Those of us who are able to work from home are fortunate. We're able to stay (mostly) out of harm's way while those with truly essential jobs--medical professionals, grocery clerks, bus drivers, postal workers, etc.--help keep our nation going.
Working from home is a privilege, to be sure, but it's also never been harder to get your brain focused on your job..and to keep it there.
If you're not homeschooling your kids, discussing the headlines with roommates, or walking your dog, you're picking up your phone or refreshing your browser to get the news (don't even get me started on the insane amount of Whatsapp chats and Zoom calls happening right now).
Finding focus in the wake so much stimulation and anxiety may be tough, but it's definitely doable. My team at Masthead Media and I frequently work remotely and from home (we're 100 percent WFH now), and we've developed some strategies for staying productive during the most challenging moments.
Stick to a Single Task
There's a lot going on right now. You may feel like you need to do five things at once to keep up with it all. Resist the urge: it's not going to help your workload or your sanity.
On a good day (no international crisis to speak of) the average person spends just three minutes on any given task before switching to something else. While we think of this as multitasking, we're actually moving quickly and repeatedly between tasks. This is known as "task switching" and doing it causes you to lose (or never achieve) true focus. In fact, studies show that you can lose up to 80 percent of productive time due to task switching.
When you sit down to fully focus on work aim to focus on a single project at one time (e.g., don't attempt to email clients while also teaching your son 2nd-grade math). When it's time to produce that report, do only that for 45 minutes to an hour. Then switch over to 20 minutes of responding to email. When it's your turn to watch the kids, aim to be fully present for at least half-hour (and then you can both take a break). You'll feel a little saner -- and get a lot more done.
If you have two adults in the household, and at least one dependent, you try to block out periods when you're working--and when you're just not available for work.
Determine what style of time blocking you both prefer (half days, or two hours on/two hours off, etc) and look to see if there are any immediate conflicts on your schedule, before sitting down to map out the time you'll each need. Check-in with your boss and co-workers as well, to make sure your scheduling doesn't create any conflicts.
In my house, we start the clock at 8 am and build the schedule until 8pm -- and even with that, my husband and I each only get six hours of focused work per weekday. That's where the weekends come in. I personally try to grab additional hours on Saturday or Sunday, but not both (we all need a break, even if we're not using it to go anywhere).
If you're a single parent, you'll likely need to rely more on screentime, naptime, and bedtime for getting calls and highly focused work done.
Shut Off Alerts
Consider the number of message notifications we're getting all day long, on every single device (even during the best of times!) it's incredible any of us get any work done at all.
Because I'm the kind of person who feels compelled to respond to the most urgent new thing that hits my phone or inbox, I try to turn off all notifications while I'm working, on both my phone and my laptop. I find it's so much easier to respond in batches to texts, IMs and chats...and it reminds me that I'm in control of my time (not the last person who sent me a message).
If you find it tough to avoid picking up your cell to check messages, leave your phone in another room, or at least put it on silent and turn it over. You can use a Chrome extension like Stay Focused to keep you from browsing on certain predetermined sites (Facebook, CNN, etc), for a period of time.
Schedule an Early Morning or Late Night
As a working parent, I've always needed more flexibility to cover for sick days, snow days, parent-teacher conference days, and other things that come up. I've been fortunate enough to work this out with my co-founder and colleagues, but the work still needs to get done...and it can't always wait.
To make up for the lost time, once or twice a month I work early from home (at 5 am) or stay late at my office (until 10 or 11 pm). That practice will continue as my family and I self-isolate at our apartment near New York City. Not only is the time completely uninterrupted (see above!) but those few extra hours enable me to dig into and often complete projects that are either very high priority or consistently slip down my to-do list.
Prioritize What's Important
Considering all of the changes in our world, and our workplaces right now, it's unlikely any of us are going to get as much done as we had hoped...and that's okay. It has to be. Give yourself a big break, and lower your expectations, if you can.
If you have a superior, talk candidly with him or her about what's doable given your current life situation. This isn't a time to work while pretending you don't have obligations at home.
One thing you can do to feel more of a sense of control is to reshape your priority list to reflect the time you actually have--and what you need to do in order to keep your department or business moving forward.
A week ago (just after schools were canceled) I archived my old ultra-long to-do list. I started a brand new (much shorter) one that boiled down what was absolutely important for Masthead Media in the coming weeks and months--and I haven't looked at the rest.
Maybe I'll get back to it at some point--or maybe I'll won't. Time will tell if those tasks were really that important in the first place.
Please take care of yourselves right now, and stay well.