Tumble outta bed, and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition, yawn and stretch and try to come to life. . . .Dolly Parton
With many of us still working from home, either partially or fully, layered with the uncertainty of back to school routines, it’s easy to feel that our days and weeks lose shape. After all, isn’t that why on most days we wonder, “What day is it?”
Particularly if you are one who works from home and has children at home doing online learning of some sort, you will certainly feel pulled in a thousand directions at once, leading you to wonder at the end of the day, still in your pajamas, what you actually did all day. A few days in a row like that can leave even the best of us feeling unaccomplished and out of control.
Here are five tips for structuring a productive workday and help you manage the days and weeks in your sometimes elusive schedule. They are small actions or mindsets that you can incorporate easily; they’re not large overhauls that are too daunting to even think about. You’ve already got too much on your plate for that!
Use Time Blocks
Maybe in the office, it took you roughly an hour to accomplish a routine task that at home you start five times and still can’t wrap up by noon. Allow more time on your calendar (and in your personal expectations) for routine tasks. Maybe for an hour-long task, you block an hour and a half on your calendar. Particularly on an electronic calendar, time-blocking will help you move tasks around in a few clicks when the day doesn’t go as planned. Apps like Plan and Hourstack (especially if you use Asana) are efficient tools to assist with time-blocking.
Literally create 30 minute spaces between tasks on your schedule. You may not use them, and you can keep working through. That’ll fuel your sense of accomplishment just like checking a box on your to-do list. Margins create buffers. So if writing a memo takes longer than expected, a Zoom call goes overtime, or you have to stop to make a “co-worker” a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, your whole day isn’t off course by 11 AM. You may find this tool will help ease the anxiety of racing against the clock to get things done because you have allowed space between tasks. That’s one way to bolster your mental health.
This can be a really tough one if you are used to working without distractions, or at least in an office with adults who pick up on the cues that you need to wrap up a five minute conversation and get back to work. Teenagers can make their own PB&J, but they have not developed the social skill to know when to stop talking and let you get back to work. This is another reason margins are important. Other ideas if you have children at home, is to hang a small chalk board sign on your office door asking to not be disturbed until noon for example (unless someone is bleeding). With older children, this can often buy you at least one uninterrupted hour at a time to work. For younger school-aged children, consider setting them up with everything they need, then set a timer for them to see the next time they can come to you, and maybe even a reward if they wait the full amount of time. *wink* (Check out Etsy for some cute inexpensive ideas your kids will respect and enjoy.)
You see the theme, e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. takes longer to do from home. Even if you don’t have children, you have plenty of other distractions, like sorting laundry, tidying up, taking a nap, playing on your phone, binging Netflix, or opening the Pinot. And you know what, it’s a pandemic, life is supposed to feel differently. So allow yourself the extra grace. To keep yourself on course, adjust your expectations. Even in a professional environment, admit that Zoom meetings, PPE guidelines, and social distancing create a unique vibe and often require a little extra time. If you acknowledge and allow for the disruptions, you will position yourself to roll with them much more seamlessly.
Embrace the Anomalies
We are experiencing change like no other time in our lifetimes. You will lower anxiety and stress levels for yourself, your family, and your colleagues when you learn to embrace the anomalies, rather than fight against them. Allow 10 minutes to connect with colleagues on Zoom before or after a meeting begins. Take a morning walk that your schedule once didn’t allow for. Have “lunch hour” with the kids. Take a 20 minute break to shoot some hoops in the driveway. Meditate and breathe. Even take a nap on occasion if you can!
Finally, at the end of a long, sometimes bumpy day, embrace a few rituals that help you disconnect from work and slip into a relaxing evening alone or with your crew.