12 Tips to Maximize Time at Home

How to stay productive working and learning remotely.

Because of COVID-19, many people may be working, teaching or learning at home for the first time. This might make you feel a bit unsettled or adrift, especially if your family or roommates are constantly around you. Here are 12 tips to make it a more positive and productive experience:

1. Be prepared. If you’re using new technology for virtual meetings or teleconferencing, allow extra time to experiment and learn how to use it. Communicate in advance about contingency plans in the event of glitches, and know how to contact technical support.

2. Anticipate that tasks may take longer—especially at first—and schedule accordingly. You and your telecommuting colleagues will need some time to get used to new technology and environments.

3. Expect to send and receive more email. To prevent your message from being missed or lost, include a specific identifier in the subject—for example, the project, report name or reason for emailing. For students, use your last name, course number and assignment title in the subject. Unless instructed otherwise, use your last name and assignment title as part of electronic file titles.

Faculty member working on laptop
Create a specific area for work that isn’t the same spot you use for lounging, watching TV or sleeping.

4. Stick to your usual routine as much as possible. Keep the same bedtime and waking time. Psychologists stress the importance of keeping our daily routines, even in different situations, as a way to keep us anchored.

5. Structure your workday at home to mirror your day at the office or school. If you work alone in the morning and use afternoons for meetings and calls, do the same at home, if possible. Likewise, if you usually use the morning for studying and homework and take classes in the afternoon, try to keep that same schedule as an online learner.

6. If you’re used to an environment where colleagues and supervisors/instructors are nearby and available for informal chats, schedule specific times to check-in with them from home. Correspondingly, if colleagues, supervisors or instructors set times for check-ins, try to adhere to them unless emergencies arise.

Student working at computer
Structure your workday at home to mirror your day at the office or school.

7. Make an hour-by-hour schedule of your day and stick to it. Schedule—and take—lunch and official breaks, and then, get back to work. This can prevent you from checking social media or playing with the cat every few minutes, which can eat up the time you need for the report due today.

8. Designate an official workspace. A separate room is ideal, but if that’s not possible, choose a chair—not the couch or bed. That way, you create a specific space for work that isn’t the same as the spot you use for lounging, watching TV or sleeping. Ask family members or roommates to not talk to you, call, text, etc., when you’re in your workspace except in an emergency.

9. Use work time for work. Resist the temptation to prepare time-consuming lunches. Pack your lunch the night before and plan for quick, no-prep or microwavable meals and snacks. Also, don’t tackle household repairs during your workday. This will allow you to achieve your goals and have more time for leisure when the workday has ended.

It’s important to set an end to the workday, and schedule time for daily leisure activities, to avoid burnout and maximize long-run productivity.

10. Exercise, even if your circumstances don’t allow your usual schedule. Your gym is likely closed. A run or brisk walk around the neighborhood may replace a treadmill or elliptical machine. Walking up and down stairs can replace a stairclimber. Food cans may replace free weights. (Read more at-home exercises here.) If you don’t currently workout, you might add some gentle activity, like walking, to your daily routine. Exercise helps to reduce stress and maintain our muscle mass, cardio health and cognitive function. Regardless, check with your healthcare provider to be sure that your routine is appropriate for you.

11. Set an end time for your workday. One of the downsides of working, teaching or learning at home is that we can lose the chronological boundaries between work life and home life. Therefore, it’s important to set an end to the workday, and schedule time for daily leisure activities, to avoid burnout and maximize long-run productivity.

12. Most importantly, be kind. This may sound corny, but it’s particularly important when we don’t communicate in-person physically. In-person communication allows us to better read the environment and body language and instantly self-correct or ask for clarification. This isn’t the case with email, phone, teleconferencing or even virtual meetings, so there’s a greater probability of miscommunication. We should err on the side of communicating more positively, being more understanding of one another and assuming the best of one another.

Dr. Cathy A. Rusinko is a professor of management at Jefferson.

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