coronavirus productivity

How to Stay Productive at Work During Coronavirus Lockdown

Just a couple of months ago, the idea that the world could ever become victim to a global pandemic like coronavirus seemed like the stuff of science fiction. 

No one would have guessed that by spring 2020, the majority of the world would be under lockdown. 

But now, like it or not, we’ve all been forced to work from home, homeschool our kids and stay inside while the brave doctors, nurses and scientists fight hard against this potentially life-threatening virus. 

It’s not easy for any of us. Even me. 

I miss going to the local climbing gym. I miss hanging out with friends and other homeschooling families. I miss dancing. I miss live music and random encounters on the street and hugs… 

But I’ve realised that I’m lucky. Compared to most, I’m a pro at this. I’ve been working remotely as a content writer for almost a decade now and I’ve been homeschooling my son for almost as long (as a solo parent).

This means I know first-hand what definitely works and what absolutely doesn’t. 

So today I’m going to share with you some tips that can help you adjust to your new work life and get stuff done, even when you have Netflix distractions looming and noisy kids running around. 

Here are my tips: 

  1. Create a schedule
  2. Set boundaries
  3. But expect to be interrupted (in the beginning)
  4. Keep the kids occupied
  5. Shower, get dressed and brush your teeth
  6. Take breaks
  7. Claim your work space
  8. Use music
  9. Get distractions under control
  10. Go easy on yourself!

Let me elaborate! Keep reading. 

1. Create a schedule

Having a schedule or rhythm to your day will be your secret weapon when it comes to getting work done. 

Because, let’s be honest, when faced with the series 3% vs work or live-streamed Cuban salsa performances vs work, we all know that willpower won’t be enough.

Set yourself a schedule that will define when you’ll be working and when you won’t. 

Keep it loose and flexible and know that it’s likely to change during the early weeks when you’re just finding your feet.

Don’t think that you have to stick to a traditional 9-5, especially if you’re like me and have several projects on the go including work and homeschooling. Nor do you have to strictly timetable your day. 

A gentle rhythm like ‘get up-do yoga/meditate-shower-breakfast-work for 2 hours-lunch,’ etc. can work brilliantly, especially if you’re a rebellious type or have kids at home. 

Then get your schedule or rhythm down on paper and then stick it somewhere prominent like the fridge so that everyone else knows what to expect from you. 

For my family, two shifts work best. I generally work in the morning for a couple of hours between around 10.30 am and lunchtime. This is when I get my focussed writing done as I’m freshly caffeinated and full of energy. 

Then, usually I have a break to go outside and spend time with my son, run, swim, go climbing or explore the local area. (Although during these times of social distancing, I’ve been mainly going for short runs and working on my French!)

Then I brew myself a big mug of rooibos tea and get back to my desk for a couple of hours in the evening.

2. Set boundaries

In my day to day life, I’m a very laid back person. But I’ve had to be strict when it comes to working from home. If I don’t put my foot down, I just won’t get everything done.

I’ll find myself getting endless snacks from the kitchen or get engaged in long conversations about Greek mythology or Doctor Who with my son.

I’ll find myself discussing sourdough techniques with my Dad or treat myself to yet another coffee…

That’s why I make it absolutely clear to everyone that I will be working at certain times during the day and you should too. I also give them an extra reminder if I need to do something critical like focus on writing a complex and highly technical piece of content or have a meeting with a client. 

3. But expect to be interrupted (in the beginning)

When you first start working from home, know that you will be interrupted and that it’s absolutely OK. It won’t be this bad forever! You will be able to concentrate again. 

As you start working through your daily rhythm or schedule (see above), your family will learn that you’re ‘at work’ when you sit at your desk. They’ll do their best not to interrupt you, and if you’re lucky, other adults might help keep your kids busy when you need to crack on with your projects. 

Although it’s never easy. Unless you physically lock yourself away from everyone else and throw away the key, you will get interrupted. There’s not much you can do about it. Just ride that wave and you will get through. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times family members have popped in, the neighbour has started cutting the grass or the dog has started howling exactly when I need to take an important work call. It happens. It’s OK. No stress…

4. Keep the kids occupied 

Working remotely can be far more challenging when you have kids around, especially if they’re young and find it hard to occupy themselves. If this is the case for you, consider how you can keep them occupied whilst you work.

  • Can you structure your day so you do your most brain-intensive work at night?
  • Could they work independently on a craft project or their schoolwork while you work? 
  • Are their other adults at home that can help occupy the kids?
  • Could you create a ‘busy pack’ of activities, snacks and stories that will keep them busy for a while?
  • Do they have a favourite TV show or game that might occupy them for a short time?

Don’t be afraid to use screen time if you get desperate. As much as I’d love to be a screen-free family, I have to be realistic. Small amounts of screen time can really help, especially during coronavirus confinement. 

5. Shower, get dressed and brush your teeth

Yes, you can sit around all day in your pyjamas, without brushing your hair and without even putting a bra on. I won’t judge you. 

