I’ve been working remotely since March 2020 when the coronavirus crept its way into the United States. It was then that my colleagues and I thought we were packing up to work remotely for a few weeks, to return to normalcy before we could say “we need more toilet paper.” Unfortunately, things did not roll out that way.
It is now November, half a year spent learning to adapt to this new way of life. Trying to stay focused on work and keeping motivation levels high during a time of so much uncertainty has proven to be difficult for many, including myself, which is why I decided to share some of the tricks I’ve adopted to keep my gears greased and creative juices flowing.
1) Set a Schedule
On days where I feel distracted and struggle with staying on track, I use the Pomodoro method to keep myself focused for a specific block of time. This helps me concentrate on one task, keeping me from short-circuiting when trying to take on too much at once.
If you’re not working a 9-5 and you create your own schedule or freelance outside of your full-time role like myself—figure out your most productive hours and design around that. If you can get tons of work done early in the morning before the rest of the world starts stirring, get up at 4 am and work for a few hours. I personally get a second surge of energy around 10 pm to tackle freelance tasks, so I know to step away from the computer at 5 pm, and allow myself a few hours to relax guilt-free before that surge strikes.
2) Take Breaks
Those few hours from 5 pm-10 pm are not always the ideal amount of time for me to rest. It’s important to allocate little slivers of time throughout the day to step away from the screen. When you’re working in an office with other people, you tend to take natural breaks, like coffee-walks or puzzle time (2 break times we take seriously at Jackrabbit.) But at home, you may not have those opportunities.
This is another reason to use the Pomodoro method, which creates 5-15 minute breaks for your workday. If setting a timer isn’t your time, consider trying to get up from your desk to stretch, grab some water, step outside, or do whatever you need to do to reset for a few minutes.
Even if you are swamped, make sure to take an actual lunch break. You will return with a clearer head and that is way better than approaching anything hangry. I like to eat, take a 15-minute walk and listen to a non-work-related podcast to recalibrate and tackle the 2nd half of the day feeling refreshed.
How you use your lunch break is totally up to you, but just try to take a half-hour for yourself to step away from your desk. Set yourself to “away” for that time on Slack so that you’re truly able to unplug.
3) Make Plans After Work
One of the best ways to make sure you stop working at a reasonable time is to make plans after work. That could be a Zoom call with family, taking a walk with a friend, an online class that you have to attend at a certain time, or any other obligation that you won’t want to miss out on.
Try not to use these plans as a break, use them as a hard stopping point.
4) Set Aside a Separate Workspace
Though this may not be possible for everyone, setting aside a specific, separate workspace from the rest of my apartment has made it significantly easier for me to leave work at work. If you’re living in a small space, maybe it’s not an entirely separate room but a corner in your living room. If that still isn’t a possibility, just close that laptop or turn off your desktop to create some mental space.
5) Create Rituals
When I began working remotely, I struggled with losing all the routines and rituals I once had when working in an office. I had expressed this to a colleague who suggested taking walks in the morning to help establish a new normal. I now use my morning walks as my virtual “commute” which helps me shift into “work mode” once I return home.
6) Set Boundaries
It’s important to set boundaries, both for yourself and others. If you’re not available on the weekends, for example, don’t make exceptions unless it’s a dire emergency that no one else can handle.
As an oftentimes overly-accommodating person—this is something I had to implement when freelancing since we live in a day and age where there’s no excuse to not be available always, with a laptop to make just “one quick edit.” In no time, I set an expectation that I was then always available to do “something real quick” at 7 pm on a Saturday when that not-so-quick task took me away from something that I had been looking forward to.
I learned that saying you’re not available on certain days, and building these boundaries resulted in no hard feelings from that client. It opened up a conversation about how we can come up with a more organized plan of attack when something is needed that works for both of us.
Though I’m no master, finding that work-life balance in a remote environment is vital to continued productivity. Working too much can quickly lead to burnout, especially during a time when our brainpans are filled to the brim with concerns around a global pandemic. The most important thing is that we try our best to keep our spirits up, stay safe, and just continue to…