We're all dealing with the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 and what the future brings. And on top of the bigger anxieties, there are day-to-day issues that we are having to contend with, like working from home, having our kids at home with us all day, disrupted schedules, and maybe a little bit too much “together time.” That's why the SPI Team wants to help, by sharing 7 tips for staying sane while working from home.
Here at SPI, we are scattered all over the country, from Columbus to Chicago to San Diego. Many of us have been working from home for years, and we hope these tips will be helpful to those of you who are new to remote work.
No, you shouldn’t stay in your pajamas all day. And yes, it’s hard to stay focused. Here are a few tips from our team that will help you survive (and maybe even thrive), when working from home:
#1: Claim your workspace
If you don’t have a dedicated at-home office, it can be a challenge to find a place to work. If you have kids at home, it can be even more challenging to find a place that’s quiet with no distractions. Here are a few ideas for creating a workspace that will allow you to get your work done:
“Setting up an at-home workstation in a room with minimal visual distractions and, specifically, with an uncluttered desk. A large monitor, if one can be afforded. There’s science (Google it) that confirms productivity significantly increases if you have the chance to do work on a large monitor as compared to just off of a laptop screen.” —Matt, COO/CFO
“I’m sensitive to my work environment, and I don’t usually have a specified work spot. I’m always checking in and asking myself if my current space is conducive to what I’m working on, and if not, I’ll find a new spot. Different tasks require different settings for me—but having a little sunlight, whether through the window, glass door, or outside on the deck, is usually really energizing.” —Ray, Writer
“If you can, carve out a dedicated space in a spare bedroom, or even in a corner of the dining room. Try out a few different options until you find what works. You may want to change up your work location during the day. While working in a coffee shop or co-working space may not be an option right now, try working out on your deck, on the couch, or at the dining room table. Taking Zoom calls can be challenging if you don’t have a quiet place….a closet is always an option!” —Karen, Senior Content Manager
#2: Create a schedule
Most of the members of our team swear by sticking to a schedule. But that can be accomplished in several ways:
“Creating a clear game plan for the day each morning. Specifically, making a list of the tasks I need to complete in order to meet my goals for the week. If I find myself distracted, I can use this as a compass to get back in the right direction. Another tip is to make sure to take breaks. I've found that setting aside time for lunch rather than eating in front of my computer helps me to refocus in the afternoon and give my brain a little break.” —Andrea, Operations Manager.
“Work in two and a half hour stints with 15-minute breaks to stretch, eat, and take care of chores.” —Robin, Writer
“I've been working from home since 2014. My husband works from home, too, and we mutually agreed to consider 9 am-5 pm to be working hours, so we only communicate via [typed] chat during that window. We never just walk into the other person's working space and start talking, so we can fully focus on our work.” —Jess, Executive Assistant
“I like to start my day by asking the question ‘What does success look like today?’ Then I'll make a plan for the day based on my answers. I like to use the Pomodoro Technique, which includes timed, focused intervals, usually around 30 minutes. I assign how many intervals each task should take, then track the number needed to complete each task. It helps keep me focused, track my productivity, and measure my success at the end of the day.” —Sara Jane, Partnerships Manager
#3: Dress for work
One of the huge perks of working from home is that you don’t have to get dressed up and spend money on work clothes. But the downside is that it’s easy to let yourself go and not shower for days. The SPI team recommends finding a middle-ground:
“Get dressed. It's really easy to stay in pajamas all day, but that will also affect how you feel about your day. Staying in pajamas has a slow, lazy feel to it, and you'll find yourself working slower and not staying as focused. Get dressed in something comfortable (no need to put on a suit) that you would wear out of the house.”
