These are unprecedented times.
Though the uncertainty and newness of it all can be disconcerting, the good news is that there actually are opportunities for growth and diversification for your agency or small business, if you’re keen to make lemonade out of lemons.
However, with many of us working from home, you might be having trouble adjusting to your new work environment. While it will inevitably take some time to get used to, there are some things you can do to maintain your productivity and make the transition easier.
Table of Contents
- DO: Set regular work hours and stick to them
- DON’T: Force yourself to work 9-5
- DO: Make a list of everything you need to do in a day
- DON’T: Fall down a social media spiral
- DO: Plan meals and snacks
- DON’T: Work in your pajamas
- DO: Define your office boundaries
- DON’T: Forget to move
- DO: Optimize your setup
- DON’T: Get schlumpy
- DO: Make sure housemates understand when you can’t be interrupted (Plus tips for keeping kids busy!)
- DON’T: Become an island
- DO: Take revitalizing breaks
- DON’T: (Necessarily) force yourself to push through unproductivity
- DO: Use different windows, browsers, or even computers (if possible) for your work life and your personal life.
- DON’T: Be on screens 24/7
- DO: Take a breath of fresh air!
- DON’T: Be too hard on yourself
- DO: Use some of your extra time to brush up your skills
- DON’T: Feel like you have to follow all the rules
1. DO: Set regular work hours and stick to them
Ask any remote superstar what their secret is, and this is bound to be near the top of their list. When you’re at home, it’s easy to lose track of what a normal workday is. This can lead to putting way too much, or way too little, time into what you need to do. Setting a regular daily schedule will help you switch your mind into work mode when it’s time to work, and back into play time when it’s time to be done. And when you can do this, you get into a (happy) vicious cycle of work being more productive, and personal time being more fulfilling. #WorkLifeBalance for the win.
2. DON’T: Force yourself to work 9-5
While it’s important to have consistent hours of work, one of the benefits of working from home is that you often have a bit more flexibility regarding when you work those hours. Are you an early bird who feels most alive at the rising of the sun? Feel free to work 6-2! Maybe you’re a late nighter who shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions before 10 a.m.? Shift your work hours to later in the day - even the evening if you prefer - and take the morning to wake up and start your day off right. Just make sure you give yourself some come-down time before you crawl into bed.
3. DO: Make a list of everything you need to do in a day
If you’ve never worked remotely before, the change of environment can be a bit jarring, and can throw off your routine (and, as a result, your productivity). To keep yourself focused, make a list of everything you need to get done in the day. Then follow it. This prevents you from drifting off into lower-priority work, forgetting important deadlines, or worse, getting distracted by pets, YouTube videos, or social media.
Making a list can be a great way to kick off your day. Alternatively, some prefer to make a list right at the end of their day so they know they’ll remember everything that needs to be tackled in the morning.
4. DON’T: Fall down a social media spiral
We’ve all been there. Just a quick check on an Instagram notification and all of a sudden 45 minutes has gone by. Not really the best habit to get into.
If you have the self-control, set up times when you’re allowed to check notifications. And. Stick. To. Those. Times.
If you don’t have it in you (no shame, the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem), there are tools out there to help. The easiest one is just to turn off notifications, or even your ringer/text alerts altogether if you can do that. Many phones have options for placing timers on social media apps (iPhone instructions here, and Android here) or you can use an app to gate yourself to certain times. Here are some of the best ones:
5. DO: Plan meals and snacks
No one feels good after realizing they’ve just plowed through a family-size bag of munchie mix and a full box of Oreos. On the flip side, we do all need to eat, and some of you workaholics know that you can get so into a groove that you forget to eat altogether. You’ll be a stronger worker and feel like a better version of yourself if you have a system in place for your nutrition.
First, it’s a great idea to keep a glass and pitcher of water, or water bottle, with you. Next, designate snack breaks for yourself, and set alarms so you remember to take those breaks. Try to plan snacks ahead so you go for the best option, not just the mindless option. Furthermore, if possible, it’s better to break up that large meal at lunch into smaller portions throughout the day - meaning more breaks for you!
For some healthy, energy-maintaining options, check out this list.
