How’s Working from Home Working Out for You?

April 2020

mother and father trying to work around children

Image: Getty Images

Some of us are nearly a month into sheltering in place, which means we’ve also adjusted to working from home (if we are fortunate enough to still have jobs).

Twirling Tiger Media has always been a virtual company, but the mandated self-quarantines to better manage the COVID-19 outbreak means even we “home pros” must do things differently. For me, our dining room now serves as my husband’s temporary operations center, which means for 8 to 9 hours daily we have to tiptoe around the nearby kitchen when he’s on the phone with customers. And we eat all meals in the living room.

Like millions of parents, I’m also now having to find time and resources to homeschool a special needs child for whom structure is important, but remembering his Google Classroom login is not. I’ve had to get creative with grade-appropriate lesson plans and take over exercises normally done by his therapists. Add the fact that I manage three siblings’ active trust funds and a geriatric dog that does not understand social distancing during frequent potty breaks (we have no yard), and I think you get a sense of just how chaotic things are here.

It would be even more stressful if one or both of us suddenly were unemployed and having to deal with unemployment claims and rent abatements or mortgage forbearances. Not to mention struggle to extend our hand soap and toilet paper stashes.

And yet, deadlines are being met and creative endeavors are still being explored. My husband’s job is humming along. And schoolwork is getting finished. I even managed to complete three freelance assignments, develop a web presentation from scratch, read three books, watch 10 movies, binge on three TV series and write two new chapters for a novel-in-progress since lockdowns began in California—where I live and work. Oh, and my house is cleaner and tidier than it’s been in years.

If you feel your productivity flagging, consider these tips to give you and your work a boost.

Establish set office hours—and abide by them.

I can tell you from personal experience this is harder than it appears. It is way too easy to work well beyond normal hours, simply because you can. Decide the best hours for you to be available to clients and co-workers and put those times in your email signature. Then do NOT respond to anyone who fails to honor that choice. Some people are better with boundaries than others. Yes, emergencies will arise, but if there are emergencies all the time, you have a bigger issue.

Beat mental fatigue with clarity breaks.

Extroverts can video chat and call and email and text all they want to feed that need to connect. Introverts recharge by being alone. For me, that means going for an early morning walk—a simple pleasure that’s grown in importance in these times of physical distancing. Heading out before dawn is a fantastic way to start another long, long day. With public safety a bigger concern now, I don’t recommend venturing beyond your immediate neighborhood until the sun peeks up. And you don’t get the benefit of vitamin D from that sun (which you probably don’t get anyway if you use a lot of sunscreen). But it’s a quiet moment to reflect on what’s happened and what’s to come … and listen to some great podcasts.

Anticipate and plan for distractions.

When I have a conference call or video chat, I make sure everyone is busy elsewhere in the house and put my cell phone on Do Not Disturb. So far, so good. I think one reason it is working nicely is because I give everyone advanced notice and specific beginning and end times. If you must work in an open area (like a dining room table or kitchen nook), send everyone else to the other end of the house or apartment, and use the mute button judiciously. Again, if you keep your calls or contributions short, meetings will begin and end on time. I also bribe the dog with a treat if she’s not cooperating.

Be sure to check-in. But don’t overdo it.

A rookie mistake is to constantly message people to essentially say, “I’m here! I’m working!” Veterans know to keep their messaging to a minimum, leaving the impression you’re too busy getting things done to email or chat about it.

Reward yourself.

It doesn’t have to be much (truthfully, it now can’t). At the end of the day, enjoy your favorite beverage while settling in with a good book or TV show. Read your favorite magazine cover to cover. Take a warm bath or shower to relax tense muscles. Give your fur babies some human therapy (their lives have been disrupted too). Avoid blue screens, which really mess with sleep patterns before your bedtime routine. Sketch or paint or sculpt. Plan your summer garden (victory gardens are en vogue again). Comb design books for room redecoration ideas; after all, you’re now spending more time in them. Detail clean the car you aren’t driving anywhere. Work your way through your favorite cookbooks and create your own signature dish.

By now we’ve all come to realize: The simple things in life really are what matter most.

Working through a global pandemic won’t be easy. Nor the recession it created. Remember why we’re all taking such drastic measures: to keep from killing our friends, family members and neighbors. Also, let’s keep essential workers in our prayers so they stay healthy and stay on the job. If we all truly self-quarantine together, we’ll be back to spending time with friends and extended family—outdoors and on our own terms.

Thanks for reading this,

Anne