One of my main goals for Jest Kept Secret is to help people find hope and joy when life seems a bit crazy. I think it’s safe to say that life is a bit crazy for a lot of people right now. The spread of Coronavirus has a lot of people scared and worried about how they’re going to get through it all. Schools are being cancelled. Workers are being asked to work remotely. Church services are being suspended.
As I’ve reflected on events over the past few days, I’ve wished there was something I could do to help people. This morning, the Spirit offered this idea: I work from home, and have for a few years now. I have learned a few things along the way that have made it easier for me, but I know that transition from working in an office to working remotely can present some challenges. For those of you who are new to the life of a digital employee, here are some tips and tricks to help you stay focused, reduce stress, and find a good work/life balance.
If you have children, it might be intimidating to think of how you’ll get any work done with your kids home from school—especially if you’ll be homeschooling for the first time. Brett and I don’t have kids yet, but he is a college student and his classes will all be held remotely. Balancing resources like computers and work areas can be tricky, so you might find it helpful to hold a family council to determine who will need access to what and when. Be clear about expectations for both job and school work—when, where, and how it will be done. Creating work zones can be tremendously helpful for providing a visual “barrier” for distractions. For example, Mom works at the desk in the living room, Dad works in the office, and the kids do their homework at the kitchen table (adjusted to your own family’s needs and spaces). Kids and spouses will learn quickly that when you’re in your work zone, you need to focus on your work, and likewise for all other family members. Setting work times is another option (more on that next). Your working arrangements might require some flexibility and adjustments, but creating a routine and establishing boundaries will make it easier to manage the chaos.
Set Hours and Stick to Them
When I first started working from home, my schedule was all over the place. I found it really hard to balance work with housekeeping and self-care. Some days, I worked from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed. Other days, I spent far too much time on Facebook. Things got easier when I started time blocking. I learned to pay attention to the times when I was most productive, and I schedule work for those hours. When I was less productive, I’d give myself a break or schedule things that didn’t require as much focus. And because I have workaholic tendencies, I actually schedule in time for things like scripture study, exercise, and enjoying my hobbies. I’m human, so there are still days that I find myself back in those extremes, but I’m learning to be better about sticking to the schedule and protecting the times I have set aside for both work and pleasure alike.
As your family navigates the new landscape of working and schooling from home during the coronavirus quarantines, you will likely find that the traditional 8-5 schedule will not work for you, and that’s okay. It might take you a few days to figure out your schedule—and even then, you might have to adjust it as you go along—and that’s okay, too. But creating a routine for when you will work and when you will play with help your whole family feel grounded and productive.
As I’ve worked from home over the last couple of years, I’ve found some tools that help me stay more focused and productive. One of my favorites is the Pomodoro timer, which helps you create alternating periods of focus and rest. The creator of the Pomodoro technique recommends four reps of 25 minutes of focus and 5 minutes of rest, followed by a longer break of 15-20 minutes. I actually find that I’m just getting started when the timer goes off at 25 minutes, so I use an app that lets me adjust the lengths of my focus/rest periods. I find that I focus really well for about an hour and a half, and then I need a 10 minute break to recharge my brain. This is a great opportunity for me to get up and move so that I’m not sitting all day long, and I like to use those breaks to do a quick housekeeping task like emptying the dishwasher or dusting the living room. If you have kids and/or a spouse at home, these breaks can be a great opportunity to check in with them and give them a little attention.
Working from home can feel like freedom, and it can be really easy to get lost in the endless scrolling of social media. I’ve also found that I spend an awful lot of time checking and rechecking my email. Depending on how focused I need to be, even a text message can derail my productivity. Turning off all social media and email notifications makes it so much easier to focus during the day, and I’ll even put my phone on silent when I really need to focus on what I’m doing. (I love the Do Not Disturb feature on iPhones. It gives you the option of allowing favorite contacts to call you even when Do Not Disturb is enabled. Text messages won’t come through, but family members can still reach you in an emergency.) I’ve also installed StayFocusd, a browswer extension that lets you block websites for a specific length of time or after you’ve reached a daily limit.
Turn Off Your Work Thoughts
Those aforementioned workaholic tendencies sometimes mean that it’s hard for me to turn off my work thoughts at the end of the day, especially because working from home means there isn’t a physical separation between me and my job when I clock out at the end of the day. But I recently listened to this TED talk from psychologist Guy Winch about turning off your work thoughts during your free time and it was game changing. The biggest takeaway for me was that you can train your brain to stop thinking about work even if you work from home by creating a routine that you follow at the end of your work hours. Changing your clothes and the lighting can tell your brain that it’s time to stop focusing on work and start focusing on your family.
Go for a Walk
The “social distancing” we’re all being asked to practice during this outbreak might make us feel like we need to lock ourselves in our homes entirely, but I know from personal experience how demotivating that can be. We should be careful to avoid large gatherings, but fresh air can work wonders for our physical and mental health. Even spending time with your family in your back yard or on your apartment balcony can give you all a much needed break and prevent the emotional roller coasters often brought on by cabin fever.
Keep in Touch
Keeping ourselves isolated at home doesn’t mean we can’t nurture friendships from afar. I don’t have work friends (aside from my awesome clients), so for me, staying in touch with friends through texts and social media is integral to making me feel connected with other human beings. I actually cried a little when I learned that my church would be suspending worship services and church activities for a few weeks because I knew I would miss fellowshipping with the members of my ward. In fact, this quarantine could potentially leave a lot of people feeling extra lonely, and getting a message from a friend could be a lifesaver. I love that the First Presidency has asked us to find ways to minister to each other even during this outbreak. This could even be a great time to start sending snail mail letters again! The WHO has said that packages and envelopes are not a good environment for the transmission of this disease. and there’s something magical about receiving an actual letter in the mail. My friend Jackie is so good at sending letters, and it’s always such a boost to my day when I get one.
As hard as it can be to face dramatic changes in our schedules and home lives, I truly believe this is a blessing in disguise. I think this could be a reminder from God that we need to be spending more time with our families and less time at work. Yes, it’s important to earn a living and provide for ourselves, but we should “work to live, not live to work.” When patience runs a little thin and deadlines loom large on the horizon, take stock of your priorities. Step away from the computer and hug your loved ones. Close your email and play a game. Take a walk together at your favorite park. Look through photo albums and laugh at old memories. Improve your family prayer and scripture study. Cook something. Learn a new hobby you’ve always wanted to try.
Our families are the most precious resource we have. They’re the only thing we get to take with us when we die. If all else fails and you don’t get any work done, but you’ve strengthened your relationship with your spouse and your kids, you are definitely winning.
We’ve got this.
What are your favorite ways to spend time with your family? This is a great opportunity to revisit old favorites that you haven’t done in a long time. Make sure you leave time for play as you enjoy your social distancing, and use this time as a reminder to focus on what really matters.
And if you have tips for working from home, please share in the comments below or over on Facebook! Let’s help each other make the most out of this craziness.
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Images by Marina Andrejchenko/Adobe Stock.