With our regular routines and a world turned upside down by the Covid-19 virus, coping can be challenging these days. The good news is that while our circumstances may be changing, our basic human nature and needs have not. In today’s world we still need to meet physical needs; shelter, connection with others, novelty and the need to be intentional about our thinking. In fact, when these needs are met, human nature is very resilient! For adults working from home or students adapting to learning from home, we can boost resilience and efficiency by getting back to the basics.
People need to have adequate food, water and sleep in order to maintain a healthy body. However, did you know that lack of hydration can contribute to a lack of focus? Taking care of your basic needs will increase your productivity. Other suggestions for a healthy body and mind include keeping your morning routine, taking time each day for sunshine, fresh air and physical activity. In fact, this would be an ideal time to start up an exercise program. Just a little “food for thought”!
There are a number of positives to working and studying at home, such as not needing to commute, flexibility to accommodate childcare and the opportunity to work during the time of day in which one’s productivity is at its highest. However, the line between work and home is a fine line. Missing that line can lead to feeling unproductive or like one can never get away from work. Creating a schedule for the workday is very important. In doing so, include some margin for tasks that may take longer than expected and include time for unexpected family needs.
Work out rules of engagement with your workplace. For example: which technology will you use for meetings (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, etc.)? What is the best time of day to reach you (are you working earlier or later to accommodate children’s schoolwork or naps)? Will there be a weekly or daily check in with management?
Designate some sort of “office” space even if it is just as simple as a dedicated desk, so you have a physical space you can concentrate in. That way you can retreat to the other spaces of your home to relax. Also, when a child or spouse sees you in your office space, they are aware that you are at work and, unless absolutely necessary, should not be bothered.
Human nature is wired to need connection with others. The isolation of working from home can have a negative impact on motivation. Therefore, be intentional with your social interactions. Missing your running partner? Use a Strava account to connect with other runners. Missing the social environment of the office? One should use the first five minutes of a meeting to catch up on non-work news. Talking about your weekend helps build community in the virtual workplace. Using video whenever possible for meetings allows you to read others non-verbal cues. Offer emotional support as coworkers deal with stress, followed by affirmation and confidence in their ability to adapt. Find creative ways to create belonging, like a virtual pizza party or party care packages which could be sent in advance and then opened simultaneously on a video call.
Another basic human need is for novelty in our lives. We crave the opportunities to learn and to grow, even with risk of failure! Since our work environment has been disrupted, take this opportunity to explore new ways of maintaining productivity. Be willing to try new ways of doing things. If you have not done so in the past, boost your motivation by making lists with clear priorities. Communicate if you need accommodations in your day. Be creative with the inevitable interruptions. Ernest Hemmingway, an American writer, said he liked to end his day in mid- paragraph so he knew where to pick up his writing the next day! If it works for Ernest Hemmingway, you may find that it also works for you in the area of productivity!
A critical part of an efficient workday is time you spend NOT working. Breaks are essential in preventing fatigue and maintaining your focus. While there are many ways to schedule breaks, the 20-20-20 rule is for when you spend hours in front of your laptop. Try to look away from your screen every 20 minutes, focusing instead on something approximately 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Another way to structure breaks into your day is to use the Pomodoro Technique which follows a pattern: choose a task, engage in a 25-minute work sprint, followed by a 3-minute break. After 4 such sprints, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Repeat throughout your workday.
The human brain has great reasoning capacity, so think about how you think! It is good to be informed; however watching too many news clips can create anxiety. Remember to be kind to yourself and others. Perfection is not realistic for anyone, especially when navigating new territory. Do not focus too much on what you cannot do or control, but rather on what you can do. Take time to be grateful for all the positive things in your life! If you are feeling overwhelmed, focus on taking care of your mental health and reach out for help.
Certainly these are challenging times. However, taking care of basic needs unlocks your amazing potential to adapt and allows for novel ways to succeed. Go for it!
Furthermore: Concentration Hack: Hydration
Business News Daily: Working From Home Increases Productivity
Rules of Engagement
Harvard Business Review: A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers
New York Times: Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health
Harvard Business Review: 5 Ways to Work from Home More Effectively
Psychology Today: 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
Focus on the Family: How to Care For Your Mental Health During Coronavirus