Working from home full time is not new to me; I've done it since starting my public relations business four years ago. What is new -- for me and for millions of others -- is working or running a business from home during a global pandemic.
The children are home, and parents have to manage distance learning. Stress and uncertainty are higher than normal. Focus and productivity are lower than we'd like.
These are not normal times. It's okay, and it's going to be okay. This is the inner dialog that repeats nonstop.
I also tell myself -- and you -- that we're all being more productive than we think and we need to give ourselves some grace. The work is getting done even if we don't feel like our old selves doing it. That's because we are different people now; we are workers and business owners living in the midst of a crisis. We are also problem solvers, and if productivity and focus are the problem, here are some potential solutions.
1. Find your new routine.
I'm a creature of habit and love my routine. Well, it's all thrown off now. I'm not getting up at 5 a.m to workout at the gym, because the gym is closed, and I just can't get up that early for a solo ride on by spin bike.
I'm trying to find new routines like keeping my workout in the first half of the day and making sure to get outside, because it's always a better day when I've spent some time outside. On days when it is really nice outside I have found I like to sit on a lawn chair on my front yard and get some writing done. It's a spot I've never worked from before, and that energizes me. In fact, this entire column was written from my front lawn, while watching kids from the neighborhood ride their bikes.
2. Turn off email and the news.
In the first couple weeks of the pandemic, I was glued to the news and to my email. I spent a lot of time in front of my laptop, getting nothing done. These days I am more intentional about when I tune into the news, which is tough for a former journalist and forever news hound. I also occasionally sign out of email because I get a lot more email these days (namely school-related notes), and it's distracting. Don't worry, my kids haven't suffered for it. They know what they need to do each day as far as school goes, and usually these emails can wait.
3. Find a cue for work time.
When I have really needed to focus, all I've had to do is go to my downstairs closet office and hole myself away to write, think and concentrate. But that wasn't doing it for me. I needed a new cue that it's time to get to work. I talked with a woman in my networking group who sells essential oils. I had a lot of oils I hadn't used in a long time -- two of them, she said, are good for focus and attention. So now when I'm in my closet office working, I have my diffuser going with vetiver and rosemary. It's my new work time cue.
Your work time cue could be writing a list, changing out of your pajamas, making your bed, clearing off your desk or anything that tells you it's time to settle into work.
4. Make time to let your mind wander.
A leader at one of my client companies is a proponent of making time for doodling or doing nothing at all. I've thought about that a lot recently. Sometimes when I am feeling too antsy and distracted to sit still and focus, I'll actually stop fighting it and head to our dining room, where there's always a massive jigsaw puzzle going. I'll give myself a half hour or however long I need to focus on nothing but the puzzle pieces. Sometimes a work idea will pop into my head. And almost all of the time, I feel my stress level come down and my focus for work return.
5. Make time for mindfulness, too.
Letting your mind wander is great, but so is the discipline of mindfulness so you control those pesky, unwanted thoughts. My husband has been meditating now that his firm is offering guided meditation sessions via midday conference calls. I even tuned into one. My family and I also have plans to add at-home yoga into our routine, thanks to videos one of my favorite instructors has been texting to her class members and the app Down Dog.
You know what all of these ideas have in common? Surrender and grace. You just have to surrender to the current reality. And give yourself some grace. Know that you are being as productive as you can be. You are probably doing better than you think. Be kind to yourself. Stay safe out there.