How to maximize your time spent working from home

Many Americans are now working from home as the world steps up restrictions to fight coronavirus. This survival guide will set you up for success.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.
Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.Miller Hawkins

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By Brittany Loggins

Whether you work from home all the time, or you’re experiencing it for the first time as a result of COVID-19, it can be challenging. That's especially true if you have children, have trouble managing your time or the lack of human interaction is difficult for you.

For some helpful tips, Know Your Value spoke with psychologist Dr. Stephanie Parmely, career coach Amina AlTai, a career coach, and CEO of digital health company Quil Carina Edwards.

Set a routine:

Just like in your day-to-day at work, you should set up a routine that is comfortable in your home.

“Focus on your top three goals [and ask yourself] what are the things you need to get done today..." said Edwards, who runs a company where the majority work remotely. “Make sure you’re keeping that list while adapting to changing circumstances. But approach your day with a plan.”

One thing that definitely needs to be part of your work routine? Breaks. And they’re just as essential at home as they are in your office.

“Give yourself permission to take breaks, and take breaks in their entirety,” said Edwards. “If you would’ve run out for a cup of coffee at the office, go run out for a cup of coffee — it’s OK.”

Set up a home office:

If you don’t always work from home, this may be a bit of a challenge — but it’s totally doable. Your space can be as simple as your kitchen table — just make sure you have what you need, including privacy.

“A lot of us were recently thrust into working from home without the necessary tools to thrive in it,” said AlTai. “Ensuring you have a desk, a good chair, and the computer or screens you need to do your work allows you to free yourself from distractions and be present for the work you’re about to do.

Once you’ve taken care of the essentials — consider your environment and where you can set aside a distraction-free nook in your home.

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"Set up a room or corner in your home that is dedicated to work and that is streamlined to only have the tools you need to show up fully for your job,” said AlTai. “Ensure you have privacy if you need it.”

Set personal boundaries:

Even if you’ve identified the most quiet, comfortable space for your home office, it can sometimes be hard to block out distractions — especially if you’re working in an environment that’s typically reserved as a respite from your normal working life. That said, make sure you’re muting the distractions that you have control over.

“Turn off email — if you have a productivity time when you need to knock out a deliverable, just turn it off,” said Edwards. “And then on Slack (or any other instant messaging tool), set your status to ‘Working — Do Not Disturb. There are ways that you can protect that time to stay focused without a thousand distractions.”

Limit your news intake:

There’s a substantial difference between being informed and being overwhelmed by the local and national news — especially during times of crisis. A lot of cities have set up hotlines that will send you pertinent details that will directly impact your life (i.e. school and facility closings). Consider subscribing to those and turning off the local news station. Most importantly, make sure you’re steering clear of negativity from social media.

“Even before the COVID–19 virus, people who watch the news are 20 percent more depressed than people who don’t watch the news because of the overabundance of negativity,” said Parmely. “Don’t overwhelm yourself with news or information online that is not coming from a solid, reputable outlet.”

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This is especially important if you have kids at home who are working toward new-found routines. “Children will get anxious if adults around them are anxious, so try to remain calm and not expose children to the news or misinformation online,” said Parmely.

Children:

With lots of school and daycare cancellations, there’s a big chance that you’re working at home with toddlers or small children. AlTai had some helpful tips that some of her clients have put into practice.

“Some of my clients with children will schedule calls or collaborative work sessions during their children’s naps when they know there will be quiet time,” said AlTai. “They’ll also take afternoon breaks to be with their children and come back online in the evening when their kids are settling into bed.”

The most important factor here is to be supportive of your colleagues and to remember that this is new territory for a lot of people

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Conference calls:

When working from home, conference calls become almost unavoidable — especially if you usually work closely with a team. First and foremost, if you don’t typically use video conferencing, make sure to practice. “Ensure you know how to use all the features and feel comfortable moderating the chat section as well,” said AlTai.

Once you’ve gotten the technical aspects down, make sure you’re present and focused.

“Conference and video calls can enhance the temptation to check emails, multitask or scroll through our phones,” said AlTai. "In order to keep the meeting on track and honor people’s time, ensure you set an agenda and map the meeting towards that agenda in order to maximize productivity and outcomes. We want to maintain as much professionalism as possible, even if we are wearing yoga pants.”