As a third-year graduate student, TA, and writing center consultant, making the sudden adjustment from working on campus to working at home has been more challenging than I expected. I am typically very organized, focused, and motivated, but I've discovered that there are a lot of distractions in this new work environment that, at times, have gotten in the way of my productivity. In particular, it has been easier than I imagined for my work and personal life to sort of bleed together when working from home; how can I write when there are dishes in the sink? On the other hand, some days I find myself working so much that I burn out.
My efforts to keep things running as normally as possible have led to some new ideas and strategies for maintaining my productivity at home. Below are some tips (or rules) that I've found useful to better support my (home) work as a student, teacher, and tutor.
- Work regular hours
I like to start my day at my usual time, around 5:30 a.m. I like to get into work mode during my normal working hours to better keep up with my workload. I set clear guidelines for when I need to work and when to call it a day. This helps me better maintain a work-life balance.
[Image Description: Mulan, from Mulan, is woken up by Mushu, who greets her with a bowl of porridge with eggs and bacon in the shape of a smile.]
Pictured: A healthy morning routine involves breakfast
- Make daily plans and lists
In the mornings, before I start working, I like to create a check-list of what needs to be done for that day. I prioritize the list based off of its immediacy then I work from there. I find it helpful to revisit the list throughout the day. Sometimes my list changes due to things that come up in my work meetings or class schedules, but I only allow this to change the to-do list to an extent. I also make sure to dedicate a portion of my day to personal projects (like my portfolio), so I don’t want to push anything off that needs to be worked on in increments over time. Setting daily goals in this way has made my day more structured, and, therefore, I accomplish more.
[Image Description: Ana, from Frozen, bounces outside the door to her sister’s room as she asks, “Do you want to build a snowman?”
Pictured: You can say 'no' now, because snowmen aren't on you to-do list for the day
- Get ready and dress comfortably but not too casually
A somewhat silly aspect of my work-at-home productiveness is to have a morning routine that requires that I get ready for my workday. Even if I am stuck in the house, I still make time to shower and get ready first thing in the morning. Although I tend to dress more casually while working at home, I have found that getting ready sort of reinforces my productivity. I feel better and more awake than if I were to stay in sweats all day.
[Image Description: Cinderella, from Cinderella, raising her hands while her tattered dress magically becomes a fancy ball gown.]
Pictured: You, getting dressed for your day
- Have a designated work area
While working remotely, I found it useful to have a designated work area. I'm lucky in that I have a dedicated office, with a desk, computer, printer, etc. I know this is sort of an ideal situation, so if you don’t have an office at home, then I suggest trying to dedicate a desk/table and some preferred peripherals only for work use. Doing so has helped me stay focused and distraction-free.
[Image Description: Hiro Hamada, from Big Hero 6, rolls up to his desk in a chair while stretching his hands and smiling.]
Pictured: You, rolling up to your dedicated work space
- Take breaks
Since I try to maintain a schedule that mirrors my normal workday, I also take breaks. I schedule each break based on what my usual work day would look like. For instance, I take lunch around the same time I would if I were working on campus, from 12-1 p.m. Doing so, I found, has made me feel better and more productive rather than slugging through work through meals. During my 15-minute breaks (at least twice a day), I like to walk outside since this is what I would usually do if I were still on campus; it allows me to stretch my legs and clear my head.
[Image Description: Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog, resting on her bed. She turns her alarm clock off with a tap of her foot.]
Pictured: You, taking a well earned rest because you work hard and you deserve it
- Skip the chores
During the first week of the shelter-in-place order, I found it really difficult to not get distracted by work that needed to be done around the house. I was cleaning out closets, reorganizing bookshelves, rearranging the furniture, etc. I soon realized that I wasn’t getting much work-work done. Now, I try to stick to doing chores and big home projects only on weekends since this is what I would normally have to do if I were still working on campus. If I really want to get a particular chore done during the week, then I add it to my daily list and schedule the project outside of my normal work time.
[Image Description: Stitch, from Lilo and Stitch, sitting on top of a basket of laundry beside a washing machine. He has a bikini top on his head and a red sheet tied around his neck in imitation of a superhero’s uniform.]
Pictured: You, cleverly avoiding those household chores
- Set limits and TURN OFF technology
Respecting my own time has been one of the most purposeful approaches to working constructively at home. I have a tendency to allow my work to seep into my personal time if I'm not strict about creating a division. I log off purposefully, setting aside my phone and turning off notifications to give myself time to mentally relax. This nightly cut-off continues on until morning. Lately, the news has gone into hyper-drive, and my usual habit of waking up and looking at my phone (or any screen, for that matter) was starting my day off in a state of stress. So, when I wake up, I don’t touch my phone until I have had time to get ready and make coffee.
[Image Description: Wall-e, from Wall-e, sits down on a bench, looks at the viewer, and pats the open seat next to him.]
Pictured: Technology, trying to lure you back in after you’ve logged off. It’s the eyes that get you, right?
Although being extremely disciplined has made for my most successful work-from-home days, it takes a lot of focus to do any of this work in such an unconventional space. With that said, don't reprimand yourself too harshly if your attention drifts from time to time - this would happen even in a normal work setting. So, overall, be nice to yourself during these unprecedented times, and do your best to get some work done.