6. DON’T: Work in your pyjamas
I know, I know, I can hear the collective groans. Isn’t wearing comfy clothes one of the main perks of working at home? Yes, it is! Luckily, just because you’re not working in your pyjamas doesn’t mean you can’t be comfy.
The psychological effects of getting ready for the day and changing into a “work uniform” shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact, psychologists even have a term for it: “enclothed cognition”. Perhaps that explains why this tip is, again, one of the most common tips from experienced remote workers, with some going as far as swearing that wearing shoes is their secret to remaining productive all day. How formal you go is up to you, just make sure you feel like you and your best, most productive self.
For a little inspiration, check out these posts:
7. DO: Define your office boundaries
Another widely-held top tip is to define your workspace. Sorry, this means no working from under your covers, tucked into bed all day.
Especially while in self-isolation, a big part of maintaining sanity is being able to separate your work time from your personal time. This is much easier to do when you have an area for working that you can go to when your work hours begin, and leave when they’re over.
That being said, understandably some people are living in pretty tight quarters; a studio-apartment doesn’t really allow for separate rooms for work and play. Still, try to define an area solely for work. This might just look like forcing yourself to work from your desk, then leaving your desk at 5 and not touching anything on it or sitting down there again until the next morning. If you want to go to the next level, you can even tape off the area on the floor around your desk, or put up a curtain or room divider.
However you do it, be strict with yourself to have space reserved solely for work, and space reserved for the rest of your life.
8. DON’T: Forget to move
Now that I’ve just said to strictly confine yourself to your work quarters, I should qualify that by saying that it is actually good for you to get up and move around throughout the day. Especially if you’re in a bit of a funk. Getting your head out of your workspace, or getting your blood flowing through a quick mini-workout can be a great way to boost or restore your productivity! Get up and take a quick walk around your apartment, take out the garbage (if your restrictions allow you to) or check out one of these quick mini-workouts on YouTube if you’re feeling a little blah:
9. DO: Optimize your setup
Think back to offices where you’ve felt like you’ve worked really well. Maybe even think back to your college days. What studying environments did you gravitate towards? Did you find some to be more productive than others?
Start with a good desk setup, a comfortable and supportive chair, and good light. Check out this guide to make sure you and your office equipment are well aligned.
As mentioned above, it’s also a good idea to keep water nearby. Snacks...not so much (though it’s not the end of the world if you have a small bowl of fruit and veggies or nuts to munch on here and there).
Finally, the music/non-music debate. People tend to have very strong opinions on this, so if there’s something you already know works for you, go for it. But if you’re up for something new, try the app Brain.fm, which plays music scientifically demonstrated to promote focus and productivity. Alternatively, classical music (specifically Baroque) has also been found to increase mood and productivity. It fits with a common sentiment that lyric-less music seems most conducive to creating focus-optimized work environments.
Alternatively, if music’s not your thing but you miss the white-noise of cafes and offices, try Noisli. This app is a white-noise player that offers soundscapes that are either ready-mixed or customized by you.
10. DON’T: Get schlumpy
By which I mean, don’t let yourself get into a place where you feel gross while you’re working or by the end of the day. Don’t let yourself slouch on the couch for the entirety of your work day, don’t wear the same clothes for 72 hours straight, and keep up basic hygiene (this may sound obvious, but we’ve all been there. And after a couple weeks in isolation, we might need this reminder). It’s a weird time for us all, but we’re going to get through it together. You’ve got this, so have a shower, organize your desk, sit up tall, and don’t let this thing get you down.
11. DO: Make sure housemates understand when you can’t be interrupted (Plus tips on keeping kids busy!)
Depending on who your housemates are, this can be easier said than done. If they’re fully-functioning adults, perhaps also working from home, hopefully healthy work boundaries can easily be set and maintained.
If your housemates are two toddlers and a five-year-old, this may be trickier business.
When kids are really young, there’s not much getting around it: they’ll need some adult supervision at all times. The best thing you can do in this case is be organized. If you have help or are able to get help, even better. Try scheduling work between you and your partner so that you can each have at least a few hours of uninterrupted work time. Schedule activities the day before (or even set an agenda for the entire week) so that kids have something to do at all times. Allow flexibility within that schedule, but always have an option available so boredom never gets the best of you.
