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By Taylor Adams, Manager of Workplace Mental Health at Mental Health America

If you are not used to working remotely, the change in routine and workspace can hinder your productivity. As someone who worked from home once a week, switching to a fully remote work schedule was a bigger challenge than I anticipated.

For context, I live in a 750 square foot one-bedroom apartment with my partner who is also working from home five days a week. We do not have a home office, but we do have enough room for a small desk where we pile unopened mail and the occasional dirty dish. My partner and I often alternate between working at the small desk and the kitchen table with a thin wall separating us.

During “these unprecedented times” (can we all agree to stop using this phrase?), we have discovered new ways to distract ourselves at home. Is it time for another break? Should I finally open that mail? We sometimes spend 15 minutes or more wondering why our neighbor across the way never seems to leave her desk. How does she do it? And we are perfectly capable of getting distracted without the added challenges of having pets or children.

I am so grateful that my job grants me the means to live in this apartment, but it can be difficult to stay focused when there is no dedicated workspace. If you are struggling to stay focused, here are five tips to help you feel productive while working from home:

  1. Create a temporary workspace. If at all possible, designate a physical space in your home that will serve as your temporary home office, including an uncluttered flat surface and a comfortable (but not too comfortable) chair. This space should be separate from where you relax or sleep, so a couch or bed may not be the best options. Invest or ask your company to invest in the proper technology to do your job, including a laptop, monitor, mouse, etc.
     
  2. Communicate over shared spaces. If you are sharing a small space with a family member or partner, communicate clearly and regularly about your schedules, calls, meetings, webinars, or any other activity that might impact the other person’s work. If you only have one desk, create a plan on who will work at the desk when. If you have calls at different times, coordinate where you will take calls. Communication, courtesy, and patience are key to sharing a workspace whether in the office or at home.
     
  3. Prepare as if you were going into the office. A few of us have probably indulged in rolling out of bed and immediately starting work. Sure, it feels nice to have an extra hour of sleep but forgoing any type of routine might be setting you up for a far less productive day. Instead, wake up early to take a shower and get dressed. Eat your eggs and bacon. Take a 20 or 30-minute walk around the neighborhood to simulate your morning commute (but with more fresh air and less road rage). Do what works best for you. The important thing is to feel prepared to take on the day.
     
  4. Stick to a schedule. You are probably familiar with the expression “take things day-by-day”, but for some, they may need to take things hour-by-hour, and that’s completely normal. Maintain a detailed to-do list for each day in one-hour increments. Be sure to incorporate lunch and breaks; they should be part of your priorities for the day, too. Finally, there is an excuse to purchase a fetching clearance calendar!
     
  5. Reward yourself when you complete a task. When you are finally settled into a workspace, prepared for the day, and ready to tackle your to-do list, reward yourself with something small for each task you complete. The reward can be a short break, time outside, a walk around the neighborhood, 5-minute YouTube video, a small piece of dark chocolate, a delicious healthy meal at the end of the workday, and definitely not a glass of wine when it’s only 2 PM. Actually, I would suggest not rewarding yourself with things that could develop into unhealthy habits like drinking excessively or eating greasy foods.

Above all else, be kind to yourself. You do not have to hold yourself to the same standards you would be if you were in the office and, you know, not working during a pandemic. You are doing your best, and your best is enough right now.

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