COVID-19: How to Stay Motivated During Self-Isolation and Working From Home

For many of us, self-isolation, social distancing and working from home is the new normal. But while a 60-second commute from pillow to computer may sound ideal, the realities of working from home are sometimes a little less dreamy. Distractions are rife, communication with co-workers can be trickier and work and home life are blurred. But fear not, Canstar shares seven tips for staying motivated and making the transition as smooth as possible.

Start early

The way you start your day is a good indication of how the rest of the day will pan out. It’s worth getting up early and diving into your to-do list as soon as possible. Getting tasks started first thing in the morning is key to making progress throughout the day. Prolonging waking up and having breakfast might just mean morning sluggishness will wear away your motivation.

Make a schedule of your following day’s work before you finish each evening. A visible, running to-do list or plan (perhaps written on a Post-it note and stuck to your computer) is a great motivator. It’s been scientifically proven we get more things done when we write things down, because our brains love ordered tasks. To-do lists give us structure, a plan to stick to, and act as proof of what we have achieved that day. Aim to tackle hard jobs first. Maximise your morning energy and prioritise the trickier jobs on your to-do list. Let your brain work while it’s clear and fresh rather than foggy in late afternoon.

Get dressed for the day

It can be tempting to lounge in pyjamas all day long. While that might work for some, getting dressed (and we don’t mean a suit and tie, a sweater and jeans will do) signals to your brain your work day has started. It will help separate home and work life. Save your dressing gown and fuzzy slippers for the end of your work day, as putting those on can mark the end of your working day and let your brain head into relaxation mode. When we put on an item of clothing it’s common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with the garment. We prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning. So, if you wear relaxed weekend-wear all day long working from home, you might not get as much done.

Stick to a work regime

Try to pick a definitive starting and finishing time each day. That’s a key tip to keeping your work and home life separate. You can be focused (as much as possible) for those designated hours then switch off after that. Beware of multitasking: it might be tempting to sort the laundry or answer non-work related emails while waiting for a phone call or a file to download, but be aware that can be detrimental. Our brains operate better when we focus on one thing at a time. 

Be realistic, too, about how much time you really have in order to be productive. It’s all very well to think you’ll put in extra hours in the early morning or a night shift after the kids are in bed, but is this truly sustainable? You may simply end up more tired and stressed. It’s better to communicate to your employer how you might shape your hours around having kids at home, and how you can both make it work.

Designate a work space

Just because you’re out of your usual workplace doesn’t mean you can’t make a workspace at home. Rather than crouching over your laptop on the bed or the couch, dedicate a specific surface or room to work from, if possible. Motivation is usually higher when we have a work space set out for us, rather than moving around each day. It creates habit and routine, which are key in staying motivated while working from home. 

Remove social network sites from your browser shortcuts to avoid distractions. You can use an Incognito browser to ensure you stay signed out from your accounts and your web searches don’t auto-complete the word you’re typing. Browsers like Google Chrome even allow you to set up multiple accounts with different toolbars on the top, so you could make one for work and one for casual use.

Communicate your expectations with people in your home

You’re likely not working home alone right now, with practically all of New Zealand self-isolating in their homes. Have a conversation with the people you live with about what you need, the hours you’re working and how other people in your home are planning to work. Does one of you need to make phone calls all day that could potentially be distracting for the other? Do you listen to music while you work? Communication is key here. Lay out clear expectations for everyone. 

And talk to your kids, too. Aim to give children the sense that the changes happening around them are designed to keep everyone safe. Plan your work days around what’s going to be realistic for you to get done with young ones at home. If there’s more than one caregiver home, work out a predictable plan for trading off work and childcare time.

Take clear breaks

Don’t let working at home keep you from taking breaks you need. It can be easy to lose track of time when we’re working from the comfort of our homes, but make sure to take an actual lunch break and step away from the screen. Separate work and your breaks – if possible don’t take your break at the computer you’re working on. Go for a walk, spend time with others who might be in the house with you and make the most of having lunch at home. Cook yourself something you perhaps normally wouldn’t if you were working from the office.

Keep in touch with co-workers 

Working from home doesn’t mean we need to lose all communication with our fellow co-workers. Google Hangouts is a great tool for group conferences/meetings and catch-ups. Slack is another good one to keep conversations and information flowing throughout the day. If anything, communication becomes even more vital when we’re not sitting across the desk from each other. Regular group meetings, chats and check-ins keep things on track and ensure motivation levels are high.


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