The coronavirus crisis is shuffling the deck on everything we know about our modern lives.
Earlier this week, my office was indefinitely closed, my job relocated to a work-from-home scenario for the foreseeable future. If you find yourself in that boat—blessed to still have a job but finding it difficult to get anything done—there are easy steps you can take to increase your productivity.
Whether God is on your radar or not, I believe something holy happens when we work. The Bible doesn’t present work as punishment from God, but rather an opportunity to join Him in something larger than ourselves. I still believe that’s true, whether your job is creating something out of nothing, extracting meaning from numbers, or selling a cup of coffee. Work allows us to look back on a day with satisfaction, knowing something about the world is different because of our efforts.
The first two days of my work-from-home transition were an utter disaster. My kids were excited I was still around after breakfast, while I was stressed about my workload. That colliding hot and cold front produced a thunderstorm. I was yelling. They were crying. My wife was wishing the office was still open. It wasn’t pretty.
Realizing I didn’t know the first thing about being productive under the same roof as my three toddlers and wife, I did some research. Below are eight things I’ve implemented since my workplace transition. They’ve worked wonders. I feel more at peace. My kids are happier. And I can sleep in the same bed as my wife again.
1) Go to Sleep
Your workday begins when you go to bed the night before. Things are different, but this isn’t a vacation. If you wouldn’t stay up till midnight binging Outlander on a normal work night, you shouldn’t do it now. You need rest to be on your best game, whether you’re a creative, a number cruncher, or a marketing expert. If you’re finding this difficult, consider setting a sleep alarm to remind yourself to shut it down for the day. Even during an international crisis, you still need 7-9 hours a night.
2) Wake Up On Time
What time did you wake up when the office was open? If it’s a workday, you should still be waking up at that time. Humanity thrives on predictable patterns—you will do better work, and get more done if you hang on to the patterns you used when corona was still just a Mexican beer. You’re not a teenager on a snow day. Wake up and get going. Obviously, this will be much easier to do if you’ve already implemented #1.
3) Keep Your Routine and Get Dressed
Now that you’re out of bed, keep the predictable pattern going by doing your normal routine—whatever that is. For me, it’s making coffee, sitting in my favorite chair, and taking some time to read and pray. After that, I’ll make breakfast for the kids, brush my teeth, and get dressed. I like a cozy pair of pj pants as much as the next guy, but they aren’t made for productivity. It may seem insignificant, but putting on “work clothes” is a trigger to your brain that it’s now time to get started. Loungewear is exactly for that—and that’s not your plan for today. Get clean, get dressed, and get ready to work.
4) Have A Dedicated Work Space
Now that you’re all dressed up, you need a place to go—specifically, a dedicated workspace in your home. Best case scenario, it’s an entire room with a door you can close to block out distractions. But in a pinch, you can make almost anything work: a closet with a light, a folding table in the basement, even half the kitchen table. What’s important isn’t the space so much as your ability to protect it. Returning to the same place to do your work each day, just like getting dressed, reminds your brain and body that it’s work time. When it’s time to take a break, or you finish for the day, leave that space behind.
5) Keep a Schedule
You know by now, the name of the game is keeping your patterns in place. If the office opens for business at 9:00AM, do your best to make that your start time each day. This pattern will combine forces with your wake-up alarm, your morning routine, and your dedicated workspace, to create a super-mega-Optimus Prime-esque butt-kicking productivity machine. This pattern will also help protect your after-hours life. Because you started work at 9:00AM, instead of noon, you can feel confident in shutting down the email and projects by 5:00PM. Give your nights to the people who really matter, not your inbox.
6) But Build In Flexibility
You’re gunning to keep your schedule, but let’s be honest—working from home brings specific challenges (and blessings) that just aren’t present at the office. So while you’re aiming for a 9:00AM start time, you’re not a slave to it. If your neighbor is out walking the dog, take time to strike up a conversation. If you need thirty minutes to clean the bathroom, do it. If the rain finally stops and your kids want to take an hour to jump in puddles, slip on your rain boots. Time is the blessing and curse of working at home. Instead of being shackled to it, make it work for you, your business, and your loved ones. It won’t earn you any extra points if the people you do life with hate your job.
7) Minimize Distractions (Looking at You, Facebook)
Because the crib is now your office, there will be plenty of distractions—take the fight to them by minimizing as many as possible. That might look like choosing a workstation away from the TV, leaving your cellphone in a different room, or setting specific times for snacks and breaks. It goes without saying that the more time you spend away from social media and the news, the better—for your work, your mental wellbeing, and your soul. I’m choosing to check the news once a day and logging into social media only for specific reasons (like Crossroads Live Worship at 8:30AM and 7:00PM every night).
8) Set Appropriate Expectations and Communicate
This has been my biggest problem area. Working at home is just different—for all the reasons noted above and then some. We should expect different environments to produce different outcomes. That’s not an excuse to get less work done, or for the quality of your work to tank. Instead, it’s a reminder to let yourself breathe. Aside from people who were already operating this way for years, everyone is figuring this out as we go. Have grace for yourself, for your coworkers and bosses, and keep doing great work.
The best way to do this is to over-communicate. Check in with your bosses and coworkers daily. Ask specific questions (“Can I help you with _______?”) instead of open-ended ones (“What do you need me to do today?”). Be honest with your family (“Daddy’s really busy from now until lunchtime, but we can play after nap”) and ask for help when you need it (“I have a Zoom meeting for the next hour, can you entertain the kids?”) Communicate until you’re blue in the face, and then communicate some more.
It seems obvious now, but working from home is not, and cannot, be the same as working from the office. But if work truly is holy, then it’s a place where we can meet God. If you’re struggling with your new work scenario, take a risk on Him. Ask God to meet you in the work; to give you patience with your kids; to share insight for a new breakthrough; to grant vision for how to continue growing. Success isn’t a dirty word to God, and neither is work.
With these simple steps, and a desire to meet God in your work, you just might return to the office stronger than when you left.