I've worked from home a large majority of my adult life and have found that it's pretty easy to get distracted, lose focus, and be unproductive. Here are a few simple (and common) tips I've used to stay sane overall.
Treat every day like a normal work day
You've heard it a million times, "Pretend you're actually going into the office." It sounds silly. Your leggings/boxers are so comfortable. You don't have time to take a shower first thing in the morning because you like sleeping in. Eating can wait until the afternoon. If these are things you've said or done in the past, you're negatively impacting your working time. There are countless articles on why you should get dressed and treat a working from home day as a normal day in the office, but the most important one I can think of is protecting your free time. If you are constantly in a state of ultimate relaxation, then the lines of working and not-working hours blur. You might find yourself writing blog posts for work at 10:09PM on a Sunday instead of relaxing or sleeping. This leads directly to our next issue: protecting and managing your time.
Manage your time
If you're a salaried employee, you're paid to work 40 hours a week, or additional time "as needed." This means that for every minute over 40 hours that you work, you devalue your own time. If you're getting paid to work 40 hours a week for $100,000, but are working 50 hour weeks, how much you earn per hour decreases from the equivalent of $48.07/hr to $38.46/hr. That's a huge difference. How do you fix this? There are a few easy ways. When you're done working, STOP WORKING. If you're on Slack, answering 8PM emails, and responding to work group texts, how are you actually relaxing? When you ARE working, you need to be able to keep track of what work you're doing, and for what project, so you have a full accounting of your time. For this, if you're not using a tool like Cartwheel to put boundaries around your time, you are just doing yourself a disservice.
No, 2PM is not the time to "catch up on TV"
Ok, I know. Barry season 2 is pretty great. You're just getting to a good part and don't want to stop just because you have to work. While above I said to take back your free time, if you're being paid to work, make sure you're actually working. We all get distracted from time to time (and it's important to take periodic breaks to help with this), but it only hurts you and the perception of you to be idle during the day or waste time playing video games/watching TV. Part of taking back your time is defining what actually IS your time, and making sure you do all your entertainment activities then. We're all stuck at home, and things might get a bit more lax, but it's your job to show how well you can shine while working from home. COVID-19 can provide you an opportunity to show your boss and coworkers how good you are at your job, and how you're an invaluable member of the team. Help reinforce that with your actions.
Make your workspace sacrosanct
Working from your couch or bed are bad ideas. I know it's rough if you share a space with someone else or have shared common areas, but you need to carve out a dedicated work space that isn't where you usually are for entertainment or sleeping. I've had apartments and houses of different size, but here are a few things I try to keep common across them.
If you have a door on your work area, USE IT
When friends/family members/pets see that the door is closed, they need to know this means, "I am busy doing something I can't be distracted from. Please do not come in unless the rest of the building is on fire." The rule in my house is if I'm in my office and the door is closed, do not come in. If the door is open, come in, but know that I might be distracted.
Make your primary work area a place for WORKING
When you enter your primary work area, it should be with the intent that you're there to work. This is not your knitting space. This is not your Xbox space. This is where you go to do the functions of your job that you're paid to do, so you can get back to the things you love doing when you're finished.
Your office shouldn't be a hangout spot
If you're quarantining with your spouse or significant other, you will both probably want to spend lots of time together just hanging out. Fight that feeling. You'll have hours and hours to hang out with your significant other while you're sheltering in place, but your work area needs to be for working. I promise, they will wait to start the next season of Better Things with you (and the characters don't get any better).
Oh man. We're not supposed to go outside except for essential reasons but....exercising is THE MOST important thing you can do to protect your body and psyche. Gyms are closed, and parks are cracking down, but taking a walk (while appropriately distancing) is still free and available to you. Whatever you do, do something. This is the most hipster thing I've ever said, but I've taken to doing push ups every time I get up to turn the record over in my record player. It's a small thing, but it encourages me move my body and makes me feel good. When I was able, I'd take a 2-hour chunk out of my day for Muay Thai, but something as short as 15 minutes to get your heart rate up can be just as effective. What's the point of living in athleisure if you're not going to exercise occasionally? The easiest way I've been able to maintain this has been by taking my lunch break outside. I take a half-hour walk every day, listen to an audio book, and think about life. When I come back inside, my brain is ready for more and my body appreciates the exercise.
There are lots of ways we can try to stay sane. We won't be sheltering in place forever. This period working from home is the perfect time to get your working schedule, life, and boundaries in place. Whether you're a freelancer, contractor, or professional organization, Cartwheel can provide you automation that will allow you to focus more on building your business and less on getting paid for work you already did.
Title image thanks to Jonathan Francisca