Flexible hours and working from home a couple of days a week used to be one of the things that I most enjoyed about my job. But, working from home under the shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 virus is very different. My worry about the virus and its sweeping effects on the world, the stress I have from increased uncertainty, and the challenges of working with my husband and kids at home has made it hard to manage my time.
I’m so fortunate to have a job that I can do from home, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what is working (and not working) for me in terms of doing my job when my regular routine is absent. The last thing we all need during this pandemic is a push to become overly productive, but those of us who are still working have to make some level of progress in our jobs. So, consider my tips below as the things that are working for me to be able to accomplish the fundamental tasks of my job in a way that doesn’t add to my stress.
1. Be flexible with others (and also yourself!)
The coronavirus pandemic and the efforts to curtail it are affecting nearly everyone’s lives in a way that makes work much more difficult. You’ve likely already been thoughtful and forgiving of coworkers, employees, managers, and others who you rely on when their work has been slowed. But don’t forget to give yourself that same generosity. Even if your daily routine hasn’t suffered that much, the stress and anxiety of the current situation and the unknown future are likely to be causing everyone to lose momentum at work, including you. Being hard on yourself for getting less done won’t make managing time any easier.
2. Work on the most challenging tasks when you’re most energetic
If your day is filled with a mix of more challenging tasks (so-called deep work that requires concentration) and less consuming tasks, such as checking emails, consider whether you can schedule these tasks around your ebbs and flows of daily energy. I do my best work first thing in the morning, so I’m trying hard to tackle the tasks that take the most mental energy as soon as I wake up. By late afternoon, my energy flags, so grading assignments or sending emails makes more sense at that time. Writing coach Cathy Mazak refers to this best time of day to do hard work as “tiger time,” and she argues that it really only lasts a few hours a day. Consider what you tiger time is right now and see if you can reorganize your work to get the most important things done during that time.
3. Include a small goal in your daily routine
For some people, having a routine helps them feel calmer in a time of chaos, and setting goals can help focus us on tasks that absolutely must be done. But, in difficult times, setting smaller goals can be helpful (see my prior post about this). For several months, I’ve been a part of an online writing accountability group, and my goal is to write 400 words 5 days a week. This isn’t a huge goal--compare it to author Stephen King’s goal of 2,000 every, according to his book On Writing. When the pandemic hit, I considered dropping out of the writing group. Instead, I’ve found that the routine of writing each day helpful for two reasons. First, it gives me a very manageable goal (400 words is barely a page) that I can do even when stressed that make me feel a bit more normalcy. Second, it keep me moving—albeit very slowly—towards a larger goal that is important to me for the long term. I would have increased anxiety if I were to give up on my research writing goals right now, but I also don’t currently have the focus to maximize my output beyond 400 words per day. This small goal as a part of a daily routine strikes the balance of achievement and flexibility quite well.
To conclude, my first point is worth repeating—these are trying times, so be kind to yourself! It's unrealistic to expect to be highly productive right now. Instead, think about what small things you might do to accomplish a small set of critical tasks in a way that doesn't add to your stress.
Check in with me on social media all this month for some new FREE programs and offers that I’m preparing as a way to help everyone navigate work and careers during this difficult time.