But… I highly recommend that you make the effort and stick to something close to your usual morning routine. 

You don’t have to wear a suit and heels or anything like that. But you should at least take a shower, brush your hair, brush your teeth and get dressed before you sit down to work. The benefits will be enormous. 

  1. You’ll feel more professional and get more done. 
  2. You’ll focus better because you feel that you’re ‘at work’.
  3. You’ll look more presentable for those Skype or Zoom video calls. 
  4. You’ll feel more positive and life will feel slightly more ‘normal’ during these strange coronavirus lockdown days. 

This isn’t just anecdotal. According to bestselling psychology magazine Psychology Today, there are proven benefits of sticking to these routines;

“We are creatures of habit and when our routine is suddenly disrupted, we go through several emotions such as helplessness, despair, anger, and frustration,” they say, ”In order to get back control, you’ll have to mimic your previous routine as close as possible.

6. Take breaks

It can be far too tempting to keep working later into the night when you have a big project on your hands. Or to answer work emails when you first wake up (especially if you’re in a different timezone to your clients). Or work all hours just because you can. 

But this will only leave you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and sick. 

It’s just as important you give yourself breaks as it was when you were working from a physical office or workspace.

Get up and make yourself a cuppa often to stretch your legs. Give yourself proper meal times. Go outside and get some fresh air or exercise on days when the weather is good. 

Yes, if you’re a very driven and ambitious person, this might feel tricky to do. Counterintuitive, even. But you’ll come back to your desk feeling fresher, more motivated, more focused, more creative and ready to kick some butt! 

7. Claim your work space

As a digital nomad, I’ve stayed in many different locations including AirBnBs, friends’ apartments and hotels. And I can tell you that there’s nothing like having a decent desk to work from. 

You might think that you can sit and work from the comfort of your sofa or bed with your laptop propped on a cushion. But that doesn’t work in real life. Not really. 

Been there. Tried that. Learned the hard way. 

That’s why, if you really want to be productive and not just pretend that you’re getting work done (*wink*), you’ll need to have your own work space, preferably a desk if you can. 

You’ll be more comfortable and better supported when you work from a desk, you’ll have fewer aches and pains and again, you will switch more effortlessly into work mode. 

“Have a place you go specifically to work. It could be a certain table, chair, local coffee shop — some place that’s consistently your ‘work space,’ says author Sam Mallikarjunan via the Hubspot blog. “It helps you get into the right frame of mind.” 

8. Use music 

Listening to music whilst you work will help block out distracting noises and disturbances (ever tried to work while YouTuber Dan TDM is playing in the background???) and help you get more focused on what you need to get done. 

But you must choose your music carefully and always use headphones.

As a DJ and music lover, I can get distracted far too easily if I listen to most types of music. I can’t help following the melody and the rhythm and analysing the lyrics of most of the music I listen to in my free time. 

It has to be melodic but not too melodic. Rhythmic but not too rhythmic. 

I find that the best option is usually chillhop music or certain types of EDM such as DJs  Nicola Cruz and Adriatique

Experiment and you’ll find the best for you. 

9. Get distractions under control

These constant media updates about COVID-19 mean it’s harder than ever to concentrate.

You’re sitting there focused on your work, then you hear that unmistakable ‘ping’ of a notification. 

You have a quick glance to see what it is and it’s a WhatsApp message from your friend who is feeling really anxious about the coronavirus lockdown and needs your support. 

Or an email from your parents who are doing their best to ward off boredom and are checking in with you frequently these days. Or an important LIVE announcement by the government that you need to hear. 

Even if you’re usually a very self-disciplined person, you can’t help but be distracted at times like these. We need to stay informed because, quite literally, our futures depend on it. 

But you’ll never get stuff done if you let these distractions and interruptions get the better of you. 

According to a study by the University of California Irvine, when you’re interrupted at work “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

Just think about that for a second. Even if you’re only being distracted every 30 minutes, you will only really get around 13 minutes of focussed work time every hour! Eek! 

Unfortunately, there’s only one solution to this. 

Get tough on yourself. Set yourself rules around social media, your phone and email.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make your work time a social-media free time (unless that’s your job, of course)
  • Keep your phone away from you! You’ll only be tempted to check it
  • Set yourself short slots for checking email and only reply to your messages then. 
  • Turn off notifications. On everything. Trust me- it works. 
  • Consider downloading software that will help block out interruptions. There’s a fab Google Chrome extension called ‘Work Mode’ that can really help. 

10. Go easy on yourself!

As much as we might like to convince ourselves otherwise, we’re not superheroes.

So unless you’re from somewhere outside of our galaxy, have a secret penchant for dressing up in lycra and  possess crazy superpowers, you won’t be able to make the transition to working from home in the blink of an eye.

It will take time. It will take patience.

There will be a few weeks where you feel like you’re not as productive as you’d like to be and you’re likely to feel anxious or even panicky when you start thinking about how you’re going to get through the weeks and months ahead. 

So my advice to you is this; 

Be kind to yourself. Breathe. You got this.