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How to Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind (Mostly)

For many workers, this past few weeks we have been asked to do many things differently. We have been asked to navigate working from home, self isolation, online learning with our kids and grocery shortages. Working from home can be both a blessing and a challenge. Good planning and structure can help you be productive and stay sane. I have outlined some proven strategies to help you get settled, decrease distractions and reduce anxiety while you navigate this “new normal”.

Choose a dedicated work space.
You may not have a home office but you should dedicate a space to work. Find a space that you may not use for other activities such as a counter rather than your couch or bed that will help you mentally stay on task.

Get started early.
Believe it or not, one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. You probably have a morning routine when you work from the office that helps you get ready for the day. Maybe now you are having to help children start school work or just want to catch up on the news in the morning. Getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Don’t let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.

Pretend like you are going into the office.
The association your brain makes between work and an office can make you more productive, but you can help create that feeling at home. When you are working from home, do all the things you’d do to prepare for an office role: Set your alarm, make  coffee, and wear nice clothes. Get fully ready for the day and pretend you’re actually going to work.

Structure your day like you would in the office.
Without a schedule to define your day, it can be easy to lose focus or burn out.
To stay on schedule,throughout the day plan out what you’ll do and when over the course of the day. If you have an online calendar, create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. Are mornings for organizing data or writing while you’re in the office? Use the same schedule at home. Structure will help keep you focused and productive.

Make it harder to use social media.
Social media can be counter-productive. Stay on task by logging out of your social media accounts each morning and the temptation to quickly check them will be hampered by the need to login each time. It is easy to get sucked in without intending to so eliminating the gateway to those networks can help keep you on track. You can also work in a private or an “Incognito” browser window. This ensures you stay signed out of all your accounts and it’s a guarantee that you won’t be tempted into taking too many social breaks during the day.

Commit to doing more.
Did you ever hear the saying “shoot for the stars, you will get to the moon”? Committing to an aggressive deadline or schedule will keep projects on track, just don’t beat yourself up for falling short. Even if you come up short of your goal, you’ll still come out of that day with a solid list of tasks filed under ‘complete.’ It is OK to over-commit to your team on what I’ll deliver that week or day. It will help keep you focused, so even if you get the urge to go do something else, you know you’ve already committed a certain amount of work to the team.

Work hard when you can.
Each day will be different. When you are scheduling your day or week allow room for your motivation to come and go. Whether you work best in the morning or afternoon, make sure you channel those times to your most important tasks. Use slower times of your day to knock out the easier tasks that are also on your plate.

Communicate your needs with the family.
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re home. Make sure any roommates, siblings, parents, spouses, and dogs (well, maybe not dogs) respect your space during work hours. If anyone else is going to be at home when you’re working, they just have to be clear that when you’re in your ‘office’ (in my case, my signal to the family is having headphones on), you’re working — even if it looks like you’re hanging out at home.

Save calls and emails for a scheduled time.
Turning off those dang dinging notifications can help you stay on task. Many people find that having scheduled times for email and phone calls helps them to ‘dive deep’ on larger projects.

Interact.
Remember: You’re working from home, not the moon. Interacting with other people during the day is allowed, even if they’re not your coworkers. In fact, it’s a good idea to see another face during the day when most of your work day is solitary. Find a human to interact with — it will help keep you sane.

Plan out what you’ll be working on ahead of time.
Spending time figuring out what you’ll do today can take away from actually doing those things. And, you’ll have planned your task list so recently that you can be tempted to change your schedule on the fly. It’s important to let your schedule change if you need it to, but it’s equally as important to commit to a work plan. Try solidifying your schedule the week or at least the day before, making you mentally prepared to do it.

Connect with home base.
Working from home can be isolating. Instant messaging and videoconferencing tools can make it easy to check in with coworkers and remind you how your work is contributing to the big picture. Checking in allows you to commit, change course or share challenges and get help from your colleagues. Find the best apps and tools to keep you and your team connected.

Take breaks.
It can be easy to get distracted when you work from home. Don’t let that prevent you from taking five (or 15) minutes to relax. Rather than just opening Facebook, however, use your breaks to get away from your desk. Go for a walk outside or spend time with others who might also be in the house. Breaks, like making and eating lunch, can recharge you to do better work. Don’t assume you need to be working 100% of the time while you’re home to be more productive.

End your work- every day.
Act as though your work-life balance is a battleground (it is). You should carefully guard both worlds. Working from home can be productive but you can also get so caught up in your activity that you lose complete track of time. Set a time at the end of the day to end your work day. Put away your work files and shut down your computer.

I hope these have helped and if you would like to read more on these strategies check out this document.

Written by UF-IFAS Agents; Alicia Betancourt, Linda Seals, Ramona Madhosingh-Hector and Carol Roberts

For more information about work and finance in Covid-19 check out these blogs;

Staying Motivated at Work and in Crisis
Assess and Build Resilience in Your Community Programs
Make Those Stimulus Funds Count
Everyone Has Their New Normal
Feeling Burned Out?

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4 Comments on “How to Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind (Mostly)

  1. What about using VPN? My manager insisted on me getting Atlas VPN once I started working from home and apparently there have been news articles that there will be more hackers invading private home networks to steal all kinds of company data

    • I agree but have a love/hate relationship with my VPN it makes it very slow to get anything done! Sure I can get to my files but is slows me to 25% efficiency! I have been using our approved one drive to keep my working files in and Office 365. Let me know what works for you and maybe I can include it in the article. Thanks

  2. Thank you ladies for a great article. These tips are so helpful. Working from home is a challenge and can make it hard to stay focused. I don’t know about the dress nicely suggestion (I mean, actually changing out of my peejays should be enough), but scheduling time to check email instead of keeping it open is something I started at the office and carried over at home. It definitely helps limit some of the distractions the little envelope provides when it pops up.

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