—Mindy, Solutions Manager
“I definitely starting my morning with dressing for the day as if I would be going into the office. It's a good way to get into the ‘work' mindset. Getting dressed provides a mental readiness for the day and helps kick-start my morning routine.” —Jonathan, Product Manager
“I usually get dressed in the morning in clothes that are comfortable but would pass for ‘professional-ish' on a Zoom call. I never stay in my pajamas because it makes me feel sluggish. I usually put on jeans or leggings, a nice shirt or t-shirt with a sweater.” —Karen
#4: Use the right tools
Thank goodness that technology allows many of us to work from home easily these days. Here are a few recommended tools:
“If you have the kind of job where you're used to teaching/explaining things to other people in your office, get familiar with a screen recording tool. You can use this to show people how to do things on the computer without having to be in the room with them. Don't worry about making the videos perfect—just do a quick demonstration like you would if you were in the room together. Loom is a great tool if you need to make more complicated videos. Camtasia is also excellent, and Mac computers have screen recording built into Quicktime.” —Mindy
“The SelfControl app for Mac. Blocks time-wasting websites for a specified duration. Nuff said.” —Ray
“Monday.com is a life-saver for me!” —Sara Jane
“Google calendar! My husband and I have a shared calendar of calls, demos, interviews, and general ‘I need the house to be quiet' time.” —Jess
#5: Corral your kids
If you have kids, this crisis can be particularly tricky because you will have no time when the kids are at school to get your work done. Here are a few suggestions for juggling childcare and work:
“Segment your parenting time with your working time. Multi-tasking does NOT work with kids, especially young children who should not be left unsupervised and/or cannot adequately entertain themselves. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can do both. Provide dedicated, quality time to each obligation separately.” —Matt
“Be patient with yourself and your kid. Working with kids is hard. The best you can do is set everyone's expectations—both for your coworkers and your kids. When I was a kid I frequently had to spend time with my mom when she was working; it always helped when she explained to me what she was working on and gave me small tasks to help her. I filed for her, shredded papers, sorted out office supplies. It gave me a lot of pride to assist her and the filing experience actually helped me a lot in my early jobs.” —Mindy
“Start work when your kid is still sleeping. Then, use the great electronic babysitters!” —Robin
“We have an emerging system of family organization for the next 3 weeks of no school (and possibly longer!). A punch-list of activities on the left column, and a daily schedule on the right. You know what they say about the best-laid plans, but planning is still crucial.” —Ray
“A strict schedule works for us. The first few days of quarantine were total chaos and I confess screens were used out of desperation. But once a strict schedule was in place, with absolutely no negotiation, things went much more smoothly. We may relax the schedule a bit in the future, but right now I think the structure is helping my daughter feel more secure.” —Karen
#6: Manage your pets
Pet’s can offer companionship when working from home, but they can also be distracting. Our team enjoys seeing the team pets on our Zoom calls (shout out to Hermione, Ducky, Rudy, Finn, Moses, Asher, Nini, Spot, Tigger, Nacho, Mew, and Gizmo!).
“Thumbs, Spot, and George are the home office ‘Administrative Assistants,' and they love being on camera when we have video calls. We will often have 5-15 minutes of kitty playtime before we have a super important call so they are less inclined to make a cameo.” —Jess
“My cats sleep on my desk or on my lap when I work. They watch birds out my window. But sometimes they can be distracting when they want to curl up on my keyboard or walk in front of my face during a Zoom call. If they get too distracting, I put them in the basement and close the door.” —Karen
“In the mornings, my dog Finn will usually sleep in his bed next to my desk while I work (adorable), or he'll sit in the window and just watch what's happening outside. We go for short walks every 2-3 hours and around mid-afternoon, he's ready to play, so I usually take a 15ish minute break to play around with him.” —Sara Jane
#7: Take breaks and get outside
Our team is in agreement that getting outside is a necessity. Fresh air, sunshine, and nature do wonders for the soul.
“Get outside! At the end of a work-from-home day, I make sure to get outside for a bit, even if it's just a short walk or to run a quick errand. I find this to be helpful, too, as I do not have a designated space for an office and it is easy to continue to work much later than normal work hours from my sofa. Taking a moment to walk around the neighborhood helps me to close my workday and return home to my personal life.” —Andrea
“Get outside. Seriously—it’s dead simple and amazingly powerful. Either by yourself or with your spouse (if he/she happens to be at home) and take a 30-minute walk. The fresh air, natural light, and mental disconnect from all things electronic/media do WONDERS for your focus, energy, and productivity.” —Matt
“Our favorite yoga teachers are offering donation-based virtual classes on Zoom or Instagram Live. We are practicing our yoga on the patio. We are also taking lots of walks around our nearby park to get fresh air.” —Jess
“Take regular breaks to stretch, get outside for a walk, play with a pet, or make a quick phone call, just to say hi to a friend or family member. Giving your brain breaks from work throughout the day, even for just a few minutes, is key to keeping anxiety levels down and not feeling so worn out at the end of the day.” —Sara Jane
We hope these tips help! If you want more advice, Pat created this video where he gives 10 additional tips for working from home. Enjoy!