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With coronavirus forcing the closure of many workplaces, more people are now working from home — some for the first time. This arrangement can be challenging, with multiple distractions and different priorities vying for your attention during business hours. But you can take steps to set yourself up for success as you adjust to this new normal, starting with these tips.
1. Write a To-Do List for Your Day, With Priority Levels
Even in your typical workplace setting, it can be tough to figure out which tasks demand the most attention. Now that laundry, lunch and, for some, family members are also competing for your consideration, prioritizing can feel impossible.
Luckily, there are several organizational methods that can help you stay focused on things that matter. One simple trick, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, is creating a to-do list for your day or your week. You’ll give the old-fashioned to-do list a new twist, and give yourself a visual aid as you determine how you’ll spend your time.
Set Priority Levels for Your To-Do’s
Tasks will have a range of importance and urgency, of course, so you may want to create a system to establish a hierarchy. Specify what absolutely needs to get done versus what would be nice to get done.
The American Management Association recommends treating your to-do list as the guiding document for how you spend your time. If a new task or project comes up, add it to the list and assign it a priority level. And never devote time to anything that’s not on your list: If you are reacting to nonstop external demands, you may lose control of your time and lose sight of your priorities.
2. Quiet External Noise With Headphones
While a to-do list can help you drown out the figurative noise, it’s also important to drown out the literal noise that might accompany working from home. If you’re accustomed to silence or just a low office din, the sounds of dishes, housemates, televisions and more may be tough to deal with.
If possible, try creating a sound barrier for yourself. Noise-canceling headphones can help you keep your concentration, and even regular headphones playing music (instrumental, if needed) can block a lot of external clamor. White noise machines can also create a steady aural atmosphere that drowns out other sounds.
3. Set Boundaries About Working Time
This applies to both your work colleagues and your housemates, if you have them. Set clear expectations about when you’re working and when you’re not, and then enforce those boundaries.
When you say you’re not available to work, make sure you’re actually unavailable. With no clear physical separation between work and home, this can be difficult, but it’s important to create as much of a mental separation as possible.
The same principle applies to housemates, too — whether they’re partners, children or roommates. Make clear your intention to work for a specific duration and try not to let home tasks seep into that designated time.
4. Make and Stick to a Daily Routine, as Much as Possible
Establishing and adhering to a daily routine can help you set and reinforce boundaries — and it can help you feel more settled as you know what to expect each day.
If possible, build a schedule for your day that includes work time, time for tasks around the house, family time and personal time. Stick to that routine as much as possible but recognize that you may have to make exceptions.
5. Prepare to Be Flexible, Especially With Kids in the House
Your new work arrangement may be radically different from your old one. So, cut yourself some slack and be ready for unpredictability.
It may no longer be possible to have neat and tidy work hours like you had before. You may need to split up your workday into morning, midday and nighttime sessions, especially if you have kids at home, and if you have a parenting partner who also works.
Strong communication with your partner is critical. Daily or weekly schedules may need to be aligned and then reworked on the fly, given homeschooling, naptimes, work priorities and all sorts of surprises.
And remember, be patient. It may take a bit of time before you settle on a schedule that works for you and your family.
6. Clean and Disinfect Your Workspace Often
Even if you’re the only one there, it’s still important to vigilantly clean your workspace. Contaminated surfaces are one of the main ways COVID-19 spreads, according to the World Health Organization.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, including:
- Light switches
Clean dirty surfaces using soap and water, and then use your disinfectant of choice to wipe down these areas and surfaces. You may also consider putting wipeable covers on your electronics.
Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family While Working From Home
Give the above six tips a try to find your focus while working from home. And, at the end of the day, remember to take care of yourself too.
Prioritize Self-Care Time
Self-care is always important, but during this time of increased stress, it should jump toward the top of your priorities. Schedule some time in your day to do something you enjoy. Look for ways to stay grounded. You may even consider treating yourself to a homemade spa experience.
Self-care can help you lower your stress level and stay healthy. And when you’re at work, taking a short break and moving your body can help your brain refocus.
Keeping Kids Engaged, Not Just Occupied
If you have children at home, you know that it’s easier to concentrate on work when their attention is focused elsewhere. One way to keep kids occupied for longer is to engage their intellectual curiosity instead of just assigning them tasks to pass the time.
Encourage independent play in addition to structured learning time so they can choose things they want to do. This helps keep their brains sharp during quarantine. Additionally, the CDC recommends creating a structure for kids’ days so they know what to expect.
Of course, it’s OK to take a break from schoolwork with some family downtime, as well.
Remember: We’re All in the Same Boat
Your co-worker’s baby may cry through a conference call. Your housemate may be loudly video chatting with a friend. Your kids may be clamoring for their next activity. These things are distracting, but they won’t last forever. Take a moment to pause, breathe and let go of feelings of annoyance as much as you can.
This pandemic is an adjustment for everyone, and nothing is how it used to be. So be patient with your co-workers, your housemates and yourself. It’s the only way to get through this — together.
Helping You Stay Informed
In every stage of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re here to help keep your community safe and you and your loved ones healthy. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for important news about COVID-19 and tips that can help you stay safe, informed and well.