There has been a lot of media coverage on COVID-19, and although this post isn’t directed at addressing the issue in any medical or scientific way, I would like to share some information, tips, and ideas on staying productive while working remotely.
* Important Disclaimer *
I am not a medical professional, scientist, or specialist in communicable diseases. I am a freelancer and business owner, and I have experience in working remotely under relatively lonely/ isolated circumstances for over a year. The advice contained in this post is meant to be informative on the subject of working remotely/ in isolation and comes from personal experience and research on different topics that relate to working remotely.
The information in this post is not meant to:
- Be taken as medical advice
- Replace advice from medical professionals, scientist or governing bodies
- Be followed if it contradicts information, regulations or declarations made by governments/ law enforcement, etc.
Please follow this advice at your own risk and use your judgement in applying this to your situation.
Now that the aim of this post is made clear, I’d like to give you some advice and ideas on working remotely, from home or in isolation- and most of it will be applicable no matter why you are working remotely.
Tips on adapting to and staying productive when working remotely:
- Acknowledge change and adapt to it intentionally
If you are new to working remotely, it is best to acknowledge that this might be a time of frustration and drastic change. Don’t shy away from the change and address it with good judgement and intent. Understand that you may be less productive at first and give yourself time to adapt and figure it out. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Form a routine and stick to it
You will face temptations initially when you start to work remotely. Netflix keeps calling, you feel a little lost, and you might even want to stay in your pyjamas all day. The easiest way to transition into the new reality of working from home is to set up a routine and to do your best to stick to it.
Set your alarm, get up and go through your usual morning routine as if you’re still going to work at your office. It’s essential to wake up at a reasonable time, shower, eat breakfast and get dressed (even if you just put on clean pyjamas). Maintaining a healthy routine will help you to remain productive, and it will help you to make the mental transition into working remotely.
Work in lunch-time and coffee breaks as you would do under normal circumstances, so your brain has time to rest. Don’t work in too much overtime and don’t skip meals to keep working. If you don’t keep your routine structured, you can easily overwork yourself (and burn out), or you may lose motivation to keep working.
If you struggle with loads of distractions, you might want to look at different productivity techniques to help you cope. I use the Pomodoro Technique, which means that I work for 30 minutes (one Pomodoro) and then take a 5-minute break. I repeat this cycle four times, and then I take a longer break before starting it all over again.
This technique helps me to focus on the piece of work I need to do and move the distracting things (like replying to emails, reading Whatsapp messages, etc.) to another Pomodoro (30-minute section). I often schedule a Pomodoro for writing/ intensive work followed by a quick break followed by a Pomodoro for admin/ replies. You can even install an app or browser extension to help you time the Pomodoros (I use the Marinara: Pomodoro® Assistant for Chrome). To ensure that this technique is effective you need to determine your concentration span (mine is 30 minutes, not the usual 25 minutes as directed) and set your timer accordingly and then honour the breaks by getting up, moving around and shifting your focus.
Once you have established your routine, you can allow yourself a little more freedom to change things around without totally derailing your workday.
- Create a workspace (physically and mentally)
You need a dedicated space to work in whether it is a room that will serve as your office or just a small corner in your bedroom. Work with what you have and make the space as pleasant and practical as possible. Setting up my home office has been one of the best investments I have made to ensure the success of my business. My office is home to my pretty posters, a whiteboard and my desk, and when I walk in, my workday starts.
Creating a mental workspace is just as important. For me, it means not eating lunch at my desk and not consuming entertainment or social media (other than structured work) when I am at my desk. These boundaries help me to separate work and relaxation so I can switch off when I need to rest and switch back on when I need to work. When I’m done for the day, I leave my laptop in my office, and I close the door, the same as I would do if I worked in an office.
Many people struggle with balancing work and having kids at home and setting specific boundaries may help to keep the productivity going. I found this fantastic resource from CNBC.com that specifically addresses the struggles of parents during the current COVID-19 crisis (if I had kids, I would most likely implement some of these strategies).
- Stay healthy
Exercise and a balanced diet will keep you mentally and physically fit and healthy to cope with your regular workload as well as the additional stress you may deal with due to the change in circumstances. Change is not easy and can cause a lot of stress, so you need to keep your body active and well-nourished, so your brain can function optimally.
There are tons of free online resources to help you keep fit and healthy, and many fitness and wellness experts have content specifically aimed at helping you work out from home and make healthy meals with the ingredients in your cupboard. I love the (free) work out videos and recipes from Popsugar. They have a large variety of videos from different trainers in many different disciplines including kickboxing, ballet, Tabata and bodyweight training.
Do some research and find what keeps you healthy and happy.
- Keep in (digital) contact with people
If you can’t physically spend time around people (thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic), you will need to make an effort to keep in touch with others. Isolating myself from human interaction is the single biggest mistake I made at the beginning of my freelance career, and it nearly drove me to depression. I made the mistake of thinking that emails and conversations with my husband (when he got home) were going to be enough- they weren’t, and my mental health took the toll.
Use technology to your advantage and talk to people, not just through text messages or email but through video chats, voice notes and phone calls. Do not disregard the impact of seeing people’s faces and hearing their voices. It can help you to feel like you’re connected even when you are in isolation.
Get creative and host digital meetups to work out or have dinner at the same time from your separate places.
- Be intentional with social media/ entertainment
While digital entertainment and social media can go a long way in minimising boredom and loneliness, too much of it can be very harmful to your mental health and productivity. Many devices have settings that can help you limit time spent on specific apps, so use this to curb your browsing binges.
Mindlessly consuming content can also cause undue panic through misinformation and fake news. Choose your sources carefully, verify the information before internalising it and take breaks from the digital world often.
- Focus on self-betterment
If you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands due to your change in circumstance, don’t squander it. Use this time to learn something new or improve your skills. Take an online class or course or watch educational videos or videos teaching skills on YouTube. Many digital platforms that offer free resources or free trials.
- Identify issues and address them
Grab a pen and paper (or digital version thereof) and identify the problems you are particularly worried about or struggling with. Once you have a list, start working through those issues one by one. Start with the issues you can immediately address and do what you can to resolve them. Continue working through the list, resolving issues where possible. Do the research and work through resources that specifically address your struggles. Keep this list at hand and add to it as you identify potential issues.
Make a habit of working through the list and adding/ removing issues as you progress over time. Circling back to your list will go a long way in keeping yourself calm and focused because you are acknowledging what you struggle with and recording victories (giving you a sense of achievement). Putting it on a list can help you to shift your mind from chewing on vague anxieties and worries to creating a to-do list that you can conquer.
If you’ve found this information useful in your quest to stay productive while working remotely, please share it with your friends, family and co-workers who might also be struggling with the change in circumstances I’ve addressed. Keep an eye on my social media or subscribe to my blog for more content on working remotely.
| About the author: |
Chantelle is the founder of Jackal Media, a copywriting and content agency based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is passionate about words and loves to share knowledge with business owners and freelance creatives. Her pet peeve is people who stroll leisurely in crowded areas and she loves not having to deal with it during the 21 day lockdown in South Africa.