Coronavirus: How to be productive when you have to work from home

Sophie Gallagher
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Boris Johnson has told the public that they should now be working from home where possible in a bid to contain the ongoing UK coronavirus outbreak.

Apart from key workers, the government says no one should be leaving their home other than to buy food, medicine or to go for a once-daily walk or run.

It is hoped that keeping people further apart from each other it will reduce the chance of group spread. As well as removing the opportunity for the virus to be caught during a commute or in communal office spaces.

For those who might find themselves at home for an extended period of time, what is the best way to maximise productivity, maintain good physical and mental health, and not spend all day in your pyjamas when working from home?

We asked Karen Eyre-White, a productivity coach and founder of GoDo business organisation, for her advice on making the most of home working.

Distinguish between work and home mode

One of the biggest perks about working from home - slowly moving from bed to the sofa five minutes before you start - can also be your biggest challenge, says Eyre-White.

Don’t forget that you are there to work - so set yourself up the right way, get dressed and brush your teeth at the start of the day rather than sitting in your pyjamas for eight hours. “Switch from home to work mode,” she says, by having something you physically do to “flip the switch”.

“Maybe it’s walking round the block [updated government advice says people are allowed to walk or run with members of their own household and in groups of no more than two people], making a special kind of tea, or lighting a candle at your desk. It doesn’t matter what it is but do it without fail to create a strong association in your mind,” she says.

Be realistic about what you can achieve

“A wide, open day working from home can feel full of possibilities. 145 things on the to do list? No problem! Don’t fall into the trap of being over-ambitious,” says Eyre-White.

Instead, she recommends being realistic and then possibly achieving more than you set out to; and feeling satisfied, rather than feeling disappointed you didn’t do everything.

She suggests choosing three to five things to do and aim to get the majority done before lunch. “We all slow down in the mid-afternoon and having a lot of your list under your belt will give you the momentum to power through,” she recommends.

Work in short bursts

In the office your day is broken up by everything from meetings to water-cooler chats, lunch breaks and even toilet breaks, but when you are sat at home on your own with no face-to-face interaction planned it can be easy to just work for long, unbroken periods.

“When we’re in the office our day is normally broken up with meetings. Although this can be frustrating, they divide the day up and create natural chunks of time,” explains Eyre-White. “ In contrast, a day at home can be very unstructured.”

In order to be productive she recommends imposing structure on yourself. For example, working in 45-60 minute chunks of focused work followed by a short break. “This can be an effective way to break the day up and maintain your concentration levels,” she says.

Don’t forget to take breaks

It can be difficult to tear yourself away from your laptop if you’re worried people might think you’re slacking off, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take breaks. “Just because you’re feeling comfy at home, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a proper break,” says Eyre-White.

“Leave your desk for lunch and take advantage of being at home to walk the dog and blow the cobwebs away for half an hour in the afternoon. You’ll return feeling refreshed and more productive for the rest of the day.”

This also includes making sure you make time to make proper meals and drink water regularly, rather than snacking continuously throughout the day and then crashing in a sugar slump at 3pm.

Manage distractions

Being in an office gives us a limited number of ways to get distracted but when you start working in a new environment (especially a very familiar one) it can be easy to let yourself get distracted.

“There are a lot of potential distractions when we work from home,” says Eyre-White. “So proactively manage things which might interrupt your focus.”

She explains: “Keep them limited to short breaks in between chunks of focused work. A change of scene is all we need to give our brain a break, and it’s the perfect time to put a load of washing on or empty the dishwasher.”

Be sociable

Working from home shouldn't mean that you don't socialise with anyone.

“If you’re the kind of person who'll miss your colleagues when you work from home, build opportunities for socialising in to your day,” says Eyre-White, who recommends trying to call colleagues rather than always email or Slack messaging.

“If you really struggle to apply yourself when you’re on your own, try virtual ‘body doubling’ - connect with a colleague via a Skype video call but both work ‘live' on your own project rather than chatting,” she says.

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