How To Stay Productive When Working Remotely During The COVID-19 Pandemic

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for remote work was on the rise. 50% of employees in the UK and US will be working remotely by the end of this year, even after the pandemic breaks. 

However, the rise of COVID-19 has pushed many companies to change their working routines much faster than expected. If you’ve always had an office and team around you, it can be challenging to switch to home-based work. 

Some people will struggle to maintain their productivity, while others will have a hard time managing work/life balance. 

Seeing that the pandemic will affect how and where we work for an unforeseeable future, your best bet is to implement some strategies to make work-at-home easier and more productive.

If you’re trying to make the most of your new remote environment, we’ve got some tips to help. 

#1 Set a Suitable Schedule

One of the biggest benefits of remote work is that you can arrange your hours around your needs. There’s nothing to stop you from working later in the day if you often struggle with productivity when you first wake up.

However, many remote workers have trouble doing their best work if they don’t stick to a consistent schedule. 

Having worked remotely (mostly from home) for several years now, my schedule was set in stone pre-COVID. My most productive time was after the rest of the family went out after their own obligations. It also allowed me to work uninterrupted for most of the day, just as if I were in an office.

If you’re used to a typical routine with your traditional office, stick to it. Maintaining the same schedule will help everything to feel more “normal” as you make the transition. 

If you need to change your schedule slightly, you can, but try and pick a routine that you can follow every day. Just telling yourself you’re going to work when you feel productive won’t work out. 

For my schedule, once the lockdown was imposed, certain adjustments were necessary. It didn’t take long, though, before I was able to spot patterns in our daily routine. Now I start my work earlier so I can take short breaks when I have some family obligations that cannot be postponed. 

That way, there is still some rhyme and reason to my schedule, so I can plan the most important tasks around the times I know I’ll have the peace and quiet to work on them.

Once you have your schedule, stick to it, and make sure that you “clock out” on time. Just as it’s easy to get distracted when remote working, it’s also possible to work too hard and forget to switch off. You don’t want to burn out! 

#2 Create an Office

Just because you don’t go to your traditional office anymore, doesn’t mean that you can’t create an office experience. Designating a set space where you can focus on work and nothing else is a great way to maintain productivity.

For instance, if you’re working from your dining room or living room, there’s a risk of people walking around you and disturbing you. 

There’s also a chance in a non-office environment that distractions could get the best of you. Creating an office can be as simple as putting a desk in a spare bedroom or garage, so you’re out of the way of the rest of your work life. 

My own office corner is not completely separated from the rest of the house and doesn’t feature high-end furniture or equipment. However, it clearly indicates that it is my working space.

Moreover, just approaching that corner sets me in a work mindset, which makes it much easier to fully dedicate to the work at hand and be more productive.

Make sure you have everything you need for work, from a handy SEO checklist to a good internet connection. Keeping everything you need in one place will prevent searching for documents or equipment scattered around the house.

#3 Minimize Possible Distractions

Distractions aren’t just an issue in the remote work world. If you’re in the office, you might also suffer from procrastination because your colleagues are talking to you, or you can hear a phone ringing. However, there are many more distractions to worry about at home. 

Whether it’s the desire to check your social media channels every couple of seconds, or the sound of your dog barking, a lot of things can get in the way of your work. With that in mind, take steps to reduce distractions as much as possible. 

Start by signing out of your social accounts, and keep your phone on silent, so you’re not tempted to read messages. Turn off all electronics that you don’t need and try to resist having a million tabs open in your browser at once.

It may even be worth setting yourself as “away” on your collaboration tools when you need to focus, so you don’t get as many notifications. 

My habit is to leave my phone in another room. That way, I can still hear it ringing if there’s an urgent call, but I’m not tempted to check every little chat message or social media updates. 

Noise-cancelling headphones have also proved invaluable for blocking out common household sounds when you can’t completely separate from the family, but still need to fully concentrate on work.

#4 Plan Your To-Do List Each Morning

One of the biggest mistakes that many employees make is taking a “reactive” approach to work. Instead of tackling your tasks one at a time, in an order that makes sense to you, you just respond to anything you see in your email inbox. 

A much better option is to have a strategy for your work each morning. Sit down with your list of tasks and figure out which ones you’re going to work on first. The eat the frog method for productivity is often a good way to begin.

Getting rid of the task you’re least looking forward to first will set you up for an easier experience for the rest of the day. 

I often make use of that method while I’m fresh and concentrated in the morning. Spending my day worrying about difficult tasks ends up sapping away much more of my energy than simply sitting down and getting it over with.

You might even discover a few tasks on your list that you can delegate, reducing your stress levels significantly. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that waiting for the perfect moment to work mostly means that nothing will get done. Having a to-do list and a pen next to my laptop helps me to quickly write down everything, so I can set priorities and create a schedule. 

Having this kind of overview makes it easier to plan out the day and keep both work and family obligations in mind so nothing important falls to the sideways.

#5 Look After Yourself

Finally, you can’t be the most productive version of yourself if you’re struggling with health and wellbeing. To thrive in your career, you need to ensure that you have a steady sleep schedule that complements your schedule and leaves you with lots of energy. 

It’s also essential to ensure that you’re eating right. Avoid snacking too much just because you’re at home and remember to eat a healthy full meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of breaks too. It’s easy to burn out if you spend every hour of the day sitting in front of a computer. Sometimes your brain will need a refresh! 

I take a longer break around lunchtime. During that time, I try not to think about work. Often, some manual work like doing the dishes or folding the laundry helps me to reset my brain, so I can return to work refreshed—which mostly results in a new perspective and more productive approach to whatever I’m working on.

Looking after yourself will make you more productive, while productivity helps you to look after yourself. You’ll discover that learning how to manage your day and tackle tasks head-on means you’re less likely to procrastinate on tasks in your personal life too. 

It’s difficult to relax if you work at home, basically never leaving your job. However, with some back and forth, I managed to create a clear separation of work, family, and fun, even when it’s all concentrated in one space.

Before I established those boundaries, I was in a constant state of stress, which negatively affected every aspect of my life. 

Especially during a crisis such as a pandemic, it’s important to remind yourself that this situation is not something you can completely control, so be careful about what you spend too much energy worrying about.

Burning yourself out will leave lasting consequences that will follow you even after the world and your work return to some semblance of normal.

Improving your Remote Work Strategy

Maintaining productivity is a crucial part of surviving in today’s remote work landscape 

You might find that the skills you learn, like time management, mean that you get more done in your personal life too. When you can see the issues that are harming your productivity levels, like poor task management, or procrastination, you can easily overcome them.

As the world continues to embrace remote work as the ultimate strategy for the future workplace, now is a crucial time to put your distance working skills to the test. You can work remotely and stay productive! 

Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur, and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.

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