The question I often ask myself when choosing to work at home (or in an alternate setting like libraries or cafes) is whether my productivity is increased when I take my work elsewhere. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become the norm to work or learn from home. Of course, for many of us, working from home isn’t a new phenomenon. However, if the social-distancing measures mean that you’re struggling to stay on-task then there are a few tips that can help you adapt to this new norm.
For myself, recently I’ve had to make multiple changes, beyond just physical space, that have allowed me to be more effective in the home workspace. Space means setting aside a location in your house specifically designated for working virtually or studying. While staying in bed and working from a bed tray may feel cozy, it doesn’t allow us to cognitively and physically focus on the task at hand. We mentally associate coziness with relaxation rather than being mentally alert and writing a term paper for instance. While you may not always work in the same space, it is important to designate a location that helps you stay organized. I find that by separating my work and entertainment spaces, I feel more confident that I can do both more effectively.
Dress for work
I learned this tip from a friend who works from home permanently year-round. He mentioned the difficulty in staying alert when working in PJ’s or sweatshirts. When I first heard of the idea, it was enough to elicit a chuckle, however in recent weeks I’ve found that dressing professionally in a home environment did change my behavior drastically. I no longer slumped over when I responded to emails and felt more energetic and workaholic as a result. It’s no coincidence that the adage “dress for the occasion” also applies here.
One task at a time
You might be rolling at your eyes at this common tidbit of advice, but you would be surprised at the number of university students who turn on an episode of Friends in the background while studying. Even for myself, resisting the urge to have Mindhunters in a separate window of my laptop is insanely difficult, especially while working from home. You may even find that when your to-do list is checked off, being fully immersed in your favorite movie is a more pleasant experience than committing 50% of your attention to two different tasks.
This small change can work wonders into a students’ routine at home. Particularly if you live with your family or other roommates. There have been so many instances where I have tried to study but a roommate decides to fry chicken leaving me to listen to the loud crackling of the hot oil or other distractions. Using a good quality pair of earplugs for myself meant that 80% of this noise was blocked out, leaving me to pursue more important tasks at hand.
Plan your day
For many students, online learning can be a true test of self-discipline. Especially when the perfectly curated schedule from classes, volunteer work and part-time job is off the hook. I find that in the absence of a clear schedule, my entire circadian rhythm is frazzled. Both from a cognitive level but also physically, I feel tired and unmotivated. To keep ourselves accountable to our learning at this difficult time, planning can go a long way. Especially when online lectures can catch up in a short period of time and make it even more pivotal to stay on top of school work. For myself, planning each hour of my day helps give some clarity to my daily activities. Moreover, looking back on the to-do list helps you track your progress and helps make the day more meaningful. Even activities such as learning to podcast or experimenting with a new recipe should be part of your daily planning.
Keep in touch
Part of the challenge with social distancing is feeling connected in a genuine way. A current struggle I have is tracking all the various emails (oftentimes, paragraphs upon paragraphs in length). Sometimes, we might agree that simply picking up the phone to call someone or hosting a small meeting on Google Meets can spark joy in our current lives. Having meaningful conversations with others virtually can help everyone stay hopeful during times of stress and might just be the secret to staying productive. It’s hard to be productive, when we’re lonely and upset.