Working from home amid coronavirus? Here are the best tips to be productive

(NEW YORK) — Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, continues to spread across the United States and is disrupting life as we know it.

As the World Health Organization officially declared the virus a “pandemic,” many major cities are implementing preventive measures to try to mitigate the number of cases. Major universities are moving to online classes and many public gatherings, the NBA season, parades and concerts have all been canceled.

Some companies are having employees work remotely to practice “social distancing,” which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible.”

While working from home can seem like the dream setup for many in corporate America, it can also become a curse if you make some rookie mistakes.

That’s why Emily Lakdawalla, a mom of two who has been working for the Planetary Society remotely for 15 years, took to Twitter on March 8 to crowdsource advice for all the work-from-home newbies out there. The post generated 3,000 responses and 4,000 likes.

Read on for Lakdawalla’s best advice that will make you into your most productive self:

1. Set boundaries between home life and work

First, Lakdawalla, a mom of two from Los Angeles, California, said it’s important to establish boundaries between your home life, and your office.

The internet and email is what makes working remote possible, but the constant stream of notifications can start to feel like a curse if you’re logged in around the clock.

Communicate to your office when you need undisturbed work time to focus on a project and when you’re done with work and signed off to be truly at home.

2. Communicate to your partner, roommate, parents you’re ‘in the office’

If you’re sharing a space with a partner, roommate, parents, it’s important to make it clear that even though you’re at home, you’re still at work and in “do not disturb” mode.

Have a signal that you’re working — or close the door if you have a private work space to ensure you get peace and quiet.

Kids add another hurdle.

“Kids and parents can’t bust into the office at all hours and make demands,” she said. “It can take a while to get families to respect that…. When you have your office door closed, or when you have [a] signal to your family that you’re at work, you’re working.”

3. Know your distractions

“Everybody’s different. Be honest with yourself about what’s useful and what’s a distraction,” she said.

For some, having music or TV on in the background may help you focus and be most productive. For others, it would be a major distraction.

“Turning on some music actually helps me focus on my work. I think that turning on TV would absolutely not help me. But I also know people who would like to have a TV …in the background, and that helps them focus. So you just have to be honest with yourself about what things distract you and what things help you focus,” she said.

4. Make lists for everything

Home is often filled with a lot of distractions and not a lot of accountability. To hold yourself accountable, Lakdawalla suggests making lists.

“I make lists each day of all the tasks that I know I need to get done that day, then I estimate the amount of time it will take me to do them. I actually write down a block schedule,” she said. “When I can look at my schedule and say, ‘Okay, right now I’m supposed to be doing this task,’ and having it all scheduled. For me, it really helps.”

“I have ADHD, so a lot of the [Work From Home] tips that I have, are actually ADHD coping strategies,” said Lakdawalla.

5. Avoid ‘quicksand activities’ aka distracting chores

To stay on your A-game, resist “quicksand activities.”

“‘Quicksand activities’ are things that will suck you in and you’ll never get out and then you’ll never get anything done during the day,” Lakdawalla said. “For me, Twitter is a big one.”

Besides social media, at home, those dishes that seem to be staring at you from the sink are another example of quicksand.

When you realize that you should pick up more milk, for example, instead of stopping work to turn to that, get a notepad and write it down to do later to stay focused.

“Write it down and schedule yourself to take care of all those things [later] that are bugging you,” she said. “They take up mental space.”

6. Take a lunch break

Fuel yourself with a real lunch — and Lakdawalla suggests making it a break from email too.

“I schedule, or at least, I plan to have a lunch break where I get to turn off work and I get to do whatever – a little reading and have my lunch. I’m off work for a while, I don’t check my work email and then I get back to work,” Lakdawalla told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

7. Make sure to move! Substitute exercise for your commute

Working from home undoubtedly cuts down on the number of steps that you take each day. Be creative in ways to replace your commute, Lakdawalla suggests.

“I’ve been substituting exercise for that commute time,” she said. “Taking a long walk, just gets your endorphins up and [can] get your blood moving. It helps your brain work better and clears your head.”

There are also at-home workout apps that offer free yoga, cardio, and other bodyweight workouts to make sure you move.

8. Decompress at the end of the day

Step away from the computer.

“At the end of the day, it’s important to do something to decompress,” Lakdawalla recommended.

“Things that do tend to distract you, set those up as your end of the workday reward. Now I’m really thinking about watching this next episode of my favorite show, that will be the thing I get to do when I’m done with my workday,” she noted. “[Having] that goal in mind can help you just knuckle down and get the work done. And then you have the bliss and the reward at the end of the day.”

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