No commute? No problem

Seven hot tips from the editors for working at home in the COVID-19 crisis

5 minute read
Your home workplace is your kingdom. Here's where the editing of BSR goes down. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
Your home workplace is your kingdom. Here's where the editing of BSR goes down. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

“I could never do that.” It’s one thing you often hear when folks find out you work from home. Another common sentiment is jealousy—who wouldn’t love sitting around drinking coffee in your PJs every day? That’s what combining your work and home life means, right? Thanks to COVID-19, millions are suddenly discovering their own version of the truth. We, as BSR’s editors, have been working this way for years, and we have some tips for you.

Of course, we don’t all have jobs that can be done at home. Millions of workers in fields like the arts and tourism, retail, and food service are anxiously wondering when they can go back to work. Many of these folks are now scrambling for remote freelance gigs.

Whether you’re trying your best to do your regular job at home, chasing new kinds of work, or preparing to use your time in isolation to work on a long-delayed personal project like writing that book or making that business plan, we hope you can run with our advice.

Make a dedicated workspace that you can enjoy. Not everyone has the luxury of an extra room, for work or otherwise. But if you can repurpose even one small part of a room as a workspace for yourself, this can really help you get in the zone. And now, your workplace is your kingdom. Position yourself for a pleasant view, whether it’s a window or your favorite art or posters. What music will you play, no earbuds needed? Is there a fragrance or essential oil you’d never break out at the office, but that you can enjoy now?

Dress for comfort. Some work-from-home advice insists that maintaining a professional mindset means professional clothes, even though you’re inside the house. But after many years of remote work, we’re not convinced. Got a video meeting? By all means, wear that button-up (no comment on your choice of pants). But if you’re not used to this, there may be little point in pretending that office wear itself will catapult you into productivity mode. Enjoy being comfortable. Sweatpants. Hoodies. T-shirts. Holiday slipper-socks. (Alaina learned that a tiny dog can be happily worn in a sling just like a human infant.) And if you find that getting spruced up does help your mindset, by all means, wear what you’d like.

Think tasks, not time. In a wide variety of traditional workplaces, the focus is on how much time you put in there, versus what you accomplish. Whatever you don’t finish at quitting time, you’ll pick up in the morning. Some work-at-home advice may recommend stringent self-scheduling to keep you on track. But if you’re able to, see what happens when you relax about time (i.e., “I will start at 9am and work for eight hours”) in favor of what you need to get done. You might surprise yourself and wrap up some tasks before you expected to. Maybe you can even quit earlier than you normally would, and handle tomorrow’s tasks tomorrow. You may discover that you don’t need an eight-hour day to get things done. It’s a secret 9-to-5 bosses probably don’t want you to know, but typically, we humans have only about four hours of real productivity in us on a given day.

Here's where our associate editor manages his tasks, stays comfortable, and keeps accountable. (Photo by Kyle V. Hiller.)
Here's where our associate editor manages his tasks, stays comfortable, and keeps accountable. (Photo by Kyle V. Hiller.)

Audit your time. Once you’ve cracked the task/time secret, it does make you question: how am I using my time? Yes, it’s important to think in tasks, but how long is it taking you to actually complete your tasks? Audit your time for a week: measure how long each task is taking you, and pay attention to the downtime in between (snack breaks, YouTube clips, Insta scrolling, making lunch). The results might surprise you, give you some perspective on how much you’re actually working, and help relieve some of the stress you feel without your usual workplace parameters.

Live by lists. Structures like scheduling and outfits may not be the key to getting productive at home. But if you aren’t normally a list-maker, give it a try. Make a daily list every morning and a weekly list every Monday. What do you need to accomplish today? What do you need to accomplish by the end of the week? Make a list of home-related chores alongside your work-related ones. And then as soon as you accomplish anything on the lists, cross it out. This is especially satisfying with a pen and paper—any paper (the back of a PECO envelope works fine). Lists will help you navigate the task-not-time mindset even better.

Long-distance accountability. Don’t think you’re alone because you’re working from home. Check in regularly with a friend to hold each other accountable, and schedule dedicated check-ins with colleagues. Or run a virtual workspace (all the cool kids are using Zoom) where anyone can come and go as they please, working together or at least supporting each other if you’ve got different gigs. Working from home can feel isolating, and having a support system is important.

Pace yourself kindly. Working from home can be a tough transition. It can take a long time to find your rhythm. What time do you want to wake up, since you don’t have to commute? How will your working hours be influenced by what your job needs, and when? When will you schedule calls and video meetings? Figuring all that out can be difficult, especially as small distractions can deal a serious blow to your momentum. But that’s okay. As time goes by, you’ll find what works for you. Working from home takes practice, just like adjusting to any novel work environment—forgive yourself on those days when you aren’t on the ball as much as you’d like.

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