How to (Actually) Be More Productive During a Quarantine

This is the article you need if you work from home

With the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19, the world has halted to a standstill.

Businesses have slowed or shut down entirely, schools are either in recess or have transitioned to online classrooms, and everyone around the world is now at home.

Social distancing and the closure of non-essential businesses leaves many of us to fend for ourselves from behind the keys of our laptops while holding a home-brewed cappuccino. Zoom has become non-negotiable and our commute to work is now dictated by the expedience of our WiFi.

This is the new normal, and it will remain so for quite some time. Nobody is certain when we can safely swap a home office for a real office (or — my personal favorite — for a bustling, cheery cafe).

Working at home presents its own slate of shortcomings. Primarily, however, the danger lies in the potential for idleness and an overabundance of comfortability. If left unchecked, too much time at home can diminish productivity and motivation can wane dramatically.

The question then arises: how can we ensure we stay productive while working from home?

Wake up at the same time every day

This tip is one that begets productivity with or without a quarantine in place. In trying times such as these, however, it becomes even more salient.

Many of my colleagues tell me how, since they work from home now, they relish in being able to wake up at their leisure. After years of waking to the blare of an alarm they are finally free to sleep in, and most (if not all) are taking full advantage of this.

This is not what to do if productivity is the goal (undoubtedly, I write this much to the chagrin of my colleagues).

Sleeping in is one thing if you are aiming to rest an adequate amount. Rest and sleep are essential; I’m not debating this. Sleeping in without a designated wake up time is the black mark here.

If working at home means you no longer have to commute an hour to get to work, by all means set your alarm for a little later than usual. This is acceptable and even advisable.

But the key here is to continue using an alarm. The alarm is what helps you retain a schedule, a discipline, a catalyst to a productive routine.

Waking up at the same time each day is the first step of each of our morning routines. Waking up at 9AM one day and then 11AM the following day, and then even 7AM the day after that is a means to a disoriented comportment.

For better productivity working from home, wake up at the same time every single day.

Get dressed as if you were going to work

First and foremost: this ensures you won’t be answering any Zoom calls in a bathrobe or PJs. You would not attend a meeting looking disheveled and haggard and dressed poorly; treat video meetings the same way.

I’ve tried myself to write from home while laying in bed in my pajamas.

I find that my mind is slower and distractions have a much heavier influence on me. Instead of working diligently and sitting upright and attentive, my focus drifts to my email inbox, social media, Netflix — you get the idea.

It does not work.

Wearing comfy clothes to work from home reinforces a state of idleness, a feeling of leisure. Working should be comfortable, but the level of comfort should not be that of bathrobe or a duvet.

Dressing as you normally dress helps create the normalcy and routine that is so often lacking when we work from home.

Put on some real clothes, put on makeup, fix up your hair, have a fresh shave — do what you ordinarily would do if you were preparing to go to work and be seen in public.

Take a regular lunch break

For a regular office where many of us worked once upon a time, the entire staff would break at noon and have lunch. This provides clarity and routine for an entire group of people and things run smoothly because of it.

At home things are different.

You may not have anyone to tell you it’s time for lunch. That could go two different ways.

  1. You may work straight through lunchtime and it could prove detrimental to your energy, focus, and willpower, all of which are necessary components to productivity. This throws of your eating schedule and, therefore, your work schedule.
  2. You might start eating right when you start working for the day, and it could set off a pattern of irregular eating and cravings which could distract you from work. Constantly getting up for snacks or meals is a perpetual threat at home; it can be mitigated by establishing a routine and taking a regular lunch break.

If you stop taking a regular lunch break, you begin to learn how necessary it really is. Cravings, distractions, idleness, a desire to stretch your legs — all these invade if you don’t take a lunch break.

Further, if you don’t take a regular lunch break — one at the same time every day — then the cravings, distractions, idleness, and desire to stretch your legs will all come at sporadic occasions throughout the day. Even this proves chaotic and can forestall a productive work day.

Even if you are working at home and there is no one around to collaborate with or to eat lunch with, take a regular lunch break.

Minimize distractions and notifications

In an office, our fellow co-workers keep us in check. Just by having other people around, we are less inclined to get up and attend to our distractions.

Sitting at home is of course a different story. There is nobody around to tell you to stop scrolling through Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. There is nobody around to tell you to get off of YouTube.

Other people in the workplace implicitly enforce a productive atmosphere.

At home, the responsibility falls upon you and only you.

To keep a productive workspace at home, it always helps me to work without my smart phone in the same room. I turn it on silent and keep it outside of my home office.

Then, I mute all notifications on my laptop. When I write and work from home, I want to focus entirely on the task at hand. Small bleeps and notifications and pop-ups can be deadly.

Eliminate the temptation to check your phone and to open notifications by removing them from your work environment.

The Takeaway

These productivity tips can be game-changers for any type of worker in any space. But they have become far more necessary during this time of quarantine when work from home has become so pervasive.

  1. Wake up at the same time everyday
  2. Get dressed as if you were going to work
  3. Take a regular lunch break
  4. Minimize distractions and notifications

With these tips, you’ll have enough focus and productivity to write the next article about how we can all be better at adapting and thriving in these strange, irregular times.

Phil is a travel writer and editor. If you liked this article, you can see more of his ideas on his travel blog and Instagram.

Written by

Bestselling travel writer. Columnist. Author. USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

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