Tips For Managing Your Time (And Protecting Your Sanity) While Working From Home During a Pandemic

by Syrup | May 12, 2020

Well, it’s been over a month since many of us began this journey of working from home. Chances are, your kitchen table, coffee table or home office is now Work Central, and you’re doing your best to navigate through this new normal, which, if you’re like me, has presented some challenges: Work trickles into the evening, mini-breaks pop up throughout the day that make refocusing on work a total time suck and chore… but over the past couple weeks, I’ve found the below tips and tools have really helped bring back some semblance of normalcy with my time and productivity. Naturally, I had to share them with our awesome Sweet Ramblings followers:

  • Set boundaries. Setting clear working hours for your days helps give a dedicated sense of a start and end to your work day. Really try to do your best to keep work between these parameters; it will help you feel more productive during the day to know you have a hard cutoff at 4, 5 or 6 p.m. A great tool for Google calendar folks is Google’s Working Hours feature, which notifies people that you may not be available if they try to book a meeting that falls outside your working hours. And obviously, if you need to schedule an early morning or late night work session that falls outside your usual hours, do that. But don’t make it a habit. Pro tip: Pair your start and end times with a “commute walk” — this is the time you would normally be driving/commuting to work, which can help make that transition to and from work easier and seem more ‘normal’.
  • Download Clockwise. This tool is a saving grace. A free calendar tool that works with Chrome, Google calendar, and an Office 365 integration coming soon, Clockwise optimizes your calendar by creating uninterrupted blocks of time to get things done and to focus on your most important projects. Invite your whole team to use the tool, switch on the app’s Auto-Pilot setting, and let the app take care of scheduling conflicts for you by finding the best meeting times available for everyone’s schedule, while still protecting the maximum amount of Focus Time possible in each person’s day. 
    • If Clockwise isn’t for you or you’re waiting for the Office 365 integration to go live, consider blocking off time on your calendar that is solely dedicated for meetings, and time that is protected for getting things done — no meetings allowed. 
  • Pause alerts, notifications and inboxes. Did you know it takes 23 minutes for our minds to recover from distractions and become truly re-focused on a task, according to a UC Irvine study? That means that 30-minute block of free time you have between meetings to knock out to-dos is actually only 7 minutes of true productivity. Add up all of those fragmented slots of time on your calendar, and suddenly you’ve spent half of your day simply trying to re-focus instead of knocking out to-dos. This is dangerous territory and can quickly turn into a never-ending cycle of playing catch-up late at night on the work that wasn’t able to get done that day. So: Turn your phone alerts off. Turn off text notifications. Set your Slack status to Do Not Disturb. Close your door. Grab some noise-canceling headphones. Pause your inbox. And get things done. 
  • Plan for your breaks. I get it. We’re all at home, it’s not a big deal to take a trip to the coffee maker or to pop into the dining room to tell your spouse about that thing you forgot to tell them earlier. But taking these small, unplanned, seemingly harmless breaks throughout the day can cause the same 23-minute re-focusing problem I just mentioned. Do your best to plan your breaks and schedule them into your calendar. However many you need to stay sane — take them. But then get back to work and try to not break again until it’s time for the next planned one, so you don’t have to waste precious time getting refocused once you settle back in.
  • Be honest and set expectations about meetings. It’s been very clear that now is the time for overcommunication. We’re all navigating a new normal of video-conferencing becoming our communication lifeline. But use it as a helpful tool and do not let it take over your calendar — be honest with yourself and your co-workers, and ask: Does this need to be a meeting? Does this need to take up time on all of our calendars, or could this be an email? Could this be a quick pinned message in Slack to read when we re-open the app? Especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re facing a never-ending list of to-dos, speak up and protect your time when you feel like it’s needed.

And when all else fails, and you begin to have those feelings of anxiety, stress, frustration — step away, take a walk, breathe and come back when you’re ready. These tools and tips are meant to help protect your time and therefore your energy and sanity during this time but remember: we’re all doing the best we can, so give yourself (and others) as much grace and patience as possible. 

Do you have a tip, app or tool that helps you manage your time? We’d love to hear about it and share with our Syrup followers! Let us know! 

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