Coping with COVID-19: How to Work Productively from Home in a Time of Social Distancing.

Woman working on her laptop from home

With the COVID-19 situation, many people who don’t usually work remotely are working from home—and it can be hard to concentrate.

Of course, if you’re like me, I’m immensely grateful about the fact that I can work from home. Everywhere across the globe, I know, we’re all so worried about the people who can’t work these days—people in the innumerable crucial professions where if they don’t show up, they don’t get paid. As everything closes down, these folks are losing their livelihoods.

This is a terrible, terrible problem, and I’m so grateful to see that governments and organizations are beginning to take action to help these people who do such essential work, and are so valued by us all. Much more work must be done, and fast. Hang in there.

But for those of us who are working from home:

If you’re having trouble concentrating, give yourself transitions. It’s hard to jump from the latest COVID-19 headlines into the high concentration needed to work on that report, so give yourself an intermediate step. After you’ve checked the news, begin working by tackling something work-related, but low effort—like answering straightforward emails, reading an interesting report, etc. That will help turn your attention away from the news and toward your work. Then, after you’ve readjusted, try tackling that high-intensity project.

Create a proper work space. Maybe you’re working from home, and so is your spouse, and your children are also home—and your home isn’t set up to accommodate that situation. Consider moving  furniture and re-purposing some spaces so that anyone who needs a place to focus can get it. Attending a remote meeting with your laptop on the kitchen table is going to get old, very fast. As part of that effort…

Clear clutter. If you get rid of the things you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t love, you may find that you have more space to create an area in which to work—and you might get a boost in focus, too. As I was writing my book Outer Order, Inner Calm, many people told me about how energized they were by clearing out a space. It’s irrational, but it’s true: getting more control over the stuff of life helps make us feel more in control, generally. And boy, we could all use more sense of control these days.

Give yourself working hours. This is important for your productivity, and it’s also helpful for anyone else who’s home with you. Let other people know when they should leave you alone to get your work done. And more generally…

Keep a routine. I love a routine. Maybe it’s because I’m an Upholder, I find myself wanting to create a more and more elaborate routine during this time. I find it comforting to have a full calendar of projects and undertakings in specific slots. For some people, it takes more effort. Even if you don’t have to keep the same hours you did when you were going into work, try to have some kind of regular routine of going to sleep, waking up, work, exercise, TV-watching, etc. It will help you stay productive. Also, if someone wants to start  a video conference call at the last minute, you’ll feel better prepared if you’ve taken a shower within the last week. In particular…

Suit up. I’m lucky; I work in yoga pants and running shoes every day, so my work uniform doesn’t change. But however you usually dress for work, dress to signal to yourself that you’re “working” by putting on some kind of appropriate outfit. In other words, don’t work in your pajamas. It’s good for morale to take care of ourselves, and we’ll feel more competent and ready to take on the tasks of the day. Act the way you want to feel, and look the way you want to feel. Speaking of…

Pay attention to your video appearance. Now that so many of us will be connecting by video, take some time to prepare. Look professional, consider what people will see in your background (and tidy up if it’s distracting), consider the lighting and angle, and keep your noises (clicking a pen, tapping the table) to a minimum.

On the other hand, perhaps you should disregard all this advice! There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Work the way that works best for you. Maybe you work best when you stay in PJs all day, or when you work in bed, or when you abandon a schedule and stay spontaneous all day and just do what you want to do (Rebels!). Maybe you’re like my sister Elizabeth, who is truly clutter-blind, and so it would be a waste of time for you to clear clutter. Maybe you’re a night person who can finally keep the hours that work best for you: going to sleep at 3:00 a.m. and waking up at 11 a.m.

With all things related to happiness and good habits, the key thing is to ask, “What works for me? What are the circumstances that allow me to be my happiest, calmest, most energetic, and most productive?” and then try to create the most favorable circumstances for ourselves. There’s a lot we can’t control, and often we have to accommodate the needs of other people, but there are probably some things we can control.

And one thing is true for all of us…

Be patient. This isn’t the time to get annoyed because a co-worker has a yapping dog, crying baby, pesky toddler, or sulky teenager who keeps wandering through a video conference. It’s not the time to be snarky when someone (such as me) doesn’t quite understand how to use technology properly, doesn’t know how to upload a file into Dropbox, keeps asking how to share a screen, has never used Google docs, or can’t figure out how to get the camera to turn on. And if you’re that person—with the yapping dog or the unfamiliarity with Zoom, be patient with yourself. This is an unprecedented situation, and you’re doing the best you can.

Let’s keep our eyes on the things that matter most. We’ll get through this difficult time, together. Let’s reach out with love.




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