How to stay constructive when working remotely
Five months into sheltering in place and you may be spending 90% of your time at home. Your interaction with colleagues has gone 2D. Your boss has cut back your budget. And you can’t make plans to travel anywhere, meet with colleagues or socialize without wondering if it will be safe.
With new distractions, stress and the uncertainty of how long this will last, it may be harder to start each day with a smile. Have you slowed down your pace? Are you feeling only half as productive as you used to be? Are you feeling like the future is completely out of your control?
Remote work has its advantages. But providing structure isn’t one of them.
As someone who has worked from a home office for several decades, I have developed various practices that help me stay focused and enjoy a more constructive day. Maybe a few of these will work for you.
The truth is, as horrible as things get, there is always something to be grateful for. Focusing on one good thing in your life before you get up each morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. This isn’t just magical thinking. Research has proven that gratitude not only improves your psychological and physical health, but it also improves your self-esteem.
Instead of letting stress and frustration take you down the rabbit hole, focus on all the resources and skills you have to work with. It may be your creativity or ability to analyze the marketplace. It may be a great webinar or podcast you learned something new from. You can also be grateful for the people in your life — a colleague who helped you finish a project or a child who made you laugh.
Get out of your pajamas!
My grandmother insisted that no matter how you feel, you should get dressed every morning as soon as you get out of bed. For almost every day of her 99 years, she followed her own advice. Through the 1919 pandemic when she wasn’t allowed to leave her college dormitory. Through the Great Depression and two World Wars. Through the death of her son, her husband, all three of her sisters and all of her close friends. Every single day, she was up by 8 and dressed. No matter what time I visited her, she was always put together in some version of a blouse, fitted skirt and matching sweater.
Loungewear represented inertia to my grandmother. It was no surprise that when she died, she went in her sleep, dressed in her nightgown.
I’m definitely more of a sloth than my grandmother, but every time I contemplate whether to head back to bed and work in my bathrobe, I remember her admonition to get dressed and seize the day. You don’t have to get fancy. Sweats will do. But don’t forget to change into a decent shirt if you have to Zoom.
Fine tune your schedule
It’s fairly common to add meetings to your calendar and leave the rest of the time slots blank, figuring you’ll fit projects in as they come up.
You can be more productive if you move all your to-dos onto your calendar. To-do lists on their own are easy to ignore. And a calendar with empty time slots makes it easy to procrastinate on more important projects, thinking you have time to spare.
Consider using a whiteboard to plan your week. Take time on Friday afternoon or Sunday evening to fill it out. Schedule your large tasks first, such as projects with tight deadlines. Then add in personal appointments, workouts and activities that are important to your health and sanity.
Since even the best plans are affected by changes or delays, revisit your calendar every evening and fine tune it for the next day. Add in even small tasks that take under 10 minutes — like making a call to a banker or sending out a follow-up email to a client.
Always set your calendar to send alerts several minutes before you need to start the next scheduled activity.
Get an accountability partner
We all have projects we put off because they have no deadlines. Marketing calls, proposals, marketing content for the next quarter. They may not be critical this week, but they also can’t be ignored. A great way to get them done is to find an accountability partner (or two or three). Set a particular time on particular days of the week to work on just those tasks. Check in by text or a messaging platform like Slack. Confirm what you are committing to work on. Set a timer for 50 to 60 minutes and go!
Check in at the end of the time period to report what you accomplished. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done when you have someone holding you accountable.
Take a walk
Schedule a walk every day. Put it in your calendar. It’s not only good exercise, but it helps you let go of worries and refresh your mind and attitude. You may find that whenever you are stuck with a work or personal problem, opening the door and taking a few laps around the neighborhood provides the answer.
If you’re lucky to have dogs, they’ll force you to go out. If not, walk whenever you’re losing steam or feel that the day is getting you down.
Ask for help
This pandemic isn’t going to magically disappear. It’s going to keep affecting your life and work for some time. Having practices that help you feel in control gives you the best chance of doing well.
And on those days when you just can’t get it together, remember you’re not alone. One of the best strategies for staying sane while working remotely is to maintain a pool of colleagues you can reach out to for help. The one certain thing about this pandemic is that we’re all suffering through it together. And there will be days when each of us needs a helping hand.