Research suggests that people who work at home like their jobs better and get more done than their counterparts in the office. But if you're working at home these days, you may find that it's difficult to match, let alone exceed, your productivity at the office. And your employees who are working at home are likely facing the same problem.
That's all perfectly normal, explains Alice Boyes, author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit in a post at Psychology Today. First, she notes, we humans evolved to focus our attention on anything that seems like a threat, and most of us have never faced a threat quite like the new coronavirus. "In evolutionary terms, your on-edge, hyper-alert feelings and your distracted cognitive state are a feature, not a bug," she writes.
Not only that, if you're accustomed to working in an office, then your work environment there is full of mental cues that tell you you're about to focus on work, things like riding the elevator up to your floor and sitting down at your desk with a hot cup of coffee. If you don't have a workspace set up at home, or even if you do but it's a fairly new thing, you'll be missing those cues. That makes getting into the flow of work harder.
But there are things you can do to help.
1. Cut yourself some slack.
Today has been one of those unproductive days for me, and right now I'm feeling supremely frustrated at all the work I haven't gotten done and how much harder that will make my workday tomorrow. Being upset is, of course, just making me even less efficient.
As Boyes notes, even for someone like me who has spent decades working at home, it's unrealistic to expect 100 percent of your usual efficiency during this pandemic. Inevitably, coronavirus concerns, or concerns about coping with the social-distancing orders now affecting three quarters of Americans, will occupy some of your attention and energy. And once they do--well, you won't be at 100 percent anymore. "Sixty percent might be more realistic," she writes.
The same goes for the people who work for you. Expecting 100 percent of their normal productivity at this time may be even more unrealistic than expecting it of yourself.
2. Do what you can to limit interruptions.
This is not something Boyes discusses, but I know from experience that every interruption cuts into my own efficiency. A neuroscience expert once told me that every interruption, even if very brief, is worth 20 minutes of lost productivity. I've found that to be true.
So if you're working at home, try to be someplace where you can close the door and work undisturbed. If you have children at home because schools are closed, this may be difficult. But if possible, work out with them that until a certain time they will leave you alone to focus. When that time comes, you will be available to talk or play with them.
3. Don't overdose on the news.
It's important to give yourself breaks throughout the day, especially if you've just had a few hours of high productivity. But don't destroy the good effect of those breaks by spending all your free time focused on news--or social-media posts--about the coronavirus.
Boyes suggests limiting your coronavirus-related news reading to about two hours a day, which seems very reasonable to me. Given our human tendency to focus on threats, most of us, including me, feel compelled to know everything there is to know about the pandemic as soon as it happens. But in reality, there's very little news that demands any kind of immediate action, especially if you're already staying home and following social-distancing directives.
So, yes, keep on top of the news. But also spend some time every day doing something that relaxes you and takes you away from worry. Working in the garden, going for a walk, taking an online yoga class, meditation, or watching your favorite sitcom are all helpful. (I've been doing all those, including plowing through Grace and Frankie.)
Those are the kinds of breaks that will help you be more productive when you get back to work. And they can help preserve your mental calm during this scary time.