unsplash-logoJane Palash

How to Structure Your Day So You Stay Productive While Working Remotely

Remote, or “work from home” jobs, have been a staple of companies for years now. Until the pandemic and subsequent shut down of many different types of business, however, many people weren’t aware that working remotely was a viable option for them.

We’ve all seen the memes and social media jokes about working from home while trying to eat healthy and teach your kids 4th grade math. Remote work isn’t for everyone, but it is possible to have a great day of work. I’ve been working remotely now for two and a half years, and have found a very effective way to stay productive.

Setting The Scene

Before you even begin to work from home, you should designate a spot. You don’t need to run out and buy a new desk with ergonomically correct chair and lumbar support pillow. You don’t really even need a separate room. The idea is to create a space in your mind designated for work.

This isn’t set in stone either. Sometimes I work from a desk, sometimes outside in the sun, and sometimes I put my feet up and work from the couch. Since I’m no longer able to frequent my favorite coffee spots due to the COVID-19 closings, I’ve adjusted to my space. As a remote worker, I’ve found that changing location weekly, even within my house, gives me a grounded working environment without feeling trapped.

The idea behind this setting is to allow you to be “clocked in” during the day. It also allows for a mental break when work is done. If you know you’re going to be working from the couch that day, plan to cook a fancy dinner after work. Make sure a lot of that time cooking is spent in the kitchen. That way you’re removing yourself from your working space and creating a different atmosphere for when you’ve “clocked out.”

It sounds simple, but the mental health benefits of separating your working space from your living space helps maintain a sense of normalcy. It’ll also give you the ability to retreat from work if you’re beginning to feel burn out. If you like to move around, like I do, then make sure your evening activity is keeping you from your work space for that day.

Punching The Clock

Not literally, of course. I’ve been in quarantine for nearly two months and sometimes I could literally punch the clock. We joke that time has no meaning anymore. If you’re new to remote work, however, your employer is still expecting you to perform.

Setting designated working times will help you maintain a sense of normalcy. Get up, get ready, eat breakfast, and begin your day each day you’re supposed to be working. My routine is a 5:30am wakeup, shower and breakfast, logged on between 6am-7am, 1pm lunch, and logged off between 3pm-4pm. During my lunch hour, I walk away from my laptop, leave my cell phone, and give myself a much needed break.

Personally, I find it better for me to work a long stretch in the morning. I’m more focused and attentive. Taking a late lunch allows me to return to work to troubleshoot in the afternoon before my natural sleepiness kicks in around 3pm-4pm.

When you get in touch with your personal circadian rhythms, you can find your best personal schedule. And make sure you stick to the schedule! Do not answer calls or emails after a certain time of day. This is a stressful time for everyone. The invasion of your working time into your personal time can add extra stress that’s harder to work off when you can’t go anywhere. You don’t need to burn out.

Sharing Pics of The Kids

Something vastly different about working from home is the way you interact with your co-workers. My company uses Slack for communication between employees, and they encourage us to talk to each other about more than what we’re doing at work. There’s a fostering of camaraderie among people who live hundred or thousands of miles apart.

As a result of this, we have Slack channels dedicated solely to memes, our pets, favorite podcasts, and our playlists. Each department has their own chat and some people who work together between departments occupy yet another separate chat. In addition, we have an off-topic chat that allows us to throw in news articles we find interesting or pictures of our kids. We encourage each other not to talk politics, religion, or anything else that could become inflammatory. This mimics a normal office culture.

It’s natural, as humans, to interact on a personal level with people we work alongside. The removal of this adult interaction has added to the stress of the pandemic. The website We Work Remotely has a great article on mental health in the remote workplace. Loneliness and isolation tops the list as one of the largest hurdles to this lifestyle. Keeping in contact with co-workers in more than a business sense helps those feelings.

Dress For Success

I know, pajamas are wonderful. They are not, however, conducive to a productive work day. You need to get dressed. We’ve all seen the video of the reporter in a shirt, jacket, and boxers. That was something we could all definitely relate to in our current state. But he could have avoided that notoriety by putting on jeans at the very least.

Getting dressed creates another mental space for you to have a productive work day. If you stay in your pajamas, or change into your daytime pajamas, there’s a certain mental state you remain in through your workday. When you get up and get dressed regularly, you’re creating a schedule for yourself and the mental space to implement your daily goals.

You don’t have to wear the same suit or dress that you’d wear to the office, but you should put on jeans once a week. Don’t laugh! I’ve found this is a great way to keep myself in check. Eventually the world will reopen. You’ll need to be prepared to wear pants again. Stay ahead of the curve, put them on now.

At The End of The Day

After working a full day in your designated space, you’re going to need to clock out. Part of my personal plan for combating the feelings of isolation that come from working remotely has always been to go out after work. I volunteer time, take long walks, hang out with friends, pick up crafts for my family, or just walk around a store looking at things. The COVID closings have disrupted my coping schedule.

In an effort to combat that, I set very strict rules for myself. When I’m done with work, I close my laptop and mute my work number. I then go outside in the sun for a bit before deciding to either cook an elaborate dinner or do another activity like read a book. I try to get a little exercise in. I change into comfy clothes (another great trick for creating different mental spaces when you can’t change your physical space.)

If you want to watch TV, you should, but don’t binge all night. Pick a movie or an episode or two of a show you like and indulge. Stay away from the late night snacking. Keep your alcohol consumption down. Much like setting up a designated work space, you need to set up designated activity spaces in your mind.

And I know this all sounds exhausting right now. It is exhausting. The sudden shift in the way you live has left your brain processing new experiences every day. Processing new experiences leaves us drained and wanting to shut down. But our minds are amazing organs. One of the best ways to avoid burnout and fatigue is to keep it working in ways you find pleasant and engaging.

When We Return

Eventually we will return, perhaps not to the normal we knew, but to a feeling of ease in navigating our world. As it’s regularly said, “this too shall pass.” Right now, however, this is the world in which we live. We have to adapt. We have to stay functional.

By creating mental and physical spaces to differentiate your work and your non-work hours, you’ll help yourself stay productive. Give yourself the tools you need to walk away from the computer at night thinking, “well that was a great day!” It is possible to continue to thrive even in the most uncertain of times.