When kids are a little older, hopefully they can be a bit more independent throughout the day. Still, being organized and structuring activities will be a big help (and will help prevent boredom-induced grumpiness and fighting, to boot).
If kids aren’t big readers on their own, YouTube has many recordings of popular books being read. These make for a great quiet-time activity. Try a classic like Anne of Green Gables, Narnia, or Harry Potter.
For the artistically inclined, visit the Art for Kids Hub for an endless supply of drawing tutorials.
And while you don’t want the entire time to be spent on Netflix or Disney+, don’t beat yourself up if they have to come out every so often. You’re not disqualified from the “good parent” list because of it.
12. DON’T: Become an island
During self-isolation, it can be very easy to struggle with feeling...well, isolated. While any feelings of missing someone or something are a good opportunity to stop and be thankful for the many moments of togetherness we have had the chance to experience (and will get the chance to experience again), there are also ways to combat feelings of loneliness now. Of course there are the usual tools like Slack, Facetime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc., but there are other ways to be creative and reach out.
At work, make full use of your communication platform. Overcommunicate. Make room and space for both professional communication, and fun, team-building communication. Share playlists, daily routines, and work-from-home tips. What did you have for lunch? What funny thing did your kid do today? What’s something you’re most looking forward to when this has all settled down? Try having a question of the day if you don’t have one already, and be sure to keep in touch in a fun way, along with the more professional communications.
Make sure you’re getting enough social interaction in your personal life too. Start a book club. You can have a Facebook forum or Zoom call to discuss each chapter. Organize an initiative in your community where everyone sticks a symbol in their window (in my town a bunch of us are posting hearts in our windows so that kids on walks or drives with their parents can go on a scavenger hunt all over town looking for them). Or use the free Netflix Party chrome extension to have movie parties with your friends, even when you’re all in different houses!
13. DO: Take revitalizing breaks
Taking breaks is a vital part of optimizing your productivity (see next tip for more on this). But in this day and age, our breaks tend to just be switching from one screen to another, and don’t involve much more movement than that. These aren’t the kind of breaks your mind and body need.
When you’re taking a break, make sure you really switch things up. Get up and move around. Maybe do one of the mini-workout videos suggested above. Talk to whoever’s around, or even give someone a phone call. Do one of the suggested drawing tutorials with your kids - even if you're a terrible artist (it might be more fun that way). Open a window and get some fresh air, or go for a walk if you’re able to. Really remove yourself from your work, your work space, and change your physical position, and you’ll find you’re much better and more alive with your work when you settle back into it again.
14. DON’T: (Necessarily) force yourself to push through unproductivity
Feeling sluggish? Blah? Uninspired? The solution may not be powering through. Taking the right amount of breaks actually helps us be more productive, and accomplish higher-quality work at that. And studies have shown that we may actually need more breaks than we’re taking.
Social scientists have found that the optimal work schedule is 52 minutes of work, then a 17 minute break. It does have to be noted that these must be “effective breaks” (see last tip) and can’t just be switching over from your work screen to your Facebook screen.
Personally, while in university I used to follow a 50:10 rule - 50 minutes of work to 10 minutes of break - and I found I worked much better. Knowing when my break was coming helped me be more productive during my work time. It also kept my brain from tiring out, which in turn helped me maintain memory skills, creativity, inspiration, and innovative thinking.
If that seems like a lot of downtime to you, you may be surprised to learn that some schools of thought suggest that we might need even more breaks than that. The Pomodoro technique has gained some popularity over the past few decades, and is structured like so: decide your task, work 25 minutes, put a check mark on a piece of paper, take a five minute break. After 4 check marks, take a 15 minute break (or longer, say for lunch).
Whatever method you choose, know that boredom and fatigue are generally symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored, but rather dug into. While we all have tasks in our jobs we don’t love, structuring our days to better deal with those tasks, or adjusting our work if possible, will make us more productive, more fulfilled, and prouder of the work we dedicate ourselves to each day.
15. DO: Use different windows, browsers, or even computers (if possible) for your work life and your personal life.
Working from home is a particularly serious threat to keeping a healthy work-life balance. Just like you want to have a separate physical space for your work and personal life, dividing your tech space along the same lines helps maintain healthy boundaries.
