Working from Home? Five Tips to Keep Your Sanity and Productivity Intact

This is a guest post by Nishi Grover Garg.

As teams and companies across the globe are following social distancing recommendations, many workers are wading into unchartered territory. How are you supposed to maintain any kind of workflow when your surroundings (and mental state) are different from what you’re used to?

If you are new to working from home, here are five tips to help keep your sanity and productivity intact!

Embrace the Change

Working from home will be different from working from your office. You might miss the human interaction — the lunches with your team or the coffee breaks and informal chats. You might also feel derailed from your goals a little as you figure out the dynamics of online collaboration tools, remote meetings, and screen-sharing applications that take away time from your actual work.

But this is not the time to get bogged down by these changes. Since most of it is out of your control anyway, it is better to embrace the changes — or at least accept them — to give yourself peace of mind. Try not to fight your new situation or get negative about it.

Manage Your Distractions

Your day at home will be filled with many distractions that may take your focus away from your work. Working can be hard when you see that sink full of dishes or a dirty living room that needs a vacuum. I personally find myself rushing to the kitchen every hour to fix myself a snack, just because I am so close to it! You may also have partners, children or other people living with you who are trying to get through their day too.

It is imperative to create a routine that helps you manage these distractions. First, try to set your work hours at a time that fits your day and your family. Your at-home work hours may not be the same as your in-office work hours, and that is OK. If you can wake up early to get a couple of hours of work done before your kids are up, do that! It will start your day off on a productive note and you will feel less stressed about spending an hour feeding your toddler breakfast. Once you get them to settle down for the day with schoolwork or an activity, you can resume working.

If you have a partner also working from home, manage your time with them in mind. What are the best times to begin working? Do you both want to take a break to have lunch together? How can you split your chores so that you are not perpetually stressed and distracted with them?

Even if you live alone, having a routine and set times for beginning work, having a snack or lunch, and finishing work will help you keep your focus and get things done!

Designate Your Space

This is the most important factor when living with someone else. Being productive requires a space of your own and the feeling of being at work. Even if it is as little as setting up a desk, using a corner in the living room or making your couch your work area, you will need to make the effort! Have your laptop, books, chargers and other stuff you need at hand, and set up that area to feel like your workplace from now on. Use that space consistently for at least a few hours each day and keep distractions to a minimum. 

If you are lucky enough to have a study, home office or other separate room to work, you might need to coordinate with your partner on using the desk at different parts of your day. My husband and I use our study room alternately, mostly with me spending the first part of the day there while he uses it in the later half of the day, since most of his work calls happen at that time. If you and a partner or roommate are both scheduled for calls at the same time, decide on your separate areas and give each other space to work in peace.

You also need to figure out a way to minimize disturbances to your work. Have a separate area for the kids to play while you work. Take turns with your partner to watch the kids while you both attend to work calls. If you have pets, this also might be a good time for house-training them. 

Even then, please understand that it is totally OK to have unexpected appearances by your kids or pets during a work call. They are adorable, and people will not mind seeing them! After all, you are living together and sharing a space with nowhere to go! Everyone worldwide is in the same situation right now, so accept and embrace the possibility of a surprise appearance on a call even before it happens, because it undoubtedly will.

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Find What Energizes You

Social media and the internet are full of productivity hacks right now. Overachieving people might be sharing their pictures and experiences about working out, baking bread, having a full workday, creating a beautiful painting and reading a book, all in the same day. Do not get overwhelmed if you are not doing all (or even half) of that!

You have a lot to take in and process about this pandemic along with continuing to live your life, so take it one step at a time. However, it is a good idea to begin to look for activities that bring you joy. It may be as simple as taking your dog for a long walk (keeping a safe distance from others, and only if allowed in your area!) or finding a book from your old collection that you always wanted to read but never had the time. You could make your chores fun too by adding some music in the background or perhaps beginning to listen to a podcast! Start simply, experience the joy, and intersperse these activities throughout your day to break the monotony.

The important part is to not overwhelm your day with activities but take up those that make you smile and energize you from within. You will feel that this energy flows into your work once you get back to it and you can get much more done in less time!

Stay Sane

Staying sane is as important as staying safe. You might feel like you are going stir-crazy or getting too lonely some days, and when that happens, you should prioritize self-care. Although staying informed is valuable, try to keep from watching the news the entire day. 

It is more important to stay connected to people. Do it virtually by using social media to check up on your friends and making video calls to stay connected with your family who you might be away from and worried about. People are coming up with innovative ideas to have online parties, brunches and cocktail nights with friends over group video calls. These will fill up your weekends and bring a smile to your face. These will also reassure you that everyone is dealing with the same situation and you are not alone in this. 

You can also look within for that strength and positivity. Try a yoga or meditation session — there are plenty of free sessions online. Or just sit with your thoughts, sipping coffee, looking out the window and admiring the view you never had time to look at. You can also just hang out and watch Netflix if that is what you look forward to! Cook a good meal, sit on your cozy couch, and watch all the shows you love (or discover some new ones).

Whatever helps to keep your nerves calm, get you through the day and help you stay positive is the best fit for your mental health. Have no qualms about reaching out to your friends or for online therapy if you feel things are not going well and you are getting anxious. If you need support, reach out and get it!

People all over the world are dealing with varying degrees of this pandemic and facing similar issues related to staying at home, trying to keep a job, getting work done, and managing their families and their daily lives within this confinement. It is important that we all understand the situation, help each other out, show empathy, stay safe and keep our spirits high. This too shall pass!

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Nishi is a corporate trainer, an agile enthusiast and a tester at heart! With 11+ years of industry experience, she currently works with Sahi Pro as an Evangelist and Trainings Head. She is passionate about training, organizing testing community events and meetups, and has been a speaker at numerous testing events and conferences. Check out her blog where she writes about the latest topics in Agile and Testing domains.

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