Working Remotely: We Got This!
Before the coronavirus pandemic, only 1 in five American workers were performing their job from home. Now, approximately 71 percent of workers are completely remote. This dramatic shift came without a "remote workers’ manual," so it's been on us to create the environment and schedule that allows us to thrive. Over the past year of working remotely, I have learned that trial and error, reflection, and proper planning are pillars to designing a work-from-home lifestyle that is effective and sustainable. Here are some key insights from my remote working journey:
Plan your day and your breaks
Working remotely has no hard and fast rules. Without structure we find ourselves having to create our own way of getting things done. It’s not always easy to figure out where to work or when to focus on which tasks during the day. That is why we must plan, and plan simply, so that we can be flexible while holding ourselves accountable. Here are some easy tips for organizing your workday.
Schedule your tasks based on importance. When we create our own work schedule, it’s easy to place focus first on the smaller, more enjoyable tasks and to push off the important, burdensome tasks for later. To avoid this compulsion, you should create a “to-do” list where the highest priority tasks are listed first and then use this list to plan your workday.
Structure your day by the time. What are your most productive periods of the day? Are you using that time to work on your highest priorities? When creating your work schedule, knowing when you will be least distracted and most productive should inform when you plan to do your most important tasks.
Don’t spend too much time on one thing. It has been shown that working on one task for an extended period of time is not the most effective way to get things done. Rather, spending 20 to 50 minutes on any given task at a time will optimize your brain power and yield higher productivity. (Extra Tip: use the Pomodoro Technique! More on this later.)
I mean it, do not multitask. Studies have shown over and over again that multitasking decreases productivity by as much as 40%! Instead of doing multiple tasks at the same time, you can group similar tasks together and complete them in a given amount of time. For instance, if your work requires you to write many emails throughout the day, you can reserve an hour to write all of your emails in that given time frame.
Take real breaks. People commonly make the mistake of taking breaks from work only when they start to feel brain fatigue. Instead, you should take planned breaks, at definite intervals, to avoid feeling fatigue in the first place and give yourself (and your brain) time to relax. During this time, utilizing mindfulness exercises is highly recommended. Fun fact, taking breaks has also been shown to increase creativity!
Communicate with your team
When working in an office, you’re surrounded by people working in a similar setting to you. Working remotely is just the opposite, everyone works differently. It may even be the case that you’re working in different time zones. For all these reasons and more, communication is the key to staying connected and engaged with your team.
Create your ideal office space
It is imperative that you have a space all to yourself as distractions will come in every way. You want to create a space that gives you working vibes- this will look different for everyone but here are a few tips for designing a productive workspace:
Natural Lighting: Natural light has proven positive effects on both our physical and mental health!
Houseplants: Adding flora to your workspace can boost your mood and increase productivity by up to 15%.
Scents: Incorporating aromatherapy into your workspace has proven effects on work productivity. For example, Rosemary is a popular essential oil for increasing concentration and memory!
Cozy Chair: Working from home will require a decent amount of sitting so why not make your chair as comfortable as possible! We cannot all afford ergonomic desk chairs, so even adding a seat cushion for lumbar support will go a long way.
Standing Work Desk: Designing your workspace to allow yourself to stand, whether it be stacking large coffee books or buying a stand-up workstation, will not only help our productivity but also minimize our risks for various diseases and conditions!
Distraction-Free: This goes without saying, however, I would feel foolish to not reiterate the importance of minimizing distractions in your workspace. If you are distracted easily, utilize white noise or noise-canceling headphones. If your phone is a distraction, leave it in another room! Identifying these external distractions is the first step to removing them.
The Pomodoro Technique
When it comes to task productivity, it’s common to struggle with focus, with perfectionism, and quality versus output. If you resonate with these struggles, the Pomodoro technique is a great tool for you! This time management tool breaks down your day into focused working sessions with frequent breaks. Using this technique over time has actually been proven to improve concentration and attention span! Follow this link (https://tomato-timer.com/) to use an online Pomodoro Timer!
Set your morning and evening routine
You should develop your morning and evening routine and keep it consistent! Our bodies operate via an internal clock (you may have heard of this as “Circadian Rhythm”) and by keeping our 24-hour routine as consistent as possible, we can better maximize our days. This includes when you eat, sleep, and leisure.
Get outside and exercise!
People can get completely absorbed into their work from home and lose touch with the outside world. If this is you, here is my reminder to you that you must balance efficiency with self care- you cannot perform when you are not well! Getting into a routine of daily exercise and time spent outside (at least 60 minutes) will help you in both your professional and personal life. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup!
If I can end this with my most important tip for working from home, it would be to not beat yourself up. The truth is that you can be a hard worker and have a hard time working from home. Give yourself the space to learn and grow as you navigate remote work, dedicate time to reflect on what is working for you (and not working for you), and take actionable steps to plan and improve your routine. We got this!
Boubekri M, Cheung IN, Reid KJ, Wang CH, Zee PC. Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: a case-control pilot study. J Clin Sleep Med 2014;10(6):603-611.
Parker, K., Horowitz, J., & Minkin, R. (2020). How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has – and Hasn’t – Changed the Way Americans Work. PEW Research Center.
Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(3), 199–214.
Mandal, A. (2020). The Pomodoro Technique: An Effective Time Management Tool.
Meyer, D. E. & Kieras, D. E. (1997). A computational theory of executive cognitive processes and multiple-task performance: Part 2. Accounts of psychological refractory-period phenomena. Psychological Review, 104, 749-791.