The COVID “new normal” has forced quite a few lifestyle changes on us all, with one of the biggest being self-quarantine and social distancing. If you’re used to being in an office, a co-work environment, or even just posting up at your local coffee shop, working from home can be tricky. Even people who have worked from home for years can start feeling overwhelmed and isolated, not to mention the distractions, boundary issues, and piles of laundry in full view. If you have other people at home with you, it can be nearly impossible to focus.
Not to worry, though – you’ve got this! Here are 5 easy tips (and one hard one) to help you feel more organized and productive at work. Or home. Whichever.
1 – Make your bed.
Yes, your mother was right…making your bed is important. Every day, once you’re out of it, make it up. Period. Done. Your space will instantly feel cleaner and more organized and, if you are in the mood to work from bed, it’s all set up for you.
2 – Close the door on messy spaces.
If you are working from a space that faces a mess, either clean the mess or close the door. Example: I like to work at my kitchen counter. If the pantry is open, and I see the disaster inside, I will not focus on work; I will focus on the pantry. (Trust me.) Same with bedroom/closet, or laundry piles…
You see where I’m going here? Close the door if you can’t clean it up.
3 – Keep the kitchen tidy.
The kitchen is where many of us spend lots of time anyway, and probably more now due to COVID. My husband, a veteran of the US Navy, loves a “clean as you go” approach. (I imagine him on his naval submarine, in a tiny kitchen with a crabby cook barking out superlatives like “LESS IS MESS! CLEAN AS YOU GO! WELL BEGUN IS HALF DONE!” and lucky me, he’s brought all that wisdom into our family. Anyway.) Normally, I’d make a meal and leave most of the dishes/pans in the sink to clear at the end of the day. Lately, I feel much better about life if the sink is clean, and the dishes put away. Try it.
4 – Plan transition time
As a working parent, I often feel like I’m bouncing from a work thing to a kid thing, back to a work thing, with the occasional spouse/partner or pet thing mixed in. With kids learning from home alongside parents working, I will end up sprinting from my 9am Zoom call to my son’s 10am learning activity unless I plan transition time.
Here’s how it works: create a “hard stop” on your calendar at 10 minutes before the hour, and use those10 minutes to transition between your commitments. Take that time to tie up loose ends (grab a snack, pet the dog, go pee), and you’ll enter your next task with calm and focus, not stress and frazzle. People are really pushing boundaries right now, so don’t be shy about letting people know that you have a commitment and have to stop at a slightly earlier than a full hour. The most important commitments you make – and keep – are the ones you make to yourself, after all.
5 – If you don’t live alone, create a visual for “do not disturb / I’m working.”
I know this sounds simple but can make a big difference…when quarantine first began, my house felt stuffed to the brim with kids, dogs, and my spouse, all of whom seemed to need something every 5 minutes. All of it was complicated by my “kitchen counter workspace” because everyone knows where to find me.
The answer? A visual clue to signal that “mom is WORKING RIGHT NOW, dammit.” It can be anything – for younger kids, a red piece of construction paper propped up by the workspace, or a toy in a particular spot (“If Trevor the frog is on the chair, please don’t come in because mommy’s working”) will do wonders. Talk it through with your people and explain what it is, why it’s there, and what you expect to happen. It works, I promise.
This last idea is not as easy, so we’ll call it a bonus.
Bonus tip – use a planner and block your time.
I’m a pen and paper girl, and I find that even tech-savvy types get more benefit from this tip on paper than on an electronic version. It’s simple: Monday morning before you begin your work week (or even Sunday night), get out a hard-copy planner and a pen you love. Jot down your priorities for the week, projects or tasks coming due, standing appointments, and “need to get done” items. Then, block time on your calendar to create space to accomplish these tasks.
For example, if you have a proposal due Wednesday that’s only half done, and you know you’ll need at least 2 hours to complete it, create space on Monday and Tuesday by blocking an hour or two each day. If you know that you’re going to be swamped with emails on Monday morning because Friday was more Home than Work, block off the first 2 hours of your day on Monday to clear out your inbox. Making these small changes will help with feelings of being overwhelmed. No matter what the task, you’ll use as much time as you think you have. Think about it – if you have to be ready and gone in 20 minutes, you can somehow do the same getting dressed routine that would normally take an hour. Right?
Real-life situation: both of my kids have online learning activities starting at 8:30 am and ending at 2 pm. I know I will need to help my son with transitions and homework checking at 9:30 am and 1 pm, with lunch at 11:30 because they get HANGRY. I can pencil in these transitions and “appointments” and plan my work in between, or block time to be creative, or whatever.
Important time blocking note: if you block time to focus on one specific activity, FOCUS. Checking email and answering the phone take a backseat so you can be an organized, productive contributor. Not responding immediately, doesn’t make you “less responsive.” In fact, if you come back to those requests once you’ve completed a task, you’ll be calmer and more tuned in than you would have been if you’d responded while multi-tasking.
My challenge to you – do every single one of these things for two weeks. Then come back here and tell me how it goes. You’ll feel less stressed and more organized, and I bet you $1 you’ll be more productive, too.
I’m cheering you on!