a brief walk outside in your yard or neighborhood. Remember that the virus primarily appears to spread through respiratory droplets from someone within six feet of you. So you should avoid getting closer than six feet to someone, touching your face, and attending large gatherings. You can wear a mask; however regular surgical masks are not very effective at protecting you and are more about protecting others if you are sick. (Also, you shouldn’t go out and buy them because there’s already a shortage, and medical personnel need them when treating patients.) Finally, always pay attention to the latest announcements from the Centers for Disease Control and your local health authorities for recommendations and in case anything changes.

With all of this in mind, at the very least you should open up your blinds. This is extra important when it is cold or when the weather is grey and overcast. A little natural daylight—even during a cloudy day—is better than none. My own apartment is partially underground and so I get even less sunlight than normal. This means I have to be extra mindful to open up the blinds and to engage in exercise first thing in the morning. 

How much sunlight and exercise you get will help or hinder you during remote work. If you have shades, open them. If you have a home exercise bike or weights, use them. Remember, you can do some push-ups or jumping jacks if you don’t have any equipment. And while, yes, you can use your apartment’s gym (if it’s still open), please remember to be extra cautious by wiping down any surfaces, washing your hands for 20 seconds, and avoiding touching your face.

Another suggestion would be to order off of Amazon some weights or a happy lamp that imitates sunshine to use indirectly every so often for thirty minutes or so. (Just remember, again, to consult your doctor as happy lamps may help when you’re feeling down, but also can trigger mania if you are—or have a family history tendency towards being—bipolar.)

Ultimately, making a point to get some sun and taking small exercise breaks are a good way to deal with distractions. We’re surrounded by temptations and things that call for our attention—our smartphone notifications, social media, enticing novels, Netflix, video games, and endless Wikipedia articles. But if you get up and walk away, those things won’t have any hold on you. You can instead refocus and get some of the stress of living in a pandemic out of your system.

3. Use the Pomodoro Method
Distractions are a prime danger of remote work, but one of the benefits is that you can get certain things done that might have been harder at the office. For instance, it is easier to block off your schedule to work on something time-intensive or to take business calls without getting interrupted by other coworkers. The catch is also building in time to manage your distractions instead of trying to always ignore them and failing.

For instance, you could try the Pomodoro Technique. This is a process whereby you work nonstop on a specific task for 25 minutes. You set a timer and make yourself get in the zone without distractions. Once the alarm goes off, you are allowed to take a break and do whatever you want for a short amount of time. But once that break is over, you reset the 25-minute timer and get back to work. 

Personally, I find this method to be very effective because you know there’s a break at the end in which you can scratch that itch of wanting to refresh Twitter or go check on the laundry. The nice thing is that if you think of something else you need to do, you can also just write it down so you don’t forget—which is a huge relief! This means it is okay to think of a distraction during the 25 minutes you’re working as long as you get it out of your way by jotting it down to deal with later.

Furthermore, feel free to modify this method however you think would work best for you. For myself, I like to set a timer for 30-40 minutes and then give myself either a 5 or 10-minute break depending on what I need to get done.

4. Schedule Calls and Video Chats with People You Care About
Social distancing and working remotely are lonely. Even if you are married or have roommates, you will still be missing out on a lot of social activity. Since you can’t be surrounded by family and friends or chat around the water cooler, it is important to reach out so you aren’t disconnected.

Humans are social animals and, even for introverts, there is a baseline of needed social interaction to remain happy and healthy. Also, talking or skyping with others who are also staying home will help you realize that you are not alone! You are instead a part of a great technological shift and are doing your part as the world fights the virus. Reaching out to family and friends will help everyone remain calm and collected as we figure out how to get through this. (Just remember that there are those who don’t have the luxury of remote work or who will not be paid during their forced time at home, so think about who you know that you can assist financially, or if there are food banks or other nonprofits you can donate to.)

These are the methods I use to ensure I am productive while working remotely. As an increasing number of people are told to stay home, we are all engaged in a never-before-tried experiment in the modern age. Let’s see what works and let’s win this fight!