16. DON’T: Be on screens 24/7
Once you get off the clock, it can be almost instinctual to switch immediately to social media. And when you can’t get out and don’t have much else to do, Netflix is often the default choice for passing the time. However, all this screen time can take its toll on a person. Sooner or later, we all get that glazed-over, brain-dead feeling that doesn’t make anyone feel good about themselves.
Really try to schedule at least 2 hours of screen-free time a night. This could involve picking up an old hobby, like playing an instrument, baking, cooking, reading, writing, crafting, or building something. Or do a full clean of your entire house. Organize all of your closets and storage rooms, and get to any DIY projects you’ve been putting off.
If you’re in isolation with others, bring out the board games, or make some of your own. For example, Telestrations and Things in a Box can be played with just square pieces of paper. With kids, you can have a kitchen dance party, bake cookies, make a puppet theatre and puppets, play with cornstarch-and-water slime, or build a fort. Even just going on a family walk around the block (if this is permissible under your advisories) is a great way to bond and fight that cabin fever.
Though this might not seem like it directly applies to your work, it does much more than you might think. When you’re taking care of yourself holistically, you do better in all areas of life.
17. DO: Take a breath of fresh air!
Obviously, some of us are a bit limited in our outdoor access at the moment. If you are able to get out to take a walk, do it! If you’re able to drive yourself out of town on the weekend to somewhere more remote, go for a hike there!
But if none of that is an option to you, even opening a window is better than nothing. Cabin fever is a real thing; being able to feel the wind on your face and remind yourself that there is a world beyond your walls is not just a nice pick-me-up, but rather critical for your overall mental, emotional, and physical health. And now is not the time for scrimping on that.
18. DON’T: Be too hard on yourself
It goes without saying that this is a weird time. All of us are being asked to make adjustments and sacrifices in the ways that we would like to be spending our time. While there are lots of silver linings to find in all of this, it’s okay to have moments and days where the events get you down, and you don’t feel like you’re doing your best work. You might even have some very full-on schlumpy days. It’s okay. Be gentle with yourself. We’re all just doing our best, and hopefully we can all have grace for one another, and for ourselves.
While we are all going through this, let’s take the time to learn about ourselves and about each other, to support each other, and reach out for support when we need it. While it might be a challenging time, challenging times are the best times to become better people. So while we focus on seeing each other through this, know that once we do, we will be stronger, more agile, more empathetic, and more on our game in all aspects of life - work and otherwise.
19. DO: Use some of your extra time to brush up your skills
While some of us may be in full-on battle-mode with nary a moment in our days to spare, many of us will have a lot more time on our hands than we’re used to. This can be a great opportunity to brush up or diversify our skills. Fortunately, there are many options for free learning to take advantage of.
Shaw Academy is currently offering new students one certificate course entirely for free. LinkedIn Learning offers a free trial for 1-month. HubSpot Academy is full of awesome courses and is always free. And as of Wednesday, Vendasta’s ConquerLocal Academy will be kicking off too.
And if all that fails, simply search the topic you’d like to learn about on YouTube! Because if there’s not a tutorial for what you want there, you might have to ask yourself if the thing even exists.
20. DON’T: Feel like you have to follow all the rules
After all that you’ve been told to do, it’s important to note that these are mostly practices gleaned from the advice of other people. In other words, while there is scientific evidence behind some of them, a lot of these rules are quite subjective. Therefore, if one just seems like it doesn’t fit the way you work, don’t listen to it. All of us are different, we’re all outliers in some way or another, and it’s a simple fact that not everything will work for everyone.
Even if you do follow all the rules to a tee, know that it will still probably take you some time to adjust to working from home, and that’s okay. Try a few different set-ups, a few different ways of structuring your day, and soon this new normal will seem just that - normal.
NOTE: As much as these tips can make your life easier in small ways, if you’re struggling with stress and anxiety over your business and finances during this time, it can still be hard to focus and practice good mental and physical health. Check out this post for some resources that can help, this post on how to cope with stress during this time, and this post to learn about all the ways Vendasta wants to step up and support you during this time.