Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for a lot of people working in tech – our daily commutes to the office have been eliminated, we can pack away some extra sleep, and we can even attend conference calls in our pajamas (in work-from-home-casual, as I refer to it). The flexibility working from home adds to one’s workday can’t be understated, but it does not come without its caveats – the lines between the office, home, and family have blurred together for many, or may not exist at all.
Time management is a known challenge during normal business operations; ineffectively managing time on work tasks can make or break your team’s progress. Working remotely has the added complication of removing a lot of the structure and discipline that we weren’t necessarily aware we’d been relying on to stay focused at the office. It’s now more important than ever to be cognizant of how your work environment affects your ability to get things done, and knowing what you can do to maximize your productivity from home will ensure that you stay on top of your work and will prevent you from falling behind. Here are a few tips for time management that’ll keep you ahead of your work and prevent a lot of the headaches that can accompany working from home.
Designate a workspace
While the idea of sitting on the couch answering e-mails with a Netflix show on in the background might sound like an expert’s way of multitasking (and some of us might be guilty of rationalizing our behaviors like this), having a designated space in a separate room or area around the house allows one to set expectations for what should happen there.
For example, having a desk set up in your living room that is only used for work will help cultivate the connection between a specific physical space and your brain knowing what it should be focusing on. If you were ever someone who studied much more effectively in the school library rather than at home, this works on the same principle. Our brains work most effectively when they are given clear tasks without distractions; don’t make it harder on yourself by needlessly cluttering your workspace with outside stimuli.
Figure out a schedule that works for you
A 9-to-5 workday may not be ideal in the work-from-home environment, especially if you have family obligations hounding your attention during work time. If you’re working at home with a partner, create a schedule at the beginning of each week to determine work hours and who will manage childcare/house duties when the other is working. Adding structure like this back into your workday will help facilitate the best work environment for you and your family.
If you find yourself constantly interrupted by home life while working, you may find that working unconventional hours proves to be a better fit. Try waking up early before others in your house to get work done, or try working after dinner time as things are winding down around the house – you may find that limiting distractions around you can accelerate your productivity, with the added benefit of allowing you to spend your leisure time when your family is most available to share it with you. Either way, be sure to communicate with your team about your work habits so that there are no surprises against meeting expectations.
Build a routine
While working in sweats is certainly comfortable, keeping a similar routine to normal work life further establishes the structure we often find ourselves lacking in working from home. Waking up at the same time each day, getting properly dressed as if you’re headed to work, having that morning cup of coffee and breakfast – all of these will get you in the “working” state of mind to focus on your projects. Building a routine that works for you can transform your workday – give it a try.
Try out apps for productivity
There are plenty of software options available that are designed to increase your productivity – both free and paid. Apps like these help you keep track of deadlines, project progress, help you organize your workweek, and some even remind you to take a break every now and then. Time management is a two-way street; one needs to manage their time at work to use it most effectively, but you also have to remain aware of how much time you’ve been working. Letting time run away from you while focused on a project can mean looking at the clock and realizing you’ve been working long past what you had originally planned, and that your workday may have instead consumed your entire day.
I rely on apps like Viewpath and Stretchly to keep tabs on my workweek and minimize fatigue throughout my workday – use these apps to your advantage and find what works best for you to manage your time effectively.
Set boundaries between work and home life
Ending your workday in the work from home environment can be tricky – without a commute home from the office to mark the end of a workday, work e-mails and app notifications can make going offline a challenge. It’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home, I recommend setting an alarm to remind yourself when to end your workday. Powering down your computer and putting it away for the night helps reinforce this, and some mobile phones allow you to disable notifications for work-related apps during time windows you specify in the “Do Not Disturb” sections of their settings.
Staying productive and effectively managing time during COVID-19 while working from home has been a learning process for many of us – be sure to leverage all of what’s available to you to make the office to work-from-home transition as smooth as possible. Be willing to try new things and be mindful that a system that works for you may not work for someone else. Finding what works best for you is a matter of trial-and-error – don’t just give up if you haven’t found success so far.