If you’re like millions of people in the U.S., you’re working from home today. And if you’re like most of those millions, working from home is relatively new to you. You’ve done it before, here and there. Maybe you put in some weeknight or weekend hours, maybe you used one of the semi-official holidays we celebrate – like President’s Day – to get ahead of your work to-do list. Or maybe you typically work from home one or two days a month.
In any case, it’s likely you’ve never sat down at your home office – wherever in your home that may be – with an entire month of working from home ahead of you. But there you are, and here we are: COVID-19 rules our lives, for now, and we all have to follow the public health and safety guidelines, because we’re all responsible adults and we want to help our nation move past this pandemic in any way we can.
That means social distance, going out only for essentials, and, yes, for millions, it means working from home.
Let’s get something out of the way right from the start: if you still have a job, count that as a blessing – because it is. We all know about industries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. And our hearts go out to those who are struggling right now.
Therefore, I’ll make that my pre-tip tip: gratitude.
Gratitude is the attitude, as the saying goes.
I couldn’t agree more.
Working from Home: Perspective Counts
I can think of no better time to practice gratitude for what we have, for the people in our lives, and for the opportunity to help where and when we can.
That brings me to my second pre-tip tip: right now – unless you’re a frontline healthcare worker – what you can do to help is stay home and follow the guidelines. This advice is also directly related to how you can best manage your stress during this difficult time. I know – through my decades of work in behavioral health and addiction – that one of the best ways to handle stress and anxiety is by starting with something simple, like the serenity prayer popularized by 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous:
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Right now, what no one can change is the fact this pandemic is happening. What we can change is our behavior. That also happens to be the wise way we can make a difference. Therefore, if you feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety and want to do something to make a difference – for yourself and for the world – then understand that working from home is the best thing you can do for yourself and the world. By staying home and following the guidelines, you’re saving lives.
Okay, enough about that: the rules are the rules and you’re following them.
Okay then good: I’m ready to share my tips.
Dr. Ryland’s Six Tips for Working from Home During COVID-19
- Get organized. If you want to be productive, you have to manage your resources efficiently. Your main resource for working from home is time: you decide when and for how long you’ll do things. That means making a schedule. Think of this as your opportunity to map out your ideal workday. You’re the only one who really knows how long it takes you to complete your tasks, you’re the only one who knows how much exercise you need during the day, and you’re the only one who knows how long your meal breaks need to be. This is your chance: think back over all the times you’ve wished you could make your own schedule, and make the schedule you’ve always longed for.
- Take work seriously. I advise against distractions, and I advise against sort of working. This advice plays out in two ways. First, when you go to work at home, I think you should really go to work. Physically move yourself from the place you drink your morning coffee to the place you plan to crack open your laptop. Second, minimize distractions. Turn off the tv, close social media windows, and if you have roommates or family members around, shut the door. The idea is that you create – you create – separation between chilling at home and working at home: work when you should work and relax when you should relax. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing both halfway, and at the end of the day you’ll feel neither relaxed nor accomplished: you’ll probably be annoyed with yourself.
- Schedule meals and exercise. This is crucial: you need to eat, and you need to move. Speaking from personal experience, I know that if I sit down at 9:00 am and work until 3:00 pm without a meal or a walk (at least) I feel terrible. I get cranky, hungry, and aggravated with everyone and everything. Here’s a thing to know: if you get to the place where everything and everyone around you aggravates you, the problem is probably you, not them. You can avoid getting to that place by making sure you eat on time and get regular exercise. During COVID-19, exercise may mean fifty jumping jacks on your back porch. But if that’s what it takes, then that’s what you need to do. Schedule those jumping jacks and don’t skip them.
- Back up your work. Losing work due to a computer crash, a power outage, or a malfunctioning app is frustrating. And that’s an understatement. That’s why you should back up your work continuously throughout the day. If you’re working on a word document or spreadsheet, click “save” obsessively. Then, at the end of the day, do one of three things: save your work to a flash drive, save your work to an external hard drive, or send yourself an email with your up-to-date files attached. It takes a little time, but if you do have a computer catastrophe, you’ll be thankful you took that time: on balance, taking an extra five minutes to save five hours of work is well worth the trade.
- Adapt and overcome. Yes, that’s a short version of the Marine Corps motto “Improvise, adapt, and overcome.” In the context of working from home – which I stress requires making a good schedule and sticking to it – this means that when something or someone challenges your schedule, you need to roll with it and keep your eyes on the prize. The prize is completed work tasks. Your adaptations are what you do to handle the challenge or interruption to your schedule. Nothing is worth getting angry or upset about. When something or someone important interrupts you, it’s okay to handle it right then and there – as long as you get back on task when you’re done.
- Remain connected with colleagues. It is very normal to feel isolated and detached during times like these. Make an effort to reach out to colleagues on the phone or by video. Working remotely can make direct communication even more important than it has been before. Make it a point to reach out to members of the team you haven’t heard from in a while.
Doing Our Part: Together We Win
A note on the last tip: that’s what we’re all doing right now. We’re meeting a new situation head-on and changing our behavior in response. As a nation – and as a world – we have a vested interest in doing what’s right, right now, for the greater good. It may be uncomfortable in the short run, but in the long run, the decisions each of us make as individuals have a direct impact on how we fare as a collective. What you and I do, today, will determine how – and how soon – this pandemic ends. If we join together, follow the rules, and look out for one another, we’ll get through this sooner rather than later. And one more tip:
Wash your hands!